Do you actually want to?
- ...nobody should have to be a public philosopher. Although it can be valuable, it can also be risky, and it isn't suitable for every kind of philosopher or for every kind of philosophical work.
- If you are only here in response to external pressure in this direction, and this is not something you're motivated to do for your own reasons, or for its own sake, IMO you're within your rights to resist that pressure citing the risks and/or the inappropriateness of this kind of work for your situation.
Be aware of the risks.
- Online hate and abuse are disproportionately directed at women, POC, LGBTQ people and other groups who experience discrimination, but anyone can be targeted. There are psychological, emotional, legal, financial, and other risks involved in public-facing work. They are often unpredictable.
- Hate and abuse do not only occur online, even if they begin there. If you become a public figure your personal safety may be put at risk through e.g. doxxing, stalking, and dangerous physical mail. Academics are typically easy to target as our work addresses and phone numbers are posted freely online by our universities and our physical office spaces are often accessible to anyone.
- If you belong to a university or other institution, find out what support and protections they provide. If nothing (or too little) is available, you might want to suggest/request/demand that they do better. Especially if your institution, department, or funding agency is actively encouraging you to engage in the risky business of public scholarship, they should support and help you when you do.
- Some colleagues, in philosophy and elsewhere in the academy, do not respect public-facing scholarship. Some will even view it as evidence that you've lost interest in—or failed at—"real" philosophy. This can be an issue in securing employment as well as for promotion, tenure, and other forms of assessment.
- Even positive experiences in the public arena can be exhausting and unpredictable. For example, media interest tends to come in viral waves, the timing of which can depend on all kinds of factors beyond your control and won't respect your teaching schedule.
Have something to say.
- It should be something you care enough about, and that enough people will want to hear, to make your efforts worthwhile. If you are going to make a serious investment of time, emotional energy, research funding, and other things into public work, you need to believe in your project and your message.
- I started to do public-facing work in earnest when I started to research the philosophy of love. My work on the epistemology of arithmetic is no less important to me, but it isn't suitable for the same kind of public audience, and that's OK (see above).
Consider who you want to be in the public arena.
- If you develop a public profile, you will almost certainly be judged both positively and negatively for pretty much anything you do. Under these circumstances, integrity is challenging but essential. I recommend thinking carefully in advance about your intended public image, persona, personal brand, or whatever you like to call it.
- I created a list of features I would aim to embody in my public-facing self. You don't need to be that explicit about it, but it helps to have a sense of direction and personal ethics to maintain consistency as you build a platform and audience.
- Think ahead about your preferences with respect to privacy, as well as those of people around you (such as family members, collaborators, and colleagues). Keep these conversations current—people and situations change.
Know that you will need different skill sets.
Philosophers trained in a typical contemporary philosophy PhD program are not trained to be public philosophers. Don't expect it to be easy to transfer what you already know into the public sphere. Although often ignored, trivialized, or disparaged, everything listed in Part 2 below is an achievement.
I've found learning to write and speak for public audiences very challenging. I experienced a steep learning curve. I'm still learning rapidly...--Carrie Jenkins " So You Want To Be A Public Philosopher?" [HT DailyNous; all emphases in original]
I warmly recommend Carrie Jenkins's post to would-be-public philosophers, their would-be-peers and evaluators, and people that love public philosophers (for whatever reason). The piece is full of important insights and suggestions (there is a lot more than I quoted above), and I would echo her focus on integrity (recall). In particular, I really like how she calls attention to the significance of advance planning. Importantly, Jenkins calls attention to the responsibilities of institutions, not the least universities and grant agencies, that encourage public philosophy, but often provide shamefully few resources to support colleagues that are being threatened or abused/harassed from various angles or become targets of political campaigns. (The previous sentence draws on my experiences of my departmental colleagues and myself.) In addition, Jenkins is right to call attention to the reputational risks of doing public philosophy. We do have a lot of colleagues who fail to respect public-facing scholarship, but use it, as she suggests, as a proxy for lack of philosophical ability.
I like how Jenkins speaks of "public-facing" work/scholarship. It is clear that she tries to make it symmetrical with, let's call it, peer-facing scholarship. She is right to emphasize that they draw on different skill sets, and that our professional training does not really prepare us for public-facing work. (Having said that, European universities and grant agencies are increasingly offering seminars to address some of the required skill set as part of graduate training.) Her underlying (tacit) model, however, is that of publicizing insights she developed through her peer-facing expertise. That is, for Jenkins some peer-facing expertise is suitable for development to a public audience (and some not). That is, this is really a matter of (to use European technocratic-speek) disseminating peer-evaluated research findings to a wide audience.
To be sure, Jenkins's model is compatible with skipping publication in peer-facing outlets (journals) and hybrid versions (publishing some material for fellow experts and other material only in public venues, but with expert-quality documentation available--Piketty did a version of this and, perhaps, also Jenkins in her work on love). But my point is that public philosophy so conceived has an implied directionally from peer-facing expertise to public-facing exposure. There is nothing wrong with this conception. But it is not the only possible conception of the genre (for more of my views on public philosophy, recall here, here on Dotson's service philosophy, and here on some blogging as public philosophy).
Before I get to to that, it is worth noting that even in Jenkins's model of public philosophy, the person, who is a philosopher, and who faces the public, may well change. Jenkins hints at this by calling attention to the many skills and new dispositions one acquires by doing public philosophy. Even leaving aside (due to opportunity costs) that one may not be able to participate with the same dedication and attention to peer-facing philosophy, one may become a different kind of philosopher entirely. Here the metaphor of face is not innocent; by professionally facing others, one also becomes -- go read your Levinas - part of their community. A public-facing orientation generates duties, loyalties, and obligations and these when taken serious, in turn, transform the person. I don't mean the previous sentence to be my last word on it (it's not the first), but as the Hypatia debacle revealed (recall), research ethics are not fully developed within professional philosophy yet.
And this gets me to another possible conception of the genre. It is quite possible for public-facing philosophy to influence or displace peer-facing philosophy. (To give a standard example: Socrates undoubtedly talked quite a bit to Plato, one hopes, but quite possibly spent a lot more time talking to non-philosophers.) By this I mean that public-philosophy entails a receptivity toward the risk that one's peer-facing philosophy is not just influenced by one's engagements with public others, but, more importantly, shaped by one's public-facing activities. For example, and it's not my area of expertise, but it is my sense from reading Judith Butler that gender theory was shaped by (no doubt, theory-mediated) encounters with lived experience that in certain respects ran well in advance of gender theory. (Some such analogous transformative experience occurred to me through my engagements with professional economists--I didn't go native [despite being employed in a social science department], but I look very differently at my own profession and its history now. I am confident plenty of philosophers of mind, say, were changed by their immersion in some of the cognitive sciences.)
The way such public-facing work can shape peer-faced work is unpredictable. Some will start muttering about lowered standards and lack of seriousness--and, indeed, there are genuine risks. But the would-be-shaping of peer-faced scholarship is, in fact, a central argument in favor of public-facing work. As I have noted before, analytical philosophy has low barriers to entry and little in the way of doctrinal or even (much) methodological expertise. At its best, it has a sponge-like capacity to constantly rejuvenate itself -- some would say be disciplined -- by way of outward engagement with mathematics, the other sciences, history, and even the arts, etc. There is no reason to end rejuvenation by way of facing-other-expert-areas. But, in addition, if we are being encouraged to face and transform the public, we should not be afraid to be transformed by it.