So what am I asking academic philosophers to do?
As a place to start, let's get this out of the way. It's not politics.
Sure, if we were a rational species we'd all be down in front of the White House protesting nuclear weapons every weekend. But this is a responsibility of all citizens, and not academic philosophers in particular. So no, I'm not asking academics to wave signs and shout slogans.
Here in the United States at least, the Democrat and Republican parties typically ignore the biggest threat to the republic with equal measure. So even if a philosopher wished to fight nuclear weapons through political partisanship it's not at all clear what party they should support. So again, this is challenge for all citizens, and not a burden it would be reasonable to place on philosophers alone.
What Am I Demanding?
So if not politics, what then? What am I asking, or um, demanding that academic philosophers do??
I'm asking academic philosophers to be philosophers. I'm asking them to be rational. I'm asking them to be relevant. Here's how.
The threat to human welfare presented by nuclear weapons arises from a source more fundamental than global politics. This threat, like others such as climate change, arises from our relationship with knowledge
How can fundamental causes not be relevant to philosophy?
How can our relationship with knowledge not be a topic suitable for professional philosophers to investigate?
Our relationship with knowledge is a fundamental factor which will determine the course of the 21st century, and probably the rest of human history as well. How we manage this relationship will determine whether our future is full of glorious miracles, or a descent in to dystopian horrors. How our culture thinks about our relationship with knowledge will decide whether we are handing our children a garden of eden, or sending them in to an unbearable hell on Earth.
To the degree professional philosophers ignore this all important relationship with knowledge, they are irrelevant to what matters most, the advancement of human welfare. And to the degree that is true, they will be forever condemned to continue writing obscure papers on arcane topics, papers that almost nobody reads. There's a price tag for being irrelevant.
Who Else Can Do This Job?
Who do we expect is supposed to examine our culture's relationship with knowledge?
In a democracy our political leaders are basically highly skilled sales people. They have a valid role in representing the will of the people, but surely we don't expect sales people who are always running for the next election to provide deep reflection on fundamental issues like our relationship with knowledge. I mean, c'mon, even our highest ranking national politicians can't focus on the nuclear weapons which could erase our society in less than an hour. They can't really do the job they already have, it would irrational to expect even more of them.
Scientists are highly skilled at developing new knowledge. This is the job we hire them to perform, and they deliver. But knowing how to develop knowledge, and having an ability to reflect deeply on our relationship with knowledge are not automatically the same thing. In fact, because scientists were born to develop knowledge, and get paid to do that job, it seems reasonable to claim that, as a group, they have a built in bias which will make it difficult to impossible for them to observe our relationship with knowledge in a truly holistic and fully objective manner. Scientists are really good at what they're really good at. It would be irrational to expect them to be really good at everything.
So who is it that should examine our relationship with knowledge? Oprah? Talk show hosts? Novelists? TV programming executives? Comedians? Internet blowhards such as myself? Who is it that is best qualified to inspect the relationship which lies at the heart of our modern science driven civilization?
They're intelligent. They're highly educated. They're articulate. They've studied the history of Western thought in considerable detail. They have Phd's, cultural authority. They have offices in the ivory tower and funding from major universities. They have access to tomorrow's leaders, today's young people.
Philosophers are the most qualified people for examining our relationship with knowledge
. It's a very important job. It's their job. Now we just need to persuade them to do it.