As philosophers and teachers of philosophy, one of our greatest joys is seeing what the students of our department have become and the ways in which the study of philosophy has enriched their lives. Here are links that encourage us in our continued efforts and that can provide a vision for those thinking about studying philosophy more seriously of the variety of fulfilling lives that such study can lead to and the multitude of ways that philosophy has value for life.
We welcome additional profiles to include on this page, so if you studied philosophy at the University of Missouri and wish to help us by providing such a profile, contact Prabitha Tripathi at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My academic experience at MU (1962-71) was nothing but positive, and in return, it would be a privilege for me now to offer any encouragement or insights that may be found beneficial to current students.
I have spent the majority of my academic career teaching here in Pueblo, Colorado, at the University of Southern Colorado (in July, 2003, we became Colorado State University – Pueblo). It’s been a very rewarding experience on many levels, and that is why I continue to stay here. The Administration has taken very good care of me over this time, but I am especially thankful to the faculty at the University of Missouri for having prepared me for the position that I continue to enjoy. I completed by 30th year of teaching at USC last spring, now I am on a full-year sabbatical to expand and revise a book that I had published in 1996.
But I should say that my motivation to stay here hasn’t been purely academic. Within a half-hour, I’m in Colorado Springs; with an hour-an-a-half, Denver; within three hours, Aspen and Vail; with four to five hours, Taos and Santa Fe. Loving the mountains and the outdoors, as well as the occasional large-city life, as I still do, this is as close to the “good life” as I could hope for. My academic work at Missouri was a critical linchpin in the sequence of major events in my life that has enabled me to savor the lifestyle that I do. And for that, I am grateful and indebted to the Philosophy Department faculty at Mizzou. Yes, it’s been a good life! So, if my experiences may be of value to your students, I’d be glad to share them.
I had the good fortune of seeing Bill Bondeson at an Honors Program Directors conference in Washington, DC, a couple of years ago. We were only able to chat for a few minutes, but it was nice to see him again, after many years. He gave me his card, and a few weeks later, I sent him several e-mails and a regular mail package that included a local newspaper article featuring an interview with me, in which I recalled a couple of influential people that initially motivated me into studying philosophy. Of course he was mentioned in that article. Anyway, it was nice piece, and perhaps he still has it and might share it with you.
I attended MU between 1969 and 1973, during which time I earned an M.A. and Ph.D. Both the thesis and the dissertation were done with John Kultgen, for whom I have the highest regard. I worked on and off at a variety of adjunct positions until I got a permanent full-time position at Conception Seminary College, from which I had gotten my undergraduate degree in Philosophy (it's a Catholic seminary run by Benedictine monks). Getting that position was largely serendipity, but a lesson I learned was the importance of maintaining ties with undergraduate schools that one has attended.
I taught at Conception Seminary for 15 years (until 1991). By then, my wife (also an MU Ph.D. grad in special education) found other work in Kansas, and so I managed to get on the faculty at Bethany College in Lindsborg. Kansas. Bethany is a Lutheran liberal arts school, and I have remained there ever since. I am now tenured and full Professor, and hope to retire from here.
An important element in my own professional life has been the importance of the breadth of my education—that despite the fact that my degrees were all nominally in philosophy. If one ends up teaching at an undergraduate liberal arts institution, the mindset demanded is distinctively different from what is demanded at a large university: not only with respect to publications, but most significantly in terms of the range of courses one may expect to teach. I have taught an enormous range of things in the last 26 years, which has stretched me to the limit at times. But it has been wonderfully rewarding, and I wouldn't change a bit of it.
Despite the pressures of teaching and bureaucratic work. I have managed to publish one book and several articles. I have just completed a second book—a text in the history of philosophy, and will soon be looking for a publisher for it. I was accepted into several NEH projects over time—one in philosophical anthropology under Dr. Calvin Schrag at Purdue, and the other on bioethics and the human genome at the University of Puget Sound.
I have used everything I learned at M.U. and then some. I cannot be grateful enough for the education I received there. I understand something of the problem many grad students face with respect to future employment: there was a long period of relative unemployment that I had to endure before my first full time position, and again after I left Conception Seminary. My sense was that contacts with people at a variety of institutions were terribly important in all this.
A lot of us baby boomers will be retiring in the next 4-8 years. I think the job market might loosen a bit then.
Andrew D. Cling
I am a Mizzou alum (AB in philosophy, magna cum laude, 1979). I subsequently earned my MA (1983) and PhD (1987) from Vanderbilt University. After one-year appointments at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, William and Mary, and Texas A&M, I secured a permanent position at the University of Alabama in Huntsville where I have been since 1988. I am currently Associate Professor of Philosophy and will begin a 4-year term as chair of the department this August (2003). Most of my publications have been in the philosophy of mind and the theory of knowledge and my particular interest at the moment is in three powerful skeptical arguments: the problem of the criterion, the epistemic regress argument, and the problem of induction.
