James Rachels Trivia


Jim was convinced by Peter Singer to become a vegetarian. His final act as a meat-eater was in 1974. He ate several small hamburgers at a Krystal restaurant while driving from Columbus, Georgia, to Miami, Florida.

James Rachels' parents called him "Jimmy." His friends called him "Jim." His children called him "Jimbo." He never went by "James."

Oxford University Press's acceptance letter for Created from Animals was destroyed by a terrorist bomb. Jim never received that letter because it was among the mail on Pan Am Flight 203, which blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland, on December 21, 1988, killing 270 people.

In his essay, "Active and Passive Euthanasia," Jim mistakenly writes 'Down's Syndrome' instead of 'Down Syndrome.' ('Down's Syndrome' is the British spelling. Jim was American, writing for an American journal.) "Active and Passive Euthanasia" has been reprinted over 300 times. To my knowledge, no one has ever corrected this misspelling, which occurs three times in the article.

Ludwig Wittgenstein also died of bladder cancer at the age of 62.

As a high school student in 1959, Jimmy won the national speech contest, "The Voice of Democracy." He gave his speech many times, in different cities. Because of this he met future presidents John F. Kennedy (one of the judges) and Richard M. Nixon, and he went on American Bandstand with Dick Clark. His children have not read this speech, nor did he ever want them to. Jimmy's fame was so pronounced at that moment that someone across the country addressed a letter to "Jimmy Rachels, Georgia," and it was promptly delivered.

Jim loved many movies, but his favorite was probably Buster Keaton's The General (1927).

Jim commented on a paper by R. M. Hare at a conference in Florida. Jim gave what he believed were strong objections to Hare's thesis. In response, Hare said, "Professor Rachels has misunderstood my position. My position is actually ..." and he went on to describe a view that was not vulnerable to Jim's criticisms. After the Q&A, Jim said to Hare, "I can't believe I misinterpreted your paper so badly!" Hare replied, congenially, "Oh, you didn't. I've simply changed my position since I wrote that paper."

James Rachels was born "James Webster Rachels, Jr.," but he never used the names "Webster" or "Junior." James Rachels, Sr. outlived his son by more than five years, dying in 2008 at the age of 91. James Rachels, Sr.'s brother, Talmadge, turned 95 in September of 2009. Talmadge still drives his car around Columbus, Georgia.

If someone at the bridge club or chess club would ask Jim what he did for a living, he would modestly say, "college teacher."

When Jim died, he had just finished writing Problems from Philosophy. The Columbus-Ledger Inquirer (a newspaper in Columbus, Georgia) called the book The Problem with Philosophy. This mistake was repeated by the London Times, which apparently read the Inquirer's story online and didn't fact-check it.

Jim once told me that he consistently lied about only one thing. If anyone asked him, "What's your sign?" he would always say, "I don't know." In fact, he knew he was a Gemini.

As a high school student, Jimmy Rachels was not a supporter of civil rights. When he was on his "Voice of Democracy" tour in 1959, a reporter in Chicago asked him where he stood on integration, and he replied, "I consider myself to be a Christian segregationist." Later, Jim called this the lowest moment of his entire life. But education changed him. A few years later, as a college student, he participated in a sit-in protest at a whites-only lunch counter at a Woolworth's department store in Macon, Georgia. Rather than call in the police, the lunch counter served the African-American sitting next to him.

At the U.S. Open chess tournament in 1985, Grandmaster Roman Dzindzichashvili offered Jim a bribe if Jim's 15-year-old son would agree to throw a chess game. At the time, Jim was the Chair of the U.S. Chess Federation's Ethics Committee. Jim said "no."

James Rachels outlived Donald Davidson by four days. He knew of Davidson's death.

An actor in the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993) unknowingly played the part of James Rachels. In real life, James Rachels was the tournament director in the climactic scene of the movie.

James Rachels was the first philosopher to write to Peter Singer after "Animal Liberation" appeared in the New York Review of Books in 1973. (See Peter Singer, "An Intellectual Autobiography," in Peter Singer Under Fire (2009), p. 26.) Later, Jim tried to perasuade Singer not to call his book "Animal Liberation," because Jim felt the title was cheap. I suppose Jimbo was wrong about that one.

James Rachels never owned a cellphone. He never heard of Barack Obama.