We believe that present-day society is in need of not only a new vision of “publicness” but also a science that can provide the theoretical framework to support such vision. However, the various branches of science, including philosophy, have become highly specialized to the point of lapsing into the pursuit of “knowledge for the sake of knowledge” that is accessible only to specialists in a particular field. As a consequence, science seems to be losing its social relevance. With this reflection as a starting point, we embark on the task of restoring the social importance of science, employing as a theoretical framework the key concepts of public philosophy. Following is our statement of objectives.
1. The Concept of “Publicness” – Empowering the “Private”, Opening to the “Public”, Transnationality, Public Life
First, we would like to add new meaning to the notion of “public” in the context of public philosophy. Nowadays, in society as well as in science, there seems to be a tendency towards “privatization” which manifests itself in the pursuit of purely private (self-) interests. However, in order to revitalize both society and science, we need to adopt a way of thinking that would allow us to open our consciousness to public interests and common benefits while respecting and sustaining each individual’s “private life” – e.g. “empowering the private, opening to the public” (Kim Tae-Chang).
In other words, in order to counteract the contemporary phenomenon of “privatization”, rather than directly trying to reinstating the sense of “public”, we deem it necessary to take a different approach – namely, revigorating the sense of “private” (self), mediating it to a sense of “common” (we) and then to a sense of “public”.
In Japan in the past, under the influence of the traditional Japanese concept of “ohoyake”(public), the prevalent nationalistic public ideology held the view that “public equals state equals government”. The word “public” was also used in the narrow sense of “governmental” or “bureaucratic system”. However, the “publicness” that we need in present-day society is not contained in the view of “public” as strictly “governmental” or “official” but allows for the autonomous participation of the members of the public or the citizens. Therefore, our use of the word “public” in the normative sense includes the connotation of “members of the public” (as distinct from “governmental”).
Departing from the tradition of the past that made a virtue out of the “selfless devotion to one’s country”, we place much value on the “private” as well. Furthermore, we aim to bring back to life “publicness” empowering “the self” and “the individual”, while taking care not to fall into the extremes of egoism or total separation of human beings (atomistic self). In this sense, “empowering the private, opening to the public” could be paraphrased also as “empowering the self, opening to the public” or “empowering the individual, opening to the public” and the theory of self can be regarded as an integral part of public philosophy. It is our fundamental belief that “publicness” needs to be revived in every single aspect and dimension of every individual’s private life.
In present-day society, with the continuing trend of de-nationalization, “publicness” is advocated by various intermediary groups of citizens and the spirit of “publicness” without borders is actualized as numerous NPO and NGOs. Although these organizations have their foundations in the sphere of private life, there is also a trans-national or public side to them and we can call them glocal (global + local). Together with the translation into reality of the various types of “publicness”, the “governmental publicness” needs to become one of the multilayered, multidimensional types of “publicness” and as such be relativized to them.
On the other hand, there is always a danger that not only the government but any authority may try to deceive the citizens and justify its pursuit of private interests by arguing that it has acted in the name of public good. In other words, the process of actualization of “publicness” is accompanied by the danger of abuse or misuse of the concept. Therefore, it is necessary to set about bringing back to life “publicness” on the basis of its original concept all the while assuming a critical stance towards “privatization of authority = private authority”. Only through such continuous intellectual and practical efforts can we avoid the collapse of “public life” (including public authority) and realize justice as well as our high ideals.
“Public life” refers to any space or time in which individuals find themselves together.
Not only in politics but also in other domains of life such as economics, society and environment we find public space or a public dimension. Our collective memory of the past and our shared expectations for the future also represent public space. It is in these various spheres of life as a whole that we are striving to actualize “publicness”.
2. The Concept of Public Philosophy in the Age of Post-specialization
Nowadays, whenever people hear “philosophy” they think of the speculative and incomprehensible commentative exegetics of the past. However, the public philosophy we are talking about here is different.
