The Unsung Hero of Your Undergraduate Philosophy Education

The Unsung Hero of Your Undergraduate Philosophy Education


There are some philosophers we hear a lot about—not just those in the canon, but also the “superstars” of today. These philosophers can often be inspirations on the page, motivating students to take up philosophy as a major course of study. But just as important—probably more so—are those undergraduate professors who inspired or motivated you to take philosophy seriously, or who helped cultivate your interest in the subject.

Just owing to numbers, it is unlikely that these people are among the relatively few “superstars” of philosophy. They may not be “philosophy-famous,” yet, without them, many readers here would not be, uh, readers here; that is, they wouldn’t be current or aspiring academic philosophers. So these folks are crucially important yet, in some cases, largely unknown.

In this week’s edition of The Stone in The New York Times, Simon Critchley (New School) notes this disparity between individual influence and social recognition:

Behind every new graduate student stands an undergraduate teacher. This is someone who opened the student’s eyes and ears to the possibility of the life of the mind that they had perhaps imagined but scarcely believed was within their reach. Someone who, through the force of their example, animated a desire to read more, study more and know more. Someone in whom the student heard something fascinating or funny or just downright strange. Someone who heard something significant in what the student said in a way that gave them confidence and self-belief. Such teachers are the often unknown and usually unacknowledged (and underpaid) heroes of the world of higher education.

Some lucky people have several such teachers…. But there is usually one teacher who sticks out and stays in one’s mind, and whose words resound down through the years…. It is also very often the case that the really good teachers don’t write or don’t write that much… They teach. They talk. Sometimes they even listen and ask questions.

Critchley then proceeds to pen a paean to one of the unsung heroes of his undergraduate philosophy education, Frank Cioffi.

It’s a good idea.

So, consider this an opportunity to acknowledge the teacher(s) who was able to spur or encourage or enhance your pursuit of philosophy when you were an undergraduate, to write down their names in a place for all—including their descendants and the philosophers of the future—to see. Add as much or as little detail or story as you like.

Thiman

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Jeff Sebo
5 years ago

Great topic! I studied philosophy with three fantastic professors at Texas Christian University – Richard Galvin, Blake Hestir, and Gregg Franzwa. All three are brilliant philosophers and terrific teachers. They did an incredible job not only teaching us the course material but also, much more importantly, conveying to us the importance of living the examined life. I feel enormously grateful to have been able to study with them, and I know that many other people (including many other professional philosophers) do as well. Thanks to them for everything that they do, as well as to everyone else who plays a similar role for people!Report

Matt Hernandez
Matt Hernandez
5 years ago

As a first year grad student I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. When I was a sophomore one professor, Angela Coventry, picked me out among her early modern class and started encouraging me to develop my abilities more. As a first generation student it was very encouraging to have someone so brilliant that I admired believing in me and working with me. Everyone in the department was supportive of me, but there were times Angie and I’d go through four or five drafts of one of my papers in a week and I doubt I’d be where I am now without her and her dedication.Report

David Sobel
David Sobel
5 years ago

I had a lot of inspiring profs at Swarthmore that got me into philosophy. Those that stick out for me were Hans Oberdiek, Chuck Beitz, Richard Eldridge, and Ken Sharpe. But if I had an unsung hero prof in college it was Charles Raff. Somehow he conveyed a sense that we were tackling enduring and important problems but that we, college undergrads, might well solve them today. There was an unspoken sense that our voices were needed to get to the bottom of this matter. One great advantage for me of going to a place without grad students was a sense that we were on the front lines of the great philosophical problems–it never occurred to us that others were better positioned to get to the bottom of things.Report

James South
James South
5 years ago

At the University of South Carolina, Rosamond Kent Sprague, Herbert Matsen, and Robert Mulvaney all–in different styles–set great examples for me in combining close reading reading of texts with thinking about “big ideas.” They (and many other faculty there at the time) made the department a welcoming place for this insecure first generation college student.Report

James Goetsch
James Goetsch
5 years ago

My professor was the late Charles Bigger, who taught me as an undergraduate and Louisiana State University, and then directed my M.A. there is well. I took classes with him and then ended up assisting him as a grad student, and he was for me a living example of what a teacher of philosophy could be. He taught me how to read Plato (an amazing gift). He is truly the reason I am here teaching philosophy decades after studying with him. Fortunately, there is an interview on line with him that was done before he died, so I point you to it to get a sense of this amazing teacher and human being. http://www.conversations.org/story.php?sid=2Report

Brandon Harrington
Brandon Harrington
5 years ago

My undergrad philosophy education at Salve Regina University would have been greatly limited had Troy Catterson not joined our faculty during my sophomore year. He is a polymath, to be sure, and remains one of the most brilliant people I have ever encountered. He invests himself in teaching wholeheartedly and he is one of those professors who seems omnipresent on campus, able to stop for a chat at any moment. But this is not to say that he doesn’t write; he does. His publications range just as much as what he knows: from modal logic to his latest work in philosophy of religion on the Trinity. Yet, he constantly admits that he has not read enough or he discusses courses that he wishes he could teach someday (and believe me, he has a whole list). He has taught me the hard lesson that I will never finish being a student; not when I get into grad school and earn my Ph.D., not when I’ve gotten tenure, not when I retire. He has taught me interdisciplinarity without loss of depth. He has held me to a standard that exceeds the requirements of my program and my college. I hope that I have met his care for my success with committment and (hopefully) interesting work. Thank you to Dr. Catterson for preparing me so well for graduate study and a career in philosophy.Report

Richard Fry
Richard Fry
5 years ago

As an undergrad philosophy minor, I only took two courses from faculty. (When I returned as a major years later, I took great courses from amazing professors, but the die was cast at that point.)
So the philosophy teacher that got to me was a graduate student, Allen Habib (now of University of Calgary). There’s plenty more details, but–in my recollection–he embodied just about everything great about philosophy teaching: rigorous but friendly, conversational but scholarly, even teaching outside his area. So: thanks, Allen! I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for you.Report

Sheralee Brindell
Sheralee Brindell
5 years ago

Philip Clark was a grad student at UCLA and was working as a TA for Professor Yost’s ‘Skepticism and Rationality’ while I was an undergrad in the course. Although I had decided to major in philosophy, I did not do well on the first exam (I was positively mortified by my “B-“). I went to Philip’s office hours to try to figure out what it was that I didn’t quite get (clearly, it was *something*, and something substantial, to boot). Philip very patiently explained that I didn’t seem to have fully appreciated what the question was really asking. This was something of a revelation for me. I asked if he would give me another question so that I could try to get better at this whole ‘unpacking’ thing. The patience he showed – he gave me several questions and dutifully read the answers in order to see if I had started to ‘get it’ – still amazes me. I cannot imagine what a pain that must have been for him and have never forgotten what a star he is for having been kind enough to help me understand that process.

A bit later in my undergraduate career, I had the great good fortune to take a course with Warren Quinn; the course was designed to teach students how to read (and write) philosophy properly. I was stunned to learn that I didn’t actually know how to do this and cannot imagine what my intellectual life would have been like if I had not taken this instruction. I teach a similar course now and remember Professor Quinn fondly whenever I teach it. And while I would say that the courses I took with Jean Hampton had the most profound influence on my philosophical trajectory and interests, it really was the set of skills that I acquired from Philip Clark and Warren Quinn that let me profit from all of the rest of it.Report

Amy Reed-Sandoval
Amy Reed-Sandoval
5 years ago

This is indeed a great theme for discussion! I was fortunate to learn from a number of wonderful instructors when I was an undergrad philosophy major at Temple University.
Two professors made a particularly strong impact on me. Shelley Wilcox was/is a spectacular teacher and she also directed my undergraduate honors thesis. In addition to being such a dedicated teacher and talented philosopher, she also taught me and other students that one can be politically/socially engaged and be a philosopher at the same time (and that the two things can actually go together!). She provided tremendous encouragement, introduced me to feminist and political philosophy (thanks!) and Shelley’s own philosophical work inspired for me many of the research interests I am pursuing today.
Another important undergraduate mentor I learned from was Gerald Vision, who taught a fascinating Intro to Philosophy class that I continue to think back to today as I teach my own large Intro lecture. From the beginning, and throughout my undergrad years, he regularly demonstrated to me that he believed in my philosophical abilities, and this gave me the intellectual self-confidence I needed to become a philosophy major and think of myself as a philosopher. Without a doubt, were it not for these stellar instructors I would not be a professional philosopher today.Report

