Philosophy and Policy

September 9, 2010

Roger has a nice post this morning about the conflict and pushback he’s gotten from political scientists by working on policy issues. The same could be said for those working in philosophy and policy.

Curiously, many philosophers will insist that they’re interested in public policy issues. They will tell you that they focus on abstract philosophical questions associated with broad-reaching public policy concerns: moral status, personal identity, doing and allowing, the nature of value. These are all  interesting questions, of course, and I work on some of them too. When push comes to shove, however, many philosophers often refuse to go further. They’ll insist that many of the more pressing public policy issues aren’t philosophically interesting enough, that there’s no sense in dissecting the details. Doing so will certainly come off as scholastic and picayune.

Meh. Policy is messy, gritty stuff. The targets are moving. The questions are changing. Philosophers need to step up and get a little dirty. It ain’t as pure as all the beautiful as the M&E or metaethics stuff; it’s not as fun as the normative or even the applied ethics work; but it’s just as damned important.

Die Philosophen haben die Welt nur verschieden interpretirt; es kommt aber darauf an, sie zu verändern. Or something like that.


  1. Ungefahr.

    OTOH, Eli has heard tell that a whole bunch of political scientists don’t hold Roger in particularly high regard. In the words of one of them

    . . . he has directed essentially all his critique at the science community, as if the science community were the basis of the problem. I take the position that the essential problem in the relationship between scientists and the political/policy process is clearly on the political side of the exchange. Say what you will about the shortcomings of scientists, by far the more significant need is for people to have a critique of politics. For this, Roger’s Ph.D. seems to be worthless. He is clueless about how to address the madness of the political process and how to come to grips with the disinformation campaign.

  2. Eli owes it to Ben and Roger to point out that many people have not confronted the idea that it is the madness of the political process that causes the problems and not the failure of scientists to communicate.

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