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Now We Are Ten!
by Rick Lewis
This issue, Philosophy Now celebrates its 10th birthday. The magazine was born in the spare bedroom of a house in Ipswich, England, in June 1991. The first issue had a print run of only 2,000 copies and was sold from just a handful of bookshops in Britain, plus half a dozen newsagents to which I delivered it myself in a clapped-out orange Landrover. Optimistic friends thought the magazine would probably last about three issues, so it has so far outlived their predictions by a factor of ten (and the predictions of the pessimists by a factor of 32). In the first few years the mag teetered on the brink of extinction for so long that we were starting to enjoy the view. Fortunately, having gradually overcome the deep scepticism of the magazine industry, Philosophy Now is now on firmer ground and these days it can be found in newsagents and bookstores the length and breadth of Britain, North America and Australia. It is even sold by one newsagent in Alice Springs, which is famous for being one of the remotest towns in Oz. (The first reader to send us a till receipt for Philosophy Now from that shop can have a free subscription!).
The aims of Philosophy Now remain just as they were outlined in Issue 1 – “to provide some relatively light and amusing reading matter for people involved in philosophy … to provide those new to philosophy with a painless introduction to the subject … and to do a little to increase the general public’s awareness of philosophy.”
We, the UK and US editors and publishers of Philosophy Now, would like to say “ta very much” to all of our contributors and readers for their support over the years. Special thanks go to that hardy band of pioneers who have been subscribers ever since Issue 1 or 2. They were good enough to stick with us despite wildly varying publication dates and to send innumerable encouraging letters and suggestions, and their names are hallowed indeed in the corridors of Philosophy Now – or would be if we had a corridor, anyway…
This issue focuses on existentialism. Think of mists on the Seine, accordion music, intense people in black clothes arguing about the meaning of life in smokefilled Parisian cafés. Got the atmosphere? Good. According to the existentialists, for conscious, self-reflective beings such as humans, existence comes before essence. At birth it isn’t decided whether you are going to be an astronaut or a zoologist, a saint or a sinner – it is up to you to make what you can of yourself. You can remake yourself, too. You can choose to assert your freedom by quitting your job as a stockbroker in Manhattan and altering your life totally, becoming a headhunter in Borneo, perhaps (But maybe that isn’t so radically different). These choices are difficult but possible, and the fact that we have the ability to make them, even when we don’t choose to do so, means that we are inescapably free.
For unconscious things like tables, trees and insects, on the other hand, their essence – their fundamental nature – is established before they even come into existence. For instance, a carpenter has a pretty good idea of the design and function of a table before he even goes out to buy the wood to make it. For magazines then, like all other things which ain’t self-conscious, essence must precede existence. On second thoughts, though, does a magazine fall into the category of the self-conscious or of the unconscious? If a magazine is a shifting community of individual writers and readers who each contribute to its direction and each have subtly different ideas about what it should be like and where it should be going, does that mean that the magazine is selfaware? When we say a community is conscious of something we are usually uneasily aware that we are using the term metaphorically. Unless we want to get all mystical, we can safely say that communities have no consciousness over and above that of their members. But what if the kind of selfconsciousness required by the existentialists doesn’t require anything more than that? A magazine is continually reshaped by the efforts and interests of its contributors, editors and readers. Maybe for a community, such as a football club, a village or a magazine, essence can come after existence as well as before.