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Hypatia Project for Public Philosophy

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Alfred Landecker Democracy Fellow Dr. Thomas Arnold is an assistant professor at the philosophical seminary of the University of Heidelberg. His project “Hypatia Project for Public Philosophy” is named after Hypatia of Alexandria – a mathematician, philosopher and astronomer in late 4th-century. She was a respected academic at Alexandria’s university and a popular public speaker.

The current disputes in society have become fairly irrational for various reasons. Political parties are often unwilling to consider opposing sides’ arguments. Reason and evidence are frequently discounted. People assume that their own perspectives are the only valid ones, thus committing fallacies by not reflecting on their own assumptions and biases.

Thomas believes that being rational or reasonable is a matter of habit, similar to writing, reading, or even riding a skateboard. Rationality needs to be trained, yet such intentional training is largely absent from our society. There are rhetoric courses, debate clubs, history and philosophy classes, yet none of these offer the habitualization that is necessary. Dogmatists can argue, demagogues can use fine wording, and people with no deeper understanding of issues can offer crib-quotes. None of these are rational or reasonable.

Dogmatists can argue, demagogues can use fine wording, and people with no deeper understanding of issues can offer crib-quotes. None of these are rational or reasonable.

Hypatia of Alexandria was a mathematician, philosopher and astronomer in late 4th-century. She was a respected academic at Alexandria’s university and a popular public speaker.

To oppose this trend, the proposed project will offer the necessary training in the form of public philosophy. This will begin in Heidelberg, but will hopefully expand to other locations. It can be called dialectical sparring or logical self-empowerment, but the main goal is to train as many interested parties as possible to spot and avoid irrational behavior in themselves and others. The target demographic will be school children, educators, and journalists, among others.

The project also involves developing a program for public philosophy, which will include philosophical steps, goals, and didactic means; hold workshops and seminars; and offer public discussions. The final aim is to slowly raise the logical standard of public discourse. Imagine how different politics would look if more voters were to reflect on their own biases, fact-check their candidates, and point out (if not politically punish) inconsistencies.

 

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