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.