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Investigating the Nature and Value of Public Philosophy from the Pragmatists’ Perspective

31 January 2014


As a professional philosopher that has participated in public philosophy forums for several years, I attempt to determine the character and value of public philosophy. To do this I adopt the perspective of Deweyan pragmatism, which I argue provides an effective theoretical framework for this purpose. Thinking particularly about relatively small, person-to-person philosophical forums, I argue that they share the main assumptions of the pragmatic method: a prevailing contingency with regard to starting points and conclusions, a willingness to entertain evidence from various sources and disciplines, and a commitment to continuing conversation on a variety of issues for the sake of continued growth and expansion of understanding. I believe it is unlikely that these sorts of conversations will deliver any immediate or obvious results in terms of improved democratic processes at the level of an entire community or nation because of the small scale and relatively narrow appeal. However, as a resource for intellectual growth, public philosophical forums provide an invaluable resource for those individuals willing to participate, professional philosophers included.


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