A History of the Philosophy Department at Rutgers University

The Rutgers Philosophy Department has been a first-rate training program for philosophers for many years. Its graduates have received tenured or tenure-track offers from many leading universities, including (to mention just a few) Oxford, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Cornell, Yale, Michigan, UCLA, University of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, MIT, Arizona, Berkeley, and Brown. In fact, the Rutgers Philosophy Department has been a distinguished department for the vast majority of its existence as a unified department. Before 1982, there was no unified philosophy department at Rutgers University. Rather, there were many departments, divided among the different undergraduate colleges of Rutgers University: Rutgers College, Livingston College, University College, Douglass College, and Cook College.  Each department was in charge of its own hiring, though they did share graduate students in a joint graduate program that was established under the logician Arthur Smullyan’s leadership in 1970. In 1982, Rutgers University President Edward Bloustein, himself a Philosophy PhD from Cornell University, unified the liberal arts and sciences programs in the colleges into one faculty - the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. In the fall of 1982, the distinct college philosophy departments were finally joined together to form the Philosophy Department at Rutgers University, housed at Davison Hall on the Douglass College campus. Loretta Mandel became the head administrator of the consolidated department, a position she was to hold for many subsequent years, and Peter Klein served as its first Chair, from July 1982 until June, 1987. 

Before the unification, Laurent Stern was chair of Rutgers College, Martha Bolton was the chair of Livingston College, and Fadlo Shehadi was the chair of Douglass College. William Alston had recently departed Rutgers College for Syracuse University, and the renowned aesthetician Peter Kivy had just joined the faculty of Douglass College from Rutgers University, Newark in 1978. The continental philosopher Bruce Wilshire was teaching at University College. Among other current faculty of the Department of Philosophy, Robert Matthews was teaching at Cook College, Doug Husak and Rob Bolton were faculty at Rutgers College, and Howard McGary, Martin Bunzl and Peter Klein taught at Livingston College. In 1980, fresh out of graduate school at the University of North Carolina, Brian McLaughlin also joined the faculty of Livingston College. Together with philosophers such as the logician Arthur Smullyan (Rutgers College), the historian of modern philosophy John Yolton (Rutgers College), the ethicist Richard Henson (Douglass College), and Amelie Rorty (then at Livingston), they formed the initial nucleus of the first unified Rutgers University Philosophy Department. An early hire was of a young assistant professor then teaching at Notre Dame, a Philosopher of Language and Mind by the name of Ernest Lepore. Lepore had initially come to Rutgers to replace Amelie Rorty for a semester. A visiting appointment rapidly became a permanent one. 

The new unified department did not take long to place itself on the philosophical map. In April, 1984, Lepore organized a conference in honor of the philosopher Donald Davidson. The conference was two years in planning; the Lt. Governor of New Jersey introduced it. There were 72 talks, in parallel sessions, all with commentators, and 500 total participants – as large as the Central Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association. Since that time, the Philosophy Department at Rutgers University has been the site of an extraordinary number of conferences and workshops in philosophy, including the biannual Rutgers Epistemology Conference.  A piece in The New York Times commemorates the conference.

Beginning in 1986, Rutgers made a series of hires that would cement its future as one of the great philosophy departments in the English speaking world. That fall, Rutgers appointed Tim Maudlin, a newly minted PhD from the University of Pittsburgh. Because he had written a dissertation on reference and natural kinds, some may not have realized that Rutgers had just hired a man who was to become one of the world’s foremost philosophers of physics. In the fall of 1987, the department welcomed to its ranks Jerry Fodor, who was teaching at CUNY Graduate Center. Jerry Fodor, the Department’s only State of New Jersey Professor, is perhaps the major Philosopher of Mind of the last half-century. Recruiting him from CUNY Graduate Center, which he had just joined after leaving the philosophy department at MIT, was an enormous coup.  

At the same time Fodor was recruited, Rutgers University established the Center for Cognitive Science, with Zenon Pylyshyn as its first director. It is now one of the preeminent Centers for Cognitive Science in the world, with close and ongoing ties to the Philosophy Department. Six of the department’s faculty members are also members of the Center, and Ernest Lepore has served several terms as its Director. 

