Einstein Questionnaire

R. Jay Wallace

R. Jay Wallace is Judy Chandler Webb Distinguished Chair for Innovative Teaching and Research at the University of California, Berkeley. As an Einstein Visiting Fellow Wallace does research on the influence of social relationships on moral norms at the Excellence Cluster Topoi. 


Please close your eyes for a moment and think about your research project. What do you see at first?

I see human beings who are not related to each other interacting in a crowded public space, like a European train station.


What would your research project look like if it was a piece of art?

Maybe a painting by Cy Twombly (one of the large crayon on canvas works, depicting nervous lines drawn against a slate background).


Please give your research project a suitable fantasy name! 

How I learned to stop worrying about a "Letztbegründung" of our moral practices, and accept the goal of making sense of them.


To your opinion, what are the three most meaningful inventions of mankind?

The research university, opera as an art form, philosophical inquiry (these are things that are particularly meaningful to me, not things I take to be the most meaningful in themselves)


With whom would you like to exchange your workplace for one day, and what would you do then?

One of the tram drivers on the M10 line that passes my apartment at the Nordbahnhof; besides trying to keep the tram from hitting anyone, I'd be very interested in observing the people getting on and off the tram in the different neighborhoods, in an effort to understand how this brilliant piece of public infrastructure sustains ordinary life.

Is there any object of obsession, which accompanies you in your daily life? 

I'm afraid I find myself depressingly obsessed by the activities of the Trump administration these days, to a degree that is a major distraction in my daily life.


Is there a place in Berlin that links to the work on your research project?

From my office in the Topoi building in the Hannoversche Strasse I look onto the Dorotheenstädtischer Friedhof, with its many well-maintained graves of Berlin cultural heroes. It is inspiring, but also very humbling, to be able to pursue one's research in the physical presence of memorials to such luminaries as Hegel, Fichte, Schinkel, or Brecht, and something one could experience only in Berlin. 


July 2018