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 Problem

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.

Addressing the Problem

What can concerned citizens do? There have never been shortcuts to quality, especially when it involves the human mind and human society. If we wish to create long lasting, stable improvements in our socio-political environment, it is essential that we apply our creativity, experience and understanding to increase the quality of citizen decision-making in our society. Obviously, no person can force another to become more rational, ethical or self-determined. But this doesn’t mean that thinking people can’t actively fight for the increase of reason, ethics and self-determined thought in our political system.

What if it were possible for people to dramatically improve their citizen decision-making skills, and keep their jobs, and still spend time with their families? What if there were decision-making tools, materials and programs of high intellectual integrity especially designed for busy, responsible people? What if these programs were interesting, challenging, involving, and effective? What if, over time, larger and larger numbers of people actually became skilled citizen decision makers?

They would emanate political integrity. Their quiet confidence would draw others to them like the proverbial magnet draws iron filings. Other people would want what they have and the number of declared citizen-thinkers would grow in size and influence. Slowly but surely, it would become a desired trait in our society to be a rational, ethical, self-determined political decision-maker. Politicians and other professional policy makers would have to answer to smarter constituencies. The quantity of intelligent political decisions being made would significantly increase. This is the game we need to play, and play well.

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:

1Delivering 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:  The goal of this academic/scholarly effort is to create university programs that will produce future instructors and ensure the long-term stability of the Philosopher-Citizen programs by restoring 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:  Based on one of America's founding philosophical ideas, namely "enlightened self-interest," it is reasonable to assume that each time any citizen makes even a slightly better decision about a socio-political issue, then all of us will receive at least some benefit (even if this benefit is initially very small).  As more carefully thought-out citizen decision-making is injected into our democratic republic, we will experience a gradual increase in reason-based political communication on the macro level – those in positions of power will begin to respond to the citizen-thinkers.  Thus, it is a "trickle-up" theory.

“As many citizens are beginning to realize, when we don’t actively fight for a climate of reason in our political environment, we easily lose it. This may be one of the most important fights we can ever undertake–a fight for an increase in reason, intelligence and careful, ethically based thinking among our American citizenry.”

Join Us!

This may well be just the fight you’re looking for: a fight for an increase in reason, intelligence, and ethically-based thinking among our American citizenry. As Thomas Jefferson said, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance” Your support of The Philosopher-Citizen Institute strengthens this vigilance.

Here are some ways to participate:

  1. Contribute:  $1,000 (Wisdom Warriors) $500 (Plato’s Circle); $100 (The Reason Brigade) $50 (The Freedom Thinkers); $25 (Socrateasers) Other ___ (Barefoot Buddhas)
  2. Volunteer:  Become active in the Philosopher-Citizen Institute.
  3. Enroll:  If you haven’t yet shared in the excitement of the philosopher-citizen process, we invite you to enroll in our PCC class. You’ll meet other community members with similar concerns, and learn to apply tools to become a better citizen decision-maker.

"Reason and Ignorance, the opposites of each other, influence the great bulk of mankind. If either of them can be rendered sufficient in a country, the machinery of Government goes easily on.  Reason obeys itself; and Ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it."

Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man