Why so few philosophers communicate with general audiences? As if they had nothing important to say in the public arena. In most cases, they do their job within the academic environment, as they did it decades ago. The university and college people are the only target audience, as it was a century ago. They teach in a classroom, give speeches at low attended conferences and publish their texts in highly specialized journals. Their complicated language of communication is a serious barrier to non-philosophers. The problems they try to solve aren’t ones that the members of the public would recognize as problems. It’s not often that they give public speeches and TV interviews, unless they enter the political world. Very few attract a public attention. I am thinking about it because the Internet has become such a public sphere. Is it a sort of obligation for philosophers to use it?
Oral, Textual, Visual, Digital
Ancient philosophers dealt with the clash between the oral and textual. Plato claimed that what he wrote in his texts did not convey all knowledge. He didn’t trust textual culture. Why? His argumentation (in The Phaedrus, Letter VII) looks logical even today. Many readers aren’t prepared to understand much of what they read. If they read, they forget much soon. They lose the main meaning, the plot, the metaphors, etc. Besides, the text itself cannot embrace everything. Much reliable is to deal directly with a given thing, problem, person instead of reading about them. So, not reading about it but learning it through a direct contact. Like learning about a foreigner by meeting him/her in person. And talking to her in her language and in her country. Not by reading about her in an English newspaper in free time. Something similar took place one hundred years ago when the photography and cinema were born. The photos and the cinema became a big challenge to the texts. The texts started to be less exciting for many audiences. And less wanted in comparison to the cinematic messages about the world. When TV became popular, most people started to see the world by means of the visual culture than by the textual. And now, we have the digital culture coming in everwhere. Many distrust it, many admire it. But we all have it at hand.
Public Philosophy in the Digital Time
The need for the public philosophy depends on the cultural tradition of a given country. In France, Germany, England, the US, and Argentina philosophy is more visible in public debates than elsewhere. But still it’s the potential of the philosophical education, philosophical counselling, life coaching and similar is much bigger than what we see in the public space. And, we have a digital era now. Its global scale, easy access and high-speed communication provoke questions. Isn’t the Internet a good place for the public philosophers? Doesn’t it provide convenient tools for the transmission of knowledge and wisdom? Wouldn’t the French Encyclopedists, if alive, admire Wikipedia saying that it’s the realization of their dreams? Is not cyber-education a fascinating challenge here? And all this, independently of the country the philosopher and her audiences come from?
Public Philosophy by Digital Tools
The term ‘Public Philosophy’ means many things. First, the issues important for the public or social life. Relations of power within society, social justice, oppression, the good life, happiness, self-knowledge, and self-development belong to such issues. Second, reaching general audiences, not only the academic audience. Various audiences need various types of communication. You can’t use scientific jargon for non-scientific audiences. Some philosophers are able to convert this jargon into the speech undestrood by general audicences. Argentina’s Darío Sztajnszraiber being my favourite, Slovenia’s Slavoj Žižek being most famous in Europe and American pragmatist Cornel West very popular in the US. Third, using tools that are available to everybody: computers/smart-phones, social media, v/blogs, YT/videos, etc. All this is within a reach of nearly all philosophers. Who would be the target audience here? All those who have access to the Internet and use it by any device. Today, you don’t have to go to a university to discuss philosophical problems. Universities have lost their monopoly in the area of education. I bet many students of the humanities read Wikipedia more often than the classics. They visit YT more often than college libraries.
Is the Internet a Public Space?
It is. Everything you do on the Internet will last. It will not disappear. Much discussion about it after the FB scandal, so everyone knows it well. There is another question. Will anything you do as philosopher make you a public philosopher? Well, if you have a blog, a www, a YT channel… yes, you are a public philosopher. There’s a difference, though, if you have one hundred entries and if you have one hundred thousand entries. The number of people you can inspire makes a difference, yet it’s a different story (very important though).