Form: Field Philosophy is offered in contrast to the disciplinary approach that has dominated philosophy across the 20th century. The chief audience for 20th century philosophy consisted of other philosophers. This is true even in the cases of ‘applied’ and ‘experimental’ philosophy, which typically treat every-day problems or engaging with non-philosophers as occasions for testing philosophical theories. Field Philosophy aims to engage people outside the field of philosophy, with the initial engagement framed in terms of their problems, rather than in terms of perennial problems of philosophers. Field Philosophy thus takes a dedisciplined approach to philosophy (Frodeman 2012), and a metaphilosophy, a critique of what counts – and an argument for what should count – as philosophy in the 21st century.

Means: Frodeman, Briggle, and Holbrook (2012) outline three characteristics of Field Philosophy:

1.     Audience: The audience for field philosophers is in the first instance non-academics – although we view the relationship between academic and non-academic peers as reciprocal. ‘The problem’ the field philosopher aims to address is determined, at least initially, by non-academics. This lends itself to a case-study approach, or an engagement at the local project level (the ‘field’ in Field Philosophy).

2.     Theory: Field Philosophy treats theory differently from 20th century academic philosophy. A disciplinary philosopher first works out a theory, then (sometimes) applies it to real-world cases, usually in order to test or refine the theory. Even bioethicists, who, like the field philosopher, are concerned with finding solutions to real-world problems, tend to impose preformed theories or ethical frameworks on those problems (Briggle 2010). The field philosopher begins by looking for controversies where she can help mend or ‘ameliorate’ a problem. At some point she usually also develops a theory about her work. As a result, field philosophy has an alternative notion of rigor where timeliness and context sensitivity can override the epistemic standards of disciplinary expertise (see Frodeman 2010).

3.     Evaluation: Field philosophy proposes a different view of what counts as success in philosophy. Whereas traditional academic philosophy tends to use disciplinary criteria to judge the extent to which philosophical research increases our understanding of the world, field philosophy balances the disciplinary value of increasing our understanding of the world with the transdisciplinary value of helping the world address its problems. Instead of relying on disciplinary standards of evaluation, field philosophers seek alternative accounts of the impact of their efforts. These accounts incorporate both quantitative and qualitative approaches to assessing the impact of Field Philosophy in particular contexts.

Ends: In the first instance the goal is societal betterment (rather than, say, an increase in theoretical rigor, citations, or the achievement of tenure), which take different meanings depending on the case study. Secondarily, we seek a better understanding of how philosophy can make a difference in the world. Third, we seek better philosophical theory.

Outcomes: Recent cases include acid mine drainage, climate change, a Comparative Assessment of Peer Review (CAPR) at science and technology funding agencies, and fracking. In the latter, our Future of Energy Project has focused on natural gas development (drilling and fracking) regulations in the City of Denton, TX.

Briggle, Adam (2010). A rich bioethics: Public policy, biotechnology, and the Kass council. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.

Frodeman, Robert (2012). “Philosophy Dedisciplined,” Synthese, September, 2012.

Frodeman, Robert, Adam Briggle, and J. Britt Holbrook (2012). Philosophy in the age of neoliberalism. Social Epistemology: A Journal of Knowledge, Culture, and Policy. 26 (2-4). DOI:10.1080/02691728.2012.722701.

(With thanks to Robert Frodeman, Britt Holbrook, Adam Briggle, and UNT's Center for the Study of Interdisciplinarity for this contribution)