Philosophy and Public Life

Interpreting The World, Changing The World

Onora O’Neill argues for the value of philosophical research.

In his 11th thesis on Feuerbach, Marx wrote, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.” (Theses on Feuerbach, 1845.) Although it may not be a fair accusation, his acid comment sits in the recesses of memory, and plenty of people still share this view, including a lot of philosophers. Sometimes they are queasy about aiming to change the world, and feel that there is something unsavoury, irresponsible or self-important about philosophers who try to. Yet, like others, philosophers are under pressure to show that what they do matters, that they contribute to changing the world – to show, indeed, to use modish jargon, that work in philosophy has ‘impact’.

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