Basic Contact Information

Thomas Talbott
Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Willamette University
Home address:
4645 Stauber Lane, Salem, Oregon 97317
Home phone:
(503) 588-7083
Email address:

A Necessary Apology

C.S. Lewis is reputed to have answered every letter he received; and even though he lived prior to the age of personal computers and the internet, I find this to be one of the most astonishing facts about him. But had Lewis lived in today's world of instantaneous electronic communication, he might have received thousands of messages every week from his millions of fans and from those seeking advice of one kind or another; hence, not even a team of secretaries would have enabled him to respond personally to every message. Sooner or later, he would have had to neglect either his professional responsibilities, or his personal responsibilities (to his wife dying of cancer, for example), or his felt responsibility to those who wrote him.

Now I am certainly no C.S. Lewis. But in today's world, unlike Lewis', one need not be a best selling author in order to find oneself overwhelmed by the sheer number of messages that one receives. For my own part, I would be surprised if I have replied to more than five percent of the messages that I have received since I retired from teaching in 2006. Nor do I see much hope of improving upon that percentage substantially in the future.

I therefore feel a burden to apologize, or at least to express my regrets, to all of those who have written me in the past, or will write in the future, without receiving anything but silence in return. Believe me, this is not from a lack of interest on my part, nor is it, I hope, a failure to appreciate those who take the trouble to write, sometimes with incredibly kind words. I do read (and appreciate) every email that is not obviously spam, though I can sometimes go days (or even weeks) without checking my email. But in a world where many people (and virtually all professors, journalists, and writers) receive several times the number of messages that they can handle conveniently, a decision concerning priorities, whether it be conscious or unconscious, is unavoidable. Some people I know simply keep their email address relatively secret; others program their system to refuse automatically any message sent from someone not in their address book. But I prefer not to cut myself off from people even when other responsibilities and an excess of message sitting in my message box prevent me from replying. I prefer, in other words, to play it by ear, so to speak, and to allow circumstances or even chance to determine when and where I respond to unsolicited messages.

I seem constitutionally unable, moreover, to concentrate on more than one issue, one conversation, or one writing project at a time. If I am concentrating on a health issue in the family, for example, or on the preparation of a lecture, or on an article intended for publication, or on a vigorous exchange on some theological or philosophical topic, then almost everything else gets pushed out of my immediate consciousness and, beyond that, I find it nearly impossible to switch gears quickly. I have occasionally tried to change my basic "nature" in this regard, but always unsuccessfully. I am therefore left with expressing my heartfelt regrets to any who may understandably have felt slighted when I have failed to respond to their own messages to me.