After Maudlin and Fodor, the department made a number of other important appointments in quick succession. In the fall of 1988, the department recruited Barry Loewer from the University of South Carolina as the new Director of Graduate Studies. In addition to revamping the graduate program, he joined with Maudlin and Robert Weingard (previously a member of the faculty at Rutgers College) to form the core of one of the major research centers in Philosophy of Physics in the world. In that semester as well, Colin McGinn left his post as Wilde Reader of Mental Philosophy at Oxford University to join the department. One year later, in the fall of 1989, the Department had an extraordinary coup in recruiting the eminent philosopher Stephen Stich from the University of California at San Diego. Fodor and Stich have since both won the prestigious Jean Nicod Prize in Philosophy and Cognitive Science, for lifetime contributions to both disciplines. Stich has also been one of the Department’s outstanding graduate mentors, with a remarkable track record of training students to lead productive and successful research careers. 

By this time, a mere seven years after its formation as a unified department, the Philosophy Department at Rutgers University had assembled a formidable group of the country’s leading philosophers, especially in the philosophy of mind. They had already had in place an excellent program in the philosophy of physics. Longtime faculty members Richard Henson, Howard McGary, and Doug Husak formed the core of an outstanding group in ethics and social and political philosophy. But other areas of the department needed to grow. Fortunately, in 1987, Peter Klein moved to the provost’s office. With his help and that of others in the administration, such as President Bloustein, the department became more ambitious. To help the process, in 1990, the department hired Richard Foley from Notre Dame as its new chair. Foley joined Rutgers epistemologist Peter Klein to lay one cornerstone of Rutgers’s later preeminence in the field of epistemology.  

The early 1990s witnessed a number of hires. In 1990, the philosopher of mind Frances Egan joined the department as an Assistant Professor. Over the next few years, the logician Vann McGee, the ancient philosopher Sarah Broadie, and the philosopher of mind Brian Loar all joined the department. In 1993, the department also added Ken Taylor, from the University of Maryland, to strengthen their offerings in the philosophy of language. Also in 1993, Jorge Garcia joined the department from Georgetown University. Professor Garcia added to the department’s strength in ethics and social and political philosophy. Furthermore, together with the preeminent philosopher of race Howard McGary, they made the Department of Philosophy at Rutgers University one of the leading philosophical centers for the study of race and ethnicity. The Department’s engagement with issues of race and ethnicity has not just been theoretical. For many years, Professor McGary has organized the Rutgers Summer Institute of Diversity, a program designed to expose undergraduates of diverse backgrounds to graduate level work in philosophy. It is a departmental tradition to teach in Professor McGary’s Institute. 

In January of 1994, Peter Klein replaced Richard Foley, who had moved on to become the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, as chair for a three year term. Klein was succeeded in 1996 by Robert Matthews. In the first term of Matthews’s appointment as chair, the Department experienced tragedy. Upon returning from a run, the philosopher of physics Bob Weingard suffered a fatal heart attack. Prof. Weingard was an important graduate mentor to students in the philosophy of science, and a much-loved department member. He is still sorely missed. 

During this period, the department lost several other members through attrition. Sarah Broadie departed for Princeton, Vann McGee departed for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Ken Taylor departed for a position at Stanford University. Despite these losses, the department nevertheless made some important hires. In 1997, the department added to its strength in ethics and philosophy of law by recruiting Ruth Chang, a newly minted PhD from Oxford University, and a JD from Harvard. In 1998, the department added the preeminent epistemologist Ernest Sosa, then the Romeo Elton Professor of Natural Theology and Professor of Philosophy at Brown University, as a half-time Distinguished Visiting Professor. In 1998, the Department filled Bob Weingard’s position by recruiting Frank Arntzenius from the University of Southern California, and in 1999, the department replaced the loss of Taylor with Stephen Neale, then at the University of California at Berkeley.  

1999 also marked the advent of a new chair, Brian McLaughlin, the distinguished philosopher of mind and metaphysician. Professor McLaughlin served seven years as chairman of the Rutgers department, from 1999-2005, and again in an interim capacity in 2006-7. McLaughlin hired Susan Viola to be Graduate Secretary in 2000, Mercedes Diaz to be Undergraduate Secretary in 2001, and Pauline Mitchell to be the head administrator in 2002.

