Author: Simon Beard and Michael Plant

Why Philosophers Fail to Influence Public Debate—and How They Can Do Better

We all know that philosophers are expert thinkers but most philosophers, and especially moral philosophers, want to change the world as well. As Plato noted, once one has ascended to the pinnacle of wisdom, or at least successfully defended a PhD thesis, it is hard to resist the temptation to come back down again and help to spread the light to others. However, for most of us, the idea of actually succeeding at this is little more than a dream. Attempts to get heard often end up backfiring or simply proving a waste of time and energy. Even philosophers whose work is in areas of real public interest, such as applied ethics, can struggle to get a hearing above the noise of pundits, preachers and politicians whose views, though ill-considered and even inconsistent, are far easier on the ear and offer people a sense of certainty in a baffling world. At a recent workshop on Personal Identity and Public Policy held at Oxford, we considered what to do about this problem. Our shared interest was …