Sylvia Fleming Crocker
I taught philosophy for a number of years (at Marquette University and Cal State at San Bernardino among other places), but as a result of moving with my family I ultimately had to change fields. In the late 1970's I began to prepare to become a Gestalt psychotherapist, and I have been working with clients, writing, and training other therapists, beginning in 1981. My background in philosophy has been invaluable to me as a theorist in my new field since Gestalt therapy was developed in mid-century and its theory and practices are still developing. Fortunately for me there have been many opportunities for me to contribute to the development of both of these, especially to the theory. The broad philosophical education I received at MU prepared me to do this writing, and to contribute some clarity to the many discussions I've participated in with colleagues in my new field. I am especially grateful to the influence of Arthur Berndtson and Don Oliver who taught me how to approach philosophical problems and to think and write rigorously. In addition to many articles I have authored a book, "A Well-Lived Life: Essays in Gestalt Therapy".
I'm a bit of an odd mix. I graduated with degrees in both computer science and philosophy, and I haunted the Humanities sequence by attending lectures long after I had finished the courses. When I would tell people my majors, nearly everyone would respond with some sort of puzzlement. "How do those fit together," I'd hear, or "Those don't go together." Some would mention artificial intelligence; others could appreciate the application of logic in both fields. Eventually I would work the whole "one for fun, one for work" angle into my patter because, as everyone knows, philosophy is useful only if you're going to be a college professor.
But much to my surprise, I found I was wrong. I studied philosophy because I enjoyed it and found it challenging, but my training in philosophy has proven to be my most valuable assert in the workaday world. Yes, I mean it: studying monads and evil demons and brilliant madmen who keep brains in vats actually prepared me for the daily grind of office life.
Don't believe me? Then consider: from the beginning, philosophy has been concerned with Big Things: justice, piety, the proper ordering of societies, how one ought to act. So when I'm asked to see the "big picture", I've already had practice. At the other end of the scale, employers like people who are detail-oriented and can organize their information. I've been trained in that, too; anyone who's fleshed out an argument for Dr. Markie or Dr. Melnyk knows how that works. As a computer programmer, I work with abstractions and arrange elements in logical order on a daily basis. I was also chosen to write a partnership proposal because I have been trained to be persuasive and taught to write well. Once again: my philosophy courses have prepared me for daily success more than any other courses I took in college.
It sounds surprising, but it really shouldn't be. Philosophy's never truly been an ivory tower discipline; that's just where the teachers tend to congregate. But Aristotle meant his Ethics and Metaphysics to be practical courses; by learning, you too can lead a happier life (for a particular definition of happiness, of course.) Likewise, Dr. Bondeson will introduce Medical Ethics by reminding you that you will be confronted with the issue he teaches; it's merely a matter of time. Philosophy was the driving force of Socrates' life and death, particularly the question of justice. (One of his students even wrote a book about it, you know.)
The study of justice isn't a dry, dusty topic confined to a classroom; its ramifications and applications surround you, from the rationale for governmental resource distribution to the justification for international war. You're going to come into contact with the judicial system at some point; if you can, take Dr. Markie's Philosophy of Law to get ready. Do you have a body, or are you a body? Your answer will inform your thoughts on abortion and may influence whether you consider the Sabbath and first day of the week to belong to the Lord or to college and professional football.
In my time at Mizzou, I had a refreshed outlook that assisted me in continuing on. There were classes I looked forward to attending and I was relieved to meet some graduates, those who turned out to be teachers for the class, and a few Professors who faced the awkwardness as best they could of having an older student in the class. There were Ethics classes and Classics classes that we had fun in. We all became a team and supported each other. This can happen in any class, and these moments are priceless to me. We joked and carried on without judgment, wondered and discovered about each other. Those were my best times.
As for the value of majoring in Philosophy, I am on your side to figure out a way to get the message across to students that this discipline is invaluable to any endeavor in life. I am taking an online business course now, and I should not have been surprised to meet up with Aristotle as well as other Philosophers ancient and contemporary used as a base for practical business thought and application. I came across talks of Carolus Fox, a fictitious gentleman of business prose whom I translated stories about in Latin, some actual math problems in verse, more interesting I think than a math teacher stating, ‘now we will do word problems’, and a quip in Latin stated in the Perspectives in Business Ethics class I took, proposing the way one should not be in business, “Esse quam videri”. Priceless! Critical thinking is enhanced. This is a necessary condition in any profession.
Roger F. Gibson, Jr.
