June 30, 2012
Posted by on
The founder of the London Philosophy Club, Jules Evans, reflects on philosophy clubs here. Topics include how they operate, the reason for the rise in their number, how they can and should impact society, and how they should relate to academic philosophers.
The movement must also improve its relationship with academia. Academics accuse grassroots philosophy of incoherence, with grassroots philosophers retorting that academic philosophy is irrelevant. This mutual suspicion dates back partly to the shift from informal to formal education – the London Mechanics’ Institute, founded in 1823, eventually became Birkbeck College – and philosophy’s becoming, in the eyes of grassroots philosophers, increasingly specialised, theoretical and introverted (that image of the lonely philosopher again), losing its outward focus on improving people’s lives.
At Queen Mary, University of London, where I run the Well-Being Project at the Centre for the History of Emotions, we’re trying to build more links between academic and grassroots philosophy. There is a huge popular demand for academics to share their expertise – Harvard professor Michael Sandel’s lectures on justice have been watched on YouTube almost 4m times, his recent LSE/Radio 4 lecture series attracted thousands – and we need to find a better way to help them do that. Some philosophy departments are already finding ways: Sheffield, for example, encourages its undergraduates to run a philosophy café in the local community; Warwick has a monthly ideas café; the University of East Anglia launched “conversation cafés” earlier this year.