From the Archive: Confessions of a Former Objectivist, part one

This week I’m going to dig much deeper into the archive, back to a blog I maintained for a few years called A Skeptic’s Creed, of which the tag-line was “splashing around in the acid-bath of doubt.”

This entry is from February 13, 2007.

An interesting connection – or is it a near miss? – has come to light since I first posted it. I mention an Objectivist club I founded in my first year in college . . . at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

If memory serves, I started that club in Spring 1987 and abandoned it at some point in the ’87-’88 academic year . . . just before Paul Ryan arrived at Miami for his undergraduate studies and the beginning of his own complicated relationship with Rand’s writings.

(For those who don’t know or don’t remember, Ryan serves in the U.S. House of Representatives and was Mitt Romney’s running mate in the 2012 presidential election. I cannot claim ever to have met him, at Miami or since.)

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Confessions of a Former Objectivist, part one

I owe a debt that I do not often acknowledge openly. At least some of what I have become as a philosopher, as a citizen, and, for that matter, as a human being can be traced back to a two-year period during which I was devoted to the writings and the thought of Ayn Rand.

That’s right, I was an Objectivist.

In fact, reading Ayn Rand’s books – nearly all of them, if you can believe it – was the reason I first decided to study philosophy. It was not, however, the reason I continued to study philosophy.

Let me start at the beginning. Continue reading

Philosophy in 2015

Dr. Leigh M. Johnson’s “Morbidity and Mortality Report” on the travails of Philosophy as a profession in 2014 has started me thinking about my own relationship with the field in which I was trained.

I have often been pleased to point out that I have not worked in a philosophy department since 1998, following instead a career in interdisciplinary programs leading to my current position in the School of Public Policy at Georgia Tech.

I generally say this with a kind of satisfaction, even relief: I have made good my escape from a profession prone to taking itself and its own academic stuffiness far too seriously; I am instead aiming to do work, as a writer and a teacher, that will be of use to people trying to make responsible decisions in difficult circumstances.

I have very pointedly identified myself as a practical ethicist, not as a philosopher.

I now wonder if that was a mistake.

I wonder whether I should take the time to re-establish ties to the field more widely, not in order to remake myself (again) in the image of philosophy as it is now, but to join with others who are working to remake the profession, to recapture the vitality and public engagement philosophy might once have had.

This may be a new project for 2015.

From the Archive: What Philosophers Do

Since I’m in the midst of mid-winter revels, of one kind and another, I’m still drawing from the archives of my other blog, The Ethics of Metropolitan Growth.

Today’s revived is from October 9, 2011. It takes up a question that will continue to occupy my mind as I develop this new blog: What should a public philosopher actually do?

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What Philosophers Do

I write this as I travel home from Washington, D.C., where I participated in a conference titled Advancing Publicly Engaged Philosophy, organized by the Public Philosophy Network.

I have a number of posts in mind, drawing from sessions and conversations at the conference, but I’ll start with a few of my notes from the conference related to my last post, on the question of whether philosophers can be experts and, if so, in what our expertise consists.

Starting with the opening plenary session, hosted by the Center for AmericanProgress, I listed a variety of ways in which the role of a publicly engaged philosopher might be characterized: Continue reading

From the Archive: On Expertise

As I’m on holiday break, I’m relying on the archives of my other blog, The Ethics of Metropolitan Growth, to keep things moving along with this new blog. I will resume the development of new posts soon.

Today’s entry, from May 27, 2011, takes up a question that is still of concern to me, especially as i think about the meaning and the uses of this new blog: Is there such a thing as expertise in philosophy? Of what does that expertise consist?

Note that “the book” referenced in the first paragraph is my book, The Ethics of Metropolitan Growth (Continuum 2010).

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On Expertise: A Reply to King

The first published review of the book has come out, in the Spring 2011 issue of the journal Environmental Ethics. The review was written by Roger J.H. King.

It is certainly gratifying to read a sympathetic and largely positive review. King seems to understand the main intent of the book, which is to provide, as he puts it, “a propaedeutic” to ethical inquiry, that is, a kind of preparatory exercise. In other words, this is not, as he puts it, “a theoretical book.” (p.100)

The central mission of the book is to demonstrate the complexity of everyday judgments and decisions, and to encourage citizens and decision makers to uncover and analyze this complexity. (p.99)

So far, so good. This really is the mission of the book, as I understand it. It is clear, though, that King is not entirely satisfied with the book: he wishes I had taken on a different and more ambitious mission. Continue reading

Feral Philosophers!

Something noteworthy from The New York Times, this morning: a call by Steve Neuman, a self-described philosophy journalist, to “Free the Philosophical Beast.”

I have nothing much to add to it, but wish simply to point out a few highlights.

One concerns the reason it is so difficult to engage in meaningful philosophical work in the context of a research university:

But I think the key difference between science and philosophy is that we need the results of science more than we need everyone in the body politic “doing science.” By contrast, we need everyone “doing philosophy” more than we need the results of philosophy. In other words, we don’t need to know or understand how the scientist has gone from the minute molecular intricacies of DNA to a public good like genetic counseling. On the other hand, the emulation of the critical thinking and logical argument of a philosopher is a virtue that can be applied to any area of life — from where you stand on the most important social and political issues of the day to how best to spend the rest of your days on this planet.

Another highlight is the closing passage, which resonates with me in my current ventures in ethics education and in the very conception of this blog as a set of “field notes”:

So “powerful, soft strides” toward the reintroduction of the philosophical beast are being made outside the academy, but I would like to see even more philosophers become feral. Being feral is different from being wild, of course — the philosophical beast that still calls the academy its home just needs a wider space in which to roam, and maybe venture more often outside its walls.

Just let me put on some sturdier shoes.