Leon Kass Interview

Humanities (May/June 2008).


Chicago-born Leon Kass, the 2009 Jefferson Lecturer, sat with Humanities magazine to describe how as a young medical doctor he joined the civil rights movement, then changed course to become a research scientist, but, as a result of reading Rousseau, Aldous Huxley, and C. S. Lewis, ended up studying Aristotle, teaching philosophy and literature, and becoming eminent in the field of bioethics.

HUMANITIES: Let’s start at the beginning. Where are you from?

LEON KASS: I was born in Chicago. I grew up on the South Side. My father had a clothing store on the South Side. I went to public school in a lower middle-class neighborhood, then moved on to University High School at the University of Chicago.

After two years I started college there as an early entrant. Robert Hutchins was gone, but I received the benefit of a good part of Hutchins’s “Old College.” And although I was not terribly well-educated there, I picked up certain salutary prejudices and was introduced to books that would later mean a great deal to me.

National Endowment for the Humanities