Shane Epting
Reply to  Amy Reed-Sandoval
5 years ago

Wilcox is fantastic!Report

Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Carolyn Dicey Jennings
5 years ago

I wouldn’t have gone to graduate school without the influence of Peter Clark, Berys Gaut, and Graham Priest, all of whom taught at the University of St Andrews at the time.Report

Kristopher Phillips
Kristopher Phillips
5 years ago

Fantastic idea. For me, it was Jordan Lindberg at Central Michigan. He’s since left academic philosophy, but his logic and early analytic courses pulled me from a life of (ugh) business management and marketing and convinced me to take on philosophy. Just a brilliant guy, and a tremendously fun teacher.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

Excellent topic! I want to send all my deepest anonymous respect and love to Andre Gallois, Graham Priest and Keith Simmons. Anything good that I am now, you made me. Anything bad that I am is my own fault.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
5 years ago

I could sing the praises of my philosophy professors from the University of St. Thomas all day — I was planning to major in economics, but then I took my required philosophy intro class from Matthews Grant, and it was just an unbelievably rewarding experience, and at his encouragement, I took another philosophy course to fulfill one of my electives — and then I knew I didn’t want to stop. Heidi Giebel is such an incredible teacher (person, really), Michael Degnan is so encouraging, Jonathan Stoltz, in addition to being an impressive scholar, was always so generous with his time — I never actually took one of his classes, but he was nonetheless a wonderful resource for questions and philosophical conversation — but the two that stand out for me are John Kronen and Steve Laumakis. It was Laumakis who encouraged me to go graduate school (and very kindly explained what a stipend is when I didn’t think I could afford it), and it the first class with him (a cross-listed psychology/philosophy course, “Buddha’s Brain,” team-taught with Greg Robinson-Riegler) that made me decide to major in philosophy. He’s an amazing teacher. And John Kronen is a professor who you can go to with a question about Nyaya views of justification, and find yourself in a two-hour long conversation that winds its way round to Suárez, and you feel as though only a few minutes has passed. I certainly would have never gone to graduate school without their support, but more importantly — they challenged me, taught me how to think more clearly, be more charitable, and enjoy learning about philosophy.Report

Sara Protasi
Sara Protasi
5 years ago

I had many good teachers, many of whom are “superstars”, but the reason I am in philosophy is my high school teacher, Sergio Cicatelli. He is erudite, rigorous, authoritative, and cares about his students deeply. His very first class on what philosophy is enraptured me completely, perfectly conveying the sense of wonder and curiosity from which philosophical inquiry stems.
Studying (history of) philosophy in high school is fairly common in Italy. Much less common is close textual reading outside of short anthological pieces. In his class we read the Phaedo, parts of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, The Discourse on the Method, a slightly abridged version of Kant’s Second Critique, and, had my teacher not moved to another school to start as a principal, we would have read Husserl and Heidegger. Reading those works was rewarding and exciting, and made me love studying the history of philosophy.
I am grateful for the education I received in the United States, and aware of the many advantages American, and “Anglophone” Academia more generally, has over the Italian one. But there are a lot of great philosophers and philosophy teachers all over the world, and some lessons I heard in Italy as a high school student were more sophisticated than stuff I subsequently read in journal articles, and I am grateful for that starting point.
Thanks, Justin, for starting this thread.Report

Daniel Mak
Daniel Mak
5 years ago

Prof. Steven Levy of UCLA and Prof. David Makinson of LSE are my heroes.

I first met Prof Levy in Logic First Course at the summer school 2012. Second week into the course (out of six) and I was already hooked onto solving logic deduction problems on the exercise software (and as far as I heard, many students are as well), to the extent that doing those exercises are a source of entertainment – much like doing a harder version of Sudoku. Prof Levy would actually spent hours in the office, just doing his own work while we did exercises until we had questions. He is also incredibly funny and have a way to explain difficult concepts.

Prof Makinson was my lecturer while I audited the advanced logic course at LSE (despite I wasn’t a student at LSE). Prof Makinson’s patience is the epitome of what education should be like – he would patiently guide you through ridiculously stupid questions (could be as simple as not seeing a simple Modus Ponens would solve the problem) when he could perfectly well turn his back on an external auditing student. To quote him, ‘no question is stupid’. I am forever thankful to Prof Levy and Prof Makinson, but I am particularly in debt to Prof Makinson, since he still helps me over the email on logic related questions.Report

Ruth Groff
Ruth Groff
5 years ago

What a wonderful prompt!

I went to Swarthmore too (like David Sobel, above), and Ken Sharpe is also on my list of teachers without whom I would not be who I am. But for me the three people who stand out with respect to my relationship to philosophy are Rich Schuldenfrei, Rosemary Desjardins and a political theorist named Doug Bennett — who wasn’t at Swarthmore, but who was friends with Ken, and was a Quaker, and got me to go visit the place, after I took two classes with him at Temple University as a high school student.

Doug Bennett awoke in me what I would describe as a love of form, and a preoccupation with underlying assumptions. He did this by asking perfect questions, questions that invited one to attend to form and assumptions both. Without this background, I would not have been as perfectly primed as I was for my Intro to Philosophy class with Rich Schuldenfrei.

It is hard to convey, to someone who never had a class with Schuldenfrei, let alone back then, just how arresting of an experience this was — though generations of Swarthmore students can back me up on it. Schuldenfrei was similar to how David Sobel describes Raff as being (I never had a class with Raff), in the sense that there was absolutely no question, in his presence (a) that he seriously didn’t give a fuck about anything other than figuring out what was true about important things; and (b) that he expected that of us, too. But Schuldenfrei did things like threaten to drop a chair on the head of a kid who thought that Hume was right, and that it was perfectly possible that the chair wouldn’t fall that time. What I mean is that he held the chair over the kid’s head and threatened to drop it. In those days he wore blue jeans and a work shirt, always and only. Once, when I was a junior, or maybe even a senior, he showed up in a yellow chamois shirt – it made such an impression upon me that I still remember it. He wore blue jeans and a work shirt, and work boots too, paced around in the front of the room, and engaged us as freshmen – confronted us, even – with viscerally compelling, relentless intellectual and moral intensity, mainly in the vernacular and tones of a Brooklyn cab driver. As I understand it, Schuldenfrei had been trained up in logical positivism at Pitt. He’d left that stuff behind by the time that I had him, but he did assign Language, Truth & Logic to us as freshmen, and I learned from him that empiricists have a hard time with causation. I’ve been dedicating books and thanking him in Acknowledgements ever since.

Rosemary was completely unlike Richie in comportment, and unlike Richie she was patient and calm intellectually — though she was equally intense about the pursuit of true beliefs. The memory of her that I have that sums up what she was like, and what her personality taught me about philosophy as an endeavor, was once, when I was confused about something, her locking eyes with me – she had beautiful, steely, Athena-like eyes – and not letting go until I’d understood. As though she were inviting a toddler to take faltering steps. Rosemary taught Ancient philosophy, and she was someone who thought that Plato wrote in a literary way on purpose, so as to effect a desire for, and experience of, philosophical beauty. One afternoon in her seminar I swear I felt the very “flaring up of the soul” that Plato describes in the 7th Letter. I think that that flash of whatever it was is the closest that I have ever come to a mystical experience.