I took my BA in philosophy in the summer of 1971 from what is now Truman State University located in Kirksville, MO. Both of my philosophy professors at Truman State (Henry Smits and Kay Blair) held doctorates from Mizzou, and both encouraged me to apply to Mizzou’s graduate program in philosophy. I applied and was admitted in the fall of 1971. As I recall, my first two graduate courses were Professor Arthur Berndtson’s “Bergson and Whitehead” and Professor Donald Oliver’s “Epistemology.” In Berndtson’s course we read, among other works, Whitehead’s Process and Reality, and in Oliver’s course we read his manuscript in progress on epistemology. Subsequently, I took courses from Professors Bien, Kultgen, Sievert, and Wilcox.
I had written a MA theses on what I called Quinean analysis, and in late 1975 I was in search of a topic for a Ph.D. thesis. I settled on The Logical Structure of Quine’s Philosophy, directed by Professor John “Jack” Kultgen; the second reader was Professor Don Sievert.
A letter I sent to Quine brought me permission to sit in on his “Word and Object” course at Harvard from February through April, 1976. When I returned to Mizzou in May I had a draft of all but the last chapter of my dissertation to present to Jack and Don. I eventually finished the last chapter and defended the dissertation in 1977. (I was flattered that Professor Bondeson took time to attend my defense.)
The revised dissertation was published, with an introduction by Quine, in 1982 as The Philosophy of W. V. Quine: An Expository Essay and was followed in 1988 by Enlightened Empiricism: An Examination of W. V. Quine’s Theory of Knowledge. In 1990, Perspectives on Quine, a co-edited volume appeard. Other Quine works are in progress: I am currently editing The Cambridge Companion to Quine, and also a Quine reader for Harvard University Press. Quine died in 2000, leaving two volumes of his uncollected essays, which are being edited by Dagfinn Follesdal and myself for Harvard University Press.
I had several one-year jobs before landing a tenure track appointment at Washington University in St. Louis, where I was chair of the department of philosophy from 1989 to 1999. typically, departments offering one-year jobs care more about one’s teaching record than about one’s publication record. I was able to persevere in those trying times prior to Washington University, I believe, thanks to the invaluable teaching experience I got as a teaching assistant at Mizzou, and thanks to the many letters Professor Kultgen wrote on my behalf!
The days of Arthur Berndtson and Don Oliver are now long passed; a new age is dawning for the Department of Philosophy at Mizzou. It is a clearly a department on the rise.
Let me conclude by thanking my former teachers for all of the support they have given me over the years, especially during those years I was in search of a tenure track position. I couldn’t have made it without you, thanks!
Lawrence J. Gordon
I was delighted to hear from you and the Department of Philosophy at the University of Missouri after so many years. I graduated in May 1975, and, besides me, if I recall correctly, there were only two other philosophy majors in my graduating class. I also seem to recall that, while none of us were particularly excited about job prospects in our chosen major after graduation, we did not regret our own decisions about majoring in philosophy.
It is somewhat difficult to describe how and in what manner the study of philosophy has influenced my life. I know, for example, that philosophy has been a tremendous help to me in my professional life. When I am confronted with what could only be described as “abstruse and tortured reasoning” in the many legal opinions I have read over the years and in the many discussions I have been engaged in with others of my profession, I recall the same difficulty and sensation of mind-numbness I had trying to make sense of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. Thanks to my philosophy background, I have made it an overriding priority in my career, therefore, to communicate concisely and with clarity and to demand that others do the same.
In my personal life, moreover, my sense of the utter futility of trying to understand and control the world around me is ameliorated by my recollection of Camus’ account Sisyphus, and his insightful, yet astonishing, conclusion that Sisyphus was, in fact, happy with his fate. I have viewed many of my own endeavors in this light. Thus, I have made it a point in my own life to try to find happiness in my small accomplishments, realizing, however, like Camus, that the measurement and, indeed, the definition, of such successes are completely arbitrary and, like Sisyphus, the accomplishments, such as they are, are ultimately doomed to failure.
Philosophy, in addition to helping shape my outlook on life, has provided a framework for making judgments about matters, both trivial and important. Using the tools from courses in logic, it is both edifying and amusing to spot common fallacies in discourse, especially in political matters. For instance, I often hear debates about violence, where one part steadfastly maintains “guns need to be controlled” or debates over SUVs where someone mentions that an SUV “went out of control” as thought the inanimate object under the control of a human agent is somehow to blame for a bad result.
Similarly, I often find myself questioning the very premises upon which certain debates take place. We know, from syllogistic logic, that true conclusions can be derived from false premises, provided that we agree that what is actually false is true for the purposes of discussion. In the realm of political and social debate, this is especially true, and we often allow our leaders, lawmakers and policy makers to declare the premises and accept their conclusions based thereon, no matter how unfounded their premises or how dangerous their conclusions. As an example, I often hear the environmentalist argument about the awful danger of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Because, so the reasoning goes, carbon dioxide is a “green house gas” and “green house gases are “pollutants”, and because “green house gases” and “pollutants” are “bad” because they destroy the earth, therefore, in order to “save the Earth” carbon dioxide emissions must be severely curtailed. Of course, everyone agrees that pollutants are bad and saving the earth is good, but the premise of whether carbon dioxide is a “pollutant” at all sometimes goes unquestioned. Many other debates taking place in our society these days are often based on such premises and the policies resulting therefrom are, to say the least, “interesting.” Society as a whole ends up both poorer and more ignorant when sophistry trumps philosophy.
