Philosophy in the “Age of Protest”

A new philosophy class is being offered at North Park this semester, “Philosophy of Social Movements” co taught by Karl Clifton-Soderstrom and Marcus Simmons.  The central goal of the class is to investigate the nature and ethics of social movements, so that students may better understand the dynamics at play in social change, analyze the ethics that various social movements embody and profess (or transgress), and identify within themselves the moral limits (or non-negotiables) of their own participation in contemporary social movements.

The course fits the current vision of North Park’s philosophy department which aims to embody a community of truthful conversation that prepares students to be public intellectuals within the communities they enter after college.  It also brings the traditions and skills of philosophy to bear on the contemporary world of culture and human praxis.

For a recent popular reflection on the need for philosophical formation in our current age, I recommend Thomas Friedman’s op-ed piece “The Age of Protest.

“People everywhere seem to be morally aroused,” said Seidman. “The philosopher David Hume argued that ‘the moral imagination diminishes with distance.’ It would follow that the opposite is also true: As distance decreases, the moral imagination increases. Now that we have no distance — it’s like we’re all in a crowded theater, making everything personal — we are experiencing the aspirations, hopes, frustrations, plights of others in direct and visceral ways. . .  “But when moral arousal manifests as moral outrage, he added, “it can either inspire or repress a serious conversation or the truth.” . . .  “when moral outrage skips over moral conversation, then the outcome is likely going to be acquiescence, not inspired solutions.”

Friedman’s, and Seidman’s, arguments in the piece are certainly written from a perspective of people not in protest movements themselves.  But the promise and limits of their comments point to a very real philosophical issue regarding social movements and the discourse generated by them using social media technologies: namely, in the context of justified moral outrage, what is the discourse–protest, twitter, satire, etc. -that opens up a place for truthful conversation within which philosophy may speak?

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