Photo of David Johnson

APA Member Interview: David V. Johnson

David V. Johnson is a philosopher turned journalist. In 2002, he received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Stanford University with a specialty in ancient Greek ethics. He left a tenure-track job at UMBC in 2005 for Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism. He has worked for Al Jazeera America, Boston Review, and San Francisco magazine.

What excites you about philosophy?

Its ability to challenge assumptions and thereby improve our thinking and, by extension, our world.

What is the favorite thing that you’ve written?

My account (part 1, part 2) of 1980s Southern California junior tennis, the Menendez brothers’ patricide, and the relationship between the two.

What are you most proud of in your professional life?

I made a career transition from academia to journalism, and I’m still breathing.

If you could have a one-hour conversation with any philosopher or historical figure from any time, who would you pick and what topic would you choose?

I would like to chat with Plato about democracy, oligarchy, the rule of the Four Hundred and the Thirty Tyrants, and the politics of regret.

Who is your favorite philosopher and why?

Aristotle. If all of philosophy is a footnote to Plato, that’s philosophy’s problem. All of human knowledge is a footnote to Aristotle.

Who do you think is the most underrated philosopher?

John Stuart Mill. A giant with an enduring legacy in so many fields, condemned to dismissals by those who resent having to read Utilitarianism in their ‘Intro to Ethics’ class. Imagine judging Marx as a philosopher solely on the basis of The Communist Manifesto.

Who do you think is the most overrated philosopher?

Leibniz, the reductio ad absurdum of rationalism.

If you could wake up tomorrow with a new talent, what would you most like it to be?

To play blues guitar like a master. I came from a family of musicians, but my mother intentionally discouraged my taking up music, because she didn’t want me to become another musician.

If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future, or anything else, what would you want to know?

Is there an end to the universe, or does it just keep chugging along for eternity?

What is your favorite sound in the world?

The roar of Pacific waves.

What’s your personal philosophy?

The important stuff in life is simple; it’s the justification of the simple truths that’s hard.

What three things are on your bucket list that you’ve not yet accomplished?



Publish a book.

Learn how to fish.

Retire in the Bay of Naples.

Where is your favorite place you have ever traveled and why?

Angkor Wat, because it makes Greece a snooze by comparison.

What 3 items would you take to a desert island other than food and water?

The Complete Works of Sophocles; Liddell, Scott & Jones’ A Greek-English Lexicon; and Smyth’s Greek Grammar.

What is your least favorite type of fruit and why?

Oranges. Their quality is so inconsistent, and while the bad ones are horrendously bad, the good ones are so sweet, they are more appropriate for children.

What technology do you wish the human race could discover right now?

Fusion for commercial use.

What cause or charity do you care about most? 

Journalism.

What’s your top tip or advice for APA members reading this?

Strive to be a better prose stylist.

Follow David on Twitter here.

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This section of the APA Blog is designed to get to know our fellow philosophers a little better. We’re including profiles of APA members that spotlight what captures their interest not only inside the office, but also outside of it. We’d love for you to be a part of it, so please contact us via the interview nomination form here.