Center for Public Philosophy


Everyone thinks about philosophy.

There’s hardly a person in the world who does not ask philosophical questions and make philosophical assumptions—about fairness, freedom, or friendship; obligation, family, and the environment; objectivity, taste, and facts vs. opinions; God, purpose, and what it is to live a meaningful life.

Chances are you’ve had not just one, but many thoughts about these things.

So get rid of that idea that philosophy is for old men with white beards without a practical care in the world.

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Philosophy is relevant for us all.

Today, however, sustained philosophical thinking is practiced mostly in universities. Its benefits are bestowed only on the select few who enroll in a philosophy course.

We can do better.

Founded in November 2015, the Center for Public Philosophy is making this happen through a variety of initiatives.  Some of our initiatives engage the public directly in philosophical activities; others apply insights from the history of philosophy to urgent problems of current public concern.

Bringing philosophy to broader segments of the public

As citizens in a democratic society, it is our civic responsibility to make choices in a well-reasoned and informed way.  And yet, today more than ever we are exposed to vast amounts of information and a wide variety of opinions that claim our attention and demand response. Impatience, overconfidence, and bias are perennial obstacles to sound reasoning, which the Internet and contemporary media have only intensified.

Attention in the face of distraction; the ability to assimilate inconvenient information; a tolerance for uncertainty and not knowing the right answer—these need to be cultivated in our youngest generations, nourished in our communities, and celebrated in public discourse.

Through programming, events and media, the Center seeks to empower the public with the tools and insights of philosophy, and to help foster a more thoughtful, engaged community of thinkers.  Our projects include:

High School Ethics Bowl
Teams from high schools across Northern California travel to UC Santa Cruz to debate a wide range of contemporary ethical questions.

Philosophy for Children
Faculty and graduate students from UC Santa Cruz bring philosophy to children at local elementary and middle schools, engaging them in sustained discussions of philosophical questions.

Philosophy in Jail
Inmates at local correctional facilities strengthen skills of reason, deliberation, and communication through supervised discussion of contemporary ethical questions.

Urgent problems of current public concern

The Center finds substantial importance in the identification and development of projects in which philosophers, in close collaboration with colleagues both inside and outside academia, explore what both groups conceive to be a promising application of a specific philosophical idea, perspective or tradition to a distinct issue of urgent public importance.

Two of our programs are:

The Language of Conservation
A UC Santa Cruz initiative that seeks a radical change in how we think and talk about the value of life in all its diverse, natural forms.  It envisions a transformation in humanity’s ethical relationship to nature through discovery and development of what Aldo Leopold called “values as yet uncaptured by language.”

Contemplative Pedagogy and Practices
Faculty and graduate students in the humanities and social sciences at UC Santa Cruz investigate the promise of the contemplative traditions for navigating an array of persistent challenges in public education.

Jonathan Ellis, DIRECTOR
Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy

Ph.D. (2015), Philosophy; Lecturer, Department of Philosophy

Nima Agah
Senior undergraduate philosophy major

Jasmin Aleman
Senior undergraduate philosophy major

Claudio Campagna
Conservation Biologist, Wildlife Conservation Society;
Adjunct Professor, Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Cynthia Chase
Mayor, Santa Cruz, CA;
Inmate Programs Manager, S.C. County Sheriff’s Office

Gregor Clark
Founder & Director, Hiker creative agency

Juan Ruiz Cortes
Senior undergraduate philosophy major

Nathaniel Deutsch
Professor, Department of History;
Director, Institute for Humanities Research

Janette Dinishak
Assistant Professor, Department of Philosophy

David Donley
Ph.D. student, Department of Philosophy

Sandra Dreisbach
Ph.D. (2012), Philosophy;
Lecturer, Departments of Biomolecular Engineering & Philosophy;
Co-founder, UC Santa Cruz Undergraduate Ethics Bowl Program

Mary Garcia
M.A. (2014), Philosophy

Jody Greene
Professor, Departments of Literature, Feminist Studies,
and History of Consciousness;
Director, Center for Innovations in Teaching and Learning

Daniel Guevara
Chair & Associate Professor,
Department of Philosophy

Miles Hatfield
B.A. (2011), Philosophy;
Ph.D. student, Dept. of Cognitive Science,
Johns Hopkins University

Francesca Hovagimian
Senior undergraduate philosophy major

Nickolas Knightly
Ph.D. student, Department of Philosophy

Breeann MacDonald
B.A. (2015), Philosophy

James Sutter
M.A. (2014), Philosophy

Savannah Wadsworth
Senior undergraduate philosophy major