Ethical Realism

September 14, 2010

A Proposal for a Philosophical Community

Filed under: outreach,philosophy — JW Gray @ 8:32 am
Tags: , ,

The Stoic and Epicurean philosophers welcomed everyone to learn philosophy and they offered free education to anyone interested. If people wanted to learn philosophy, they knew where to go. I want that to exist again. I not only want people to have to opportunity for free philosophical education, but I also want philosophy to offer people a community. I want a place for those who value rationality and knowledge to gather for education and friendship – a place for people to organize and figure out how we can make the world a better place.

Non-philosophers would often go to the Stoic and Epicurean schools and watch the philosophers speak just for the spectacle – great philosophers were considered to be eccentric tourist attractions. Many people still see philosophers as eccentric rather than wise, but even more Americans know nothing of philosophy at all. People can’t ridicule philosophy when they haven’t even heard anything about it. Philosophers are now hidden away at the universities and most people are not welcome to listen to the lectures. Even if someone did manage to audit philosophy classes without paying, they might not find themselves as a welcome member of a philosophical community.

Not only have philosophers become alienated from American culture, but there is a great deal of resentment towards intellectuals. Religions offer many of the strongest communities, but educating people about the greatest science and philosophy is not something religions tend to offer. Instead, many religions teach their community that scientists and philosophers are our enemies. Scientists are said to be twisting the data to spread Godless atheism.1

American culture not only needs to have a more positive image of philosophy, but Americans need to know that philosophy exists, to be able to find out what philosophy is, have opportunities to learn philosophy, find ways to embody philosophy, and form communities centered around philosophy.

Some people have suggested an atheist church or community, but I want everyone to be invited to a philosophical community – both theists and atheists.2 (Actually, there are some atheist churches now.)

Why have a philosophical community?

  1. To help philosophers connect with the rest of society.
  2. To help other people connect to philosophers.
  3. To form friendships.
  4. To help educate people. To help them understand philosophy, ethics, and logic.
  5. To help voters understand how their votes could affect the world.
  6. To organize. We can work together to decide how we can help solve the world’s problems through charity, volunteer work, lobbying, and political pressure.
  7. To give a location to philosophy where everyone is welcome. People need to know that they can go somewhere to connect with philosophers, learn about philosophy, and find people who value rationality and knowledge.

What kind of free education will be provided?

Right now education is not only expensive, but it has questionable value. We no longer educate people to learn how to live better lives, become rational, become moral, or become something better than they currently are. Most education is valued as job training, to attain arbitrary qualifications through high grades, or as a gateway to a higher paycheck. There is little to no opportunity to find help in attaining true enlightenment in the form of theoretical and moral virtue.

Imagine that someone has become a better sort of human being and other people would also like to learn from her how they can also become better. If they know where she is and she is willing to help, then they can come to her to learn. This is what philosophy should be. We need philosophers who have attained positive qualities worthy of emulation to be out in the open and willing to help others.

How exactly a person can attain the best education possible is not easy to determine, but we can figure out how to greatly improve education. It wasn’t long after Plato created his Academy that Aristotle and many other great philosophers started to exist. The progress seen within the intellectual community was incredible. I think that the progress seen within philosophy, science, and morality was much greater than the world has ever seen again, but it might be possible to educate people even better now.

Although some philosophers are willing to do this on the Internet, I doubt it is very common, and the Internet will never provide the strong healthy bonds that personal interaction can provide. I do encourage philosophy education that exists on the Internet, but I would like a stronger and more organized philosophical community to exist that has an actual location.

How can this happen?

  1. We need philosophers to be out in the open. The Internet is one opportunity for philosophers to make themselves known and share their ideas with others.
  2. We need to spread the idea of having a philosophical community.
  3. We need people to be willing to connect with others who are different. Respectful dialogue needs to exist between philosophers and non-philosophers.
  4. We can find others in our area who are interested in philosophy and have occasional gatherings. A website could be created to help us fulfill this need.
  5. Philosophers can volunteer. Many libraries let people volunteer to give free lectures, for example.
  6. If enough people contribute, then it might be possible to get community centers where people know they can go to connect with a philosophical community. This will make philosophy much more visible and make it clear that it is welcoming – perhaps even more so than many churches.


