J. Britt Holbrook deposited A cartography of philosophy’s engagement with society in the group Science and Technology Studies (STS) on Humanities Commons 11 months ago
Should philosophy help address the problems of non-philosophers or should it be something isolated both from
other disciplines and from the lay public? This question became more than academic for philosophers working in
UK universities with the introduction of societal impact assessment in the national research evaluation exercise,
the REF. Every university department put together a submission describing its broader impact in case narratives,
and these were graded. Philosophers were required to participate.
The resulting narratives are publicly available and provide a unique resource permitting a more comprehensive,
empirically based consideration of philosophy’s influence outside the academy than has hitherto been possible.
This paper takes advantage of this to develop a taxonomy of the ways in which philosophers engage society in
their work. We identify five approaches: dissemination, engagement, provocations, living philosophy, and
philosophy of X. We compare these along the six dimensions proposed by Frodeman and Briggle to characterize
the ideal field philosopher. We conclude that there are multiple ways of being a field philosopher, which vary in
their emphasis. This pluralism bodes well for the expansion of philosophy’s societal influence, since there are
routes available to suit different preferences.
Keywords: philosophy, public value, REF, impact case narratives