Chair’s Letter to Alumni on December 10, 2007

December 10, 2007

Dear Alumni,

Please allow me to introduce myself to you. My name is Dan Dahlstrom and I’m the new Chair of the Department of Philosophy, following in the footsteps of my capable predecessor, Charles Griswold. Professor Griswold was an enormously effective and skillful Chair of the department for sixteen years. He is not leaving us; he has simply decided to return to full-time teaching.

As the steward of the department during those sixteen years, Charles leaves a legacy of considerable accomplishment. He had an important hand in hiring most of the present, highly distinguished members of the department; he was the friendly face of the department in its dealings with students, other departments in the university, and the administration; he skillfully guided the faculty through difficult times, fostering colleagues’ research and philosophical lives, but always with his eye on the prize: insuring the best possible philosophical education for undergraduate and graduate students alike. He managed all this, moreover, while continuing to be a prolific and well-recognized scholar, the author, notably, of Adam Smith and the Virtues of Enlightenment (1999) and Forgiveness: A Philosophical Exploration (2007), both published by Cambridge University Press. As his tenure as chair wound down this past summer, Professor Griswold energetically pursued several, much-needed renovations in the department, from a bright new kitchen to repainting and refinishing offices to updating computer equipment. I am personally grateful to Professor Griswold for all his good counsel and efforts to smooth my transition into the office of the Chair of the department. I think that I can confidently speak for all my colleagues and our many students over the past sixteen years in expressing sincere gratitude for his hard work and leadership.

Since Charles’s last letter to you, there have been a number of events and developments that I would like to bring to your attention. At Commencement last spring, sixty graduating seniors received their Bachelor of Arts with a major in philosophy. At the event Don Howard (CAS’69) gave a wonderful address, punctuated by five questions that he has posed to himself over the years: Is there a God? What is our responsibility to the world, to humanity? What does it mean to be a nation, and for someone to be an American? What is really important in life? Who am I, and by extension, who are we? I invite you to read this inspiring talk, as well as the wise, funny Commencement address by Vaughn Blackman (CAS’07), on our website). We also continued the Commencement tradition, initiated by Professor Griswold, of presenting each graduating senior with a handsome, hardback edition of Hume’s Essays Moral, Political, and Literary. This gift was made possible by Steve Karbank (CAS’79). For information about Steve, see The Karbank Challenge.

This past year, the department hosted two major conferences on campus, with participants from across the globe. Professor Allen Speight organized and spoke at the first of these conferences, “Tragedy and German Philosophy: From Lessing to Hegel,” which took place March 29–30, 2007. As Professor Speight noted, the world’s three leading biographers of the works of Kant, Hegel, and Goethe—our own Professor Manfred Kuehn, Professor Terry Pinkard of Georgetown University, and Professor Nicholas Boyle of the University of Cambridge, respectively—were among the list of eminent participants. This past summer, August 7–12, Professors Aaron Garrett and Manfred Kuehn hosted the 34th Hume Society Conference. A hundred or so participants from around the world took part in the conference, including our former colleague Henry Allison (now of University of California, Davis), Don Garrett of New York University, David Owens of the University of Arizona, and Stephen Darwall of the University of Michigan.

A number of conferences have already taken place this fall as well. In September, “The Robert S. Cohen Forum: Contemporary Issues in Scientific Studies” and “Future Horizons in the Philosophy of Medicine” were held; in October, Professors Abner Shimony, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Victor Kestenbaum all gave papers, discussing the “Contributions of Martin Eger to Philosophy of Science, Education, and Human Behavior.” And in November, we held our annual Karbank Symposium in Environmental Philosophy, this year centered on the theme of “Thoreau and Environmentalism”—a theme as philosophically rich as it is timely. Richard Primack (Boston University Department of Biology) spoke on Thoreau as a climate-change scientist, Max Oelschlaeger (Northern Arizona University) discussed Thoreau’s anticipations of human agency in an ecological context, William Rossi (University of Oregon) addressed the topic of Thoreauvian science, and Alfred Tauber (director of Boston University’s Center for the Philosophy and History of Science) discussed the connections between Thoreau’s pantheism and the birth of American environmentalism. It was, as usual, a stimulating and provocative series of talks.

The department welcomes the arrival of its newest member, Susanne Sreedhar, formerly of Tulane University. With a doctorate in philosophy from the University of North Carolina and a masters in women’s studies from Duke University, Dr. Sreedhar is an expert in the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, as well as the history of early modern philosophy and political philosophy.

This past year was particularly successful for the placement of students graduating from our doctoral program. Our graduates were hired to teach at Bridgewater State, Florida International University, Marquette, Suffolk University, Villanova, Xavier University (Cincinnati), and York University.

Our undergraduates have been busy as well, delivering papers and winning awards. Julie Ackerman gave a paper on “Music, Emotions, and Play” to the 5th Annual North Georgia Student Philosophy Conference (this paper also received the “Best Undergraduate Paper Award”). At the 11th Annual Pacific University Undergraduate Philosophy Conference, Daniel Brooks spoke on “Foundationalism as Platonism: An Interpretation of Svatantrika-Madhyamaka Philosophy,” and Lindita Çiko lectured on “The Suprahistorical in Nietzsche’s ‘On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life.’” Patrick Cox addressed the Ninth Annual Southern Appalachian Undergraduate Philosophy Conference, with a paper entitled: “The Presentation of Fundamental Factors to Human Nature in Response to Cynical Approaches.” The students’ attendance at these conferences was made possible, in each case, with support from the department’s Karbank and gift accounts.

At Commencement, the department honored the following students with awards for their achievements: Shanna Slank (The Peter M. Nelson Memorial Award for Distinguished Work by a Junior), Vaughn Blackman (The Matchette Prize for Excellence in Philosophy), Grant Engel (the Robert S. Cohen Award in Interdisciplinary Studies), Julie Ackerman (The John N. Findlay Award), Daniel Ryan (The Peter A. Bertocci Award for Philosophical Excellence), Stephanie Ehresman (The Peter A. Bertocci Award for Humanitarian Service), and Tiela Black-Law (The College Prize for Excellence in Philosophy). In addition, Shanna Slank received the Humanities Foundation Alice M. Brennan Award, bestowed by the College of Arts and Sciences. We are very proud of these undergraduates, as we are of our graduate students, and it has been an honor and a privilege to work with them.

As you can see, much has happened and continues to happen in the department. We hope that we can continue to count from time to time on your support and counsel in order to carry on a tradition of excellence in philosophy at Boston University. In closing, I invite you to consult our website, and if we don’t have your current e-mail and mailing address, I ask you please to pass them on to us via the “alumni” page of the site. Like Charles, I will try, whenever possible, to “go paperless” in these departmental messages to you. Above all, speaking on behalf of my colleagues, we would love to hear from you.

All best wishes for the new year,

Dan Dahlstrom