Philosophers are imperfect, but they have a lot to offer the world. Philosophers want to become better kinds of human beings by improving their thinking and applying that to their lives. People who have spent several years seriously learning how to improve themselves in this way are true “philosophers” and they know a lot more about rationality and morality than the average person. Many academic philosophy professors fit this definition, and true philosophers have a lot they can learn from science and academic philosophy literature. A philosophical community is my idea for how philosophers can better share their wisdom with the world.

Update (9/16/2010): I changed #4 under “How can this happen?” by adding a new idea.


1 For thousands of years the greatest intellectuals were religious and religion seemed compatible with our knowledge. In fact, it was the greatest minds who often decided what the religions should believe. That is no longer the case. Religion really is threatened by scientific knowledge. That isn’t to say that religion couldn’t possibly be reconciled with human knowledge, but we have a good reason to doubt religions when many of the greatest scientists and philosophers find them to be untenable.

2 Alonzo Fife has suggested having secular community centers – and these could be an extension of a greater philosophical community.



  1. I think this is a good idea, but the expense of actual buildings makes this very unlikely. Unless a Bill Gates type individual ponies up. An internet forum, with video/live streaming lectures and discussions after would be beneficial. Then maybe it would easier to have donations of time from various philosophers.

    I would be interested in either. 🙂

    Comment by Brooks — September 14, 2010 @ 1:51 pm | Reply

    • Brooks,

      Thank you for the comment.

      It could take a hundred years for something like this to catch on, but who knows what could happen? There is at least one atheist church that literally has a building and it supposedly teaches people about reasoning. More importantly, this has happened before. Plato, Aristotle, etc. were all able to create their own schools and communities.

      The main problem is that people now see our current universities as satisfactorily filling society’s needs for education and philosophy when it is actually only fulfilling that need (perhaps inadequately) for very few people.

      Comment by James Gray — September 14, 2010 @ 6:56 pm | Reply

  2. I like being able to pore through philosophical discussions on the web independently, but there really isn’t any comparison to an active, engaged group of people in a verbal discussion. It’s the best way to get feedback on your own thinking and get clarifications that would be difficult to get otherwise.

    Also, I’m not surrounded by a lot of people who invest any real time doing this – I’m kind of a lone ranger in my circle as far as philosophy goes. I’m not a philosopher, but I have a background in various sciences and place high value on logic, reason, and critical thinking. I like the notion of being able to physically meet up.

    But, you are in California (I presume), I’m out in Arizona, and I’m sure you have some lurkers who are in various elsewheres. Where to start?

    Comment by James — September 16, 2010 @ 8:39 pm | Reply

    • James,

      The internet is one place to start, but I realize that we would like more than that. It might be possible to create philosophy groups in person, and the internet might help you find other people in your area who are interested in that. An actual website could be created for this purpose.

      In the meantime universities are the only place to find others interested in philosophy other than on the internet.

      Comment by James Gray — September 16, 2010 @ 8:45 pm | Reply

  3. A philosophy community could take the form of a housing co-op in which each member is responsible for teaching so many units of a philosophy class, a unit being one class hour per student attending.

    Comment by chris — June 24, 2011 @ 9:42 pm | Reply

    • Interesting idea, and we still should ask ourselves the best way to get people to take the classes. I am assuming these aren’t classes for actual college credit because people should already be able to learn philosophy that way and the whole point is have outreach for people outside of colleges.

      Comment by James Gray — June 24, 2011 @ 9:48 pm | Reply

  4. There are quite a few people with a philosophical predisposition that don’t have the grades or cash for collage. Intentional communities can offer these people the education they need in order to make an impact on society. I think it is premature to “ask ourselves the best way to get people to take the classes”.

