Rebecca N. Goldstein
Philosopher, Novelist, and Biographer
I suppose the simplest way to explain what attracts me to this society is that the questions Bernard posed in his first letter of inquiry to me all interest me very much, and the way that he posed them—emphasizing the open-ended, non-doctrinal, nothing-to-prove-but-everything-to explore nature of the approach—heartened me.
I’ve been, for the last few years, quite involved with what I call organized non-religion. I got swept up into the movement after I published a book in 2006 on Spinoza and found myself invited to one secularist conference after another. (I was really surprised to discover how very organized free-thinking is!)
But there is minimal interest among any of these groups in anything literary. I’m okay with the scientific stance; my Ph.D. is in philosophy of science. But I’ve been longing to be able to approach these questions of belief and unbelief with others who think that literature is also interesting and can be—to say the least—every bit as subversive of received opinion and orthodoxy as science can be. (Scientific orthodoxies are also very interesting.)
In fact, the analytic philosophical tradition in which I was trained tends to think of literature itself as inherently heretical—an attitude that can be traced back to Plato, who famously banished the poets from his city of reason. As usual, Plato was onto something. There’s a wildness in the literary imagination that absolutes can’t tame. Given the intrinsically heretical tendencies of literature, I’m surprised that no society such as ours yet exists.