Brackenridge: The Problem of Academia and the General Public

Most people struggle to relate to academic research, but this struggle is primarily a symptom of the language and methods academics use. While it is true that the problems some research seeks to address are not intuitive, I would argue that the easiest way to communicate research to the public and to other experts is through a problem statement. I may find the study of Aristotelian and Kantian metaphysics to be rewarding in itself, but most people don’t. There’s a chance that you, dear reader, don’t know even know what metaphysics means. For someone to relate to your research, you have to give them a reason to care and communicate that reason in clear, unambiguous language.

Before saying how I hope to do this with my own research, I want to make some comment on the problem of language. Some language is more obscure than others, but that obscurity must sometimes be directly addressed, not circumvented. If I’m going to explain how Kant justifies ethical concern under his moral theory, then there a good chance I will have to use his own language to honestly and properly communicate it, not to mention how it can make the process more expedient and concise. For example, it is much more efficient to say ‘self-existent end’ instead of ‘a thing which admits of no price and possesses an incomparable value.’ Now, that does not mean I can simply say ‘self-existent end’ whenever I want – I have to define what it means first. So long as you define your terms, then you earn the right to use them. Still, that does not mean you have free license to say whatever you want to say; when you’re communicating with a general audience, it is typically within a limited setting, so you will only have so much time to spend defining your terms – time that could be better spent otherwise.

In terms of how I hope to communicate my research, I believe that its nature already makes it predisposed for a general audience. For philosophy, morality and ethics is the most easily accessible because we make dozens of moral decisions every day. It is much easier to see the practical implications of moral systems than, say, epistemological or ontological ones, both of which, while important, mainly deal with background principles. Specifically, I want to look at the ways in which Aristotle and Kant can help us balance our obligation to both strangers and our loved ones. Most would agree that we owe something to people we don’t know, but that we also owe something more to those closest to us. Nonetheless, we constantly renegotiate these various relations, and this process is not always easy. While it is impossible to provide one-size-fits-all answers to ethical question, it is certainly possible to create an ethical framework which makes it easier to approach these ethical quandaries.

With the nature of research more in view, I would have to interact with people in political science and other social sciences if I want my reading of Aristotelian and Kantian ethics to influence how we organize society. Ethical theories truly bear fruit when there are specific policies that can implemented made in the spirit of them. People within these fields will only be convinced of the practical implications of my research if I can make them see the necessity of reconciling our duties to everyone.

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