Enlivening the Public Discourse with Ram Neta

By Ram Neta

Lots of people bemoan the incivility of public discourse.  But what I find even more dispiriting than its incivility is its predictability and its tedium.

Public discourse feels boring to me in three ways.  First, it tends to focus on the same menu of topics; second, it tends to feature the same menu of views; and third, it proceeds according to the increasingly fixed rules of an increasingly competitive sport.  How can we change that?

My thought was to try to bring new topics and new views and new (and, I hope, non-competitive) forms of discussion into public spaces.  It’s a kind of graffiti.  But, since I don’t live in a place with a very high population density, I can’t make this graffiti in a place where lots of people will see it unless I do it online.  Some people who aspire to do this start a blog, but that requires a commitment to routine that I’ve never managed.  And even then, my blog would only be read by a small number of philosophers and an even smaller number of people related to me.  So how to do this?

I noticed that, whenever I check in to some establishment on social media, my public posts are visible to everyone else who is on the same social media platform at that establishment.  And so I thought that, if I use the world’s most popular social media platform, and check in to the most popular local stores, and making my posts public, I could bring new topics or new ideas into a space in which lots of people would be exposed to them.  Probably almost everyone who even glances at what I write will not bother to take it seriously.  But if even one other shopper each day can be provoked to think about the nature of matter, or whether free will is possible, or whether nation-states have outlived their usefulness, that would make me feel good about the effort I’ve made.

Ram has been using his Facebook posts like this for some time… what if more philosophers did the same thing?  Let us know in the comments below! 

Ram Neta is Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.  His research is in epistemology–in particular, he’s interested in understanding the nature of reasoning, and its relation to knowledge, and to the norms of rationality.  He hopes that his research will eventually help him to figure out what mistakes he is now making in raising his children.


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