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A Brief History of Philosophy at the University of Rochester

Philosophy was an essential discipline at the founding of the University of Rochester in 1850 and it remains so today. John Stuart Mill’s Logic and a copy of the Bible were the first two books acquired by the University. When the University's first professor of moral philosophy died in 1852, it filled the void by appointing Martin Anderson as President and Professor of Intellectual Philosophy. A century later, under the leadership of Lewis White Beck, philosophy became a distinct department, launched a PhD program, and established itself as one of the world’s leading centers of philosophical research. Today, our world-class faculty has notable strengths in epistemology, moral, social and political philosophy, philosophy of science, language and mind, metaphysics, and the history of philosophy.

Philosophy at the University of Rochester has long been known for its analytical rigor and conceptual clarity. These are attributes essential to our faculty’s success in addressing fundamental questions about the nature of knowledge, morality, mind, and justice. They also facilitate our engagement with science and questions of value and policy, including the:

  • Logic of probabilistic explanations in biology
  • Nature of space and time, mathematical knowledge, and perception
  • Relationship between morality and evolutionary biology
  • Impact of artificial intelligence
  • Ethics of sustainability
  • Enhancement of neurological technologies
  • Flourishing of humanity and how to measure quality of life

Grounded in core areas of analytical philosophy, yet often in conversation with other disciplines, our program’s mission is to engage the most fundamental problems in philosophy and related problems of importance to humanity and the progress of research in other fields.


Alumni

University of Rochester philosophy PhD alumni have gone on to distinguished careers as:

  • University presidents (e.g., Myles Brand ’67, President of University of Oregon, 1989-94, Indiana University, 1994-2002, NCAA, 2003-2009)
  • Research faculty in philosophy (e.g., James van Cleve ’74, Professor of Philosophy, Brown, USC)
  • Law (e.g., Jeffrie Murphy ’66, Regents’ Professor of Law and Philosophy, Arizona State University)
  • Directors of ethics centers (e.g., Andrew Cullison ’06, Director of the Prindle Institute for Ethics, DePauw University)

University of Rochester philosophy BA alumni pursue diverse positions of leadership in:

  • Law
  • Business
  • Science and engineering
  • Education (e.g., Andrew Rehfeld ’89, President, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion)
  • Product design
  • Medicine
  • Technical fields

Our many notable alumni include:

Peter van Inwagen ’69 (PhD) is the John Cardinal O’Hara Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame and a Research Professor of Philosophy at Duke University. He has played a leading role in the resurgence of philosophical theology, metaphysics, and philosophy of religion in Anglo-American philosophy. Beginning with his seminal monograph, An Essay on Free Will (Oxford, 1983), he has published nine books. His honors include election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2005, and invitations to present eight named lecture series, including the prestigious Gifford Lectures at the University of St. Andrews in 2003, and the Wilde Lectures on Natural Religion at Oxford University in 2000.

Carolyn Berger ’69 (BA) After completing her philosophy BA at Rochester, Berger went on to complete an MA in education in 1971 and JD in 1976 at Boston University. She served as a state deputy attorney general from 1976-79, was in private legal practice from 1979-84, and was appointed to the Delaware Court of Chancery in 1984 and the Delaware Supreme Court in 1994, where she served until retiring in 2014. Berger was the first woman member of these courts and authored landmark decisions during her tenure on the Supreme Court. She also taught law at the Widener University School of Law, in Wilmington, Delaware.

Jennifer Saul ‘90 (BA) is Waterloo chair in Social and Political Philosophy of Language at the University of Waterloo and retains a professorship at the University of Sheffield. She is chair of the Analysis Committee, and president of the Mind Association. From 2009-2019, she was director of the Society for Women UK. In 2011, she received the Distinguished Woman Philosopher Award from the Society for Women in Philosophy in Washington, DC. She was director of the (2011-2013) Leverhulme-funded Implicit Bias and Philosophy Project. Her many influential works in philosophy of language, feminism, philosophy of race, and philosophy of psychology include co-edited volumes on implicit bias (Oxford, 2016).

