Brackenridge: Lessons in Communicating Philosophy

It is not uncommon for many people to struggle to apply philosophy to their daily lives, but that can hardly be blamed on them. Philosophers (and I am not innocence of this myself) tend to struggle to demonstrate to people how they can integrate philosophical concepts to make sense of their lives. I do believe an unexamined life is not worth living, but it is so tempting to remain couped up in your room, reading and writing divorced from the vagaries of daily life. I, to my chagrin, have found myself doing that very thing this summer – old habits die hard, I suppose. Still, there is a fine line to be walked between blind theoretical research and pop, hackneyed self-help. Philosophical rigor must be maintained, but when examining life, we must remember to live as well.

Fortunately, I believe I have found a good avenue to communicate my research on cosmopolitan ethics to a broader audience: love. It is all well and good to talk of abstract Kantian notions of self-existent ends, categorical imperatives, and respect, but you come to a point where the deeply human, emotional elements of life must be brought into the equation. The fact that I’m researching in the realm of morality and ethics gives me a leg up in that department, but if I’m going to make people take seriously the conflict between our duties to our loved ones and strangers, then love is a promising starting point. When all is said and done, I hope that whatever argument I end up proposing will capture many of our intuitions about love, even in a world of strangers.

Nonetheless, I’m certainly not the only one trying to figure out how to get people to take their research seriously outside the purely academic. In one our meetings, my cohort talked extensively about the unique and surprising routes our research has taken us. Many of them found inspiration in these unexpected avenues; I did not expect my research to take me to the philosophy of love (though perhaps I should not be that surprised). Regardless of what we should have recognized at the outset our research, many of us found inspiration in these new ideas and concept. I found this to be particularly true for those of us who are mainly focused in the humanities, though it certainly remains true for my STEM oriented colleagues, even though the nature of their research gives them a clearer idea of the applicability of their research.

Despite our shared research experiences, I’ve found that the biggest hurdle between understanding our respective projects is simply the fact that we are not familiar with each other’s fields. For example, one of my cohort members is doing research on addiction within rats where she has to do a myriad of surgeries and tests on them to understand addiction pathways within the brain. The reasons for why she’s research addition are relatively self-explanatory, but the method behind the research is somewhat beyond me. Similarly, no one is familiar with Kantian ethics within my cohort, so it takes time to thoroughly explain the concepts I am trying to reframe in my research. As bleak as I may make it sound, I’m not particularly troubled by this gap in shared knowledge. The whole point of the Brackenridge is to bridge such a gap and I have certainly found that all of us are coming to a better understanding of why our research matters and, consequently, the best way to communicate our ideas.

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