Until Prof. McLaughlin’s chairmanship, the Philosophy Department had been known for a strong naturalist bent, with excellence in philosophy of mind and cognitive science, on the one hand, and philosophy of science, on the other. But Prof. McLaughlin broadened the department in a number of significant ways. First, under his leadership, the department’s strength in ethics increased substantially, with three senior hires. In 2000, the distinguished philosopher Larry Temkin was recruited from Rice University. In 2002, the ethicist Holly Smith was hired as the new Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, from the University of Arizona, to replace the departing Richard Foley. Then in 2003, the preeminent theorist of the ethics of war, Jeff McMahan, was recruited from the University of Illinois at Urbana. Finally, Derek Parfit was hired as a regular biannual visitor in 2005. Together with Chang, Husak, and McGary, these appointments made Rutgers one of the world’s centers for ethics. Secondly, during his chairmanship, Rutgers became the world’s foremost department in Epistemology, adding Alvin Goldman from the University of Arizona, one of the Twentieth Century’s major figures in Epistemology, to a department that already included Peter Klein and a half-time Ernest Sosa. In 2002, the Department also hired three of the world’s foremost younger metaphysicians from Syracuse University: John Hawthorne, Ted Sider, and Dean Zimmerman. Soon after arriving at Rutgers, in 2003, Sider received the biannually awarded American Philosophical Association Book Prize (formerly the Matchette Prize). In 2004, the Department hired the philosopher of language and epistemologist Jason Stanley from the University of Michigan, who also was subsequently awarded the American Philosophical Association Book Prize, this time in 2007. From a department mainly known for the Philosophy of Mind and Cognitive Science, Rutgers quickly acquired prominence in almost all of the central non-historical areas of philosophy.  

Prof. McLaughlin’s tenure as chair was also a period of flux and change for the department. In 2000, Jorge Garcia left the department to take a position at Boston College. In 2005, one of the recent hires from Syracuse, John Hawthorne, left the department to take up the Waynflete Professorship in Metaphysical Philosophy at Oxford University, and Colin McGinn left for the University of Miami. The following year, Frank Arntzenius, Stephen Neale, and Ted Sider left the department for Oxford, CUNY Graduate Center, and NYU, respectively. 

Attrition in the Rutgers faculty was more than made up by new appointments ushered in by Prof. McLaughlin. In 2006, the department welcomed to its faculty one of the world’s foremost ancient philosophers, Alan Code, from the University of California at Berkeley. In 2007, Ernest Sosa moved full-time to Rutgers University from his chair at Brown, cementing Rutgers’s status as the leading program in Epistemology in the English speaking world. Rutgers has long had strength in early modern philosophy, with Martha Bolton, Seymour Feldman, and John Yolton as long-time faculty. In 2007, the department continued this tradition, adding Martin Lin, a promising young scholar of early modern philosophy then teaching at the University of Toronto. In 2007, the Department was also extremely fortunate to recruit Jeffrey King, the eminent senior Philosopher of Language, from the University of Southern California. In addition, that year, the department recruited Brian Weatherson, a brilliant young Epistemologist, Decision Theorist, and Philosopher of Language from a tenured post at Cornell University, and Ishani Maitri (half-time), a promising young philosopher teaching at Syracuse University. In the fall of 2009, two accomplished young philosophers will join the Department after having recently received tenure at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor: Andy Egan, a Philosopher of Language, Metaphysician, Philosopher of Mind, and Ethicist, and Thony Gillies, a Philosopher of Language and Formal Epistemologist.  

In addition to its success at placing its graduate students in leading teaching positions, the Department takes particular pride in its large and active undergraduate philosophy community. The department places undergraduate teaching at the very center of its mission, and each year, the department places students in the leading graduate programs. Former Rutgers Philosophy undergraduate majors who are now professional philosophers include Joseph Keim Campbell (Associate Professor, Washington State, Rutgers ‘83), Sanford Goldberg (Professor and Chair, Northwestern University, Rutgers ‘89), Robin Jeshion (Professor, UC Riverside, Rutgers ‘86), Sarah-Jane Leslie (Assistant Professor, Princeton, Rutgers ‘02), Casey O’Callaghan (Assistant Professor, Rice, ’97), Paul Pietroski (Professor, University of Maryland, Rutgers ‘86), and Carole Rovane (Professor and Chair at Columbia University, Rutgers ‘76).  

In the 2009 rankings of the Philosophical Gourmet Report, a ranking of philosophy departments in the English speaking world based on the judgments of over three hundred professional philosophers, the Department of Philosophy was ranked third overall, behind only NYU and Oxford University. Furthermore, it was ranked as one of the top three programs in the English speaking world in the Philosophy of Mind, one of the top two in Epistemology, one of the top four in Metaphysics, and as the overall top program in the English speaking world in the Philosophy of Language. In addition, the Department was ranked roughly within the top ten in many other areas (Ethics, General Philosophy of Science, Decision Theory, Philosophy of Physics, Ancient Philosophy, 17th Century Philosophy, and Philosophy of Art). Two department members have delivered the prestigious John Locke lectures at Oxford University. The department has three Past Presidents of the American Philosophical Association on its faculty. There are numerous Guggenheim award winners, and four members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.