Thanks so much, Justin, for inviting us to share these stories.Report

Anonymous Grad Student
Anonymous Grad Student
5 years ago

I wouldn’t be in graduate school without the help and influence of Gordon Bearn, Robin Dillon, and Greg Reihman at Lehigh University. The years spent in that tiny little building, talking philosophy for hours on end, were some of my best so far.Report

Anon
Anon
5 years ago

Jeff Seidman, Miranda Fricker, Tim Sundell, Clare Batty and Meg Wallace. Great philosophers. The finest teachers. Better human beings.Report

Another Anon Grad Student
Another Anon Grad Student
5 years ago

Bernard Molyneux and Robert May, both of University of California, Davis (at least when I was there).Report

Ryan Lake
5 years ago

This is a really great idea. I was blessed with a number of truly excellent philosophy professors in my undergraduate years, all of whom inspired me and shaped me in different ways. The one I’d like to mention here is Blair Morrissey, my very first philosophy instructor way back when I first started out at Muskegon Community College. Back then I had no clue what I wanted to do, and signed up for an introduction to philosophy class in my first semester simply because it sounded like it might be fun. It was Blair’s class that made me first fall in love with philosophy, and the questions we struggled with then (especially free will!) have been bouncing around in my head ever since.Report

Shane Courtland
5 years ago

In no particular order …. Doc Mayo, Eve Browning and David Cole …. they are my exemplarsReport

Sara L. Uckelman
5 years ago

Not entirely unsung, since he did get a shout-out in my dissertation: Michael Byrd, UW-Madison. I took every class he offered during my 6 years (BA + MA) there, including the one I couldn’t take. When my senior year of high school I took a logic class at the local two-year university and LOVED it, I scoured UW-Madison’s course catalog, I found there was an upper level logic course, and I decided to take it before I even got my acceptance letter. And then the semester came around when I was going to take it…and it conflicted with 3rd semester Greek, which I needed in order to graduate. I went to him, explained the situation, and he — completely unsolicited — offered to run the course with me as a directed study. We met once a week (in comparison to the rest of the class getting 3 lectures a week), and during that time he guided me through how to prove Godel’s Incompleteness Theorems and how to be an excellent teacher. In addition to all the classes I took from him, he also regularly led term-time and summer-time modal logic reading groups. His Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein class was my first introduction to analytic philosophy, and it shaped my entire undergraduate career.

I should also give a shout-out to Ken Kunen (UW-Madison, math) who was willing to take a philosopher who’d never gotten beyond pre-calc and shepherd her through graduate seminars in mathematical logic. His unfailing patience even when I showed up at his office hours week after week I will always remember gratefully.Report

Kate Norlock
Kate Norlock
Reply to  Sara L. Uckelman
5 years ago

Michael Byrd was amazing! He changed my life. I was a new graduate student and didn’t even get my BA in Philosophy, but I loved writing lemmas and he generously shared office-hour time to go over my (often unnecessary) shortcuts. He encouraged me to get a grad degree in Philosophy when I was from nowhere. What a kind, kind soul.Report

Lynne Tirrell
Lynne Tirrell
Reply to  Kate Norlock
5 years ago

Agree. I remember as an undergrad, getting to take the graduate Symbolic Logic with Byrd, and he was writing a proof on the board, then turned around and took off his glasses, and said, “No amount of eyeballing what I do will teach you logic. You have to do the proofs yourself.” Wakeup moment. He was awesome.Report

Dale Miller
5 years ago

In different ways, Bob Feleppa, David Soles, and Jay Mandt.Report

Brent Braga
Brent Braga
Reply to  Dale Miller
5 years ago

Feleppa and Soles (both David and Debby) also deserve huge credit for their influence on fresh-out-of-grad-school junior faculty. Tremendous mentors, excellent colleagues, and outstanding people.Report

Travis Timmerman
Travis Timmerman
5 years ago

I did my undergraduate work at Arizona State University and had a number of excellent professors. This was a fortunate coincidence because, when I was deciding where to attend college, I had no idea I would end up majoring in philosophy. It just so happened that ASU had a number of excellent teachers (most who also had accomplished publishing records) in their department. I took the majority of my philosophy courses from Steven Reynolds, Stewart Cohen, Tom Blackson, Margaret Walker, Bernard Kobes, Cheshire Calhoun and Doug Portmore. Each made significant contributions to my (as well as countless others) philosophical progress.

I worked with Doug Portmore more than anyone and he has, far and away, had the largest impact on my philosophical thought. It was a privilege to take his courses as an undergraduate. He understood and presented the material so clearly that it was near impossible not to have a crystal clear understanding of the works being discussed. He dedicated inordinate amounts of time to helping students who sought it and approached each philosophical work with an infectious level of passion.

I would not be pursuing a career in philosophy were it not for these excellent professors.Report

Stephen Nelson
Stephen Nelson
5 years ago

My unsung hero was Catherine Cater at North Dakota State University in Fargo. She just passed away this last summer at the age of 98. When she was my mentor, she was in her early 80’s, still walking to school every day, teaching like she was on fire. She had grown up in the south, her father had been friends with W.E.B. Du Bois, whom she had met as a little girl. She came to Fargo in the early 1950’s after leaving Olivet College in Vermont in protest over academic freedom issues. She infused every philosophy class with poetry and literature, and she inspired all her students to work extremely hard. When she wrote “See Strunk” on your paper, you knew you had some work to do. Her mantra was “Be specific; give examples”, which still resonates in the back of my head. She pushed me hard to get out of North Dakota and go to grad school, which I’m quite thankful of, even though I ended up back very close to home (where I luckily get to push students in similar ways).Report

CatherineKemp
CatherineKemp
5 years ago

A prompt that is also an ambition! For me, in order of appearance, Robert Horn and Peter Suber at Earlham College. I had a fantastic education in philosophy as an undergraduate–I showed up in graduate school overprepared. Lucky lucky lucky.Report

Simon Evnine
Simon Evnine
5 years ago

I did not study philosophy as an undergraduate but started with an M.A. at the now, sadly, defunct Bedford College, London. I had a number of excellent teachers there, including, as my very first, Brian O’Shaughnessy, with whom I plunged straight into reading Sartre and Heidegger. But most of all, Mark Sainsbury was a wonderful and exemplary teacher. He always strove to help me express my own ideas better rather than telling me how it was.Report

Rob Loftis
5 years ago

I was fortunate enough to take a philosophy course while still in high school, which is unusual in America. Thanks Dr. Tom Joyce of McLean High SchoolReport

Dan Weiskopf
Dan Weiskopf
5 years ago

I had the good fortune to take classes some from amazing thinkers, many of whom also happened to be exceptional teachers. I can still recall the wit and erudition of Bernard Williams’ lectures, and John Searle’s legendary gruffness. But one person stands out as having done the most to put me on the path to a philosophical career: Bruce Vermazen. Bruce wrote on aesthetics and action theory, but more importantly (to me), he gave me strong and encouraging comments on my writing and allowed me to take his graduate seminar on Mental Causation when I was a senior. At the time I was obsessed with the topic, and while I’m sure the grads in the room rolled their eyes at my clumsy attempts to grasp what Davidson, Kim, and Burge were up to, Bruce was patient and supportive through many painful drafts of my final paper. He was a great interlocutor and probably the closest thing that I had to a mentor in my antisocial and depressive late-adolescent state. I had known that he was a cornet player, but I was delighted to see that after retiring from philosophy he went on to write a sparkling and well-received book on the history of jazz in vaudeville (That Moaning Saxophone: The Six Brown Brothers and the Dawning of a Musical Craze, OUP 2008). I doubt that he’ll see this, but just in case: thanks for everything, Bruce.Report

Jordan Lindberg
Jordan Lindberg
5 years ago

Kris Phillips mentioned me above, though Kris is by all accounts an outstanding and inspiring teacher of philosophy himself with fiercely loyal students of his own. He is in the first 10% of what will be an outstanding career that will impact many lives for the better. For myself, I was blessed to have wonderful undergraduate teachers at Albion College. Ned Garvin, who passed from cancer several years ago and decades too early, was a remarkable teacher of philosophy — inspiring, exacting, funny, erudite, and infectious — he was a natural storyteller, with rich and diverse personal interests that he was eager to share with his students. He invited us to participate in his scholarship, opened his house up to us, and introduced me to a larger world that included philosophy, but also things like fly angling, quality scotch, zydeco music, wooden canoes, and great bean soup. Other philosophers at Albion likewise impacted me entirely for the better including Gene Cline and Jorg Baumgartner, both now retired.Report

Helen
Helen
5 years ago

my favorite undergraduate philosophy professor was Eddy Moerloose, who taught Indian philosophy and religion at Ghent University. His classes were relaxed, interactive, relatively unstructured; we’d sit together and think about concepts in Indian philosophy in detail. He also invited us to watch a (I forgot (6 hour, 9 hour), version of the Mahabharata. A bit regrettably, while his classes kindled an interest in philosophy, I have not taken up any study of Indian philosophy (in part because Moerloose emphasized how important language and linguistic form is in Indian philosophy, and I did not learn any Sanskrit).Report

