By Michael Cholbi
I recently had the pleasure of completing a live AMA (Ask Me Anything) session as part of reddit’s philosophy platform, /r/philosophy. As the name suggests, it was an opportunity for the reddit community to query me about anything related to philosophy or to my philosophical research. I’ve long been on the lookout for innovative ways to pursue public philosophy. An AMA is a novel, semi-formal way of doing that, so I volunteered to be part of the winter AMA series. I was contacted by a moderator of /r/philosophy to scope out possible times and to get an overview of an AMA’s logistics.
Preparing for the AMA is pretty straightforward: You write both a short blurb and longer bio, including links to familiarize the audience with your research. The AMA announcement was posted about a week before the actual AMA session. I posted the announcement on Twitter and Facebook, as well as notifying my students, so as to drum up publicity for the session. Questions began to pile up quickly!
The AMA technology is very easy to use. You can quote, italicize, etc., though I tried to keep that to a minimum in order to answer questions as promptly as I could. In any event, if you have any familiarity with WYSIWYG blogging or web design, the interface shouldn’t present any problems.
On the day of the live session, I logged in about 30 minutes before the announced start time. One bit of advice is to monitor the questions that appear after the announcement but before the session, identify some that seem worth answering, and prepare responses that you can then enter quickly soon after the live session begins. This enabled me to respond to more questions overall, and by entering a number of answers right off the bat, it seemed like we got the session off to a lively start. Altogether, I stayed logged on for just over two hours, waiting until the questions seemed to slow to a trickle.
A second bit of advice is to know your own research! AMA’ers can ask you anything, and they may ask about an article you wrote long ago but haven’t thought about for some time. In my own case, I made sure to prepare for questions regarding different threads within my own research. As I had anticipated, the questioners were interested in my death and dying work — suicide and grief, predominantly — but there were also questions about my work on paternalism, the moral status of animals, and the ethics of work. I was also pleased to see questions about teaching — including how I approach teaching Kant’s ethics, a task I imagine many philosophy educators struggle with.
Michael Cholbi is Professor of Philosophy at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He works and publishes in a number of areas of ethics, including ethical theory, moral psychology, practical ethics, and the history of moral philosophy. His book, Understanding Kant’s Ethics, is published by Cambridge University Press.