The Impact of Philosophy: Evidence from the UK Research Excellence Framework(2017)
Should philosophy help address the problems of non-philosophers or should it be something isolated both from other disciplines and from the lay public? This question became more than academic for philosophers working in UK universities with the introduction of societal impact assessment in the national research evaluation exercise, the REF. Every university department put together a submission describing its broader impact in case narratives, and these were graded. Philosophers were required to participate and to produce narratives describing such impacts.
The resulting narratives are publicly available and provide a unique resource permitting a more detailed, empirically based consideration of philosophy’s societal impact than has hitherto been possible. This paper takes advantage of this to examine the many cases of documented societal impacts produced by philosophers. The analysis also benefits from being contextualized by comparison with cases in a patenting field, inorganic chemistry, and a medical field, dentistry, two fields in which it is easy to imagine pathways to impact. Both chemists and dentists discover useful things, patent and license them. Also dentists might develop a new treatment that could end up recommended in the treatment guidelines issued by professional organizations and they would train others in the new technique through professional education programs.
In this paper we develop a taxonomy of the ways in which philosophers have societal impact as reported in REF case studies. We find five types of impact: dissemination, engagement, provocations, living impacts, and philosophy of X. We compare each to the characteristics of the field philosopher as proposed by Frodeman and Briggle. We conclude that there are multiple ways of being a field philosopher that vary in their emphasis. This pluralism bodes well for the expansion of societal impact from philosophy as there are routes available to suit different approaches.
Citation Information"The Impact of Philosophy: Evidence from the UK Research Excellence Framework" (2017)
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/diana_hicks/48/