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Magazine Brings Literary Style to Philosophical Writings

screen grab of Raven magazine web page

David Velleman started a magazine to put the heart back into philosophy.

Philosophical writing used to consist of wide-rang­ing, creative essays that were grounded in technique, but still accessible to a general au­dience, says Velleman, Miller Research Professor in the Wil­liam H. Miller III Department of Philosophy at the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. They made readers think, and they helped some of them de­cide to become philosophers.

But most of the papers pub­lished today cover ever-narrow­ing topics in an increasingly for­mulaic style, Velleman says, or are papers about other papers. Which takes all the fun out of reading them.

“I had come to philosophy as a graduate student at a time when very distinguished philos­ophers were publishing articles on profound topics written in a way that could be read by any well-educated reader,” says the Johns Hopkins philosopher. “These became classic papers on profoundly humanistic topics. But in the last 10 to 15 years of my career, I found that the discipline was veering, as I saw it, off course. The literature was about the literature rather than about human life.”


So when a former colleague, who had left philosophy for journalism, suggested several years ago that the two of them start a magazine as a home for the kind of philosophical writings they both missed and wanted to read, Velleman— who was about to retire from New York University—thought it sounded like a good idea.

Renowned for his research and writings in moral psychol­ogy, free will, and ethics, among other topics, Velleman is also an experienced publisher. He briefly diverged from his doc­toral program in philosophy at Princeton to work in pub­lishing, and has spent his ca­reer committed to open-access publishing. Most of his work is available in open access form, and he co-founded the online journal Philosophers’ Imprint. His colleague-turned-co-edi­tor, David Johnson, serves as deputy editor of Stanford Social Innovation Review and formerly worked at Harper’s Magazine and Boston Review, among others. Between them, they have a hefty background in both philosophy and publishing.

In a nod to Velleman’s new home in Baltimore, they named the magazine The Raven. The first issue was posted online in December 2021, and a sec­ond issue appeared at the end of June. Topics range from the philosophy of time to ethics, the philosophy of mind to the nature of consciousness.

There is a trend that tries to bring philosophers into public debate through what is known as public philosophy, where phi­losophers are asked to provide philosophical angles on various issues of the day. The Raven is not that. Instead, Velleman and Johnson aim to reawaken the substance of old-school philos­ophy. They are simultaneously flinging its doors open to a wider audi­ence. Instead of inviting phi­losophers into the public fray, they are inviting the public to engage with the wilds of phi­losophy, but in ways that feel relevant, interesting, and most of all, human, Velleman says.