Changing the world

I attended the last seminar in a series hosted by the HEA called “Philosophy and Public Policy:  Making an Impact

There was a good talk by Baroness Onora O’Neill called “Interpreting the World, changing the world” – a reference to Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach, and his famous line, “philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point is to change it”.  With worries about funding in the humanities depending on the impact of research, at least some philosophers are trying to find ways to change the world, or anyway make a noticeable dent in it.  A good thought emerged in the discussion:  both Marx and those who call for impact presuppose that there’s nothing worth preserving or maintaining in the world that we’ve got. 

G E Moore to one side, philosophers don’t score points for writing papers in agreement with what everyone else says.  They’re not invited to give talks which argue that everyone’s got the right idea about, say, the mind-body relation.  Philosophers are supposed to be independent, have new ideas, question the assumptions of others, find reasons to take issue with the status quo.  I wonder how that might skew the pursuit of wisdom when, admittedly only very occasionally, our thoughts in some domain  are genuinely unobjectionable.

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