This professorial thesis comprises an anthology of 10 articles in English, all previously published, along with the present introduction. With the thesis I wish to argue for a certain way of practicing philosophy within other academic and professional domains, i.e. a way of doing ‘applied philosophy’. I also wish to argue for the view of knowledge and learning which I develop through undertaking this kind of applied philosophy. ‘Applied philosophy’ I understand to refer broadly to any kind of putting philosophy to use in other disciplines. Philosophy of science is thus applied philosophy, as is philosophy of education, political philosophy, and practical ethics. The type of applied philosophy that I advance is a ‘philosophizing with’ where one engages with colleagues from other disciplines in the co-investigation of issues of common interest. Such engagement may take different forms, depending in part on the issues and discipline in question, but more significantly on one’s view of philosophical arguments as a priori and uncontestable by empirical investigations, or – on the contrary – as at least to some extent challengeable by empirical results.
In my view, philosophical positions actually quite often have empirical presuppositions and/or implications – even if they are not always recognized as such by their proponents – such as a certain view of perception or cognition and of ways in which to facilitate these processes. For this reason, it is possible to engage philosophy as a dialogue partner with a voice of its own. The ‘voice’ comes from philosophy’s focus on normative and foundational issues which transcend the empirical accounts and allows it in some instances to challenge these accounts. A dialogue – as opposed to a priori monologist demarcation of empirical questions – is necessary because the empirical presuppositions and implications of the philosophical positions may themselves be contradicted by empirical findings. This form of ‘philosophizing with’ I generally find most fruitful because it allows the construction of theories which are integratively informed by empirical research and philosophical foundational considerations from e.g. phenomenology or critical theory. Other, not quite so ambitious, forms of ‘philosophizing with’ accord philosophy the role of interpreter of scientific results or clarifier of scientific concepts and their implications. These forms also allow the construction of empirically informed and philosophically consistent theories of the phenomenon under investigation, but take the empirical results as the non-disputable outset for the philosophizing with. In some instances, for example in the interpretation of blatant, but seemingly inexplicable everyday phenomena, this may be an appropriate form of philosophizing with – the image-schematic cognitive semantics of Johnson (Johnson, 1987) might be a case in point. In general, however, a more nuanced and robust theory of a given phenomenon would seem to require, not only interpretation within an empirical outset, but the possibility to question the outset as well.
My argument for philosophizing with as a way of practicing philosophy proceeds both through theoretical analysis and by way of practical exposition. Thus, in the first article of Part 1, I present in greater detail the different forms of philosophizing with within the field of epistemology, supply examples of each of them, and argue that the role of dialogue partner with a voice of its own does better than the others in the way it combines ambition for epistemology with a balanced view of its limitations. Throughout Parts 2 and 3 I engage in philosophy with, primarily in the preferred form of dialogue partner with a voice of its own. In two articles (Articles 9 and 10), I utilize the form of ‘interpreter of scientific results’ in explaining well-known and well-documented problems in educational practice. In this way, Parts 2 and 3 serve at once to illuminate by exemplification the way philosophizing with is undertaken and – to the extent that the articles’ analyses are deemed useful and valid – as a pragmatic “the proof of the pudding is in the eating” argument for this approach to applied philosophy.
The more specific focus of the philosophizing with in Part 2 is the development and concretization of my view of knowledge as a unity of three aspects (practical knowledge, experiential knowledge and propositional knowledge) which takes the form of a tacit, situated, context-dependent, embodied, action-oriented perspective. I took the initial steps in developing this view in my Master’s thesis (Dohn, 1999) and my PhD thesis (Dohn, 2005). Through the articles in Part 2, the view is elaborated into a full-fledged, empirically well-grounded and philosophically consistent, theory of knowledge. This is done in relation to specific theoretical and methodological questions within the learning field, thus forming the double move of developing through use my view of knowledge and of taking a stance in concrete debates. This double move is, I submit, characteristic of taking on the role of dialogue partner with a voice of its own.
In one sense, of course, this anthology is not a dialogue, but a monologue. Only one voice is heard (mine), potential dialogue partners’ views are present solely in the representation I provide of them as part of arguing with them, and they are not given any chance to respond. Taken together, the articles represent what I believe is a coherent view of what knowledge is, how it is learned, how it relates to identity, and how it may be investigated. As such, the anthology may not appear to invite dialogue, nor to value challenge from other approaches. However, not only has each article originally been written as a contribution to the discussion within the learning field of a particular issue, inviting response by other authors in further articles. My contributions have themselves been developed in ongoing conversation with colleagues from a range of disciplines, formally and semi-formally in the context of conference and seminar presentations, and informally in the context of everyday exchanges about research in progress. The articles are thus the result of many years of working as a philosopher in an interdisciplinary, epistemology-related field. The collection of them here is therefore at once a reification of this work and an invitation to dialogue at a meta-level about this way of practicing philosophizing with.
The aim of this introduction is to provide an overview of the position developed in detail in the course of the articles comprising the anthology. I shall do this in a number of sub-sections. First, I expand a little more on my view of philosophy and of the relationship between everyday concepts and theoretical ones on the one hand, and the phenomena they allegedly refer to on the other. Second, I draw up in one summarizing presentation my view of knowledge developed in the articles of Part 2 in dialogue with other disciplines. Third, I similarly explicate the points made in especially articles 2 and 3 about the nature of knowledge’s situatedness, i.e. my take on the role of social mediation, on how identity development intertwine with development of knowledge and on how the action-oriented perspective may be learned. Fourth, in order to situate my view further theoretically and to clarify-by-contrast, I take a step back and locate my view within a wider learning theoretical and epistemological landscape. Throughout the subsections I detail in which article which point is made. Finally, I briefly present each of the articles in the collection. I do this by explicating the concern raised by my view which the article takes up and how it is dealt with through philosophizing with – thus explicating how the article queries the learning field from my philosophical point of view.