To Our Fellow Thinkers...
Being a responsible citizen in a powerful democracy is an awesome task – it requires courage and integrity. And as we attempt to practice the sensitive art of citizenship, we deserve respect and care. Instead, we are inundated with manipulative, over-simplified, and emotionally polarizing political communication.
The Philosopher-Citizen Institute’s educational programs, aimed at busy responsible adults, create environments where people can think clearly and carefully about the complex social issues we face today. We foster civil discourse and balanced thinking in an atmosphere of respect and dignity. Please join us in our effort to upgrade the quality of citizen decision-making in America.
The Institute has been in operation since 2002 and is housed at the Social Sciences Division of Pasadena City College, one of the nation’s outstanding community colleges. Its director and founder, Dr. Linda Handelman, educational programs, aimed at busy responsible adults, create environments where people can think clearly and carefully about the complex social issues we face today. We foster civil discourse and balanced thinking in an atmosphere of respect and dignity. Please join us in our effort to upgrade the quality of citizen decision-making in America.
As Americans we share a heritage that acknowledges the innate ability of human beings to use reason. It’s this enlightened view of the capabilities of individuals to participate rationally and responsibly in political affairs that forms the basis of our political system. Unfortunately, rational and responsible citizen participation is easier said than done….
●Information about current affairs whirls around us in disjointed fragments.
●Some of the information we get may be misinformation or disinformation. Other information is inaccessible to the public.
●New crises appear before we understand the old ones.
●Politicians try to buy our approval with simplistic platitudes and promises; and interest groups bombard us with emotionally charged messages.
●Our nation is becoming more and more polarized; many citizens have become intolerant of dissenting viewpoints; other citizens have become apathetic.
●And we are busy—we work hard all day, we have families, and we’ve made commitments to more projects than we have time for.
The more complicated and dangerous our world becomes, the more obvious it is that simply urging people to “get out and vote” is a hollow attempt at meaningful citizen participation. Help must be made available to serious citizen decision-makers—people who know that fragmented information, simplistic platitudes, emotionally charged appeals, and self-serving rhetoric are not acceptable means for informed, autonomous choices.
Our Practical Solutions
The Philosopher-Citizen Institute is dedicated to improving the quality of citizen decision-making in America by using the academic resources of our institutions of higher education, particularly the discipline of philosophy, to help citizens think more clearly about complex socio-political issues. Our approaches are threefold:
1. Delivering Educational Programs: Pasadena City College offers a special philosophy class called The Responsible Citizen Seminar, where participants apply philosophical tools to complex social issues. It is tailored to meet the needs of busy, responsible adults in the community and culminates in a series of public philosophical Salons. We also sponsor citizen learning communities, facilitated by graduates of our class, as well as other educational activities.
2. Developing a Philosophy Sub-Discipline (“Civic Philosophy”): The goal
of this academic/scholarly effort is to create university programs that will produce future professors and ensure the long-term stability of the Philosopher-Citizen programs by encouraging scholarly work to restore a fundamental mission of the discipline of philosophy: the creation of the citizen-thinker.
3. Influencing Social Thought: Through coordinated publicity programs, the Institute hopes to create a widespread demand for a social climate that encourages rational political discourse and action. Such programs include Letters-to-the-Editor & Op-Ed campaigns that carefully point out problematic political communication, awards to vigilant journalists and scholars, and non-partisan recognition of candidates and elected officials who rise above traditional "politicking."
How We All Benefit
1) In the Short Run: a) Gradually, more and more adults in the Pasadena area will become reinvigorated as citizens as they discover that they don’t have to rush through the extremely difficult process of making ethical decisions about complex issues and that there are tools available to them to help them. There will be an increase of meaningful citizen participation as people begin to see that they can do a respectable job of meeting their deeply felt responsibilities to their fellow human beings. b) As more people in the community are exposed to our process of maintaining civil discourse in an atmosphere of mutual respect, the more they will model reflective discussion skills among friends and in community meetings, thus resulting in a less polarized, less divisive civic environment.
2) In the Long Run: It is reasonable to assume that each time a citizen makes even a slightly better decision about a social issue, it will make a tiny (& initially imperceptible) contribution to the improvement of our political culture. As more well-thought-out, ethically-based citizen decision-making is injected into our political system, we will experience a gradual increase in reason-based political thought and discourse on the macro level – since those in positions of power will begin to realize that they have to answer to citizen-thinkers. Thus, it is a "trickle-up" theory.