12. Philosophers in the Public Square: A Religious Resolution of Kant's Conflict (with an appendix coauthored by Richard W. Mapplebeckpalmer)
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230 twelve Philosophers in the Public Square A Religious Resolution of Kant’s Conflict Stephen R. Palmquist with an appendix coauthored by Richard W. Mapplebeckpalmer On Retreat with Kant: Concord and Conflict in Philosophical Practice In opposition to the common belief that philosophy is a discipline belonging solely in the university, where it can be safely insulated from influencing or being influenced by the way ordinary people live their lives, a movement has arisen over the past decade or so, commonly known as ‘‘Philosophical Practice .’’ Some trace its early organization back to 1992, when several French philosophers and friends casually met one Sunday morning in a Paris café to discuss an issue of mutual concern. A journalist, overhearing them planning a follow-up meeting and mistakenly thinking it would be open to the general public, announced it in the local press, and the first ‘‘Café Philo’’ was born. Soon the popularity of the weekly gatherings that began cropping up in cafés all over Paris and throughout France came to the attention of philosophers elsewhere, who had already been interested in practical ways of luring philosophy out of the Academy and back into the public square (where it began, in pre-Platonic Athens). Contacts were made between counselors who were already using philosophical ideas and methods to assist clients in overcoming personal problems, consultants who had already been hired by big businesses to assist them in thinking philosophically about various corporate problems, Philosophers in the Public Square 231 and teachers who were already interested in minimizing current social problems by introducing ‘‘philosophy for children’’ into primary and secondary school curricula. Starting in 1995, annual conferences began to be held, where philosophers engaged in these and other nonacademic activities could share their ideas and encourage others to regard philosophy as more than just an academic discipline. Soon after attending the Third International Conference on Philosophical Practice, in July 1997, I began exploring various ways of involving myself in philosophical activities outside the university. At that conference I read a paper pointing out that the psychologist Carl Jung was strongly influenced by Kant and arguing that certain Kantian ideas also could serve as useful counseling tools.1 In addition to experimenting with this possibility in some volunteer counseling I did over the next few years, I started the Hong Kong Philosophy Café in 1999—an organization that has now grown to six semi-independent branches with a mailing list of over four hundred interested participants.2 Meanwhile, in 1998 I had acquired a ten-acre parcel of forest nestled in the backwoods of Mendocino County, about 150 miles north of San Francisco, with the idea of setting up a philosophical retreat center—an idea that developed out of discussions I had with various participants attending the 1997 conference. In January 2001 the first CIPHER retreat took place in a newly completed house that had been built on the property.3 For a Kant scholar accustomed to working in a university setting, these new exploits have been both exciting and challenging. They have forced me to think deeply about whether (and if so, how) Kant’s ideas can be useful to ordinary laypersons. As a result, I have come to a new understanding of the false limitations philosophers put upon themselves when they buy into the assumption that philosophy should be tucked safely away in the inner recesses of the Academy. With the idea of testing the applicability and interest Kant’s ideas might have to the general public, I facilitated a one-day retreat in December 2001, intended as a way of coming to terms with the September 11th tragedy and the resulting war in Afghanistan that was then unfolding. Four local residents, all ordinary working people, none of whom had previous exposure to Kant, met with me for four intense, two-hour sessions of reading and discussion based on Kant’s essay Perpetual Peace. The success of the event was evident not only from the numerous insights that arose during our discussions, but also from the concord we five experienced, and came to hope for the world at large, as a result of considering Kant’s explanation of why war happens and his vision of the way political relations could some day do without it. The success of that event (and other retreats) motivated me to plan a second retreat on Kant, this time offering scholars an opportunity to reflect in a nonacademic setting on...


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