What is this former political philosophy professor doing at Apple?

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According to an iDrop News report published yesterday, Apple has its own in-house philosopher. While that is already strange, even stranger is that Joshua Cohen used to be a professor of political philosophy at Stanford University and that his work at Apple is kept a tight secret.

Cohen was initially hired to work at Apple University, an in-house training programme founded by Steve Jobs in 2008, but he later became an Apple Distinguished Senior Fellow.

What is curious about this programme, apart from the fact that it now seems to have its own philosophy department, is that it is populated by top academics – for example, former Yale dean Joel Podolny and ex-Harvard University history expert Richard Tedlow.

What exactly is their mission at a time when Apple is becoming deeply involved with news and entertainment? Quartz recently tried to speak to Cohen about his work, but Apple denied permission – twice. He does, occasionally, lecture at third-party events though. In 2016, he delivered a talk on “how pianist Glen Gould’s embrace of technology allowed him to create even more sublime music to share with a wider audience”.

A writer for the music website who attended that event wrote that “Cohen’s task (at Apple University) is to identify the best things and explicate them.”

The secrecy that surrounds Apple University is all the more interesting because the company publishes no information about the programme’s syllabus, and neither does it reveal the names of those who attend it.

It has to be said though that apart from being prevented from speaking to the press about his work at Apple, Cohen is still allowed to pursue his personal career – including academic research and editing. He is presently the editor of literary and political journal Boston Review and is involved in various academic research projects unrelated to Apple.


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