A History of the Philosophy Department at Rutgers University

The Rutgers Philosophy Department has been a distinguished department for the vast majority of its existence as a unified department. Before 1982, there was no unified philosophy department at Rutgers University. Rather, there were many departments, divided among the different undergraduate colleges of Rutgers University: Rutgers College, Livingston College, University College, Douglass College, and Cook College.  Each department was in charge of its own hiring, though they did share graduate students in a joint graduate program that was established under the logician Arthur Smullyan’s leadership in 1970. In 1982, Rutgers University President Edward Bloustein, himself a Philosophy PhD from Cornell University, unified the liberal arts and sciences programs in the colleges into one faculty - the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. In the fall of 1982, the distinct college philosophy departments were finally joined together to form the Philosophy Department at Rutgers University, housed at Davison Hall on the Douglass College campus. Loretta Mandel became the head administrator of the consolidated department, a position she was to hold for many subsequent years, and Peter Klein served as its first Chair, from July 1982 until June, 1987.

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

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

Beginning in 1986, Rutgers made a series of hires that would cement its future as one of the great philosophy departments in the English speaking world. That fall, Rutgers appointed Tim Maudlin, a newly minted PhD from the University of Pittsburgh. Because he had written a dissertation on reference and natural kinds, some may not have realized that Rutgers had just hired someone who was to become one of the world’s foremost philosophers of physics.

Then in the fall of 1987 came the decisive event. Two young Rutgers faculty members, Lepore and McLaughlin, had been auditing a course by Jerry Fodor, and became persuaded that he could be moved. Fodor already was on the fast track to greatness in cognitive science and philosophy of mind and, after 27 years at MIT, had resettled at CUNY Graduate Center, but word was spreading that Fodor was not entirely at home at CUNY. Lepore and McLaughlin also knew that Fodor had been impressed with the 1984 conference on Davidson. They persuaded Klein, the departmental chair, to pursue the idea, whose job was then to persuade Edward Bloustein, the president of Rutgers. The Fodor price tag would be high. He would be named State of New Jersey Professor - the first with that title - and Rutgers would also create a new group, the Rutgers University Center for Cognitive Sciences (RuCCS) which would bring together psychologists, computer scientists, mathematicians, linguists, philosophers and more to explore this emerging field. The idea was audacious, but Bloustein said yes, Fodor accepted, and the Rutgers philosophy department was on its way to greatness.

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

After Maudlin and Fodor, the department made a number of other important appointments in quick succession. In the fall of 1988, the department recruited Barry Loewer from the University of South Carolina as the new Director of Graduate Studies. In addition to revamping the graduate program, he joined with Maudlin and Robert Weingard (previously a member of the faculty at Rutgers College) to form the core of one of the major research centers in Philosophy of Physics in the world. In that semester as well, Colin McGinn left his post as Wilde Reader of Mental Philosophy at Oxford University to join the department. One year later, in the fall of 1989, the Department recruited Stephen Stich from the University of California at San Diego.

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

The early 1990s witnessed a number of hires. In 1990, the philosopher of mind Frances Egan joined the department as an Assistant Professor. Egan would go on to win the prestigious Jean Nicod Prize in Philosophy and Cognitive Science, for lifetime contributions to both disciplines. Fodor and Stich, as well as Zenon Pylyshyn, a member of the psychology department and the Center for Cognitive Science, have also won the award. Over the next few years, the logician Vann McGee, the ancient philosopher Sarah Broadie, and the philosopher of mind Brian Loar all joined the department. In 1993, the department also added Kenneth Taylor, from the University of Maryland, to strengthen their offerings in the philosophy of language. Also in 1993, Jorge Garcia joined the department from Georgetown University. Professor Garcia added to the department’s strength in ethics and social and political philosophy. Furthermore, together with Howard McGary, they made the Department of Philosophy at Rutgers University one of the leading philosophical centers for the study of race and ethnicity. The Department’s engagement with issues of race and ethnicity has not just been theoretical. For many years, Professor McGary has organized the Rutgers Summer Institute of Diversity, a program designed to expose undergraduates of diverse backgrounds to graduate level work in philosophy. It is a departmental tradition to teach in Professor McGary’s Institute.

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

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

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

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

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

Attrition in the Rutgers faculty was more than made up by new appointments ushered in by Prof. McLaughlin. In 2006, the department welcomed to its faculty the ancient philosopher Alan Code, from the University of California at Berkeley. In 2007, Ernest Sosa moved full-time to Rutgers University from his chair at Brown, cementing Rutgers’s status as the leading program in epistemology in the English speaking world. Rutgers has long had strength in early modern philosophy, with Martha Bolton, Seymour Feldman, and John Yolton as long-time faculty. In 2007, the department continued this tradition, adding Martin Lin, a scholar of early modern philosophy then teaching at the University of Toronto. In 2007, the Department recruited Jeffrey King from the University of Southern California, Brian Weatherson from Cornell University, and Ishani Maitra (half-time) from Syracuse University.

In 2008, Barry Loewer took over as chair of the department of philosophy.  Brian Loar retired in 2009.  Also in that year, the department recruited Andy Egan and Thony Gillies, both from the University of Michigan; and in the following year, Branden Fitelson joined the department from the University of California, Berkeley.

The next chair, from 2011 to 2014, was Jeffrey King. The department sustained significant losses during this time.  Code departed in 2011; and in 2012, Fodor retired and Maitra and Weatherson departed for Michigan. But as always, the department responded with additions:  Jonathan Schaffer and Susanna Schellenberg joined the department in 2011, having previously taught at the Australian National University, and Elisabeth Camp moved to Rutgers from the University of Pennsylvania in 2013

Larry Temkin was chair of the department from 2014 to 2017. Alvin Goldman and Holly Smith announced their impending retirements during this time, and Fitelson left for Northeastern University in 2016. There were also additions:  Jill North and Ted Sider joined (re-joined, in Sider's case) the department in 2015, moving from their posts at Cornell University; and Paul Pietroski moved to Rutgers from the University of Maryland in 2017.

In 2017, Dean Zimmerman took over as chair, and an especially active period of recruitment which began during Temkin's chairship continued. In 2018, Karen Bennett from Cornell, Frances Kamm from Harvard, Brian Leftow from Oxford, and Matthew McGrath from the University of Missouri all joined the department, and in 2020 the department welcomed Derrick Darby from Michigan and Michael Glanzberg from Northwestern.  Darby, a Henry Rutgers Professor, is the founding director of the Rutgers Social Justice Solutions Research Collaboratory, and directs the Summer Institute for Diversity in Philosophy.

In 2019, Nir Eyal moved from Harvard to Rutgers to become the founding director of the Center for Population-Level Bioethics.  Mark Budolfson and Daniel Hausman joined the Center in 2020 (from Vermont and Wisconsin, respectively).  All three have appointments in our department. 

In 2020 Karen Bennett became chair.  She has ably steered us through the difficult time of the COVID-19 pandemic.  There have been losses in 2020: Matthew McGrath departed to Washington University at St. Louis, and Doug Husak retired. But our recruitment of exciting and talented faculty continues: in the fall of 2022, we will be joined by Michael Otsuka (previously of the LSE), who in addition to being a full-time member of our department will be a member of the Center for Population-Level Bioethics, and by Juan Comesaña and Carolina Sartorio, formerly of the University of Arizona. Stay tuned for more!