Audrey Donaldson ’92 (BA) Donaldson wrote in a 2018 interview that, “I was supposed to be an engineer (my dad’s idea), but I studied philosophy instead.” After completing a BA in philosophy at the University of Rochester and a BFA in graphic design at the Academy of Art Design, Donaldson pursued a career in developing products that promote learning. She developed products for the Nature Company, co-founded the Pottery Barn kids catalog, and developed award-winning toys at LeapFrog. Most recently, she rose from product developer to director of the e-commerce division of Maker Media and has served as CEO of Tenka Labs. “Learning and design thinking have been major themes of my [incredibly satisfying] career path,” she writes.


A Timeline of Philosophy Chairs, 1949 to the Present

Department of Philosophy and Religion

Lewis White Beck, 1949-1955

During his first semester at the University of Rochester, Lewis White Beck wrote a December 7, 1949 letter “as chairman of the Department of Philosophy and Religion,” to Dean J. Edward Hoffmeister. Professor Beck and Professor Robert John Trayhern were the only philosophers employed at the University of Rochester at that time, and the only other member of the Department was University Chaplain Charles R. Stinnette, Jr.. Professor Beck wrote concerning a request from Chaplain Stinnette for the appointment of an additional full-time teacher of religion, noting in part that

I recently outlined to you under the Committee on Educational Policy a program I should like to develop in Philosophy. This plan cannot be realized without the addition of at least one more full-time teacher in Philosophy . . .
. . . As you would remember, I have urged the separation of the work in philosophy and religion. Such separation would presumably entail the establishment of a separate Department of Religion.

Beck’s continuing efforts over the ensuing years led to the establishment of an autonomous Department of Philosophy with three faculty members in 1955. The first known references to the Department of Philosophy in University publications are in an April 1955 University press release and in the Bulletin for the 1955-1956 academic year. With the addition of one additional faculty member, the philosophy PhD program admitted its first class five years later, in 1960.

Department of Philosophy

Lewis White Beck, 1955-1966

Richard Taylor, 1966-1969

Henry Kyburg, 1969-1972

Robert Holmes, (Acting Chair), Fall 1972

Henry Kyburg, January 1973-1976

Rolf Eberle, (Acting Chair), Fall 1976

Henry Kyburg, Jan. 1977-1980

Robert Holmes (Acting Chair), 1980-1981

Richard Feldman, 1981-1988

Ralf Meerbote, 1988-1991

Richard Feldman, 1991-1997

Deborah Modrak, 1997-2003

Randall Curren, 2003-2012

Deborah Modrak (Acting Chair), 2012-2013

Randall Curren, 2013-2021

Randall Curren and Alison Peterman (Co-Chairs), 2021-2024


A Timeline of Philosophy Faculty 1850 to the Present

1850-1852

Rev. John Sharp Maginnis, DD
Professor of Intellectual and Moral Philosophy, 1850-1852

1853-1890

Martin Brewer Anderson, LLD
President of the University, 1853-1888
Professor of intellectual and moral philosophy, 1853-1856
Burbank Professor of Intellectual and Moral Philosophy, 1856-1887
Professor of Intellectual and Moral Philosophy and of Political Economy, 1887 -1888
Professor of Political Economy, 1888-1890

1881-1926

George Mather Forbes, LLD
Assistant Professor of Greek, 1881-1886
Professor of Greek, 1886-1893
Professor of Greek and Logic, 1893-1894
Professor of Philosophy and Pedagogy, 1894-1919
Professor of Philosophy, 1919-1926
Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, 1926 -1934 (died October 29, 1934)

1889-1896

David Jayne Hill, LLD
President of the University, 1888-1896
Burbank Professor of Intellectual and Moral Philosophy, 1889-1896

1904-1905

John Franklin Forbes, PhD
Acting Professor of Philosophy and Pedagogy, 1904-1905

1914-1917

Irving Elgar Miller, PhD
Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Education, 1914-1917

1916-1919

Louis Augustus Pechstein, PhD
Acting Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Education, 1916-1917
Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Education, 1917-1919

