Philip Kitcher, a prominent philosopher at Columbia, recently published his own recommendation for philosophy to re-orient itself. You can get a pdf of his article here. The basic problem is that, like all disciplines, philosophers tend toward ever-increasing specialization, and so their audience shrinks and shrinks. When they try then to argue for the importance of what they’re doing, they face a difficult question: if what they are doing is so important, how come no one other than themselves is interested in it? They can shout, “It IS important!”, but the louder they have to shout, the less convincing their message is.
Instead, Kitcher takes a cue from John Dewey: ‘‘If we are willing to conceive education as the process of forming fundamental dispositions, intellectual and emotional, toward nature and fellow men, philosophy may even be deﬁned as the general theory of education’’. Philosophy, he thinks, and even “academic” philosophy, needs to engage the real questions and problems not just of specialists, but of educated people across a wide bandwidth.
Here’s Kitcher’s own vision:
…[S]ocieties and individuals continue to need an integrated picture of nature that combines the contributions of different areas of inquiry, and different ﬁelds of investigation can be assisted by thinkers whose more synthetic perspective can alert them to missed opportunities and provide them with needed clariﬁcation. Along the value-axis, philosophy can offer an account of ethics as an evolving practice, one that has probably occupied our species for most of its history, and that has been variously distorted by claims to expertise that are based on alleged religious revelations or on supposed a priori reasoning. They can seek, as Dewey recommended, methods for advancing the ethical project more ‘‘intelligently.’’ In light of this account, using whatever methodological advice can be garnered from it, they can identify the points in current ethical, social, and political practice where tensions and difﬁculties arise, attempting to facilitate discussions that will lead to progressive shifts.
So I think what this means is that philosophers should attempt to both clarify and question the developments in the sciences, business, politics, and arts, from the vantage-point of a broadly educated person. They should be the ones taking the long view, as it were.
Kitcher’s short article is well worth reading and reflecting on, I think.