    Comment by chris — June 27, 2011 @ 11:25 pm | Reply

    • Sounds good, and the question I asked might be premature. I’m just thinking ahead. Right now many people with a predisposition for philosophy still have no idea what “philosophy” is as a subject to be studied.

      Comment by James Gray — June 28, 2011 @ 12:23 am | Reply

  5. Any more thoughts on this?

    Comment by Ric — March 6, 2012 @ 12:04 am | Reply

    • Good question. I was hoping you’d help out with that. Something like a philosophy club might be a good idea for a community rather than just a school.

      Comment by JW Gray — March 6, 2012 @ 12:14 am | Reply

      • I tried several times to get a discussion group together here when I worked in a local bookstore. No dice. Maybe it was my breath? Anyway, I’m just an old guy in a small town who’s trying to study philosophy on my own with no one to talk with about it and no guidance – there’s no college nearby and what I’ve found on the web now and then seems not to suit me. I think you need live people discussing the issues to really make it work. But there seem not to be a lot of people interested in the real thing, not around here. I’d go back to college if I could afford it, to study this. I’m writing a blog on Stoicism ( but it’s slow going (because I’m a slow goer for one thing). Doing what I can, I guess.

        Comment by Ric — March 6, 2012 @ 12:51 pm

  6. Ric, social networking might help. If you want to find people interested in philosophy, it might help to use the internet to find others in your area. It might also be a good idea if you can get at least one friend to join in to get the ball rolling. Facebook and twitter are also very important for getting traffic to a website, but understanding SEO (Search Engine Optimization) can also help.

    Two more ideas for getting traffic to a website:

    1. Write about things that are likely to interest people, even if it’s not as philosophical.
    2. Write about things people are likely searching for on google. (There are many philosophical issues that are not yet discussed on many websites.) Consider that philosophy students will use google to find websites to help them understand class material.

    It is true that philosophy is not a major interest of many citizens and most people know little to nothing about it. This is an uphill battle, and I’m still trying to figure it out along with you.

    Comment by JW Gray — March 6, 2012 @ 8:21 pm | Reply

    • I’m thinking about working something with the town library. Reserve a meeting room once a week and have the only notice being a one word blurb in their announcements: “Philosophy”. Then see who shows up and what they want to talk about. It’s a thought. So far.

      As for your 1. and 2. I go the other way. I want to write what interests me and work to write in a way that it becomes interesting to others. Otherwise I would tend to try to write about things that don’t interest me – and I won’t write nearly as well about those. 🙂 (I used to be a news reporter, before they became journalists.)

      Comment by Ric — March 6, 2012 @ 8:36 pm | Reply

      • Do you mean you feel like you’ve done enough writing about things that don’t interest you since you were a reporter? I agree that it’s probably not a good idea to write anything that doesn’t interest you, but there could be some overlap.

        Comment by JW Gray — March 6, 2012 @ 9:41 pm

      • No. When I was a reporter I was interested in everything. I was young. Now I’m running out of time and if something doesn’t interest me I don’t want to waste time with it. For example, it may seem silly for me to be working my way through Seneca and the others, but they interest me, so it doesn’t matter if I finish working through or if anyone else is interested in them or in what I have to say about them. I try to write interestingly because I like to write interestingly. Stubborn old bastard.

        Comment by Ric — March 6, 2012 @ 9:58 pm

  7. Ric, I certainly don’t want to waste any time either. However, I might write about something because I think it is important rather than just because it interests me. Life is short, that’s for sure.

    Comment by JW Gray — March 6, 2012 @ 10:29 pm | Reply

    • I’m always happy to find something to write about that’s important and interesting to me. 🙂 A lot of that happens in the political arena for me and I rage and vent at my Grumpy Lion blog, which I tend to think of as ‘letters to the editor’ writ large and without interference from the editor. I’m not always the most thoughtful and measured blogger on that one. I save that for the other blogs I write. I doubt I could do the sort of thing you do so well here though. I’m not the most patient sort.

      Comment by Ric — March 6, 2012 @ 11:47 pm | Reply

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