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Department of Philosophy
Thomas Hall, Bryn Mawr College
101 No. Merion Avenue
Bryn Mawr, PA 19010

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History of the Department

By Robert Dostal (with the assistance of Kiran Bhardwaj, ‘10)

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The Nahm Years (1946-1972)

Milton Nahm chaired the department for 26 years until his retirement in 1972. During this long period, the department grew in size—in faculty and student numbers. At its height in the early 1960’s the department had 8 full time equivalent faculty members, 6 of whom were tenured or tenure track. In the Class of 1963 philosophy was the largest major in the College, with 21 graduates of a class of 169 (1 in 8 students was a philosophy major). Of these, 4 went on to careers in philosophy. Others had careers in business, including a successful banker who founded her own bank. At this same time, there were a good number of graduate students too. Prominent visitors in the Nahm years include Isaiah Berlin, who as a Flexner lecturer in 1951-52, spoke on the “Rise of Modern Political Ideas in the Romantic Period.” Other visitors of note were W. V. O. Quine, Brand Blandshard, Monroe Beardsley, Lewis Beck, Herbert Marcuse, and Leo Strauss who visited in 1949 and 1950.

Clearly, one of the most important things that Nahm did on behalf of the department and the College was to see to the next generation of faculty. In the immediate post-war years, four very notable appointments were made: Paul Schrecker, Geddes MacGregor, Jose Ferrater Mora, and Hugues LeBlanc. Paul Schrecker (1889-1963), like Erich Frank, was a refugee who was originally from Austria and had made a career in Germany. Via London and Paris, Schrecker came to New York in the 1941 where he taught at the New School. In 1947 he was appointed jointly to the philosophy departments of Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore—the first Tri-College faculty appointment ever made. He held this Tri-College appointment for two years, taught full-time at Bryn Mawr in 1949-50 and then in 1950 accepted a position at the University of Pennsylvania. Subsequently he continued to teach and maintain a presence at Bryn Mawr part-time until 1961. He was a leading scholar of modern philosophy, especially the thought of Leibniz and Malebranche.

1948 saw the arrival of Hugues LeBlanc (1924-1999), a French Canadian with a Ph.D. from Harvard. He was the department logician until his departure for Temple University in 1967. He had studied with Quine at Harvard and authored four books and many articles on deductive and inductive logic. During his time at Bryn Mawr he held Fulbright and Guggenheim fellowships and served as a visiting professor at Columbia, Penn, Haverford, and Swarthmore. He taught courses in logic, epistemology, and British empiricism.

In 1949 Geddes MacGregor (1909-1998) was appointed the first holder of the Rufus M. Jones chair in Philosophy and Religion. Educated at Edinburgh, Oxford, and the Sorbonne, he came to Bryn Mawr from the University of Edinburgh where he was teaching in the philosophy department. He was an ordained minister of the Church of Scotland. Late in life, he became an Anglican priest. He taught at Bryn Mawr for 11 years after which he accepted the position of Dean of the Graduate School of Religion at the University of Southern California. Over his long career he authored 25 books and many articles and reviews. At Bryn Mawr he offered courses in medieval philosophy and the philosophy of religion.

Jose Ferrater-Mora (1912-1991) also came to the College in 1949. He too was a refugee from fascist Europe. A Catalan (born in Barcelona), he fled Franco’s Spain for Paris, then Cuba and Chile. His initial appointment at Bryn Mawr was to the Spanish department, and soon joined the philosophy department. Ferrater-Mora has been celebrated as the most original and profound Spanish philosopher in the last half of the 20th century. He was a world-renowned philosopher, an essayist, an encyclopedist, a prize winning author of fiction, a movie maker, a journalist and more. He is known best for his four-volume Spanish Encyclopedia of philosophy, Diccionario de filosofía. He published over 35 books and hundreds of articles and essays. He received many awards and honorary doctorates including the highest awards that Spain bestows. He taught a wide variety of courses over his long tenure at Bryn Mawr (1949-1981) including courses in the entire history of philosophy, metaphysics and ontology, phenomenology, philosophy of history.