Shane Epting
5 years ago

Carl B. Sachs (now at Marymount University). He spent endless hours challenging my ideas and ripping my papers to shreds. I would write, rewrite, and re-rewrite, hoping to craft something that he thought was decent. During the summer between undergrad and grad school, I published my first paper. Although it was in an interdisciplinary journal, it was accepted with minor revisions. Without his generosity and keen eye for nuance, the paper wouldn’t not have been worth publishing. When I write today, I hear his voice in my head: “This is way too wordy.” “This makes NO sense!” “You need to read at least two books by Philosopher X to gain a basic understanding of this topic.” Haha, good times.Report

Al Smith
Al Smith
5 years ago

Pete LeGrant of Bakersfield College, formerly the University of Iowa.Report

Cristina Cammarano
Cristina Cammarano
5 years ago

MY high school Philosophy teacher was Giovanna Moschieri and she is the one who not only introduced me to philosophy, but made me understand that for a living I wanted to teach it. Giovanna Moschieri wanted clarity, precision, and extended study. As a neo-Thomist she gave me a strong foundation in ontology and classical logic, and even though I have moved away completely from her orientation, I am grateful for the discipline I learned with her.
In my undergraduate studies I had many super-star professors ( within the limits of academic philosophy stardom) but the one who left a mark was the Philosophy of Law professor, Luigi Lombardi Vallauri, who was living and breathing philosophy and who taught me what it is like to let philosophy inform your life. He was also a crazy guru- style thinker whose provocative ideas made him declared heretic at my super-traditional Catholic University. With him I read widely and learned to question everything.
Thank you for starting this post.Report

Anya Plutynski
5 years ago

Thanks for this suggestion! Dan Garber was not only a great lecturer in the classroom, but also a very kind and generous mentor and undergrad advisor. He had immense patience and kindness, and yet did not shy from challenging me. He inspired love of philosophy and set an example as a scholar and teacher. Robert Richards and Howard Stein were also great teachers (as well as scholars), and inspired my interest in the intersection of history and philosophy of science.Report

Greg
Greg
Reply to  Anya Plutynski
5 years ago

I can certainly second Howard Stein — he instilled in me a (not entirely healthy?) love of Carnap.Report

Daniel Garber
Daniel Garber
Reply to  Anya Plutynski
5 years ago

Anya, thank you so much! I’m deeply touched.Report

Michael Rea
Michael Rea
5 years ago

Two for me were Roger Florka (the TA for the first philosophy course I took at UCLA, now at Ursinus College) and Thomas F. Tracy, who was visiting at UCLA for a couple of years when I was there.Report

Jacob
Jacob
5 years ago

I don’t think I would be in graduate school if it weren’t for Greg Bassett (Hope College). Hands down some of the best critical feedback I have ever gotten from a professor; hardworking, punctual grader, inspiring, and respectfully argumentative–everything you could ask for in a philosophy professor. I’m a better writer (though still learning) because of him.Report

Aeon Skoble
Aeon Skoble
5 years ago

I’m delighted to see that someone else has already mentioned Rosemary Desjardins. As an undergrad at Penn, I was supposed to have had Charles Khan for ancient, but he was on sabbatical that year and so they brought in Rosemary. I was never bothered by this in the slightest, because Rosemary was an amazing professor. Her ancient course was the high point of my undergrad education and largely the impetus for my decision to pursue graduate study. I also need to mention the other unsung hero of my undergrad, Jonathan Jacobs. Another fantastic professor, and just as Rosemary’s class was the impetus to go to grad school, Jon’s was the reason I became a philosophy major in the first place. I owe them both a huge debt. I am under the impression that Rosemary is no longer with us, but I did keep in touch with her throughout graduate school and early in my career. Jon, fortunately, is still active in the profession. Thanks for suggesting we write about this!Report

Ivan Tircuit Sr.
Ivan Tircuit Sr.
5 years ago

I’ll never forget Charles T. McGruder, of Mount San Antonio College, modeling for me the need to be an advocate for your students.

This, as much as the thrill I got reading philosophy, endeared me to it. From there I was never more passionate about anything else.Report

RP Forsberg
RP Forsberg
5 years ago

The undergrad professor who inspired me to become both a philosopher and a teacher was Dr. Brendan Liddell of Bradley University. His style of teaching, heavy on discussion but requiring copious reading before discussion, combined Socratic Dialogue, precise supplemental lectures, and essay exams that stretched our thoughts to consider new angles and ideas while writing the exam. He also acted a public philosopher who was active in the political and social arenas of 1960’s Illinois. I remember his protest, walking with a sign in front of the local Catholic school that was requiring a declaration of loyalty of its students (his children were students there). In all of his in-class and outside endeavors he was a model for me and generations of Bradley students.

I urge those of you who have such a teacher that you would, in retrospect, wish to thank for their positive influence on your life to do so ASAP. I sent Dr. Liddell such a thank you letter two years ago and received a reply from his wife thanking me and including his obituary; he had died a few months before in his 90’s. Don’t wait to let those who influence you know their efforts are appreciated, you might not get a chance to do so again.

Thank you Dr. Liddell. Without your influence I might not have become a philosophy professor myself for 35 years. If I was nearly as effective in inspiring some of my students as you were for me, I can take pride in approaching that high standard.Report

David McNaughton
5 years ago

In 1964 the Philosophy Department at Newcastle consisted of five teachers: four full-time and one half-time – all very different from each other and yet, each in their own way, the ideal person to introduce people to the subject. The Professor and Head was Karl Britton, who had studied under Wittgenstein. Slim, neat, dapper, with well groomed silver hair, he always wore a three-piece suit and tie. We were all in awe of him, though he was a very kind man. He would ask questions with obvious answers, such as ‘how does an Intuitionist know these moral truths?’ and then look at us in bewilderment as we all thought the obvious answer could not be the correct one! He did not write a lot, but he published a book on the meaning of life while we were there. I remember writing an essay for him on that topic, in which I argued that life would only have meaning if there were objective values. He looked at me rather sadly, and said: ‘this is a fine essay, but you don’t mention death.’ To which, with all the invulnerability of youth, I replied that I had not thought it relevant.

Colin Strang taught us Ancient Philosophy – mainly Plato, because he said he did not think he knew enough about Aristotle to teach it well! So two whole years of Plato’s Dialogues. Wonderful. Tall, stringy, with a small military style moustache, he was also dapper, and chain-smoked small cigars. He would often stretch with his hands above his head, causing his trousers to slip down a little revealing a glimpse of coloured patterned shorts – something none of us then had ever seen. He would always address the members of the audience as ‘chaps’ even when a majority were women. Rumour had it that he was a communist and, when he inherited his father’s title, would become the first communist peer in the House of Lords. (I see from his obituary in the Guardian that he took up his seat but was not active. [http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/jan/20/colin-strang ] Whether he really had communist sympathies I do not know.) Apart from an abiding love of Plato, Colin taught me to read texts closely and to argue with care. Many years after I had graduated he contacted me at Keele and said he did not think he would be publishing any more on Plato and would I like his books. He duly arrived with a large trunk full of texts and hard to find commentaries – a characteristically kind gesture.

Then there were the Midgleys: Geoff, the spitting image of the Prof. in Back to the Future, and his wife Mary, who was then half time. Colin was as untidy and unkempt as Karl and Colin were neat and tidy. He had a fine-tuned sense of the ridiculous, and made the driest philosophical topic engaging. His laugh was contagious although, because of his bronchitis from smoking, it nearly always ended up as a racking cough. Geoff had the untidiest desk I have ever seen (though I am running him a close second!) It was piled high with not only books and papers but also parts of a flute (he played) and what looked like bits of a car engine. One day, in searching through this pile for a book he pulled out a letter, read it, and exclaimed: ‘it’s a request for a reference I haven’t answered … well, no use now, it’s two years old.’ At which point, he thrust the letter back into the tottering pile! Geoff’s main interest was logic and early twentieth century philosophy. His final year exam on the Tractatus consisted of ten quotations from that work, with the single instruction, Comment, after each one. I once spent a whole term with him studying the Vienna Circle, especially Carnap. We thought him the smartest of a very intelligent department, but he was completely uninterested in publishing. He could not see the point. (He had, I believe, two publications, each in the Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, which requires publication of invited talks.) Rather, what he wanted was to do philosophy and, above all, to introduce students to it.