1918-1919

William Abbott Owens, AM
Acting Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Education, 1918-1919

1921-1922

George Cross, PhD, DD
Lecturer on Philosophy, 1921-1922

1926-1943

William Edwin Van de Walle, PhD
Instructor in Philosophy, 1926-1929
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, 1929-1932
Professor of Philosophy, 1932-1943 (died September 27, 1943)

1926-1949

Alfred Harrison Jones, PhD (Cornell)
Professor of Philosophy, 1926-1949
Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, 1949-1981

1934-1935

Henry Siggins Leonard, PhD
Instructor in Philosophy, 1934-1935

1939-1944

Julius Kraft, PhD
Lecturer in Philosophy, 1939-1944

1939-1951

Robert John Trayhern, MA
Instructor in Philosophy, 1939 -1943
Instructor in Philosophy and English, 1943-1945
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, 1945-1951

1945-1946

John Arthur Mourant, PhD
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, part-time, 1945-1946

1948-1949; 1954-1955; 1957

Frances Murphy Hamblin, PhD (Brown)
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, 1948-1949 (1.5 semesters)
Instructor in Philosophy, part-time, 1954-1955
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, part-time, Spring 1957
(first woman appointed to a faculty position in philosophy)

1949-1997

Lewis White Beck, PhD (Duke)
Professor of Philosophy, 1949-1979
Chairman of the Department, 1949-1967
Associate Dean of the Graduate School, 1952-1956
Dean of the Graduate School, 1956-1957
Burbank Professor of Moral and Intellectual Philosophy, 1962-1979
Emeritus Professor of Philosophy (active), 1979-1997
(died June 7, 1997)

1950-1957

Martin Allen Greenman, PhD (Chicago)
Instructor in Philosophy, 1950-1951
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, 1951-1957

1952-1968

Murray Jerome Stolnitz, PhD (Harvard)
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, 1952-1957
Associate Professor of Philosophy, 1957-1963
Professor of Philosophy, 1963-1968

1957-1980

Colin Murray Turbayne, PhD (University of Pennsylvania)
Associate Professor of Philosophy, 1957-1963
Professor of Philosophy, 1963-1980
Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, 1981-2007

1960-1965

John Powers Stewart, MS (University of Pennsylvania)
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, 1960-1965

1961-1994

Harmon R. Holcomb, Jr., ABD in Philosophy (Harvard); BD (Colgate Rochester Divinity School)
Professor of Philosophy and of Religious Studies, 1961-1982
Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Science
Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and of Religious Studies, 1982-1994
(died 1994)

1961

Peter Winch, BPhil (Oxford)
Visiting Associate Professor of Philosophy, 1961

1962-2009

Robert Holmes, PhD (Michigan)
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, 1962-1967
Associate Professor of Philosophy, 1967-1971
Professor of Philosophy, 1971-2009
Mercer Brugler Distinguished Teaching Professor, 1995-1998
Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, 2009-
Acting Chair of Philosophy, Fall 1972; 1980-1981

1963-1967

James W. Cornman, PHD (Brown)
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, 1963-1967

1963-1974

Keith Lehrer, PhD (Brown)
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, 1963-1967
Associate Professor of Philosophy, 1967-1968
Professor of Philosophy, 1968-1974

1965-2007

Henry E. Kyburg, Jr., PhD (Columbia)
Professor of Philosophy, 1965-1982
Gideon Webster Burbank Professor of Intellectual and Moral Philosophy, 1982-2007
Professor of Computer Science, 1986-2007
Chair of Philosophy, 1969-1972, 1973-1976, 1977-1980
(died Oct. 30, 2007)

1965-1985

Richard Taylor, PhD. (Brown)
Professor of Philosophy, 1965-1985
Chair of Philosophy, 1966-1969
(died Oct. 30, 2003)

1966-1967

Newton Garver, PhD (Cornell)
Visiting Lecturer in Philosophy, 1966-1967

1967-1991

Rolf A. Eberle, PhD (UCLA)
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, 1967-1969
Associate Professor of Philosophy, 1969-1975
Professor of Philosophy, 1975-1991
Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, 1991-2014
Acting Chair of Philosophy, Fall 1976

