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History of the Department

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

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The 1970’s

After such a long period of operating under the direction of Milton Nahm, the department of the 1970’s saw three different chairmen: Nahm until 1972, Ferrater-Mora (1972-1977), and George Kline (1977-1982). Nahm retired in 1972. Isabel Stearns retired in 1979. Though there were two retirements in the 1970’s, there was only one appointment—Tracy Taft, in ancient philosophy in 1974. She resigned in 1980 and was replaced with the hire of Robert Dostal (Ph.D. Pennsylvania State University), a specialist in Kant, phenomenology, and hermeneutics. Thus the department entered the 1980’s with regular staffing of 6 members: Ferrater-Mora, Kline, Potter, Weaver, Krausz, and Dostal.

Perhaps the most important development in the 1970’s was the ever closer cooperation with the philosophy department of Haverford College. Prior to 1973, Bryn Mawr students could take courses in philosophy at Haverford, but could not use these courses for either departmental or College requirements. Through various stages, a much more open and cooperative arrangement was established under which courses at the counterpart institution counted for the major. Students could even choose to major at the other institution. Notable faculty in philosophy at Haverford in the 1970’s with whom many Bryn Mawr students studied included Paul Desjardins, Richard Bernstein, and Aryeh Kosman.

In 1977-78 Stephen Toulmin visited as a Flexner lecture. His series was entitled “Living a Life.” Other prominent visitors in the 1970s included Hannah Arendt, Arthur Danto, and Marjorie Greene. In 1971 the College bestowed its highest honor, the M. Carey Thomas Award on Hannah Arendt, who in her remarks on that occasion said:

It is primarily ‘through the academic program that Bryn Mawr defines who she is, what she offers, and what she stands for.’ I’m quoting from what your own people say. This is simple, isn’t it? And it is also simple to focus on what it is that we are supporting, instead of being panicked and pressured into supporting causes which, whatever their worth might be, are not causes of the mind and not problems which the university is able to solve. But it is precisely this simplicity of purpose and this quiet, undisturbed self-confidence that underlies it, which makes Bryn Mawr outstanding—outstanding also in her program and of course her faculty.

The 1980’s

The 1980’s saw the retirement of Jean Potter and the discontinuation of the graduate program in philosophy. Potter was not replaced when she retired. The department then came to its current size of four faculty (not counting what are now two philosophers in the political science department). In the 1980’s a number of Ph.D.’s were awarded—to Patrice DiQuinzio, Walter Lammi, Eric von der Luft, Terrence Wright, Shaun Gallagher, Michael Prosch, Rebecca Carr—but after 1986 no more graduate students were admitted.

The 1980’s was also the time in which the Fullerton Club came to an end and the Greater Philadelphia Philosophy Consortium (GPPC) superseded it. Michael Krausz was one of the co-founders and early directors of the GPPC, which has fostered conversation among the philosophers in the Delaware Valley and has brought many important philosophers to the area and occasionally to Bryn Mawr. One of their programs in the mid-80’s at Bryn Mawr with Hans-Georg Gadamer and Jürgen Habermas filled Thomas Great Hall to overflowing. Both these philosophers visited Bryn Mawr at other times at the department’s invitation. Other visitors to the department in the 80’s included Paul Ricoeur, Richard Rorty, Annette Baier, and Alisdair MacIntyre.

The 1990’s and the New Century

George Kline’s retirement in 1991 might be considered the end of an era for the philosophy department. His retirement was the occasion for a particularly memorable symposium in April 1991. Among those who came to honor George were Joseph Brodsky, the Nobel laureate for literature (poetry) and the Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski. Kolakowski spoke and Brodsky read his poetry. Kolakowski, a much awarded philosopher, was the first recipient of the Kluge Prize (in 2004) from the Library of Congress (sometimes referred to as the Nobel Prize in the humanities).

In 1992 Kline was replaced by Margaret Little, who had just finished her Ph.D. at Berkeley in ethics. She taught ethics and feminist theory and led the Bi-College program in Feminism and Gender Studies. She left the College in 1994 for Georgetown University and the Kennedy Institute for Ethics. The department replaced her with the appointment of Christine Koggel in 1996. Koggel’s primary area is ethics and feminism. She approaches ethics from a global perspective and counts among her books a widely used textbook with the title, Moral Issues in a Global Perspective. She has done research in the field(Indonesia) about the ethics of development. With her appointment, the core staffing of the department for more than the next decade was established: Weaver (logic), Krausz (interpretation, philosophy of science, aesthetics), Dostal (Kant, phenomenology, hermeneutics), and Koggel (ethics and feminism).

In 1994 President MacPherson named Robert Dostal Provost. He was the College’s second Provost, a position first established in the 1980’s. Though Dostal continued to teach an occasional course, he was largely absent from the department through his eight years as Provost. During this time, the department made a number of short term appointments to replace Dostal. These appointments included established philosophers elsewhere who took a leave to come here: Stephen Crowell from Rice, Michael McKenna (then of Ithaca College, now at Florida State), Margaret Chatterjee from the University of Delhi (India), and Andrew Brook from Carleton University (Canada). Others of these appointments were to philosophers early in their career who have gone on to permanent positions elsewhere: Abraham Roth (University of Illinois at Chicago), J. D. Trout (Loyola University, Chicago) Lanier Anderson (Stanford), Jennifer Gosetti (Maine), Shannon Musset (Utah Valley University), and Kenneth Richman (Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences). The list of visitors also included Rosemary Desjardins, a long-time friend of the department and prominent Plato scholar. This is an impressive list of philosophers who brought distinctive specialties and a variety of perspectives to the department. At the same time, the turnover undercut the continuity and predictability of the curriculum.

Dostal returned to the department full-time in the fall 2003. In the same year the department appointed Cheryl Chen (Ph.D. Berkeley). She specialized in questions concerning perception and skepticism. She left the College in 2007 for a position at Harvard. George Weaver retired in 2008. In the same year the department appointed Bharath Vallabha (Ph.D. Harvard) whose work has focused on questions in the philosophy of mind. Another important appointment for the philosophy department was appointment in 2002 in Political Science of Jeremy Elkins (Ph.D. Berkeley), whose research concerns the philosophy of law. He teaches a variety of courses in the philosophy of law; he also teaches courses on Nietzsche and Hegel.

Since the early 90’s, funded by the gift in honor of Milton Nahm, the department has held monthly colloquia with visiting lecturers. Among this long list of speakers we find Bernard Williams, Bernard Harrison, Kenneth Schmitz, Alexander Nehamas. Jitendra Mohanty, Robert Nozick, Karsten Harries, and Stephen Stich. Annually one speaker is jointly sponsored with the Haverford department. In the 2005-06 the College hosted Anthony Appiah of Princeton for a set of Flexner lectures. His lectures were titled “The End of Ethics?” and have been published by Harvard University Press under the title, Experiments in Ethics.

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