Mary Midgley mainly lectured on ethics and would, in moments of intensity, close her eyes and run her hands through her hair. I remember two special incidents. The first was when, in the course of explaining why she preferred Kant’s moral theory to utilitarianism, she gave the example of an old people’s home where they had taken away people’s glasses, hearing aids, etc. and filled them full of tranquilizers, making life easier for all. Rightly shocked by this, she explained Kant’s stress on the importance of rational autonomy before apostrophizing, ‘You see, Professor Britton, life is just more complicated than you realize.’ (Karl gave the lectures on Bentham and Mill.) The other was a conversation with Colin who claimed to be both a hard determinist and a utilitarian. ‘But, Colin, it is important to people’s dignity that they be held responsible for their actions’ to which he replied, ‘I’m very happy to blame people, Mary, if it will make them happier.’ She and Geoff were cheerful and bohemian, living in a large and untidy house. Incredibly kind and caring they always had at least one angst-ridden student lodging with them, so that they could look after them. I was totally unaware at the time that Mary’s contemporaries at Somerville were Anscombe, Foot, and Murdoch. When I went to stay with her later while giving a talk to the Philosophy Group in Newcastle (the department having been axed by a technocrat Vice-Chancellor) I asked her about them. She was a great admirer of Iris Murdoch’s philosophy and wished she had continued with it, instead of writing ‘those novels’.

Finally, there was Don Locke, the youngest and an exemplar of the new breed of philosopher. Don published books and articles at a rate that would now be considered normal, but which seemed frenetic back then. His lectures were models of how to organize material and convey it in an accessible way. He was careful and punctilious almost to a fault. He once began a lecture thus: ‘There are thirteen arguments in the literature against phenomenalism, and all of them are unsound.’ And off he went, through all thirteen.

Looking back, I do not think we then appreciated how lucky we were. The staff (faculty)-student ratio was absurd. We were the largest year they ever had, their annus mirabilis, with eight people reading philosophy as a single subject (major) and eight reading it as a double major. Karl and Geoff had persuaded the university that we needed a lecture room in the department, though they had no intention of using it as such. Rather, it was a common room for both students and teachers, unsurprisingly labelled The Cave. We virtually lived in there, drinking endless coffee and discussing philosophy. We would be joined by at least one of the staff on most days, who would give their time unstintingly to our enthusiastic questioning. I felt perfectly free to knock on any door and ask a philosophical question; nor were the answers brief. I would be welcomed in and given as much time as I liked. That generosity spilled over into social life; we were often invited to parties at the houses of staff. Finally, there was the tutorial system. Two people to a tutor, taking it in turns to read an essay. Since I was often paired with students who did not show up, I received, in effect, individual supervision. Since my stay there lasted four years, this was more like a graduate than an undergraduate education; indeed, in some ways we had more access to faculty than students in most graduate programs.

This was a group of people who were widely read, thoughtful, engaged; members of an old-fashioned intelligentsia. Suffering none of the pressures of the modern publish or perish regime, they saw their mission as opening young minds and, above all, showing how enjoyable philosophy was. Those who know me will easily guess on which person in that department I have modelled myself right down, to my chagrin, to the untidiness. When I went to Geoff’s memorial service I gave a lift to the former departmental secretary on the way back to the reception. I apologized for the hiking equipment and other detritus littering the interior. She took one look and said: ‘Geoff would have been proud of this car!’

I have only one regret, namely that I did not go there a year later for, in 1968, the department appointed a very bright chap called Mike Brearley. He did not stay long because he decided he had more to offer to cricket than to philosophy. In that he was probably right, since he went on to become the best captain England’s cricket team have ever had. I would love to have met him.Report

Ruth Groff
Ruth Groff
Reply to  David McNaughton
5 years ago

I love this. Thank you so much for writing in such detail.Report

Michael Bergmann
Michael Bergmann
5 years ago

As an undergraduate at the University of Waterloo, in Ontario, I wasn’t sure I wanted to pursue philosophy. One of my philosophy professors, Dr. William (Bill) Abbott, asked me to come see him in his office one day. I wasn’t sure what to expect. He surprised me by telling me he saw philosophical talent in me and he encouraged me to develop it. That affirmation and his continuing kindness and guidance over the years it took me to complete my BA and MA at UW (with an MA thesis on Hume and Reid, directed by Abbott) played a pivotal role in my choosing a career I’ve enjoyed tremendously. I’m very grateful to him for graciously nudging me toward this profession.Report

Anon
Anon
5 years ago

Julie Tannenbaum, now at Pomona. An absolutely phenomenal teacher. And scary smart.Report

Scott Hagaman
5 years ago

My undergraduate education at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville? I want to give special mention to Dr. David Reidy, Dr. John Nolt, and Dr. Richard Aquila. These are the people who first taught me how to do philosophy. I owe them a debt I can never repay. I’m not sure I like calling them “unsung heroes,” but they are certainly some of my heroes. While reflecting on my undergraduate education, I am also reminded of a certain philosophy professor who deserves the appellation “villian.” I won’t name this asshole, but a thread in which we can complain about worthless cranks would be a nice addition!Report

Alan White
Alan White
5 years ago

I have had my career because philosophy captivated me through my only undergrad philosophy prof at Northwest Nazarene College (now U)–J.W. Jones. Yes, I said “only”–he *was* the department, and I took 9 classes from him. I can’t bore you with all my Jones’ stories–this post would become a novella–but what I must say is that his own obvious enthusiasm was contagious, and I caught it with my own terminal case of loving to teach. He was a late PhD–in his 50s–from Boston U under Peter Bertocci–and so Jones only ended up teaching about 10 years and never published a thing as far as I know. Yeah, he was weak in contemporary stuff, which I had to catch up on in grad school, but his first-rate training in the history of philosophy has served me very well. Besides me, he has students-now-profs at UCLA, Eastern Carolina, and elsewhere in related fields. I still see a bit of him in my own teaching today, and I thank him posthumously for his inspiration; thank you Justin for this opportunity to say that.Report

Alan White
Alan White
Reply to  Alan White
5 years ago

Since Scott Hagaman brought them up, as a footnote to my paean to J. W. Jones, my grad career at UT-Knoxville also was graced by Aquila (I owe you so much Rich: you loaned me the cash to fly for the interview for this job, now in my 35th year), another Jones–Roger–who inspired my love of the philosophy of science (but left Tennessee during my grad stint), a very young but very good Nolt (forgive me all that stupidity that I’m still paying for), and especially Rem Edwards, my dissertation director. It pains me that UTK is never, never mentioned as a place to do the PhD. It was, and is, a terrific place to study philosophy.Report

David Bzdak
David Bzdak
5 years ago

Bloomsburg University had (and still has) an amazing group of philosophers/philosophy teachers: Scott Lowe, Wendy Lynne Lee, Richard Brook and Steven Hales were there when I did my undergraduate work. I started as an English Lit major, there, but quickly switched because they after classes with them, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. They must’ve been cursing me back then for sucking up so much of their time during office hours, between classes, etc. — but they never let on, and their encouragement was life-changing.Report

Anon
Anon
5 years ago

Walter Schaller, Texas Tech University. “You’re pretty good at sniping other people’s views. But what do YOU think?”Report

Anonimander
Anonimander
Reply to  Anon
5 years ago

“Wally,” as we fondly referred to him behind his back, was the toughest philosophy prof I ever encountered. His bullshit meter is bullet proof. I learned so much from him – including how to create headaches for former members of the Bush administration.Report

Dan
Dan
5 years ago

John Daniel Wright (KCL), Stephen Williams and Brian King (Worcester College)Report

Anna Alexandrova
5 years ago

Sofronis Sofroniou of University of Nicosia (formerly Intercollege), Cyprus, circa 1995. I am so grateful to him for showing me that it’s OK to be interested in philosophy when all around you are studying business administration. He is my philosophical ‘ded’ (Russian for grandfather).Report

Bob Kirkman
5 years ago

Stan Kane (at Miami University) introduced me to environmental ethics and to ancient philosophy, helping me to recover from philosophical dogmas into which I’d fallen and allowing me to rediscover my early fascination with ecology and natural history. He was infinitely patient with students (including me) who asked questions and made claims that, in retrospect, seem entirely daft. He would often respond to such questions and claims with a wry smile and an almost rueful “Well, that’s problematic, isn’t it?”Report

