Exploring the practice of public philosophy.
Rob Lewis and Paul Doran
Rob Lewis and Paul Doran are the founders of Philosophy in Pubs (PIPs), a Liverpool-based grassroots community organisation promoting and practising community philosophy in the UK and worldwide.
During the pandemic, I spoke to Rob and Paul to learn about how PIPs started, its efforts to democratise philosophy, and the impact of technology on opportunities to philosophise with others.
Rob Lewis (left) and Paul Doran (right). Images by Rob Lewis and Paul Doran.
"We're giving focus to what our purpose is: we've sort of distilled it to being the democratisation of philosophy. It's the democratisation of being able to think and engage in a philosophical way."
Alejandro Strong runs Apeiron Expeditions, a Maine-based organisation that leads excursions into nature that offer opportunity for philosophical reflection.
I spoke to Alejandro to learn about how Apeiron developed and the unique possibilities philosophy in nature allows.
Alejandro Strong. Image by Simon Beckford.
"What I'm now saying I do and saying is an important part of philosophy is reflection on participation. I see my trips as setting people up to participate in ideas"
Lani Watson is a philosopher at the University of Oxford, working in applied epistemology with a focus on the philosophy of questions. She is also co-founder of The QSM, a professional consultancy delivering training and development for better questioning.
I spoke to Lani to learn about her research, her experience of running the OPEN Scotland public philosophy network, and her recent work with The QSM.
Lani Watson. Image by Lani Watson.
"There is so much in the world in general, and in workplaces it's perhaps particularly true, there's this absolute urgency to move straight towards answers, or straight towards solving problems, and then failing to spend time to consider, are we actually asking the right question? Is this a problem? Do we even really understand the problem we're trying to solve?"
Sophia Stone is Associate Professor in Philosophy at Lynn University and the founder of Wisdom's Edge.
I spoke to Sophia to learn about the work of Wisdom's Edge to promote critical thinking through philosophical inquiry, guided by a democratic process in communities that do not have access to the university.
Sophia Stone. Image by Sophia Stone.
"[...] just because someone [...] is homeless or maybe someone is very old and unable to speak, their mind may still be active. Everyone deserves a chance to have a meaningful conversation."
Jonathon Keats is an artist, writer and experimental philosopher based in the United States and Europe, who creates opportunities for philosophical reflection through art.
I spoke to Jonathan to learn how he thinks about the relationship between philosophy and art practice, about the place of reflection in public art, and much else.
Jonathon Keats. Image by Jen Dessinger.
"I took up the technique of positing an alternate reality in a thought experiment, but I didn’t want to be disingenuous. I didn’t want to use it to force others into a position that I had pre-determined, but instead to build out the alternate reality in a way that I could experience it together with other people."
Grace Lockrobin is the Founding Director of Thinking Space, a social enterprise that creates interesting and inclusive spaces for people of all ages to think philosophically together.
In our discussion Grace explained how Thinking Space developed, her views on the relationship between philosophy and education, the value of community philosophy, and much more.
Grace Lockrobin. Image by Grace Lockrobin.
"I strongly believe that philosophy does the most good when it’s out there in the wild."
Sacha Golob. Image by Sacha Golob.
"Some of the most interesting or unusual [questions] are going to come with this kind of context. You've got a whole range of people with radically different lives and radically different commitments. And then when you take that into a gallery context, it's amplified because it's not just you and them, it's you and them and all these objects. And so you've got this kind of triangular relationship."
Briana Toole. Image by Briana Toole.
"Corrupt the Youth is like a living, thriving, organism. We're changing all the time. I think this programme will look very different in five years, because the kids we work with will be very different in five years."
Brennan Jacoby. Image by James Champion.
"The challenge for me is to always be doing "real philosophy", which is to say an authentic and rigorous pursuit of truth and wisdom, but in a way that provides practical help to real professional challenges. That is the challenge but it's also the thing that makes it do real work for people. "
Barry Lam is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Vassar College and the host and creator of Hi-Phi Nation, an innovative philosophy podcast that "turns stories into ideas."
I spoke to Barry to learn more about what led him to start Hi-Phi Nation, his experience of creating the show and what it has taught him about the relationship between philosophy, journalism, storytelling and much more.
Barry Lam. Image by Melissa Surprise.
""In every one of these areas [of reporting] you'll find a connection to philosophy. [...] A little bit everywhere, that's sort of what Hi-Phi Nation is. "
Justine Kolata has recently completed a PhD at Cambridge, where she researched conceptions of Bildung (self-cultivation) and Die Schöne Seele ('The Beautiful Soul') in German philosophy.
She is also the founder and director of The Public Sphere Salons, an organisation that works to revive Enlightenment salon culture. I spoke to Justine to learn more about the organisation and her experience of running salons.
Justine Kolata. Image by Justine Kolata.
"The salon was a microcosm of life; the grief, the beauty, the intellectual thirst, the banality, the joy, the courage and weakness of humanity were all represented, but in a concentrated form that seemed to spontaneously induce personal revelation. False ideas and prejudices could not be left unexamined. "
Graeme Tiffany is a researcher, trainer, lecturer and education consultant working in the UK, with special interests in detached and street-based youth work, youth social policy, informal education, democratic education, participation and the use of philosophical tools to support learning.
I spoke to Graeme to learn about his pioneering work in Community Philosophy, which empowers people in any context to be active citizens and to generate ideas at a grassroots level.
Graeme Tiffany. Image by Graeme Tiffany.
"Can we have people who are present, on an ongoing basis, in communities, helping people to learn how to use philosophy in their own spaces and places? "
Kristoffer Ahlstrom-Vij is a reader in Phiosophy at Birkbeck College, London researching immigration attitudes, prediction markets and epistemic values, virtues and norms.
In 2015-16 Kristoffer set-up and ran a philosophy in prison programme in South London. I spoke to him to learn about his experiences of this work.
Kristoffer Ahlstrom-Vij. Image by Kristoffer Ahlstrom-Vij.
"I thought less and less about the supposed boundaries of philosophy and was simply liberated by the fact that, as a philosopher [...] you have a lot of latitude in terms of what you work on and how you decide to work on it."
Ty Branch is a PhD student at the University of Waterloo, Canada, researching the philosophy of science communication.
I spoke to Ty to learn about her public philosophical experiences, including working as a philosopher-in-residence/field philosopher in an architecture firm and in a big data analytics organisation.
"If you do philosophy "in the field" the problems that [you] could decide to tackle are really enormous. I also love that they intersect in ways that you can't see when you're doing textbook philosophy"
Kilian Jörg is a philosopher and artist based in Vienna and Berlin whose research focuses on ecological epistemology and the intersection of art and philosophy.
He is the founder of Philosophy Unbound (PU), a collective which organises regular open stages for performative philosophy. The Public Life of the Mind spoke to Kilian to learn about his experiences with PU.
Kilian Jörg. Image by Anna Lerchbaumer.
"Philosophy is a struggle for bringing something into a concept, in a way, and it's very limiting if you have just one kind of form for it"
Carrie Jenkins. Image by Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa
Chloé de Canson. Image by Chloé de Canson
"There's a quiet desire for some other place for philosophy to exist in the world"
Todd Altschuler. Image by Stephan Sagmiller