Tag Archives: ideas

Philosophers Online: Popularizing Ideas in a Digital Age

Who can forget the existential cat videos?

Overview:

I was recently reading a book review in the Atlantic Monthly (online, of course) called “Playing with Plato.” This is a review of a new collection of ‘modern’ imagined dialogues between Plato and various characters of our time (a Google engineer, for example) in a book titled Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away. The author of the review (philosophy professor Clancy Martin) reminds us that the sorts of questions that this book asks (What is progress? What is morality?) are the same questions that the ancient philosophers entertained and are the same questions that still motivate people—both philosophers and non-philosophers—to try and understand the world.

I was impressed with the review, in which Martin traces his own journey to the welcoming arms of philosophy, but I was dissatisfied with the end result. This is a review published in a digital magazine about a text that engages the engineers of modernity … and the book is printed as a physical book. There is a Kindle version and an audio version, of course, but like nearly every book published in print too, the digital version is a for-purchase, mimicry of the physical text.

Though philosophers often publish academic work like the rest of us in cumbersome, paper journals and university presses (tenure march!), many of them also pride themselves on the free dissemination of their ideas to students and the public through lectures, conversations, and small discussions. “The beauty of philosophy,” these scholars argue, “is the fact that anyone can—and should—engage in these important questions.”

“Surely philosophers can do better than this,” I complained to my own philosopher. “How can philosophy adapt these new forms of media to participate in the necessary exchange of questions and dialogue?”

I could hear the surprise in his voice, “Well, they already have.” Then he flooded my inbox with links to podcasts, videos, and blogs.

Some of these digital texts are extremely popular with  non-philosophers. Something like Philosophy Bitesa free podcast—has hundreds of thousands of hits. Further, philosophers have developed really creative videos which illustrate difficult concepts (and fun thought experiments) like David Harvey’s animated video “Crisis of Capitalism” and a video that my own philosopher uses to teach experimental philosophy in his own classes (“Experimental Philosophy”). Philosophers have also experimented with some very popular Yale Open Courses and Open University courses (one set of which sparked a large controversy). Also see The Partially Examined Life, which is terrifically awesome.

So many questions!

Question or Problem:
My essay will examine how philosophy has used digital media to further the public nature of the discipline (I am not interested in academic philosophy). I hope to explore what kinds of sources work well, identify the factors that are the most successful in these sources, and propose ways that philosophy can continue to be a presence in the public discourse. I hope that the information I compile and dissect will be useful for discussions about public humanities in the future.

I’m interested in this subject for many reasons, but the primary one is that there are lots of awesome ideas that the public would love to engage with so how do we make these ideas free and as accessible as possible?  Philosophy is doing this, therefore let’s look to philosophy.

Texts and Materials:
– Free philosophy sources (videos, podcasts, blogs, open courses) – if the sources are not free then they are not relevant to my study.
– I need to read sources about teaching philosophy, I think.
– Interviews with philosophers (including mine).

Format:
I’ve already created a Google website, which I imagine to be divided into pages in a creative way (not just by an exploration of different media, but by concept perhaps?). This will be a compilation of videos, links, posts, (hopefully) an experimental podcast/interview, and cats.

Text(s) to Imitate?:
I have no idea. I’ve seen nothing exactly like this, though I imagine that there is some sort of educational website in this format.

Questions:
1. Do you think that a website is the appropriate medium?
2. I’m afraid that this might be lingering too much on the cusp of a study and less an argument. What do you think I should anticipate in order to keep this from being a “look, I have cool stuff” website?
3. As educators in the humanities, what sorts of questions/branches/side trails about this potential study are the most interesting or would be the most helpful for you?

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