Academic Geneology

 My Academic Geneology

I received my Ph.D. in philosophy in 1992, completing my dissertation under the direction of Richard J. Blackwell, who at the time held the Danforth Chair in Humanities at Saint Louis University. He is currently Professor Emeritus.

Professor Blackwell (1929 -) was educated at MIT, (where he studied history and physics) and St. Louis University, where he received his Ph.D. in philosophy in 1954. Later he did graduate work in physics. After a stint in the philosophy department at John Carroll University in Cleveland, he came back to St. Louis University in 1961. He is an authority in the history of philosophy, the history and philosophy of science, and is probably the world’s foremost living expert on the Galileo affair about which he written four books:

1) Galileo, Bellarmine, and the Bible
2) Science, Religion and Authority: Lessons from the Galileo Affair
3) Behind the Scenes at Galileo’s Trial
4) A Defense of Galileo, the Mathematician from Florence

He was the 2001 recipient of the Aquinas Medal for: “Outstanding teaching; personal publications of permanent and scholarly value; [and] influence upon American philosophical thought without reference to membership in the American Catholic Philosophical Association.” Past recipients include some of the most illustrious names in 20th-century philosophy: Jacques Maritain, Etienne Gilson, Frederick Copleston, Yves Simon, Vernon J. Bourke, James Collins, and Ernan McMullin. In addition to his outstanding record of scholarly achievement, Professor Blackwell directed more than 30 dissertations during his tenure at St. Louis. His Ph.D. students include Gary Gutting (Notre Dame) Robert J. Richards (Chicago) and Dominic Balestra (Fordham, 1947 – 2016), among others.

Professor Blackwell’s dissertation, Aristotle’s Theory of Predication, was completed under the direction of Leonard J. Eslick. Professor Eslick, who died in 1991, received his Ph.D. at the University of Virginia in the early 1930s. I met him once at a Christmas party where he told me that Professor Blackwell was the best student he ever had.

I was especially influenced by Professor Blackwell’s belief that philosophical thinking not informed by modern science—particularly physics and evolutionary theory—was superfluous. Through a series of his seminars, I came to realize that physical, mental, social, biological and cosmic life all evolve. This led me to conclude that through the process of development lies the only viable hope for humankind and their post-human descendants. Moreover, Professor Blackwell was one of the most humble, kind, and generous men I’ve ever known. I will forever be indebted to him for his contribution to my education.

I was also influenced by Professor William C. Charron. He is an authority on game theory, modern philosophy, social and political philosophy, and the literature and philosophy of T.S. Eliot. His clarity of mind and love of the craft of writing still influence me today.


5 thoughts on “Academic Geneology

  1. I was drawn to physics by my philosophical wondering while at high school but was disappointed to find later, at university, that physicists were mostly bent on calculations and surviving the struggle to publish.

    You said; “I was especially influenced by Professor Blackwell’s belief that philosophical thinking not informed by modern science—particularly physics and evolutionary theory—was superfluous.” I think that it is also true that science that is not excited by philosophical wondering is lifeless and barren.

  2. well i wouldn’t put your final objection quite that way. Science is the only cognitive authority in the world today and can do its job quite well wo/ philosophical analysis, although I very much like the philosophical implications of science.

  3. John Messerly

    Philosophy and science are not competing on how best to deal with the problem of understanding reality. We know that science is the best way to build reliable cognitive models of reality. But philosophy can play a different function upon the minds of scientists as creative agents with emotions.

    Scientists in general are mainly driven by their material needs (having a job), recognition by colleagues and for some (not all) the excitement of exploration and solving problems within their fields of specialisation.

    But now, before I explain what might be the role of philosophy in science is, let me first clarify what I meant by philosophical wondering in my previous comment. By this I meant the activity of philosophising which for me means; 1- posing questions from outside the accepted frame of the field in order to stir up new ways of looking at issues, 2- proposing such new ways of looking and 3- evaluating the outcome with critical thinking. This process is not necessarily done in this order. This is an enjoyable process that may lead to better ideas and even to the field branching to explore new grounds.

    Additionally, scientists are human beings who have lives and opinions about politics, religion, social relationships and general worldviews, but they are amazingly bad at applying rational and critical thinking on such activities. That is why a basic grounding in how to think philosophically and critically is of benefit to the scientists, to science and to society as a whole which looks with respect and listens to what scientists say even in matters outside science.

  4. Those educated in the mathematical and natural sciences are the best critical and logical thinkers due to their rigorous training. GRE scores and other exams provide overwhelming evidence for this claim.

  5. It appears to me that you are not contesting my first argument about the need for philosophising in science, but you are contesting what I said in the last paragraph about how scientists are bad at applying rational and critical thinking on everyday matters concerning their emotional and intellectual lives outside science. I’ll tell you why I say this;
    1. I had spent 36 years of my professional life as a scientist ( and university lecturer) with scientists and I was always struck by how the scientific way of thinking does not often spill into their everyday lives.
    2. The philosopher Mathew Lipman was driven to develop p4c because he noticed that his university students whom he taught critical thinking and did well on his exams were not thinking critically in the middle of their daily discussions! It might be the same with GRE scores; scientists and mathematicians are best at answering critical and logical thinking questions but are not applying this skill in their daily life when they are thinking fast.
    3. Point (2) above might be explained by Daniel Kahneman work on fast and slow thinking. Our fast thinking is our default thinking which is irrational and is full of bugs called cognitive biases. It is not enough to learn how to think critically, one needs to practice the activity as often as possible and the earlier the better.

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