‘We are all philosophers’: 5C multimedia philosophy publication embraces accessibility

A stack of gilded leather philosophical books sits next to an iPad displaying the Tabula Rasa logo.
Launched by Emily Jiang PO ʼ21, Tabula Rasa is the 5C’s first philosophy journal on campus. (Talia Bernstein • The Student Life)

When it comes to philosophy publications, the 5Cs are a blank slate. This was something Emily Jiang PO ʼ21, editor-in-chief of 5C philosophy journal Tabula Rasa, was well aware of this summer as she headed into her senior year as a PPE — philosophy, politics and economics — major. 

“My favorite part of philosophy was talking to people about ideas and about various interpretations of the texts … on philosophical ideas that come up in everyday life,” Jiang said. “While there are chances to do that in class, I felt like there wasn’t really a forum for the exchange of philosophy ideas, among the 5Cs as a whole or outside of an academic setting.” 

As the 2020 academic year began, Jiang began toying with the idea of a publication which would provide the more casual space for philosophy discourse she had been missing. But it wasn’t until she thought of a potential title for her journal — “Tabula Rasa,” or “blank slate” in Latin — that she realized what she affectionately refers to as her “brainchild” was more than a whim; it was something she was committed to undertaking. 

“The name catalyzed the whole process,” Jiang said. “In philosophy, [the term] is associated with the Lockean idea of the human mind being a blank slate without preconceived notions, and that it gains knowledge through sensory experiences. I really liked that idea — of having a journal that had no preconceptions or biases but was just committed to the development of knowledge through what people created and wrote for it.” 

Feeling inspired, Jiang reached out to a group of students she knew from philosophy courses, gauging interest in collaborating on a journal. Together, with Jiang as editor-in-chief, they established preliminary board positions and drafted an application, which they distributed via Facebook in January.

“We got really overwhelming support,” co-managing editor Lilly Weidhaas PO ʼ21 said. “We got so many more applications than we were expecting to get, which was really exciting.” 

The Tabula Rasa team now boasts 32 members. They are students of all ages, hailing from four of the 5Cs and majoring in a number of different disciplines, including PPE, art, languages and various sciences. Together, the journal’s editors, writers and artists began to organize a multimedia, accessible philosophy journal within a field often characterized as intimidating.

“It’s no secret that philosophy has historically been a very exclusive study, especially in its origin. It was really restricted to just wealthy, white, well-educated men,” Jiang said. 

Co-managing editor Katya Pollock PO ʼ21 expressed similar feelings. She recalled the difficulty she had during her first encounter with philosophy in a high school class. 

“I had found [the course] really abstract and not applicable to my life. Not very interesting, to be honest,” Pollock said. 

Tabula Rasa is an attempt to combat that notion. The three editors leading the journal — Jiang, Weidhaas and Pollock — are all women, in direct defiance of philosophy’s overwhelmingly male history. And its intended audience is, rather than the philosophy department, the 5C community as a whole. 

“I think the beauty of philosophy is that it talks about ideas that everyone can relate to, and that everyone can have opinions on — that can, or have potential to, interest everyone,” Jiang said. “I want to dive into that beauty, that part of philosophy that I love, which is that it’s so ubiquitous, and it’s so applicable to everything. And so I think, as many people as we can expose those ideas to, engage the interests of, the better.”

Pollock echoed this sentiment, expressing her hopes for the journal’s outreach. 

“I really want to emphasize this idea that the publication is not just for philosophy students,” Pollock said. “In fact, if anything, it’s for people who are not philosophy students to get a better sense of what it is that we actually do when we’re sitting around talking all day.”

As one of its core tenets, Tabula Rasa welcomes not only written pieces, but visual art, spoken word and other auditory media. This decision was an explicit part of Jiang’s plan to expand the scope of the philosophy journal. 

“I never wanted it to be a strictly academic, super dry journal,” Jiang said. “I wanted to join people from every discipline, and show that philosophy is ultimately based on ideas which can be expressed in any form.”

As it turns out, visual art lends itself fairly easily to philosophical concepts. The two areas of study and expression are intertwined in ways that aren’t often shown. 

“Art is often trying to help us make sense of our place in the world, and our identities,” Pollock said. “And that’s what philosophy does, as well.”

This expansive definition of what constitutes philosophy is important to the three editors, who expressed their belief in philosophy’s applications outside the theoretical or the academic, as they extend to everyday life. 

“We are all philosophers,” Pollock said, using a phrase she credited to philosophy department alum Paskalina Bourbon PO ’19. “Even if you don’t decide to pursue philosophy in a formal way, it’s still always a part of our lives, because we have to construct an image of how we see ourselves and how we interact with others and the world around us.” 

Tabula Rasa will be published online this semester, its pilot issue falling in sync with the graduation date of its three editors. However, the seniors have high hopes for its future, even as leadership transfers out of their hands — including an eventual print publication and the possibility of achieving further engagement by distributing the journal to the town of Claremont. For Jiang, the future is exciting, but bittersweet. 

“At the end of the day, I created [Tabula Rasa] knowing that I was going to graduate,” she said. “I’m fully ready to release it to whoever is going to take over next year. And I’m really just hoping to plant the seeds for what will hopefully become something bigger.” 

The editors have faith in the journal’s future as a 5C institution.

“I believe in the people who will be here in the future,” Weidhaas said. “I think it will continue.”

Tabula Rasa will be launching their website shortly and placing a call for external submissions on May 22. Until then, you can find them on Facebook.

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