The word “philosophy” itself is of Greek origin and means “love of wisdom” (“philo”-love, “sophia”- knowledge, wisdom). If we reflect upon this meaning, we will see that philosophy was a science that loved and strived for all knowledge and unlike what is called “philosophy” nowadays, it encompassed all social and human sciences such as logic, political science and economics, as well as all natural sciences. In short, it related to all knowledge.
On the other hand, the concept of “science” in East Asian culture represented a journey towards virtue along various intellectual and practical “paths” or “ways”. Knowledge was acquired through learning from others and asking oneself questions. In this sense, “science” should come from within oneself, through a concrete dialogue between the individual, the others and the world and should represent the unity of body and intellect.
Thus, it becomes obvious that, as a result of specialization, both in Eastern as well as in Western tradition, modern science has fallen into a kind of octopus trap (Masao Maruyama) and has deviated not only from the original concept of “science” but also from the original concept of “philosophy”. It goes without saying that the knowledge we acquire from each and every scientific discipline is of great importance to us and that it is impossible to go back to what we call “the age of pre-specialization”, e.g. the time before science branched off into different disciplines.
The task of public philosophy in the post-specialization age is to lay the foundations for a science that would succeed to the assets of specialization while overcoming its shortcomings . In other words, our goal is to bring back to life “the practical philosophy” that will do away with the narrow-mindedness of the excessively specialized “scientific” or “cathedral” philosophy. However, this does not mean simply restoring philosophy to its original form, but also restoring the social relevance of all science that deals with the subject of society and people. For instance, as outlined in the practical philosophy of Aristotle and emphasized in the works of the sociologist R. Bellah , social theory in its original form was not only an abstract, objective theoretical science, but included practical philosophy which dealt with concrete practices in politics and ethics and as a whole concerned itself with people’s deeds in society.
This tradition can be encountered not only in the scientific concept of moral philosophy in Western culture, but also in one form or another in Islam, Indian and Chinese civilizations.
Confucianism (leaving aside its limitations as a traditional thought) – popular throughout East Asia, including Japan – was centered around political and practical philosophy, in which the ideal and ethical concept of “public” played an important role.
Even in various small groups of nameless people walking the face of the Earth, pieces of knowledge regarding human beings and nature are transmitted from generation to generation in their culture, religion, life, customs, art, and work practices. Such wisdom may not necessarily be systematized but nevertheless it exerts influence upon us and gives us hints for the future. Drawing upon such human wisdom, public philosophy in the new age of post-specialization is trying to revitalize the socially meaningful science at the dawn of the new century
3. Concrete Stipulations
Since the publication of Walter Lippman’s “Essays in the Public Philosophy” in 1955, the concept of public philosophy has been widely used in American political thought. Using it as a reference, we will try to develop an independent, original concept.
Summarizing the above points, we can say that public philosophy is a science that strives for knowledge (philosophy = love of wisdom) and aspires to realize in life the concept of “publicness” in its various meanings such as public openness and public transparency as well as public good and public benefit.
By counteracting the privatization of society – “privatization within society”, “publicness” plays an important role not only for reviving science, but also for the realization of the ideals of society as well. In addition, as stated above, science is losing its social relevance – a process we can call “privatization of science in respect to society”. Furthermore, even scientists often do not understand things outside their sphere of expertise, therefore we can say that “privatization within science” is also taking place.
Thus, as a science that aims to revive “publicness” by counteracting the aforementioned three types of “privatization”, public philosophy can be defined with the following three characteristics:
a) Public openness, public benefit (“publicness within society”) – public philosophy aims to actualize a new kind of “publicness” in politics, economics and society by opposing privatization within society (“publicazation” of society and politics). It represents the new concept of “publicness”, e.g. “trans-national” or “glocal publicness” that is distinct from the pre-war view of “public” according to which “public equals state equals government”.
b) Practical applicability (“publicness with respect to society”) – public philosophy aims to actualize social “publicness” in science by opposing privatization of science with respect to society. It strives to make scientific knowledge accessible and present it in an easy to understand form to the general public. In addition, it provides scientific and political basis for the solution of real life problems including problems in the sphere of public policy. (“publicazation of science”).
c) Comprehensiveness (“publicness within science”) – public philosophy aims to restore the interdisciplinary, comprehensive “publicness” of science by opposing the “privatization” of science due to extreme specialization. It strives to abolish the harmful exclusivity of different scientific disciplines and to build up general as well as scientific knowledge that can be applied to the solution of real life problems.
