Ethical Episodes

That Was The Year That Was

by Joel Marks

On 19 January, 1999, I sent an email to one Rick Lewis, Editor of Philosophy Now, inquiring whether the magazine might be in the market for another columnist. A friend of mine had returned from vacation with a copy in hand to show me. I instantly glommed on to it, perceiving a perfect match for my aspirations. Prior to that I had already been a newspaper columnist for a decade, but those columns tended to put current events first and philosophy last, whereas I yearned to reverse the priority. Either way, however, I had become a fan of the form, and for two reasons. The first was simply practical: I had very little time left over from my teaching responsibilities to write long philosophical tracts. While I kept up my professional publishing, the items were far too few and far between to contain all of the ideas that were constantly exploding in my mind. But the other reason for my fondness for the columnal form was that I believed philosophy deserved a wider audience than just specialists. Philosophy Now was dedicated to precisely that ideal.

But I heard nothing back, so, disappointed, I continued my daily rounds. Unbeknownst to me, however, I had planted the seed, and nine months later a brainchild was born. An email arrived in my Inbox from Rick Lewis offering enthusiastic encouragement of my proposal. He apologized profusely for the delayed reply, explaining that in the interim a virtual marriage had taken place between Philosophy Now and Philosophy For All via a literal marriage between himself and PFA co-founder Anja Steinbauer; and in the process of their setting up house, my email had been temporarily misplaced. Fortunately it had turned up again as mysteriously as it had disappeared, so that Rick was now able to contact me.

This set the pattern of our collaboration. No, I don’t mean that Rick kept getting married! But he did keep getting harried. Serendipitously we all three got to meet in person at a philosophy convention that December, where we sealed the deal. Thus the year that was: 1999. The column was duly inaugurated in 2000, and it has not missed an issue in the thirteen years since.

Why am I indulging in these happy reminiscences? Because I feel it is time to make way for some other lucky philosopher on this page. It’s been a great run. Rick has catered to my every whim, and many doors have been opened to me because of this regular showcasing of my work. I have also been endlessly indulged by you, dear readers, whom I have sometimes taken on a wild ride (most notoriously, perhaps, in my screeching turnabout from moralist to amoralist) and with many of whom I have had the privilege to dialogue electronically.

But now I find that I have developed a new yearning, or rather that I have the opportunity to satisfy an old one: to write in longer forms. Formal retirement from my ‘day job’ has already resulted in four books and several journal articles. (Odd that a professor should have to retire to do research. But such are the economics of the profession for most of us.) Furthermore, even my short writings have backlogged, with hundreds in waiting. My problem has been the reverse of Tristram Shandy’s autobiography, which took him longer to write than to live, whereas I write more quickly than can be published in these pages. So the hurrier I go, the behinder I get (quoth the bunny).

Not only has my time opened up, but today there are so many new ways to be an author. I could (and maybe will) instantly solve my backlog problem by electronically self-publishing a humongous collection, and I could (and maybe will) forestall a new backlog by starting up a blog. Heck, I even have an idea for a video series. Meanwhile, a traditional genre beckons: I suddenly find myself curious to explore the possibilities of writing long fiction. This would not necessarily be turning my back on philosophy, as the stories that appear in this very magazine attest.

And that brings me to my final reason for believing it is time to make way for another columnist, namely, that my philosophical preoccupations have become ever more focused on three main issues. My constant readers know what they are: animals, asteroids (and comets), and amorality. And that is precisely the problem: I keep coming back to the Three As because they are my (current) preoccupations. For some readers this may be welcome, but I suspect that for many, a greater variety would be appreciated. Since I only want to delve ever deeper into these three, it is probably time to part company (in this format).

My special thanks to Allan Saltzman and Darrell Harrison for getting me started on this amazing journey. And, again, I am deeply grateful to Rick and Anja not only for the steadfast support they have shown to my little scribblings but especially for so ably championing the cause of philosophy now and forever and for all.

© Prof. Joel Marks 2013

Joel Marks is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of New Haven, a Bioethics Center Scholar at Yale University, and a loyal reader of Philosophy Now. His website is www.docsoc.com.

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