1967-1971

Carl Ginet, PhD (Cornell)
Associate Professor of Philosophy, 1967-1971

1969-1970

Peter Jones, MA (Queens College, Cambridge)
Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy, 1969-1970

1969-1976

Milton Jones, BA (Wayne State)
Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy, 1969-1970
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, 1970-1976

1970-1971

Peter van Inwagen, PhD (Rochester)
Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy, 1970-1971

1970-1974

James R. Shaw, MA (Ohio University)
Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy, 1970-71
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, 1971-74

1971-1979

John L. Pollock, PhD (California, Berkeley)
Associate Professor of Philosophy, 1971-1976
Professor of Philosophy, 1976-1979

1974-1978

Stephen Pink, MA (Cornell)
Instructor in Philosophy, 1974-1978

1975-present

Richard Feldman, PhD (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, 1975-1981
Associate Professor of Philosophy, 1981-1991
Professor of Philosophy, 1991-
Chair of Philosophy, 1981-1988; 1991-1997
Dean of the College, 2006-2017
Interim President of the University, March 2018 - June 2019

1976-1979

Jonathan Broido, PhD (University of Pittsburgh)
Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Education, 1976-1979

1977-2017

Edward Wierenga, PhD (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)
Assistant Professor of Religion, 1977-83
Associate Professor of Religion, 1983-94
Professor of Religion, 1994-2017
Professor of Religion and of Philosophy, 2004-2017
Chair, Department of Religion and Classics, 1991-1997, 2003-2014
Director of the Program in Health and Society, 2000-2003
Emeritus Professor of Philosophy and of Religion and Classics, 2017-

1979-2012

Ralf Meerbote, PhD (Harvard)
Associate Professor of Philosophy, 1979-1995
Professor of Philosophy, 1995-2012
Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, 2012-
Chair of Philosophy, 1988-1991

1980-1987

Patrick John Hayes, PhD (Edinburgh)
Luce Associate Professor of Cognitive Science, of Philosophy, of Psychology, and of Computer Science, 1980-1987

1978-1987

Paul Weirich, PhD (UCLA)
Instructor in Philosophy, 1978-1980
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, 1980-1987

1983-2021

Deborah Modrak, PhD (Chicago)
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, 1983-1986
Associate Professor of Philosophy, 1986-1997
Professor of Philosophy, 1997-2021
Emerita Professor of Philosophy, 2021-
Chair of Philosophy, 1997-2003; Acting Chair, 2012-2013
(first woman appointed to a tenure-track position in philosophy)

1983-present

Earl Conee, PhD (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, 1983-1991
Associate Professor of Philosophy, 1991-2003
Professor of Philosophy, 2003-

1984-1995

Dennis O'Brien, PhD (Chicago)
Professor of Philosophy, 1984-1995
Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, 1995-
President of the University, 1984-1995

1987-2018

Gregory N. Carlson, PhD (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)
Professor of Linguistics and of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, 1987-2018
Professor of Philosophy (secondary), 2004-2018

1987-1989

Dorit Bar-On, PhD (UCLA)
Instructor in Philosophy, 1987-1988
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, 1988-1989

1987-2013

John Bennett, PhD (University of Michigan)
Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy, 1987-2003
Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, 2003-2013

1988-1991

Michele Moody-Adams, PhD (Harvard)
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, 1988-1991

1988-present

Randall Curren, PhD (University of Pittsburgh)
Assistant Professor of Education and of Philosophy (joint), 1989-1995
Associate Professor of Education and of Philosophy (joint), 1995-2003
Professor of Education and of Philosophy (joint), 2003-2005
Professor of Philosophy (primary) and of Education (secondary), 2005-
Chair of Philosophy, 2003-2012; 2013-2022

1989-2008

David Braun, PhD (UCLA)
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, 1989-1996
Associate Professor of Philosophy, 1997-2005
Professor of Philosophy, 2005-2008

