Chair’s Letter to Alumni on August 20, 2004

August 20, 2004

Dear Philosophy Graduate:

It has been a busy and productive year for Philosophy at Boston University, and now that summer is well under way and things have calmed down a bit, I write with a second update about recent developments in the Department.

Since I last wrote to you in November, you have received (or should have received!) a card inviting you to a conference on environmental ethics held here in April. It was a delight to welcome numerous alumni back to campus. Environmental ethics addresses some of the most pressing problems of our times, and we were very pleased to revive this long standing area of interest in the department. In past years, the subject was often taught and discussed here, thanks to Erazim Kohak and Michael Martin. With their departures, environmental ethics was taught and discussed less frequently. With the conference such a success, we hope to reinvigorate a more active program on environmental ethics.

The conference was unique in combining several aims, as you see from the description of the conference on the department’s web site ( It included leading philosophers (such as Sheldon Krimsky, an alumnus of the Philosophy Department) who have written on the subject, as well as activists and businesspeople who have been deeply involved in environmental issues. A roundtable at the end brought together these different perspectives. The conference was carefully integrated into a course on applied ethics taught by our recent recruit Simon Keller. About eighty students from Simon’s course attended the conference. Philosophy graduate students served as commentators, and did a brilliant job. Student involvement, in other words, was high. Simon joined us from Princeton two years ago, and will be on leave at Harvard’s Center for Ethics and the Professions next year writing a book on “love.” He hopes to contribute to our next environmental conference, expected to take place in the Spring of 2005 (we will send you a notice about it, and hereby invite you to attend). Klaus Brinkmann will teach a course on environmental ethics in the spring, and it will be integrated into the next symposium.

This conference was funded by Steven Karbank, who graduated from Boston University in 1979 with a double major in philosophy and psychology. Gifts to the department made as a result of his “Challenge Gift” (described on our web site) will help us greatly in the future both with respect to environmental studies and other departmental initiatives. We are deeply grateful to both Steve, and to alumni who rose to the Challenge (so to speak), for their support.

Other major news? Commencement was a success, by all counts, with some 90 students graduating this Spring. The faculty and student addresses were very well received, and the SMG auditorium (which holds over 300 people) was jammed. The faculty address by Peter Schwartz and the student address by Brad Berman are available for your perusal on our Commencement address page: You will see that it also includes student and faculty addresses from previous years, as well as other information that may interest you. In particular, you will find an essay by Erazim Kohak (Emeritus Professor of Philosophy) reflecting on his years at Boston University (he discusses such figures as Bowne, Brightman, Bertocci, Findlay, MacIntyre, Wartofsky, and Cohen). We are adding to it all the time, so do stay tuned. If you have any suggestions for improving the page, or making it more useful to you, please let me know.

Recruiting outstanding faculty is an ongoing and essential project. This May, Henry Allison, one of our best known colleagues retired. We spent a good part of the year search for a replacement, and were very fortunate in landing Manfred Kuehn as Professor of Philosophy. He will join the department in September of 2004. Dr. Kuehn is widely recognized, on both sides of the Atlantic, as one of the leading scholars of Kant’s philosophy as the expert on the impact of Scottish philosophy and particularly Thomas Reid, the German Enlightenment, and the Scottish influence on German philosophy. He has published in such highly regarded journals and collections as Kant-Studien, Journal of the History of Philosophy, Hume Studies, The Columbia History of Western Philosophy, and The Cambridge Companion to Kant. More recently, Professor Kuehn has further and, indeed, definitively reshaped the study of Kant’s philosophy with his Immanuel Kant: An Intellectual Biography, first published by Cambridge University Press in English. The German translation of Professor Kuehn’s biography represents a rare example of a work of considerable erudition that has captured the popular imagination as well. It is a national best-seller in Germany has been reviewed very positively. (It is coming out in a number of other languages as well.) We are delighted that such a superb scholar will be joining our faculty.

We are also pleased to note that Kenneth P. Winkler will join the department as Findlay Visiting Professor in Spring 2005. He is Class of 1919 50th Reunion Professor of Philosophy at Wellesley College and specializes in modern philosophy, particularly British thought in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. He is the editor of the Cambridge Companion to Berkeley, about whom he has also produced a classic monograph, is the current editor of Hume Studies, and has published extensively on seventeenth and eighteenth century philosophy.

Among our current faculty, Tian Yu Cao has accepted an offer from the Director of Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study of a joint membership in the School of Natural Sciences and the School of Historical Studies for the academic year 2004/05. These memberships will permit him to complete his historical and conceptual study of quantum chromodynamics, which is an important component of the “standard model” (the unified framework for describing the interaction of all subatomic particles) and provides a theoretical underpinning for understanding the strong nuclear force. He has also been awarded a coveted Neugebauer Fellowship by the Neugebauer Committee of the School of Historical Study at the Institute for Advanced Study.

Your faithful correspondent has accepted a Fellowship from the Stanford Humanities Center for the 2004/05 academic year to write a book tentatively entitled “Philosophy and its Discontents: on Reconciliation with Imperfection.” During May 2004, I served as Professeur invité à l’Université de Paris 1 (Panthéon-Sorbonne). The perspective on the USA that my conversations with students and faculty there provided gave me lots to think about.

More information about the faculty is available on the news page of the department web site. As I mentioned last time I wrote, we would welcome your messages, and look forward to being in touch. As you know, you will find faculty email addresses on the Department’s web site, located under “Faculty.”

As I have now shared with you some of the ways we have been growing intellectually, it is fitting to announce that the department is also growing physically. The University has allocated substantial new office space for the department (for those of you who can summon up the details of the School of Theology: we’ll have the rest of the fifth floor, and parts of the fourth and sixth floors). What this means is that, among things, we can put aside space for undergraduate majors and minors in which to work, talk to each other and the faculty, and generally make the department their home. We will also have additional space for graduate students. This might appear to be a mundane development; but it is in fact important to creating the sort of intellectual community we envision. One challenge will be to find the funding necessary to renovate the space fully.

We have taken a very good step in that direction thanks to CAS graduate Sam Hallowell (class of 1970). He has pledged $25,000 to fund the renovation of the space that will become the departmental library and seminar room. His pledge was motivated in part by the Karbank Challenge. Sam is deeply interested in the liberal arts, and in philosophy in particular. He spoke at the Karbank environmental ethics conference (mentioned above). There remain other such opportunities in connection with the full renovation of the department’s space.

Please let us have your current email and mailing address. You can update your contact information by sending an email to (please include your name and year of graduation, and indicate whether the email address that you are supplying will reach you at home or at your business). If you prefer, you can send this information to the department as well ( Thank you.

I hope your summer is going well!

Yours cordially,

Charles Griswold
Professor and Chairman