Does Philosophy Still Matter? A Timely Question Addressed by The New School

James Miller's new book profiles twelve philosophers
whose solid ideas about truth and human conduct
did not always translate so smoothly to social
and political engagements. See NYT Review here 
With the dramatic turn of events unfolding in the Middle East over the past weeks, the question of philosophical ideas rooted in academic discourse and informing critical theory—notions of reason, democracy, liberty, freedom, and human rights—have taken on a new kind of immediacy for many of my students. It is not dissimilar to what I recall as a student in 1989 when the Berlin Wall was falling and I found myself coming to grips with how ideas I was learning about in the classroom translated to what I was seeing unfolding as street level activism. Then like now, I, along with many other individuals working within the academic context, have grappled with what role public intellectuals and philosophers can play within the contemporary and postmodern context in which we live. In many ways my blog has become part of an exploration into this very quandary, but I have also entered into the world of social networking as a way to “think aloud” many of these same questions.

The New School in NYC was founded with avant-garde
principles of teaching and dissemination of ideas
Last week, The New School in New York City raised an idea that I think many of us working closely with critical theory and philosophy in our own work at times ask of ourselves: does philosophy still matter? The New School, founded in 1919 on the heels of the First World War as a school of modern and later avant-garde approaches to teaching and circulation of ideas, has played a key role in uniting leftist American thought with the European philosophical tradition, while fostering the critical theory of the Frankfurt School.  Famous students of The New School read like a who’s who of the cultural fabric of American life, and at many times in its history the institution has come under political attack for its outspoken faculty and student activities. That being said, the question of philosophy and its utility in our present moment forms the backdrop for a fascinating panel discussion that took place there this past week only a day after the Egyptian uprising began. The panel itself is inspired by the publication of a provocative new book by James Miller, professor of political science and chair of the Committee on Liberal Studies at The New School for Social Research titled Examined Lives, From Socrates to Nietzschand includes the following distinguished group of diverse and multi-faceted participants:  

What struck me most after watching the panel (video embedded below) is how frankly and openly the discussion engages with the public perception of academia, and the crisis of disconnection that many believe is now part and parcel of our new technologically mediated world. Still, there is something of an urgency presented in the conversations between these individuals (as citizens and academics) which I take very seriously-- a need to "slow down" as Critchley argues so passionately, and a way to carve out as West argues "a critical space of reflection" to counter the sense of escalation and rapidly moving world events over which many of us feel so powerless.

The New School regularly uploads lectures and panel discussions on its dedicated YouTube Chanel-- a wonderful public resource that is in keeping with the New School's founding mandate.