• death notice for professor derek parfit who died on 1 january 2017

Department News

rationality of perception book cover

Siegel publishes The Rationality of Perception

January 18, 2017

Edgar Pierce Professor of Philosophy Susanna Siegel has published a new book, The Rationality of Perception, with Oxford University Press. The Rationality of Perception makes an important contribution to our understanding of the human mind and, specifically, to how we think of perception. According to a traditional conception of the human mind, reasoning can be rational or irrational, but perception cannot. Perception is simply a source of new information, and cannot be assessed for rationality. Susanna Siegel argues that this conception is wrong.

photo of derek parfit

In Memoriam: Derek Parfit (11 December 1942 - 1 January 2017)

January 4, 2017

It is with deep sadness that we report the loss to the philosophical community of Derek Parfit. For many years, Derek made this department another philosophical home, and during his time here he greatly enriched the lives of his faculty colleagues and students. It was a mark of Derek's generosity that, despite his eminence in the field, he could often be found talking enthusiastically with undergraduate students well after his class had ended.

portrait of William Ernest Hocking

Kickstarter campaign launched to digitize former department member's library

December 14, 2016

Although he has been dead for half a century, William Ernest Hocking, Alford Professor of Natural Religion, Moral Philosophy, and Civil Polity in the Department of Philosophy at Harvard University—an endowed chair currently held by professor emeritus T. M. Scanlon—has enjoyed something of a revival of late.

tommie shelb's new book dark ghettos

Shelby's Dark Ghettos fills "normative gap" in discussions of urban poverty

December 8, 2016

In a country of obvious wealth—and one that purports to embrace the ideal of equality of opportunity for all of its citizens—why do American ghettos persist? Many theories have been advanced over the years to explain the persistence of American ghettos and various measures proposed and, occasionally, undertaken to address the problem of concentrated urban poverty. But for Tommie Shelby, Caldwell Titcomb Professor of African and African American Studies and of Philosophy at Harvard University, the social scientific discourse about the ghetto has been marked by a curious omission.

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We are the home of James, Whitehead, Quine, and Rawls, but we aren't stuck in the past.

We are the home of Gertrude Stein, W. E. B. DuBois, and T. S. Eliot because we aren't simply a training ground for future philosophers.

Today we are home to a distinguished faculty of nearly forty women and men, working in a variety of areas, crossing disciplinary boundaries, and ranging from early career academics to esteemed emeriti/ae.  We are home to more than 100 intellectually curious and talented undergraduate and graduate students.  And, every year, we are home to visiting scholars from around the world.

We are also the home of ideas, of diverse and sometimes divergent views on the nature of mind, on what our ethical and political responsibilities are, and even on what it means to do philosophy.

We are home to all of these things and more because diversity and inclusivity matter to us.

Where is your home?  Whether you are interested in taking an elective, declaring a concentration, or pursuing doctoral study, we invite you to consider making your home with us.

student thinking

Philosophy is a lifelong apprenticeship in thinking, so the not-so-simple answer is that we teach "thinking."

Since "thinking" is a broad field indeed, it should come as no surprise that philosophers think about virtually everything.  This includes thinking about very large questions on topics widely shared by human beings across time and space:

What kind of life should we live?
What kind of society should we want?
What makes one system of belief better than another?
What are the limits of human knowledge?

As well as thinking about questions that arise in particular fields, such as law, economics, mathematics, the physical sciences, psychology, art, and religion.

Philosophers seek to think about these questions in a systematic, explicit, and rigorous way, not simply to arrive at answers but to understand better just what is being asked in the first place.

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Given philosophy's special focus on thinking, it might seem obvious why philosophy matters.

Because the ability to think rigorously, analytically, synthetically, and creatively is a useful ability in any field, studying philosophy is actually one of the most marketable degrees you can pursue.

But philosophy matters for more than just securing a career.

Because it increases our understanding of ourselves, philosophy helps make us more thoughtful, engaged members of our various societies while also broadening our understanding of the various ways of being and thinking that humans have and, historically, have had available to them.

Philosophy matters, then, because it places us in a conversation, one begun more than two millennia ago and continuing into the present, a conversation involving people of varying cultures and in which we are as subject to their questions as they are to ours.