Grassroots philosophy

London Philosophy ClubThere’s a good piece in the current issue of The Philosophers’ Magazine by Jules Evans about the amazing rise of grassroots philosophy in the UK and elsewhere.  It’s a kind of answer to those who think philosophy is dead.  Philosophy is thriving out there.  Here are a few lines from the piece:

Over the last two years, I’ve researched other grassroots philosophy groups for a project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, called “Philosophical Communities”. The picture I’ve built up is surprising, even for people within the scene. There are 850 groups on that describe themselves as “philosophy groups”, in 384 cities and 25 countries, with a combined membership of 125,000. Some of those might stretch your definition of “philosophy”, but it’s still a striking amount. There are 229 ethics meetups, 528 Skeptic meetups, 126 feminist meetups, 60 Socrates Cafes, and 660 meetups dedicated to “intellectual discussion”. And, as I’ve discovered, there are many philosophy groups off the meetup map. There are around 200 Skeptic, atheist and Humanist groups around the United States. There are Cafe Philosophiques across France and Holland. There is the Philosophy in Pubs (PIPs) network, which has 15 groups around Merseyside and a total of 30 around the United Kingdom. There is Philosophy For All, set up by Anja Steinbauer, which has been organising philosophy talks, debates and walks in London since 1998. There are philosophy groups for retired people, run through the University of the Third Age or independently, like the venerable Pinner Philosophy Group in Harrow. There are philosophy cafes and societies on many student campuses. And there are radical ideas groups like Occupy London, who as I speak are recreating the Putney Debates.

And then there are the commercial organisers of ideas events. TED is now almost twenty years old and Intelligence Squared is ten years old, but in the last few years the “ideas event”market has become more crowded. In 2008, Alain de Botton and friends launched the School of Life in London, in imitation of Epicurus’ Garden. It’s since welcomed 50,000 people through its doors, and is launching branches in Australia, Holland, Brazil and beyond. In 2010, Tom Hodgkinson opened the Idler Academy in west London. Both the School of Life and the Idler organise philosophy workshops at festivals like Wilderness and Port Eliot. There are also festivals dedicated to ideas and philosophy, like the Battle of Ideas (launched in 2005), HowTheLightGetsIn (launched in 2008), the Month of Philosophy in Amsterdam, the Modena philosophy festival in Italy, and Recontres de Sophie in France.

Evidently, philosophy is flourishing beyond the walls of academia.

You can read the whole article here.  Probably some people will say this is further proof that academic philosophy has lost its way, that it no longer matters to people out there, people who are finding their own way to think and talk about what really matters to them. But I don’t know.  Grassroots events are  often organised around the work of a professional philosopher, or perhaps a lecturer is there to guide the discussion.  I’d say philosophy outside the ivory tower needs professional philosophers, at least to some extent.  Maybe the enthusiasm and interest of the people behind grassroots philosophy is just what academics need too.


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