Emory Report
February 5, 2007
Volume 59, Number 18

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February 5, 2007
Philosophy department receives grant from Marcus Foundation

by helen anne richards

The Billi and Bernie Marcus Foundation has awarded $161,550 to Emory College's Department of Philosophy to fund the first institute in the United States to study the history of philosophy.

The grant will allow the institute, which has operated since November with departmental funding, to expand its programs in two areas: to bring scholars to campus each year to lecture and conduct seminars, and to create a summer program that will allow intense discussion of a specific issue or period of history.

David Carr, Charles Howard Candler Professor and coordinator of the institute, said the department hosted the first speaker in the series lasts fall. John McCumber, professor of germanic languages at UCLA, delivered a lecture titled, "What is the history of philosophy?" Three other lectures are scheduled for this semester - one on Thomas Aquinas and two on Plato.

"We already have one of the few departments in the country that focuses on philosophy history," Cynthia Willett, chair of the philosophy department, said. "This grant is a unique opportunity for us because it gives us funding to extend the work that we've already done."

Willett said that the study of philosophy history is the basis for all other scholarship in philosophy. It is, she said, the best way to begin any serious study of philosophy. "A student who begins with history can move easily into any other research area," she said.

The institute has already increased scholarly activity in the department, Willett said, and she expects more. A graduate who is doing research in Germany has expressed interest in returning to Emory for the institute, and current students will be able to work directly with visiting scholars, Willett said.

"The institute will bring to the campus important scholars in the history of philosophy whose lectures, seminars and informal interaction will enrich students' exposure to great ideas," Emory College Dean Bobby Paul said.

Studying the history of philosophy has gained popularity in recent years because American scholars are rejecting the idea of studying the subject without its history. "It's not like physics," Carr said, "where you can study the subject and not necessarily know anything about its history. Philosophy asks questions like 'Who are we?' and 'Where do we come from?' and the answers come from history. You might say we are where we came from."

"This grant gives us the financial support to create an institute that will gain national interest," said Don Verene, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Metaphysics and Moral Philosophy. "It will put Emory in the national spotlight as we become a leader in the revival of interest in the history of philosophy."

The lecture series will be held during the academic year and is intended for graduate students and faculty, but also will be open to the public, Verene said. Participation in the summer program, however, will limited to 10 scholars and will be by invitation only.

The two-week summer program will be advertised nationally to faculty members, as well as to doctoral and post-doctoral students at other institutions. Participants will be chosen by a selection committee and will be supported during their stay at the institute.

"The Billi and Bernie Marcus Foundation supports the program because it represents the fundamental values that have built western civilization," said Michael Leven, vice chairman of the Marcus Foundation. "Those values need to be constantly a part of our educational canon."

The grant will be awarded over five years and will supplement funding currently in the department's budget.