“Field Philosophy” Edited by Evelyn Brister and Robert Frodeman

I am publishing a paper, “Formal Epistemology in a Tropical Savanna,” in this book edited by Evelyn Brister and Bob Frodeman. (The paper was the basis for a talk prepared for the  Feminist Epistemologies, Methodologies, Metaphysics and Science Studies (FEMMSS) cognate session at PSA 2018. Though I could not attend due to ill health–an unexpected bout with the wonderfully named meralgia paresthetica–a summary was presented by Sharon Crasnow to whom I remain grateful.)

What follows is the book description from Evelyn and Bob.


In Philosophy for the Real World: An Introduction to Field Philosophy (Routledge, forthcoming 2019) Evelyn Brister and Robert Frodeman collect 22 stories of philosophical fieldwork. In these narratives, philosophers reflect on their involvement in collaborative extra-disciplinary projects and articulate strategies for making the most of opportunities to put philosophical work into practice.

Philosophy is not distanced from the real world or secluded in an ivory tower. From projects inside academia (leading a university, working in science and engineering labs) to partnerships in local communities (addressing problems like addiction, fracking, and human trafficking) to involvement in national and international policymaking (service with the European Research Commission, the World Bank, and the International Panel on Climate Change), philosophers are working to create positive change in the world. Along the way, these essays identify obstacles to effective fieldwork, from learning to communicate the value of philosophy, to learning to adapt to the quick pace of real-world negotiation, to dealing with unexpected contingencies and political constraints, to getting academic credit for real-world interventions.

This volume brings attention to projects where philosophy is put into practice—it highlights cases of philosophical fieldwork. On the model of fieldwork in the sciences, field philosophy is practical research that takes place in the wider world rather than being done from the proverbial armchair.

Fieldwork in philosophy is distinguished from the traditional disciplinary model in five ways:

  1. It involves collaborative case-based research at the project level. It aims to influence a practice or product, such as scientific data collection methods, a museum exhibit, or a policy—as opposed to being completed through a publication for philosophical audiences.
  2. It begins with the interests and framing of a non-philosophic audience rather than with the categories and interests of philosophers.
  3. The knowledge it produces is made in the context of its use with the collaboration of non-philosophers.
  4. Its notion of philosophic rigor is contextual, sensitive to the demands of time, interest, and money.
  5. It prioritizes audience-based standards for evaluating success.

Field philosophy differs from disciplinary philosophy in terms of its audience: with whom are you speaking? Disciplinary philosophers speak with one another as they create philosophical knowledge by extending their expertise, and they are judged by the standards of their peers. Philosophical knowledge is produced and collected in a reservoir that is isolated from non-academic use. By contrast, field philosophers engage audiences in practical pursuits outside of philosophy.

Field philosophy complements other forms of practical philosophical inquiry. For instance, applied philosophers write about real-world issues for other professional philosophers and often publish in disciplinary journals. Field philosophers work on real-world projects—for and with the people engaging those issues. Further, field philosophy does not apply a theory developed from the armchair, but rather works through the philosophical issues in a particular situation in a context-sensitive and bottom-up way. Thus, some—but not all—applied philosophers deploy a fieldwork approach some of the time.

Field philosophy also poses several meta-philosophical questions. How shall we define the standards of ‘rigorous’ non-disciplinary research? How shall it be evaluated? How do we best teach next-generation scholars to do it? And how can we institutionalize support for it?


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