In the 18th and 19th Century, philosophers and intellectuals were immersed in politics and popular culture. Even in the early 20th Century some of the leading academic figures of the time, like B
Philosophy Talk is devoted to public philosophy. But we mean two different things by that.
Our first aim is to encourage the public - our listeners and participants in our blog - to do philosophy, to engage in the ongoing activity. That’s because we think it's something a lot of people enjoy, and that it leads to better discussions and decisions.
The second thing we try to do is to present what influential philosophers of the past and present, are thinking about.
The latter aim is definitely secondary. We're mostly interested in what philosophers think about, because we believe our audience may want to think about the same things.
So given that, what are we worrying about when we ask about the state of public philosophy?
People sometime worry that modern-day philosophers don’t have the same impact on the public that philosophers have traditionally had, and continue to have in some other countries.
That is what our experience suggests. Lots of public radio stations and their program directors are startled to hear about a show on philosophy. They're very skeptical that their listening public would be interested. In fact, one of our motives in doing the program is to make philosophy more a part of public life.
But our experience also points the other way. Many people are very interested in the topics and people we discuss. And you know, just in my lifetime I think I’ve seen an increase in the impact of those in our profession. Think of philosophers like Daniel Dennett, Martha Nussbaum, or Anthony Appiah. They're not only excellent philosophers, but also writers of widely-read books, who appear pretty frequently on radio and TV and in op-ed pages.
I want to make another distinction. There's the wider public, and there's also the narrower public, I'm talking about researchers in other disciplines. I’ve seen the influence of philosophy in this narrower public grow a lot of over the years I’ve been involved. The ideas of thinkers like John Rawls and Michael Bratman are widely discussed and applied in laws schools, for example.
And philosophy has played a respectable part in the development of theoretical computer science, A.I., and cognitive science.
But one place that we --- in the sense of American analytical philosophers like you and me --- don’t seem to have as much impact as one might expect, is with our fellow humanists.
Philosophy of our sort hasn’t proven to be all that inspiring to our friends in literature, especially comparative literature, and cultural anthropology, and places like that.
European thinkers like Derrida seem to have been of more interest. And since, in a wider sense, all humanists are involved in the great philosophical enterprise, this seems surprising and rather sad.
Our guest today is someone who feels this lack of impact intensely. He's Hans Gumbrecht, from the Comparative Literature Department at Stanford --- which was also the home of Richard Rorty in the latter part of his life.
Gumbrecht is a philosopher and a public intellectual who, like Rorty, is both influenced by and deeply skeptical about the prevailing approach to philosophy in America. I’m really looking forward to thinking through these issues with Zepp, as everyone calls him.