Pop Quiz
Simmons ’87
Alison Simmons was a psychology major at Bucknell, but became interested in much more fundamental questions about the mind. “I got stuck in the introduction section of every psychology article,” she says. Now a philosophy professor and interim chair of philosophy at Harvard, Simmons specializes in Descartes and other early modern philosophers and co-leads a new program to embed ethics into the computer science curriculum.
Which is the best philosophy quote?
a. “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
b. “I think, therefore I am.”
c. “The life of man … is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
If I had to choose, I would say “The unexamined life is not worth living,” because being in higher education that’s what we are all about.
What philosopher would be the most fun at a party?
a. Descartes
b. Nietzsche
c. Voltaire
Voltaire is obviously the most fun one. If I could choose anyone, though, it would be David Hume — he is a brilliant observer of human life and so good at putting his finger on genuine experiences. I would love to know what he had to say about 21st-century life.
What technology is most in need of an ethics overhaul?
a. Coding
b. Artificial intelligence
c. Social media
Social media, because it is changing the way we interact with people in a very immediate way. I mean, people have very strong reactions to the film The Matrix, but we are living in the matrix, and we created it.
“We are living in the matrix, and we created it.”
4. What female philosopher has not gotten her proper due?
Margaret Cavendish. She was a 17th-century English woman who challenges some of the basic assumptions shared by some of the male philosophers. Even though we claim we are not Cartesian dualists, conceptually we are — we still make a distinction between mind and body. For her, all matter is sentient and rational. It’s a very different picture and so discordant with how we live our lives. She felt she was not of her own age, but I think her time is coming.
Finish this sentence: “A philosopher and a psychologist walk into a bar …”
She’s the same person! I challenge the assumption behind the question.
What did Bucknell teach you about the meaning of life?
I am still working on the same question I was asking in my sophomore class, Sensation and Perception, with Doug Candland: How do I understand the relationship between mind and world? That class shaped my life, and I have never exhausted the question.
Alison Simmons '87 headshot
Photo: Rose Lincoln