If I were to sum up my experience in philosophy, I would say that while philosophy has made me a skeptic, it has not made me a cynic. The study of philosophy has helped me enjoy and appreciate life to an extent not possible if I had not the tools to question what I hear and read, and, more fundamentally, to challenge myself when I’m in danger of falling into the dual traps of self-delusion and self-importance. Even so, I don’t dismiss the Socratic injunction to “know thyself”, for wisdom cannot arise without knowledge and knowledge must be based on truth. To “know thyself” is to realize that the self is not only capable of distorting the truth, but that it is quite likely to when its ultimate object is the gratification of its physical, as opposed to its spiritual and intellectual, needs. To “know thyself”, then, is to know that the mind must control the body, that the body is there to serve the mind, and that truth will be found through the exercise of thought not distorted through the lens of physical gratification.
In closing, let me once again express my pleasure in hearing from you. I look forward to continued involvement with the Department of Philosophy.
Charles M. Harris
Following military service I attended the University of Missouri-St. Louis receiving my BA in philosophy in 1968. During that time I also worked full time at Monsanto Chemical Company and had interest in business management. I was awarded a fellowship to the University of Missouri. The fellowship was intended to prepare instructors for community colleges and featured education in one’s major area of interest, one additional are and training education through the College of Education. I focused on the work of F. H. Bradley, the British idealist, and interdisciplinary study of the history of ideas.
After receiving my Master of Arts from the Department I became Assistant Professor Philosophy at Missouri Western College in St. Joseph, MO. There I taught courses in philosophy and a humanities course in the history of ideas as expressed in the arts. I took a leave from the College after two years to pursue my doctorate.
During the time I was working on my doctorate I also worked as Director of Program Evaluation for the Missouri Regional Medical Program which funded demonstration projects in the detection and treatment of heart, cancer, and stroke diseases. My interest shifted from classical metaphysics to health care ethics. I began researching theories of justice and allocation of scarce resources in health care. During this time I visited Georgetown University to learn more about the emerging field of health care ethics.
Upon completion of my course work the Graduate Program in Health Care Administration recruited me to be part of a team creating a national center of health planning. I remained in Columbia and became the center’s Deputy Director of Education. There I had responsibility for management and board training for the newly created public health planning agencies in Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska.
I was then recruited to become Deputy Director of the Cook Dupage Health Systems Agency, the health-planning agency for the suburban Chicago area. My work there was agency operations and direction of the health planning and implementation functions of the agency.
After two years I was recruited as the Vice President of Planning and Marketing for Missouri Methodist Hospital in St. Joseph, Missouri. My responsibilities included strategic planning, diversification and rural health networks. During this time I became part of the leadership team responsible for merging the two hospitals in St. Joseph and creating a regional health care system, which became known as Heartland Health System. I was promoted to Executive Vice President of the new System with responsibility for new ventures, system strategic planning and outreach services.
After 5 years in St. Joseph I was recruited to become President and Chief Executive Office of Central Pennsylvania Health Care System in Lewistown, PA. My goals at this system, which consisted of a hospital, rural clinics and a health plan, were to reestablish financial viability, improve physician relations and lead diversification efforts.
During this time I developed a management team expert in organizational development and performance improvement.
I was then recruited to become President and CEO of St. Mary’s Health Center in Jefferson City, MO. I brought my team with me and again led a “turn around” that resulted in creating new services in heart care, women’s services, rural primary care, and emergency medicine.
After slightly over 4 years I was recruited to Elkton, MD to provide a “turn around” for Union Hospital. There my team and I created an integrated delivery system that improved financial performance and allowed the hospital to grow significantly.
In 1991 my wife and I moved to Delaware and founded our own business, Ambulatory Care Centers of America. The business provides management consulting services to hospitals and physicians. The specific services are in the area of planning and managing physician hospital joint ventures. Most of these ventures are outpatient surgery centers. The Company has surgery centers in Virginia, Florida, Nebraska, Missouri, Tennessee, Washington State, Maryland, Kansas, and Ohio. In addition I provide executive coaching to hospital executives.
Our Company headquarter is located in Orlando, FL with regional offices in Nashville, TN and Lincoln, NE.
Throughout my career I have maintained interest in the role values play in organizations and in the dynamics of organizational transformation. I continue to look for ways of applying the lessons of philosophy. I have pursued these interests through additional training at Harvard’s School of Public Health and the Foundation for Community Encouragement.
