Collaboration

We have emphasized that fieldwork has a different rhythm than disciplinary work and that it is done in different places—at one or another site, and in any case away from the philosopher’s armchair. The contributors to this volume have worked in a variety of settings. The field may be literal (e.g., Paul Thompson’s fieldwork in Chapter 19 is with agricultural researchers) or it could be with policymakers or a community group (e.g., Ryan Muldoon’s work in Chapter 6 with the World Bank, Peg O’Connor’s work in Chapter 21 with addicts and judges). It could even be in a scientific laboratory or in the university as a whole (see Chapter 3 by Julia Bürsten and Chapter 11 by Daniel Little). What all philosophical fieldwork has in common, though, is that it is collaborative with people outside the discipline of philosophy.

Collaboration has been increasing in all academic fields in recent decades, but it has increased less in philosophy than in the sciences: philosophers still tend to write articles and books on their own. How much do philosophers collaborate? Estimates for co-authored publications in philosophy range from 2 percent to 11 percent (Cronin et al. 2003; Lariviere et al. 2006), and we can assume that most of these are not interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary collaborations. Though the rate has been growing and is higher in some specialties than others, it is clear that philosophers collaborate less than both natural scientists (where the rate of article co-authorship is over 90 percent) and social scientists

(where the rate of article co-authorship is over 50 percent). Andrew Higgins and Alexis Dyschkant (2014) argue that the lack of collaboration, and particularly of interdisciplinary collaboration, is problematic for philosophy, and they have presented a plausible connection between the intellectual isolation of philosophy from other fields and several ways in which philosophy could be seen as failing to progress or to make itself relevant to society. Collaboration expands philosophers’ understanding of theories, methods, and problems in other disciplines, and it also opens up opportunities to contribute productive solutions to social and technical problems. Collaborations across disciplinary boundaries may lead philosophers to sync the concepts we develop with the concepts already in use in practical and policy contexts. Communication across the barriers that arise through the process of disciplinary specialization is therefore valuable both to philosophical debate and to researchers in other fields.

But not all interdisciplinary research performed by philosophers is field philosophy. If a philosopher is consulted in the context of others’ research, this may be a straightforward application of a conceptual framework to a case—that is, applied philosophy. Field philosophy differs from applied philosophy in that it is characterized by collaborative interactions that affect our partners’ projects. For example, if a philosopher contributes to interdisciplinary research by writing an article with a historian of science about Kuhn’s understanding of theory change, it is within the bounds and expectations of disciplinary philosophy. But if a philosopher spends months or years embedded in a chemistry lab and is able to critique an experimental set-up on the grounds that the causal model it invokes has internal inconsistencies, the product is not a journal article that slots philosophy in at the appropriate places. The effect is of another type: it motivates a redesign of the experiment and, potentially, the causal model itself. This qualifies as field philosophy.

A number of the field philosophers in this volume have collaborated with interdisciplinary academic research teams. Since much of modern technology emerges from university research, this is an important location for field philosophy. But philosophical fieldwork mostly takes place outside of the university, when philosophers collaborate with policymakers and community groups. Such collaborations may occur at an international scale, as when John Broome (Chapter 7) worked on the publication of the 2014 Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Or they may operate at a more local level, as when Roksana Alavi (Chapter 18) served on a committee on human trafficking appointed by the governor of the state of Oklahoma, spending much of her time with faith-based community groups in the city where she lives.

There is a trend right now to call philosophical research with implications for policy and practice ‘socially relevant.’ Field philosophy builds on sociallyrelevant research in philosophy, but then takes the additional step of engaging directly with the people who can benefit. Field philosophers are not satisfied with merely writing about how a philosophical concept or theory might be relevant to social practice; they also build connections with practitioners and policymakers. More often than not, direct involvement leads to modifications of philosophical theory, as field philosophers work to bridge the gap between the ideal and the real.

A noteworthy feature of the collaborations described in this book is that unlike those between philosophers on a disciplinary journal article, the collaborative work of field philosophers involves face-to-face meetings and activities that take place in real time rather than asynchronously across email in the pages of a journal. It is an essential change in how philosophers view the practice of philosophy, a change that revives the ancient debate between speech and writing. Outside the time we spend in the classroom, philosophical work primarily consists in shaping the written word. Even ‘talks’ at conferences traditionally involve reading a written paper aloud. In contrast, field philosophy puts its emphasis on oral performance.

Field philosophy is sometimes seen as just another term for applied philosophy. But applied philosophy writes about real world problems, while field philosophy conducts its work primarily via conversation. Field philosophers write, of course—often, memos and reports—and they bring back what they learn to the philosophical community through disciplinary writing or essays such as those in this volume. But field philosophy gives priority to practicing philosophy at the moment it comes up in collaborative settings: raising questions, responding to queries, and expanding the moral imagination of people as they are engaged in problem-solving. The goal is to influence events on the fly. Field philosophy is thinking put into action. The point is to help inform the ideas that are shaping events, rather than to critically evaluate them after the fact.

This shift toward the oral evokes ancient debates concerning the advantages and disadvantages of different modes of communicating philosophy. Socrates famously refused to write; in the Phaedrus he emphasized the dangers of texts and the virtues of living speech. Plato, of course, was the author of the Phaedrus, where Socrates makes these criticisms; Plato responded by inventing a manner of writing (the dialogues) where many of the virtues and protections of speech were preserved. But since Aristotle—and with the loss of his dialogues— philosophy has trended toward abstract argument. Writing journal-length articles has many advantages in terms of the care, precision, and extent of thinking. But writing, and particularly academic writing, tends to place philosophy at a distance from the daily labors where social problems are confronted and solved. It is critical rather than participatory. Conversely, oral philosophizing has an immediacy of impact—while also raising questions of permanence and, by extension, of how field philosophers can document and get credit for the work that they do. The ephemeral nature of speech raises distinctive challenges in documenting impact, a problem we return to in the Conclusion.

 
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