This essay presents public criticism as one answer to the question of why literary criticism has value in the twenty-first century. Reframing criticism in terms of its multiple functions, the essay moves beyond the critique-postcritique binary. It advocates for functional and methodological pluralism as crucial to the discipline’s vitality. It addresses the public functions of story, criticism, and critic. Public criticism draws out and conveys the cognitive and collective value of stories, deploying the most appropriate disciplinary and interdisciplinary methods to show how stories can provide multiple points of view, enable understanding of collective identities, function as narrative models enabling surrogative reasoning about target systems, and play a key public role in anticipations of the future, as narrative futures methods. Public criticism expands the available public roles for the critic, adapting Roger A. Pielke, Jr.’s framework to demonstrate how literary critics can function as humanities arbiters and honest brokers, as well as issue advocates, in the structures and institutions of public reasoning. Public criticism requires transparency about the methodological rigour of the discipline, and more prevalent practices of collaboration and knowledge synthesis. Overall, the essay provides an implementable framework for how stories, criticism and critic can inform public reasoning.