Matt LaVine
Matt LaVine
5 years ago

David Curry. I went into my Philosophy of Religion course with David completely confident that I was going to be a high school mathematics teacher and left the course completely confident that I was going to be a philosopher. This was despite the fact that I was pretty far along in my mathematics program, was enjoying it a good deal, and, frankly, was just better at mathematics than philosophy. David just made philosophy seem so pertinent, so fun, and so much for everybody that it seemed obvious to me that that’s what I needed to be doing more of. I now teach in the same department as David and have NO problem telling my students that if they liked their course with me, they will LOVE a course with David. After all, I’m not doing much other than trying to copy him. Thanks, David!Report

Adam Omelianchuk
Adam Omelianchuk
5 years ago

Watching Tom Crisp teach and do philosophy at Biola had an impact on me. There wasn’t a single paper I wrote for him in which he did not find some dreadful flaw; but I later learned not to feel too bad about this, because he seemed to find one in EVERYONE’s paper or presentation no matter how accomplished they might have been. Receiving his encouragement to do graduate work gave me a real boost in my confidence, and I have never forgotten his advice to always be honing my writing skills.Report

Mason Cash
Mason Cash
5 years ago

I’m immeasurably indebted to two philosophers, both then at Massey University in NZ. Graham Oddie, whose Logic course I took as a computer science major, inspired me to take more philosophy courses. In particular, Thomas Wheaton Bestor’s Philosophy of Mind and Language course (Tom eventually supervised my Masters Thesis). These two in particular hooked me in and inspired me to want to take more philosophy courses, and eventually to consider philosophy as a career. I think of them both as strong mentors in terms of my teaching style.Report

Daniel Groll
Daniel Groll
5 years ago

I was very lucky to not only have philosophy in high school, but to have an utterly captivating teacher: Richard van de Lagemaat. After a couple of days of doing philosophy with Richard, there was no going back.Report

Lynne Tirrell
Lynne Tirrell
5 years ago

There were two at Wisconsin in my undergrad days who had a deep and lasting impact. Both are now deceased, so won’t hear this little tribute, alas. One was Claudia Card, who passed away this week. I took one of her very first feminism courses, and it changed my life. She was so brilliant, so keen, and so open-minded. She was an advisor, a mentor and a very dear friend. I watched her grow into the eminent philosopher she became, but she always remained very humble, intellectually and personally generous, hardworking to the max, and yet never too busy for others. She taught me the ropes, stood by me in some terrible times, and just was so much more than an undergrad teacher. But at the time, she showed me that philosophy had room for women, that taking real life seriously was a philosophical thing to do, and that philosophical conversation was a joy. The other great undergrad teacher I need to mention was Fred Dretske. I took a seminar on Skepticism with him in my senior year, mostly grads but a few undergrads. When I gave my seminar report, I paused part-way through and asked if there were any questions. A nasty grad student folded his arms across his chest, leaned back and said, “I. Don’t. Get. It.” I took a deep breath, and restated the key points of the first half. He just shook his head. Dretske jumped in at this point, really smoothly, and said, “Well, maybe I can help.” He made eye contact with NastyBoy. Then he repeated what I said, nearly verbatim, very calmly with a kind of positive tone. NastyBoy said, “Oh thanks! That’s very clear!” and then Dretske said, “Yes, it was very clear, wasn’t it? And all I did was repeat what Lynne just said. Nice job, Lynne.” A moment that I’ve carried with me for decades.Report

Arthur Ward
5 years ago

I’m going to give a second nod to Tom Tracy, who I had at Bates College. He taught with humor, patience, and a liveliness that conveyed his wonder and appreciation for the arguments before us.Report

Jeremy Pierce
5 years ago

My second philosophy class at Brown was ancient philosophy with Victor Caston, who is now at the University of Michigan. That class, together with a bad math class, convinced me to switch majors from math to philosophy. I also took my first logic class with him, which I thoroughly enjoyed. My decision to go to graduate school was in large part from being part of his medieval philosophy class in my senior year, a mixed grad/undergrad class, during which I received the grad student treatment despite being an undergrad. I got a taste for what graduate school in philosophy would be like, and it whetted my appetite in ways that several of my undergrad classes didn’t. He also steered me toward applying to places that would be the best fit for me, and he ended up having a really good sense of that in my case. Syracuse at the time I was taking classes was about as good a place as there could have been for me.Report

Dien Ho
Dien Ho
5 years ago

Peter Lupu was a visiting professor at Brandeis. He was a remarkably energetic and nurturing teacher who encouraged us to challenge philosophical orthodoxies. We talked after class over coffee and took long walks together while arguing about philosophy of language and ethics. I would not be a professional philosopher today had it not been for Peter.Report

Nick Byrd
5 years ago

Craig Hanson saved me from becoming an deeply unhappy biblical scholar. When I began having questions that were no longer welcome among biblical scholars and religion professors, I took a Logic and Philosophy of Mind with Craig. That helped me realize that my real interest was philosophy, not religion. From that point on Craig went way beyond his duty in helping me find a way into philosophy. Years later we still correspond and I still benefit from him. And thanks in large part to Craig, I’m living the dream (i.e., getting laid to read, write, and teach philosophy).

Plug: Craig Hanson does work on action and addiction. He also does work on French philosophy and literature. His book ‘Thinking About Addiction’ can be found here. Craig’s influence and rapport goes way beyond the philosophy department. He teaches in the philosophy department, the pharmacy department, and he even serves the business department. So it’s no surprise that his institution often seeks his help developing new academic initiatives and programs. Not only is he an asset to his university, he is an asset to his students, past and present. Anyone whose taken a class with Craig has raving praise about him. Many people are better off for having crossed paths with Craig Hanson.Report

Peter Bradley
Peter Bradley
5 years ago

D.A. Masolo, then of Antioch College, now of University of Louisville. Even though I didn’t continue to work in his philosophical tradition, he instilled in me a deep respect for traditions other than my own, and a high standard for intellectual rigor in my own work.Report

Julinna Oxley
Julinna Oxley
5 years ago

My debt of gratitude is to an entire department. There are a number of us in the profession today who majored in Philosophy at Wheaton College (IL). It’s a controversial and odd place – increasingly so these days – but its philosophy department was, and still is, top notch. The professors there who mentored me the most were Jay Wood, Bruce Benson, and Robert C. Roberts. Art Holmes also stands out as an extraordinary teacher. What is unique about this department is that the professors’ expectations for Philosophy majors were extremely high. The department has a track record of sending students to top graduate programs, and they treated us as if we were part of the conversation, as if our ideas mattered, and as if we would of course go to graduate school. This had a big impact on me, as I was not the strongest student there (my peers went to Ivy-league graduate programs; I went to an M.A. program first) and yet I was encouraged to develop my writing and my ideas. We had a strong philosophical community, peers and professors alike, where we all took each other’s work seriously. I wanted to be a part of that world for the rest of my life.

While all of my professors there were phenomenal, Jay Wood stands out. He is an avid rock climber, and reportedly scaled Blanchard Hall (where the philosophy department is located) for fun. He trained me to do analytic epistemology and demolished my writing. I didn’t exactly appreciate this at the time, but have come to realize what a gift it was. He also pushed me to follow my interests. When I asked in our senior seminar why we weren’t reading any feminist epistemology, he said: “Because I don’t know anything about it. Please write your final paper on it so I can learn something.” (This was in the mid-1990’s, and I suspect many analytically trained epistemologists were not reading feminist epistemology at the time.) That was the biggest vote of confidence I received as a Philosophy major, and it did stands out as a turning point in my intellectual journey. I surely would not be where I am today were it not for this experience and for these folks. Big hugs to all of them.Report

Krista Thomason
Krista Thomason
5 years ago

Really I have to thank the entire philosophy department at UNC-Greensboro, but especially my undergrad mentor Terrance McConnell. Terry was the first professor I had who told me I should consider graduate school. I never dreamed of becoming a professional philosopher until he mentioned it. He pushed me to think through things with complexity and sincerity. He helped me every step of the way when I was applying to graduate schools. Without his encouragement, I wouldn’t have even thought about philosophy as a career.Report

Sascha
Sascha
5 years ago

Although I was regrettably only able to study with him for two years, it was ultimately Anselm W. Müller who set me on my course and has remained an inspiration to this day, both in what he taught and in how he taught it. In many respects, he still is the archetype of a philosopher to me.Report

kennitala
kennitala
5 years ago

John Searle enough saidReport

Nicole Wyatt
Nicole Wyatt
5 years ago

In the late 80s I was halfway through a BA in English literature when my mother enrolled in a BFA program at the same university. She registered in “Problems of Philosophy” as an option and brought home the books, including the now out of print Thought Probes: Philosophy through Science Fiction Literature, which I read straight through over the weekend. The next Monday we went down to the registrar’s office, forms in hand, for her to un-enrol from the (full) course and I to immediately enrol (Thanks Mum). I spent the term mesmerized by the professor, the formidable J.J. (Jack) MacIntosh. Jack will celebrate in 2016 his 50th year at the University of Calgary, where we are now colleagues, and he continues to inspire undergraduates. I am now quite confident that he is not, as he once suggested in class, an experimental teaching robot built in Japan.