My volunteer work is in watershed management. I served for two years as Executive Director of the Big Hole River foundation in Butte, MT. This organization raises provides funding and leadership for the preservation of the Big Hole River watershed in Southwestern Montana.
My wife and I divide our time between our cottage in Virginia and our home in Montana.
I am a graduate of the University of Missouri (AB, 1949), where I majored in Philosophy and minored in sociology. I spent only my junior and senior years at the university, since I had already earned an Associate in Arts degree from the Kansas City (MO) Junior College in 1947. It was at the Junior College that I took my first courses in philosophy, which whetted my interest in making philosophy my major at MU. However, I should point out that during my years at the Junior College I made a commitment to become an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church, so despite my interest in philosophy, I probably would have made my major in religion, had MU at that time had a Department of Religion (as it does today). In view of that lack, I had to make do with courses at the old Bible College which in addition to the studies in philosophy and sociology gave me an invaluable preparation for my seminary work at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago.
I have no regrets about the work I did in philosophy at MU–except that my course of study was unable to accommodate every course the department offered! I am particularly sorry that I could not find room for Professor Benjamin’s course in the Philosophy of Science. But all my work in philosophy was highly relevant to my religious and theological studies, and provided a solid foundation for much of the work I did at McCormick, and well beyond. For it was at McCormick I fell in love with biblical studies, especially the First Testament, which moved me to study for my Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University. That work involved many philosophical underpinnings, and there were a number of times when the training in philosophy I had received at MU had no small bearing on the work I was pursuing in Hebrew Bible and Semitic studies, especially in the analysis of thought emerging from the exegesis of texts. And then when I accepted a teaching position in the Bible Department at Union Theological Seminary in New York, I found that in my teaching preparation, in the particular interests I cam to focus on (e.g. exegesis and the philosophy of language), and in the theological issues I was called upon to address, there was always some tie-in to the philosophy studies I had done at MU. Hence, I owe a great debt of gratitude to MU’s philosophy department, and I recall the intellectual stimulation I received from them with both appreciation and fondness.
I retired from Union Seminary in 1995, becoming the Davenport Professor Emeritus of Hebrew and the Cognate Languages, after a 39-year career in teaching there. MY wife and I moved to the Lehigh Valley near Schnecksville, PA (ca. 7 1/2 miles north and west of Allentown), and we have been enjoying a peaceful but not uninvolved retirement. I’m still carrying on some research, and doing a lot of reading I did not have time for while teaching. I find the books that interest me most (aside from those in biblical studies) are those which grapple with intellectual issues, which often involve philosophical thought. So even in retirement I find myself engaged with subject matter which harks back to those heady days when I was a philosophy major at MU, but which also goes well beyond them.
I earned my Ph.D. from the Department of Philosophy at the University of Missouri in 1997 with a dissertation on Russell and Wittgenstein. Since that time I have been employed on the faculty at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. I teach primarily in the areas of epistemology, the history of philosophy, Wittgenstein, logic, and applied ethics. I also co-teach an introductory class in environmental science where I lecture on various topics in ethics and public policy. When I am not being professorial, I can usually be found fly fishing, walking around in the woods with my wife and dog, doing family genealogy, or playing guitar.
While at Mizzou, I studied under Don Sievert, Andrew Melnyk, Peter Markie, and Robert Johnson. I can perceive their influence on me daily. Just the other afternoon I gave a class that ended with me talking about the crucial distinction between a particular, on one hand, and a particular particular, on the other – a helpful notion that I picked up from Don Sievert (complete with a table of categories on the blackboard!). When I lecture on problems connected to naming, my notes are practically transcriptions from those of Andrew Melnyk, from whom I took the philosophy of language. From Peter Markie, I learned a great deal about epistemology, but perhaps more than anything else I developed a certain lecture style from watching him work a classroom (he would be amused to know that I often eat fruit or drink tea when I teach!). From Robert Johnson I think I mostly developed a sense of professionalism and a work ethic that has been of great value to me throughout my teaching career (“Philosophy every day, all day.” Right, Robert?).
In the end good teachers are primarily in the business of teaching you how to teach yourself; that is, good teachers inspire and help their students to become independent thinkers and learners. My experience at the University of Missouri was positive primarily because the faculty understood this.
My colleagues at Mizzou were another important influence on me. I remember with fondness mornings and evenings spent at the Heidelberg talking about philosophy, playing golf with grad students on hot summer afternoons, Shakespeare’s Pizza and the beer at the Flatbranch, bar pool, arguing through papers late at night with Jared Bates, Mark Price, Jesse Estevez, Jamie Phillips, Lori Underwood, Aaron Daniel, Jim McBain, and the rest of the gang, reorganizing the ‘T.A. corral’ so that it was at least marginally pleasant, sharing books and articles through seminars, and a hundred other little things. I am very proud and pleased to have been a member of the group of grad students at M.U. from 1993 to 1997.
