Thinkers and Doers
Welcome to Tufts Magazine’s Philosophy Issue. We are sure you will be riveted by our fourteen-part series on Wittgenstein and our round-table discussion, led by Professor Mumbles, on the origins of existentialism. No, seriously, we know you a little better than that. You are a thoughtful person, given to pondering the hard, why-are-we-here sorts of questions, but you have a strong practical bent as well. You live by the words of Jacob Bronowski—“We have to understand that the world can only be grasped by action, not by contemplation”—or have reached a similar conclusion on your own. You will find no theoretical meditations here. We, like you, are concerned with practical philosophy. Philosophy that has some bearing on our institutions and behavior, on our pursuit of happiness.
Two of our writers take on a theme that unites all human beings: the agonizing decision. In our cover story, Daniel Dennett, Tufts’ philosopher king, gets inside the heads of religious leaders who have lost faith and must now figure out what to do about it. (Characteristically, Dennett’s purpose is not merely academic. He hopes his research will ease the suffering of doubt-plagued pastors and change-riven congregations.) And Darin Strauss, A92, has to decide how to live his life after taking the life of another (“Living for Two).
Other contributors offer well-considered positions that they know will go against the grain: Brian Gilchrist on teaching a vulnerable kid how to win a fist fight (“Mortals”) and Sol Gittleman on dirty words (“Scholar at Large”).
Then there are those who simply bring a reflective, philosophical approach to their work. The Tufts veterinarians in “The Rescuers” feel compelled to undo the pernicious effects of human-caused environmental disasters on wildlife. Laura Silverman, SMFA91, peppers her comedy act with loony, insightful haiku and finds meaning in comforting people at their lowest moment. And there are innumerable others.
To be honest, we didn’t plan this to be a philosophy issue. We simply did what we always do, which is to allow the sage offerings of the Tufts community to accrue naturally, organically, almost without human intervention, until one day shortly before going to press we surveyed the assembled whole and said, “By God, we have a lot of thoughtful people among us!” The issue arose through nothing less than spontaneous generation. And now it is yours to enjoy.