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Truth AND consequences

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  • UserPolly Mitchell (King's College London) World_link
  • ClockThursday 28 January 2021, 15:30-17:00
  • HouseZoom.

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In his 1987 paper ‘Truth or Consequences’, Dan Brock candidly describes his experience working as an in-house philosopher with the President’s Commission for the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine. Brock asserts that there is a deep conflict between the goals and virtues of philosophical scholarship and public policymaking; whereas the former is concerned with the search for truth, notwithstanding the social consequences thereof, the latter must be primarily concerned with promoting good consequences. He argues that when philosophers are actively engaged in policy-making, they must shift their primary goal from truth to the policy consequences of their actions. I will argue that while Brock is right to highlight the tensions between scholarly and public philosophy, his conclusion that these tensions amount to a ‘deep conflict’ reflects a needlessly pessimistic view of the possible shape and nature of applied philosophy. I will sketch out an account of applied philosophy which denies the need to choose between truth and consequences. Consideration of the nuance and complexity of the political and social landscape in which philosophical practice takes place is not distinct from philosophical practice but, on the contrary, a crucial part of applied philosophy. Applied philosophy, far from representing a dilution of gold-standard philosophical methods, can be understood to embrace a distinctive way of doing philosophy – one which sees truth and consequences as compatible ends.

This talk is part of the Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science series.

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