Brian J. Nolan
I am currently a second-year law student at the Saint Louis University School of Law. I came to SLU immediately after graduating from MU, and I am now halfway done with my legal studies. After my first year of law school, I was ranked in the top 4% of a class of over 200 students, and this I attribute to my studies of Philosophy. The law, like Philosophy, is full of complex arguments and abstract terms of art. Law also requires, like Philosophy, advanced thought and precise writing skills to clearly and effectively communicate. Studying Philosophy at Mizzou has provided me with the tools and the skills necessary to succeed in my professional studies. A critical reading eye, the analytical thought processes, and the refined writing style that I learned at MU have greatly contributed to my early success in law school.
Currently, I am a staff member on the prestigious Saint Louis University Law Journal where I am writing an article for possible publication. While the subject of the article is a recent Supreme Court case, the commentary includes an in-depth philosophical discussion of the origins and functions of property in the American social order. While I am beginning a new semester of studies, I am also beginning as a part-time law clerk (full-time in the summer) for Judge Lawrence Crahan of the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District. Judge Crahan graduated from Mizzou in the 1970s with a double major in Philosophy and Psychology. Finally, I have also included a current resume for you so that you may observe some of the leadership positions and professional activities in which I have recently participated.
I am eager to help the Philosophy Department which has shaped my intellect and my career path in many positive ways. Please feel free to include my contact information if you wish on your Profiles page. I would also be willing to participate in any future activities as the program develops, so please do not hesitate to contact me.
James P. Oliver
I live in Nashville and at present am teaching at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro (where Al Gore sometimes lectures), not quite an hour’s commute from my home. My book on William James, developed from my Vanderbilt Ph.D. dissertation, was published a couple years ago (by the way, it includes a footnoted reference to you, Prof. von Schönborn).
I’m working on a new book about early education and childhood. More importantly, I’m a proud dad of two children. My wife Sharon and I are approaching our 10th anniversary.
It’s great to see the department thriving. I’ve mentioned it to prospective grad students here, and am delighted to be able to do so with a clear conscience. Please keep me on your department mailing lists (and I’d also welcome any personal communications from either of you).
My two favorite MU professors were both philosophers:
Peter Markie and Alexander von Schönborn, Markie was the department’s undergraduate adviser, not much older than we were then, and a perfect peer/mentor at our Friday afternoon “Hegel Society” beer and philosophy sessions. He had little apparent use for the tradition of Hegel and German metaphysics himself but did not attempt to squelch our own enthusiasm. He often invited us to his home on social occasions that were more educative than we realized.
Von Schönborn was in some ways Markie’s antithesis and an incarnation (in Columbia, MO, of all places!) of the German tradition. He so impressed us with the serious importance of philosophy that some of us signed on for his graduate-Heidegger seminar; and even though we felt ourselves at sea in trying to make sense of Being and Time we felt elevated by the effort.
I give Professors Markie and von Schönborn much of the credit for my own choice to pursue a philosophical education.
I am a recent graduate (2006) of Mizzou’s revamped doctoral program. I came to Missouri in 2002 after completing an M.A. in Philosophy from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. At that time Missouri had hired Jonathan Kvanvig and Matthew McGrath a year earlier, making Missouri a good place to work in epistemology. Along with Peter Markie (epistemology) and other faculty in related fields—Andrew Melnyk (mind) and Paul Weirich (decision theory), the program at Missouri was hard to beat.
My tenure at Missouri has been very productive. The graduate seminars were excellent. My seminars with Kvanvig, Markie, McGrath, Melnyk, and Weirich were memorable. Each of those individuals offers superb comments on papers, comments that drastically improve the quality of the paper. My second year at Missouri I took an epistemology seminar with Peter Markie and I wrote three papers based on that class. One paper was presented at the Rochester Graduate Epistemology conference and later accepted for publication in Philosophical Studies; another paper I presented at the Central States Philosophical Association; and a third paper I presented at the Central division of the American Philosophical Association where the paper won one of the outstanding graduate student papers awards. In short, the seminars here have taught me how to produce decent, professional quality work.
My dissertation, under the direction of the Jonathan Kvanvig, was on the Sellars dilemma for a Socratic epistemology. The Sellars dilemma is a destructive dilemma on foundationalism. Either the putative basic justifiers have propositional content or not. If the justifiers lack propositional content then they cannot justify; justifiers must stand in broadly logical relations to the justified. If, however, the putative basic justifiers have propositional content then the justifiers cannot be basic; propositional contents have correctness conditions and if one has no reason to think the correct conditions are met then it is arbitrary to suppose they are met. The upshot of the Sellars dilemma is that foundationalism is false. I argue that this does not imply skepticism by explicating and defending an account of non-doxastic Coherentism. For more details see my dissertation linked to my webpage.
