Who bridges the gap?

I remember the exact moment when I realized that philosophers aren’t in the business of creating solutions. I was at a sustainability ethics symposium, a gathering of philosopher speakers addressing an audience of designers and engineers.

There was a tension in the room. While the speakers articulated problems really well, the designers and engineers in the room wanted to hear solutions. This was seen in the questions that they asked during Q&A. Questions like, “You say that X is a problem. So what do we do about it?” To which the speakers smiled, shook their heads, and replied, “That’s not our job.”

Whose job is it to address the problems that philosophers describe? If it is the job of designers and engineers, are they equipped to do it? The extent of the ethics training they receive in school happens in a single required ethics elective outside of their academic department. The work they do in that course is reading and writing, not their native language of designing and implementing. They rarely have an opportunity to address the problems they read and write about through a project. And even if they do, who is qualified to mentor them?

Whose job is it to address the problems that philosophers articulate? Policymakers? Surely the ones who have been to law school have more ethics training than engineers and designers. But do they understand how to create solutions that the communities they serve will adopt? And even if they understood how to create solutions that stick, do they have the freedom to implement such solutions?

Whose job is it to address the problems that philosophers articulate?

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