The part of public philosophy that deals with existing, real philosophical thoughts from a historical, empirical or experimental perspective can be called descriptive or empirical public philosophy. On the other hand, normative public philosophy sets the goals and ideals that should be achieved through actualization of “publicness”. Both parts are important and both approaches fruitful. A descriptive public philosophy without norms would lack purpose and direction and would be like a ship lost at sea, drifting without its marine chart. A normative public philosophy without empirical consideration would be blind to its environment, like a ship with broken measuring instruments.
In public philosophy research, both empirical as well as experimental research are ultimately based on the ideal of “publicness” and in this sense they can be called “idealistic”. On the other hand, normative research is “realistic” because it is supported by empirical research. Therefore, we can say that public philosophy is based on the philosophy of idealistic realism.
In summary, public philosophy is an integral part of the “science for idealistic realism” and has the following characteristics: “publicness” (in the sense of openness to the public and public benefit), practical applicability, and comprehensiveness. Therefore, it can be called “practical and comprehensive public philosophy of idealistic realism”.
4. Goal – Rebuilding Public Life Through Scientific Revolution
Public philosophy is in no way a branch of the existing abstract, incomprehensible philosophy. Rather, in contrast to the cathedral philosophy that often devolves into abstract quests disconnected from reality, public philosophy is a scientific undertaking that strives to revive an accessible, relevant science. Its purpose is none other than the exploration of public knowledge or public wisdom.
We hope to start an intellectual movement for the general reform of social thought in order to restore the vitality of science. In order to break away from the rigidity of highly specialized science, we set out to achieve our goal taking an interdisciplinary approach which, however, does not mean merely adding public philosophy to the existing scientific fields because that would be nothing more than just repeating the futile efforts of contemporary science that has already reached its limits. We aim to deconstruct science as a whole and rebuild it to higher standards placing public philosophy at its core. Then, through such scientific revolution we aim to halt the current trend of “privatization” and stimulate the revival of “publicness” which has lost its meaning. It is our sincerest hope that this, in turn, will open the way for rebuilding public life that will be deeply grounded in people’s private lives.
[i] For more on the concept of “empowering the self, opening to the public”, see Sasaki, H., & Kim Tae-Chang. (2001-2002). Public Philosophy, Tokyo University Press.
[ii] For more about “specialization” and “post-specialization” see the following:
a) Yamawaki, N. (1998). The Reconstruction of Public Philosophy: An Academic Overview in Public Philosophy in Contemporary Japan. Edited by Yamawaki, N., Osawa, M., Omori,Y., & Matsubara, R. Shinseisha pp 1-20 and
b) Manifest of a New Social Philosophy.(1999). Sobunsha.
[iii] See Bellah, Robert N. (1985). Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life. Published in Japanese in 1991 by Misuzu Shoten.
[iv] For more on the concept of “comprehensiveness” see:
Yamawaki, N., (1993) Comprehensive Social Philosophy. Tokyo University Press.
[v] In Japanese political science the concept of “idealistic realism” has been in use since Nanbara Shigeru. For more, see:
Yamawaki, M., Manifest of a New Social Philosophy. p.103.
[vi] I would like to thank Mr. Makoto Kurosumi for revising the draft of this manifest and the members of the Public Philosophy Study Group for their helpful comments and insights.
We would like to call this the “first edition” of our Public Philosophy Manifest (version 1.0). We plan to revise it after we receive feedback from our numerous readers.