In 1959 Nahm brought George Kline to Bryn Mawr. Kline, an expert in the history of Russian philosophy, was also an authority in the philosophy of Hegel and Whitehead. During his long tenure at Bryn Mawr (1959-1991) he taught the history of philosophy, ethics, the philosophy of time and seminars on Hegel and Whitehead. He also occasionally taught Russian poetry (in Russian) and once chaired the department of Russian. He is the author, editor, and translator of many books. A much sought after speaker, he was invited to speak at many universities and colleges in this country and abroad. He has served as president of the Metaphysical Society of America and the Hegel Society of America. He is the primary English translator of the poetry of Joseph Brodsky. On the occasion of the awarding of the Nobel Prize to Brodsky, the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote that George Kline has “done more than any other American to introduce Brodsky’s poetry to English-speaking readers.” In the course of his career he held many research fellowships including the NEH, Cutting, Fulbright, Ford, Rockefeller, and Guggenheim. In the late 1980’s he was named the first Nahm Professor, a chair funded by an appreciative former student of Nahm’s.

Jean Potter (1923-1995), with a Bryn Mawr A.B. (1945) and Yale Ph.D. (1954) came to the department in 1962. She was a medievalist and philosopher of religion with a special interest in John the Scot. For a decade (1965-1975) she chaired the College’s medieval studies program. George Weaver, a logician with a Ph.D. in mathematical linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania, came in 1969 to replace Hughes LeBlanc, with whom he co-authored several of his many publications. Weaver chaired the department for six years in the 1980’s. He contributed importantly to the development of the computer science program.

Nahm’s last appointment as chair was Michael Krausz in 1970. Krausz, an internationally known philosopher as well as a painter and orchestral conductor, was educated at Rutgers, the London School of Economics, Indiana University, Oxford University, and the University of Toronto where he received his doctorate (1969) in the philosophy of history. He teaches and publishes in a wide variety of fields including aesthetics, philosophy of science, philosophy of history, epistemology, among others. Central themes of his work have been the questions of interpretation and relativism. He has often co-taught courses at the College with colleagues in the sciences and anthropology. He has held visiting appointments at Oxford, American University of Cairo, Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Georgetown University, and the Universities of Nairobi and Delhi. Krausz is the author of five books, editor of eleven volumes, and numerous articles. He served as chair of the philosophy department from 1993 until 2004. In the 1980’s he co-founded of the Greater Philadelphia Philosophy Consortium and has served as a director of the consortium since its inception.

Another important appointment for the philosophy department was the appointment of Steve Salkever, a political theorist, in the department of political science. Over the years Salkever has worked closely with the philosophy department. All of his courses are cross-listed with philosophy. He teaches the entire history of political theory, from Plato to present. He offers upper level work in Plato and Aristotle as well as contemporary theory. He is an award winning teacher and the author of many publications including Finding the Mean: Theory and Practice in Aristotelian Political Philosophy (1990).

Other instructors in the late 1960’s and in the 1970’s included Mary Patterson McPherson (Ph.D. BMC 1969), who served as Dean of the College and later became the 6th President of the College (1978-1997), Margaret Healy (Ph.D. BMC 1969), who later became the Treasurer of the College (1978-1995) and, subsequently, President of Rosemont College, and Elizabeth Vermey (A.B. BMC 1958), who had a long tenure as the College’s Director of Admissions (1965-1995).

1965 marked the end of an era for the department and the College. Prior to that year, the year-long course in Ancient and Modern Philosophy was required of every Bryn Mawr undergraduate. Many an alumna (for example, Catharine Stimpson, Class of ’60, English major, and Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at New York University) has said that this course sequence gave her an intellectual anchor which grounded her for the course of their life. This course and the freshman English course were the two only all-college requirements. This requirement was rescinded in 1965. It was replaced by a set of distribution requirements. In the aftermath of this change of requirements, the level of staffing in the department was gradually reduced. The department continues to offer the historical sequence as the introduction to the major: ancient and modern philosophy.

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