I accepted at tenure track job at the University of South Alabama. I am thrilled to join the philosophy department at South Alabama. I will primarily teach logic and epistemology. You can contact me and keep track of recent developments via my webpage at www.southalabama.edu/philosophy/poston
I graduated in May 2000 with dual degrees in philosophy and German. I applied for a Fulbright Grant to study in Germany for the year following graduation with the hopes of combining these two interests. I also applied and was admitted to several law schools and chose the University of Texas School of Law. Because I was a finalist for the Fulbright, I deferred enrollment in law school for a year. When the Fulbright didn’t work out, I decided to move to Texas and establish residency.
After working at a law firm in Kansas City during the summer, I moved to Austin in August 2000. I worked for the Texas House of Representatives in the Office of the Journal Clerk, which was responsible for documenting the legislative session. Although I failed to get my music career started during that year, I did get Texas residency for tuition the following year. In August 2001 I began my first year of law school.
In addition to Austin being an enjoyable place to study, I chose UT because of their philosophy and law JD/PhD program. My goal was to possibly teach or work in some similar capacity in the field of legal academia. With some reservation about the program and revision of my goal, I spoke with Professor Brian Leiter, who supervises the program. Ultimately I have chosen to focus on the JD alone.
While the first year of law school was different from philosophical study in many respects, I believe my background in philosophy has been helpful nevertheless. Like philosophy, the study of law requires viewing arguments critically and reading with precision. Moreover, it often involves assessing the normative implications of the competing policy arguments when black letter law fails to provide an answer. My experience has been that a school like UT is more oriented toward theory rather than practice. Certainly this trait is lamentable for some, but I’ve found it to be a nice middle ground for one interested in philosophy, yet concerned for concrete applications. Therefore I believe I get the best of both worlds allowing for a philosophical approach to law rather than purely a statutory trade school.
During my first summer I spent my time interning at the Texas Supreme Court, working as a research assistant for two professors, and taking a seminar on dispute resolution. Toward the end of this past fall semester, I also began working part time for a firm here in town specializing in plaintiffs law. This summer I’ll be returning to Kansas City for a clerkship at Shook, Hardy & Bacon.
I am now at the halfway point in law school. I hope to do a judicial clerkship after graduation, which involves working at a court for one year. My experience this past summer as an intern showed me that judges have a unique opportunity (which we can only hope they seize upon) to approach their decisions as much like a philosopher as a lawyer. Even if I ultimately find myself in private practice after the clerkship, I believe that my background in philosophy has been invaluable, a sentiment echoed by many other former philosophy students I’ve met in law school.
If you have any questions, I can be reached at email@example.com.
Harvand Kaur Singh
My undergraduate experience at Mizzou was tremendous. It was a time which I shifted my own person paradigm and developed my skills and goals for my future. Along with a great time and fantastic new friends, I challenged myself academically. I went to Mizzou for journalism and ended up double majoring in journalism and philosophy. This decision stemmed from my desire to understand the larger questions that affected all of us. I was looking for the “meaning” of everything around me.
This initial venture into philosophy was just the beginning. I have since worked as a documentary producer looking at issues in education and have decided to make my career in television about issue-oriented programming. My work in Chicago earned me an Emmy Nomination for a show I conceptualized and produced. But along with these professional achievements I have maintained a strong connection to the learning and questioning that evolves in a philosophical environment. I decided to pursue a Masters in Liberal Arts and then went on to pursue a Masters in Divinity with a focus on the History of Religion. I am now interested in doing a Ph.D. in the Philosophy of Religions area. Those tortured summer days sitting in classes with graduate students and professors talking about Sartre, Kant, Kierkegard, and Hegel didn’t seem like they’d lead to much, however, I now see how much they really influenced me.
During my time at MU in the late sixties and early seventies, I was both a sociology and philosophy student, and part of a great group, including Doug Huff, Roger Gibson, and George Georgacarakos all of whom, as I recall, were part of a great Quine seminar that was formative for me. After getting two MAs and in the face of the great academic market collapse of the early seventies, I wound up getting a Ph.D. in sociology, but with a philosophical dissertation, later published as Sociological Explanation as Translation, by Cambridge University Press.
I began working on a whole range of topics, but among the most enduring was Max Weber. Through working on Weber, who connected closely to some of the key figures in German philosophy, including Jaspers and Deiter Henrich, I learned a lot of continental philosophy. The story of those experiences is told in a memoir I wrote for the 25th anniversary of Human Studies. In 1979 I did a summer NEH seminar at Princeton with Richard Rorty, which had a large impact on me as well. After teaching in a sociology department from 1975 to 1987, I went back to Philosophy, and picked up teaching more or less where I had left off as a TA at MU with a Philosophical Classics course for Honors students. Looking back, I am astonished by the extent of the continuity of my later interests with topics I started so long ago at MU. The conference and volume on Causality in Crisis began life as a term paper in Inductive Logic twenty five years before the book, for example. I am currently department chair and Graduate Research Professor in Philosophy at the University of South Florida in Tampa, which has a thriving Ph.D. program emphasizing history of philosophy.
