Hackademics and ethics

There will not be a new episode this week as I try to play catch-up and produce the next few pieces, and so I wanted to write a blog post for those of you interesting in the difficulties in this kind of project.

There’s an ethical issue that I face in putting together journalism+philosophy that I do not have when I just do philosophy. If in philosophy, I do not believe something someone says or writes, all I need to do is write an argument giving my reasons as to why I am rejecting it, and why I think everyone else should also. Its part of the job of philosophy.

In storytelling for a philosophical purpose, your subjects may not have agreed to be a subject in a premise of a philosophical argument, where their life experiences or lifework is something that, if the argument you’re making is true, may be invalidated. Now it could be true that they wouldn’t care anyways, but there is a rule I heard a famous journalist say that I want to follow as I embark on story-driven philosophy: don’t do something that will make your subjects regret ever having spoken to you. I don’t think this needs to be a universal rule, but I do think that if I’m searching and asking someone to share their life experiences with me for public consumption, and I’m not trying to do hit pieces or ever take anyone in power down, that its a good rule to follow.

Its not a surprise that the next episode will follow researchers of parapsychology, a field that mainstream academia does not view upon very positively. But the subjects who do this work, and the people they study, are firm believers and stake a lot of their self-worth on this kind of research. And mostly the show is about the issues of knowledge and inquiry that emerge from comparing that kind of research to mainstream science. If this were an ordinary philosophical work, it would be natural to just write a refutation. But with story-driven philosophy, the issue is a lot more delicate.


  1. You are doing a fantastic job of story telling and philosophy IMHO. I teach high school philosophy just outside of Toronto and try to fight against the stuffy, sterile academic philosophy that I was sometimes exposed to in grad school at U of T. I had an advisor (Ian Hacking) who often didn’t give a toss for academics (ironically one of our most academically acclaimed philosophers) but just knew how to teach and communicate! (I think Alain de Botton has the right approach these days as an aside) I think you are doing a super job of educating, entertaining, and inspiring!! I wish you continued success and the time to pursue and enjoy it 🙂

  2. Thanks so much for the kind words Craig. You and your students are why I do it. Ian Hacking was amazing, how wonderful it must have been to have him as an advisor. I hope the show gives you a lot to talk about with your students, colleagues, and friends.

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