Jack bought me into Philosophy, but credit should also go to Brian Chellas, who was, if not the best logic teacher simpliciter, at least the best logic teacher for me, and also has been a tireless supporter and advocate. Brian once handed me an article about Val Plumwood’s unlikely escape from a crocodile with the characteristically wry observation that “it’s tough being a woman in logic”. In retrospect I realize the the truth of this, but in Brian’s classroom it never occurred to me that I was at all unusual, and to the extent it was difficult it was the work itself (well, that and his predilection for 8 am classes) that challenged me.

I had many fantastic teachers at Calgary. But without Jack or Brian I certainly wouldn’t be in Philosophy.Report

Kevin DeLapp
Kevin DeLapp
5 years ago

Ellen Suckiel (a Pragmatism scholar) and John Isbister (econ technically, but philosophy interdisciplinary), both at UC Santa Cruz. Both inspirational and remarkably humble. They never over-simplified ideas, but they also had questions and tones perfectly calibrated to the different levels their students were at. I had been “mind-blown” by other philosophers before, but Ellen and John were the first to make me think of philosophy as an actual lifestyle and not just a job or a bunch of smart distinctions.Report

Kevin Sharpe
Kevin Sharpe
5 years ago

Having been told in high school to not bother applying to four-year institutions (because I would never get in), I went to Austin Community College. My second semester there I took a philosophy of religion class with Matthew Daude Laurents that changed my life. He was the first person to take me and my ideas seriously, was incredibly generous with his time, and he forced me to think more deeply and more carefully than anyone had previously. After that class my course was set. I decided to attend a four-year college and major in philosophy. Ultimately, I ended up attending Calvin College. This was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the entire department (in particular to Kelly Clark and Kevin Corcoran), but I’m especially indebted to Steven Wykstra. More than anyone, Steve taught me how to do philosophy. I will never forget the hours he spent with me pouring over my honors thesis line by line. He was an exacting mentor who taught me how to write and I strive to be for my students what Steve was to me. Without Matthew I doubt that I would have ever decided to major in philosophy and without Steve I doubt that I would have ever succeeded.Report

Carlos
5 years ago

Tim Cleveland at NMSU motivated me to take all of the philosophy classes available. His range of course competencies is impressive, now that I look back on it, and I still think back to his perfectly paced courses when I structure my own.
Jean-Paul Vessel at NMSU was the first person to make me think about pursuing this field at the graduate level. As an alum, he read my materials for grad school several times and helped me develop a strong application package that helped me get accepted to my top choice program. Without his motivation and energy, I’m sure I’d still be trying to figure out what I want to do with my life instead of doing it.Report

Renee Smith
Renee Smith
5 years ago

In the late 80s I took a few philosophy classes at UC Davis before dropping out, and then I took one or two at UM European division in Germany; and I wish I remembered those professors’ names. They made me see the ideas I had were not as crazy as they sounded to my friends and family (twin earth, inverted spectrum, trolley problems) and sparked in me an interest in studying philosophy. When I finally went back to school, I majored in philosophy at CSUS (Sacramento) because it was the only major for which every single class looked interesting. I had the good fortune to be advised by Gale Justin and to take classes with Tom Pyne, Cliff Anderson, Marina Oshana, and Brad Dowden. We had a solid cohort of philosophy majors, many of us going on to graduate school, and it was an excellent community of philosophers. I was on the verge of taking a more permanent job in wholesale produce when Professors Justin and Oshana said I should consider graduate school. I didn’t even know what graduate school was! Thank you!Report

Joyce Havstad
Joyce Havstad
5 years ago

Jay Odenbaugh. Taught me at UC San Diego, when he was a visiting professor and I was a biochem / chem undergrad. Chance I’d be in philosophy, without having taken his classes: zero.Report

Livingston
Livingston
5 years ago

Not all of my undergraduate heroes are exactly unsung. But here they are:

Ken Howarth got the ball rolling at Mercer County Community College in 2006.

Bob Matthews, Frances Egan, Brian McLaughlin, and Peter Klein kept it going at some state school in NJ (you might have heard of it) through 2007 and 2008.

There are at least five of us who took Language with Matthews and Mind with McLaughlin in the Fall of ’07 who are still in philosophy today. I’m pretty sure those two classes had a lot to do with it.Report

Brian E. Johnson
5 years ago

I did my undergraduate work at the University of Illinois, Chicago from 1991-1995. I’m going to borrow a line from “Livingston” just above — “Not all of my undergraduate heroes are exactly unsung. But here they are:”

Richard Kraut (now at Northwestern): I did 5 semesters of coursework with him, including 2 independent studies. He was so patient, so informative, and helped me to understand the profession itself. My undergraduate studies were very happy days because of him. (Plus, he introduced me to my field of specialization: Hellenistic ethics.)

Shelley Kagan (now at Yale): very tough but thoughtful debater. Classes were intense and, as the kids say these days, he “made my brain hurt.”

Walter Edelberg: he gave me my first “C” in philosophy and that really lit a fire under my feet that I could not skate by in philosophy. That “C” made me mad but I was determined to prove him wrong by doing better. Thank you for that, Dr. Edelberg.

Charlie Huenemann (then a graduate student at UIC): taught my early modern class and I still retain a love of those figures because of it.

David Waldman (then a graduate student at UIC): a general yeoman who seemed to know something about everything; made me love what graduate school was about and therefore helped to inspire me to venture off to graduate school myself.

Gentleman, I thank you!Report

Julia Staffel
Julia Staffel
5 years ago

I wouldn’t be in philosophy without my high school philosophy teacher, Dr. Eduard Maler. He’s a great philosopher and a great teacher (and he always drew the best pictures to illustrate philosophical views). The second person without whom I probably wouldn’t be a professional philosopher is Dr. Uwe Scheffler. He taught the large intro logic class at Humboldt University that I took in my second semester as an undergraduate. He picked me out of the crowd almost immediately and invited me to come to the logic colloquium series and other talks and conferences. I became his TA right after finishing the class, and that set my path for going into academia.Report

Tobias Flattery
Tobias Flattery
5 years ago

Wonderful prompt! I’m grateful for many of the philosophy faculty (and several of the grad students) at my undergraduate institution, Texas A&M University. And I owe a lot to several of them.

The late Scott W. Austin (ancient, particularly Parmenides) was, in my view, the quintessential philosopher and teacher. Many undergraduates benefitted greatly from his patient kindness, depth of wisdom, and keen insight, often imparted amidst a haze of cigarette smoke during one of his delightfully regular breaks on the benches in front of the philosophy building. (His still-active Facebook page and its still-growing list of comments and student reflections is a testament to his influence in the ways Justin’s post is about.) I’ll treasure always the draft of my writing sample he returned to me with written comments punctuated by coffee stains.

Stephen H. Daniel, or “Dr. D” (early modern), was probably the toughest on undergrads, but likely the most giving of his time. One could easily find students who warned others–for all the wrong reasons–to avoid Dr. Daniel’s courses. Such warnings in part motivated me (with some trepidation) to take my first Dr. D course on 17th century philosophy. I remember during each class Dr. D transforming himself, pedagogically, into Socrates, and argumentatively, into each of the figures we covered. The depth of knowledge and agility of mind he displayed were wonderful and inspiring.

Robert K. Garcia (metaphysics) I probably owe the biggest debt to–one I hardly know how to summarize. I suspect that, sometimes, about the ones to whom we owe the most, the least is said, for want of appropriately weighty words. Dr. Garcia was, for me, the model of a careful and charitable thinker. Our discipline would benefit immensely if even half of his graciousness and intellectual humility were the norm. I hope every undergraduate of his, especially those who go on to graduate school in philosophy, take with them some of Dr. Garcia’s character.