Stephen B. Wall-Smith
I entered Mizzou’s graduate program in philosophy in 1979, right out of seminary in Kansas City. Earned an MA in 1981, ABD in 1983, completed the doctorate in 1987, writing a dissertation on contemporary Peruvian thinkers, including a novelist, a feminist, and a theologian. I am a Commander in the Chaplain Corps of the US Naval Reserve and a Navy-certified ethicist.
Presently, I am coordinator of assessment at Harris-Stowe State College in St. Louis and teach lower-division classes in philosophy and English. I have also taught at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Dutchess Community College in Poughkeepsie, Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, and Mt. St. Mary College in Newburgh, NY.
I was a reluctant Philosophy major. I erroneously assumed that a Philosophy degree would have too few practical applications, and it was only at the end of my sophomore year at MU that I settled on Philosophy as a major. Now, with three years of law school behind me and a new career as an attorney, I couldn’t be happier with my choice.
To start, my philosophy training was critical in developing some of the most fundamental skills a law student and attorney need: logic and argument, reading, and writing. My class in mathematical logic helped me analyze and create legal arguments, and two-thirds of the law school entrance exam is essentially logic questions. In philosophy I also gained experience in close reading of difficult texts, a skill that should not be underestimated given the amount of reading law school and the legal profession require. Once you’ve read and understood Kant or Heidegger, cases, statutes, and law review articles are not so intimidating. Similarly, I learned in my philosophy classes the value of clear and precise writing, another skill that is absolutely essential to a career in law.
In addition to developing general skills, philosophy has more specific applications in the law. The political and social philosophy of Plato, Locke, Montesquieu and others form the foundation for modern constitutional, property, and contract law. To already have read the texts that informed these areas of the law was, I feel, a distinct advantage in law school. Original philosophy texts are also read in many law school classes, such as business ethics, the legal process, property, and legal history. Moreover, one must recognize that many lawyers and judges have degrees in or an interest in philosophy, and having this background helps one think as they do, recognize the premises and assumptions that underlie their arguments, and make personal connections with them.
All in all, it is hard to imagine better academic preparation for law school and a legal career than a degree in philosophy.
Post-script: I would also like to add that the Philosophy Club at MU was prophetic with its meeting discussing The Simpsons and Philosophy, given that a book has now been published on the same topic.
Contact/biographical info: Christa O. Westerberg, Associate Attorney, Garvey & Stoddard (a small, public interest law firm in Madison, Wisconsin with concentrations in environmental and land use law, labor and employment law, and utilities law).
Received JD from Univ. of Wisconsin Law School, May 2002.
See www.garveystoddard.com for more information.
I am very happy to write you and let you know what I’ve been doing since leaving Missouri; I only have one regret regarding this endeavor and that is that you would have to ask me to keep in touch! I have been meaning for some time now to write you. I hope everything is well for you and the Philosophy Department. The time I spent in the two classes I took with you was some of the best I had at MU. I remember you were always encouraging me to speak more often, so you should be glad to know that I’ve gotten over my public speaking aversion entirely. Thank you for your concern for me. I’ve come to realize that speaking well in front of others is one of the most important skills a person can have.
Now I’ll get down to the nitty-gritty of what I’ve been up to. After some serious deliberation, I decided to go to MIT’s Department of Biology to get my Ph.D. The program has been very intense, but I have no regrets. The first year entailed lots of coursework and some rotations in laboratories after which I joined the lab I intended to join ever since I interviewed. My candidacy exam was about a year and a half ago, and it went well. There was a written part (proposal) and an oral defense. Since then, I’ve been working hard to try to get a story together. I’m focusing on an aspect of brain development that, when it goes awry, can causer certain kinds of mental retardation. We use the fruit-fly compound eye as an assay. Normally, photoreceptor neurons are born in what will become the eye, then they grow axons which travel into the brain where they will eventually form synapses to transmit visual information. Their nuclei remain in the eye. In my mutant, however, the nuclei get mispositioned within the eye and, for unknown reasons, this results in their following the axons into the brain. We have some nice data right now, but if I can tie this gene to others and establish a novel genetic pathway for controlling nuclear migration, we would be able to publish in a better journal. So that’s what I’m working on right now in addition to teaching a class this semester. Hopefully I will be done in about two years. After that, I think I will do a post-doc. I’d like to stay in academics – maybe have my own lab-but that’s a long time from now.
I think that my undergraduate coursework in Philosophy has helped me think logically about scientific problems and the best experiments to address them. I have to admit that I haven’t read much philosophy since, but I’ve been thinking of picking it up again lately.