1990-1991

Jeffry Pelletier, PhD (UCLA)
Professor of Philosophy, Luce Professor of Cognitive Science, and Professor of Computer Science, 1990-1991

1992-1998

Theodore Sider, PhD (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, 1992-1997
Associate Professor, 1997-1998

1999-2005

Gabriel Uzquiano, PhD (MIT)
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, 1999-2005

2003-present

Richard Dees, PhD (University of Michigan)
Associate Professor of Philosophy, of Neurology, of Pediatrics, and of Medical Humanities, 2003-2019
Professor of Philosophy and Bioethics, 2019-

2005-2014

Alyssa Ney, PhD (Brown)
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, 2005-2011
James E Wilmot Distinguished Assistant Professor, 2009-2011
Associate Professor of Philosophy, 2011-2014

2006-2012

Jeffrey Glick, PhD (Rutgers)
Visiting Assistant Professor, 2006-2012

2006-2007

Gabriele Contessa, PhD (London School of Economics)
Visiting Assistant Professor, 2006-2007

2007-2014

Brad Weslake, PhD (Sydney)
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, 2007-2014

2008-2009

Edison Barrios, PhD (Syracuse)
Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy, 2008-2009

2009

Todd Long, PhD (University of Rochester)
Visiting Associate Professor of Philosophy, Fall 2009

2010-2011; 2012-2017

Brett Sherman, PhD (Princeton)
Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy, 2010-2011
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, July 2012-December 2017

2010-present

William J. Fitzpatrick, PhD (California, Los Angeles)
Associate Professor of Philosophy, 2011-2014
Professor of Philosophy, 2014-2015
Gideon Webster Burbank Professor of Intellectual and Moral Philosophy, 2015-

2011-2012

Michael Caie, PhD (UC Berkeley)
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, 2011-2012

2011-2012

Heidi Savage, PhD (University of Maryland)
Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy, 2011-2012

2012-present

Alison Peterman, PhD (Northwestern)
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, 2012-2018
James E Wilmot Distinguished Assistant Professor, 2015-2017
Associate Professor of Philosophy, 2018-

2013-2019

Tresan, Jonathan, PhD (UNC-Chapel Hill)
Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy, 2013-2019

2014-2015

David Glick, PhD (University of Arizona)
Visiting Assistant Professor, 2014-2015

2015-2019

Hayley Clatterbuck, PhD (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
Assistant Professor in Philosophy, July 2015-December 2019

2015-present

Paul Audi, PhD (Princeton)
Associate Professor of Philosophy, 2015-

2017-2018

Gabriel Citron, Doctor of Philosophy (Oxford)
Visiting Assistant Professor in Philosophy, 2017-2018

2017-2018

Evan Westra (University of Maryland)
Instructor in Philosophy (part-time), 2017-2018

2018-2020

Tyron Goldschmidt, PhD (King’s College, London)
Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy, 2018-2020

2018-present

Zeynep Soysal, PhD (Harvard)
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, 2018-

2018-present

Jens Kipper, PhD (University of Cologne)
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, 2018

2019-present

Rosa Terlazzo, PhD (Australasian National University)
Associate Professor in Philosophy, 2019-

2019-present

Jonathan Herington, PhD (Australasian National University)
Instructor in Philosophy, 2019-2020
Assistant Professor in Philosophy, 2020-

2020-present

Mark Povich, PhD (Washington University, Saint Louis)
Visiting Assistant Professor in Philosophy, 2020-

2020-present

Natalie Hannan, PhD (Columbia)
Doctoral Fellow, 2020-2021
Postdoctoral Associate, 2021-2022


Named Funds

Lewis White Beck Fund (established 1979)

“To provide fellowships for exceptional students working on their dissertations.”

Colin and Alisa Turbayne Berkeley Essay Fund (established 1989)

“For an annual prize for the best essay on the philosophy of George Berkeley.”

Deborah Modrak Fund for Inclusive Philosophy (established 2021)

“To nurture an inclusive and collaborative community of philosophical inquiry, through support for events, projects, collaborative teaching, research, and community engagement.”