Others who deserve much more than just the following brief mentions are Michael LeBuffe (early modern; now at Otago), for his patience, comments, and advice; Linda Radzik (ethics), for the same; Dwayne Raymond (ancient, mind), for his generosity and time; and Robert Burch (logic) for teaching us–or at least for those us who overcame his intimidating crustiness!–that we didn’t yet know how to write in English.Report

Anon
Anon
5 years ago

Three people made an especial impact on me as an undergraduate and all due to their calm, conciliatory, and charitable style of doing philosophy: MM. McCabe, W. Rasmussen, and R. Woolf of King’s College London (at the time). Whilst it cannot be an accident that they are all specialists in ancient philosophy of one sort or other, their influence ramifies(d) widely in the KCL department, making it the most nurturing environment in which to do philosophy.Report

Eric H.
Eric H.
5 years ago

I’ll confess, I never had a teacher that mentored me when I was an undergraduate. I wasn’t that fortunate, and, truth be told, I wasn’t that driven. Despite being a political science student, I spent most of my time in the philosophy department (was a philosophy minor). Regardless of my major concentration, my heart is in philosophy, and my specific interest is in political theory. All that being said, after I graduated, I decided to continue my studies at my university and gain a graduate degree, and I was fortunate enough to have a philosophy teacher who was willing to take me under his wing. David M. made certain that I understood the realistic ramifications of what I was pursuing (a Ph.D.) – he showed me how to do research and how to engage in meaningful argumentation.

It’s been a painful process – he systematically, and a bit cruelly at times, dismantled every core assumption I ever had. For example – as an undergrad, I considered myself a socialist…and while I still find myself satisfied with some of what Socialism has to say, I can no longer affiliate that -ism with who I am. Yet, during my undergrad years, my extremely leftist political science department never exposed me to anything other than socialist-colored interpretations of the way our world functions. And, in their defense, questioning one’s own bias is difficult, even when trying to teach. Of course, they still “should” have shown both sides of an argument…but some have an axe to grind, and a professor’s podium is sometimes, unfortunately, similar to a preacher’s pulpit.

Regardless, I can’t affiliate any -ism with who I am. And this is perhaps David’s lasting affect on me: I can no longer find myself satisfied with broad assumptions, powerful causes, or simplistic notions. I find myself more critical than I ever was – and often I have no idea what I believe. And this is disconcerting much of the time, as indeed building a house on moving sand ought to be, but at least I can say that I’m actually “doing” philosophy now. I wasn’t before. I now have a respect for what Socrates meant when he advocated a negative philosophy of ignorance – I know so less than I did before!

David trolls these forums (in fact, he introduced me to this website!), but I doubt he’ll ever read this. Still, I hope he understands, and I’ve articulated as much before, that I’m grateful for his role in my intellectual career.Report

Robert Yost
5 years ago

Lucian Stone was my first philosophy professor as an undergraduate. He sparked a fire that led me to change my major to Philosophy, and continue to pursue Philosophy over a decade later. I believe he teaches at the University of North Dakota, now, but I studied with him at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.Report

MA Student
MA Student
5 years ago

Mark Thames (El Centro Community College, Dallas)Report

Karen S. Emmerman
Karen S. Emmerman
5 years ago

What a lovely idea! Norman Care at Oberlin College was an exceptional philosopher and an extraordinary human being. He taught me that thinking the personal is philosophical isn’t strange or unphilosophical at all. He was a man of incredible courage and personal integrity. I was lucky enough to be in his seminar when he was working on his book, Living With One’s Past: Personal Fates and Moral Pain. It was a topic very close to Norm’s heart. Though he was talking with undergraduates who, at 20 years old didn’t have much of a past to live with, he treated us with respect and humility, always taking our contributions seriously and working through the thorny, often gut-wrenching topic, with grace and good will. He taught me to be a better writer, a better philosopher, and a better human being. When I finished my PhD, all I wanted to do was tell Norm that I did it and that he was the reason. Unfortunately, Norm died shortly after retiring. He lives on in many Oberlin grads, though!Report

Quitterie Gounot
Quitterie Gounot
5 years ago

I also went to Swarthmore, like some of the people above, and I’m so grateful to so many of my professors for being so generous with their time, attention, and encouragement, taking my questions seriously, and always making me feel heard. The philosophy professors with whom I worked most closely were Hans Oberdiek, Krista Thomason (hi Krista!), and Grace Ledbetter. Many little moments, which I can’t all recount here, stick out – These are people who spent many hours working through my ideas with me, and helping me with my writing, who made it possible for me to study abroad, and go to graduate school, and I owe them the world, academically; they also were, and continue to be, great supporters of mine on a very personal level. They created a safe space in which I felt comfortable voicing a variety of concerns, and I can only hope that I can be that well attuned to both the interests and challenges of students with whom I interact. I’m also especially thankful for Peter Baumann’s infectious enthusiasm and humor, and for the way Jennifer Morton taught me intro, inviting me into the philosophical enterprise as into one great conversation, where I could not only listen to the things others had said, but was welcome to contribute my own thoughts as well. Paula Boddington’s instruction in Oxford, and support thereafter were also invaluable. I’m thankful to other professors, too, some in other departments or at other schools, who helped and encouraged me in a variety of ways as I grew into myself intellectually, and applied to grad school; no acknowledgement could do justice to all that I received from professors as an undergrad, not to mention from my current professors. Many thanks, Professors – You are the reason I want to teach, to share that sense of philosophical wonder and delight you communicated to me.Report

Josh Parsons
5 years ago

I had a number of great teachers as an undergraduate, but I particularly want to give a shout-out to Ken Perszyk, whose lecturing and classroom styles I have unashamedly copied since (minus the mid-west drawl). When I started my BA(hons) (in the NZ system, this like a 1-year taught masters you do after your BA) Ken sent everyone in my cohort strict instructions that we were graduate students now and were to do the assigned reading carefully before class. The reading was McTaggart’s _Mind_ article on the unreality of time (not an easy read, especially if you have never read the British idealists before). The day of the first class arrived: there were six students in the room, and Ken. Ken starting talking about McTaggart, occasionally firing questions at us. We stared at the floor. Five minutes in, Ken said “Please raise your hand if you have read the assigned reading from beginning to end”. We stared at the floor. Ken said “OK. In that case, I see no further point in continuing this class. I’ll see you this time next week, by which time I expect you to have completed the assigned reading.” and left the room without a second glance.
We were dumbfounded. After that, everyone in my cohort did the readings without fail. Later in my career, when I was training TAs, I would tell this story to them to make the point that as a tertiary teacher, you always have the nuclear option open to you. You don’t need to worry (as TAs often do) about a class where the students are completely uncooperative or silent. You are there to teach, and if your students make that impossible, it is their problem not yours. (I would also point out that this situation hardly ever really occurs – the point is that you don’t have to worry about what you would do if it did).
When I moved back to NZ I ran into Ken at a conference, and told him all about how his walkout had been an eye-opening motivator for me and the other students, and an example to several generations of my TAs. Ken laughed. He explained that that was the first time he had taught McTaggart, and he had been up all night worrying that he had set us something too hard for the first reading of the year. When his nightmare came true (as it seemed to him), he had panicked, and made up the first excuse he could think of to cancel the class!Report

James Harold
5 years ago

I don’t know Karen Emmerman, but I have to write to second her remarks. Norman Care was my adviser at Oberlin College, and he was one of the best souls I’ve ever encountered in philosophy. He cared deeply about the work and about his students; his capacity for empathy and philosophical discussion seemed limitless. I admired him so much that I was afraid to ask him to advise my thesis. I am glad I overcame my fear because his patient and attentive critical feedback provides the model I try to use with my own students today. Brad Skow has put together a long list of Obies who went on to do philosophy [http://web.mit.edu/bskow/www/oberlin.html] and I believe that many of them were inspired by Norman Care over the 35 years he taught there.Report

Elliot Trapp
Elliot Trapp
5 years ago

Thank you Professor H. Peter Steeves at DePaul University. You gave my life meaning.Report

Michael B
Michael B
5 years ago

Thankyou to Prof Daniel D. Hutto.

A charismatic lecturer and encouraging seminar leader, without whose belief and support – long after I left my alma mater – I would never have made it to graduate school.

To this day, I still recall verbatim certain pieces of advice which I try to embody far beyond philosophical studies.Report