Moral Philosophy and the ‘Real World’

  • Christopher J. Cowley


Introduction: Notoriously, most philosophers write for other philosophers. Most philosophy books are designed for students of philosophy, students who can be assumed to have signed up and remained in the subject voluntarily, and therefore to have a certain interest in the subject and a certain understanding of the point of it all. In this paper I want to consider the philosopher’s engagement with those who, living in the ‘real world’, have had neither interest in nor exposure to philosophy beyond the stereotypes of popular culture.1 By ‘engagement’ I have in mind formal pedagogical encounters such as compulsory teaching sessions in professional schools (medical ethics, business ethics, philosophy of mind for psychologists), public discussions and television talk-shows where the speaker is introduced as a ‘philosopher’, but above all the informal conversations that a philosopher inevitably has with his family, neighbours, doctor, accountant, his child’s teachers, his priest etc., where he is not so much teaching philosophy as explaining what the subject is. I’m hoping this is not of merely anthropological concern, but that this exploration can reveal something important about teaching the subject to philosophy students as well, even if for reasons of space it will have to be a bit polemical.