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. After a short stint in the philosophy department at John Carroll University in Cleveland, he came back to St. Louis University in 1961.

Professor Blackwell is an authority in the history of philosophy, the history and philosophy of science, and is one of the world’s foremost experts on the Galileo affair. 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 Robert J. Richards (Chicago) Gary Gutting (Notre Dame, 1942- 2019); and Dominic Balestra 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 uninformed 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, his even temper and gentlemanly manner inspire me to this day. 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.

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4 thoughts on “My Academic Geneology

  1. A commendable resume. You stand upon the shoulders of some very respectable scholars. Thanks for sharing this. My brother received his doctorate in Ireland (Education) after years of sacrifice and study and both of us get annoyed when we detect those that purchase their PH.D. over the internet. I tell you, there ought to be a law…

  2. It might have been easy for Russell and Wittgenstein to get Ph.D. in Phil but for me, it was 6 years of study after BA without seeing sunlight. Its all I did for 6 years.

    thanks for the comments.

  3. Plato called for Philosopher Kings.

    Plato thought that Kings who are Philosophes could save the civilization of his time and place from ruin by the democratic mob, by tyrants, and by glory-seeking war-hawks.

    Couldn’t we have Philosopher Senators?

    We’ve got Fascists trying to take over the U.S. Government with unprecedented “Big Lies.” We’ve got Socialists in Congress who think Communist Cuba is the basic good model for the future. We’ve got wildfires and buildings collapsing due to climate change!

    We need Cicero and Seneca in the U.S. Senate.

    Instead, we get Cruz, Hawley, and Sanders.

    In an interview, Jordan B. Peterson said that he is considering running for Prime Minister in Canada.

    This reminds me of something that Bertrand Russell wrote:

    “The fundamental cause of the trouble in the modern world today is that the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”

    Bertrand Russell wrote that in 1933, in an article in which he lamented the rise of the Nazi movement in Germany.

    Now, here we go again!

    Bertrand Russell did run for parliament (he lost). And he was sentenced by a court to prison twice for nonviolent protests he engaged in to try to save civilization.

    I think the model that many academicians work with is this: I lay the foundation in my students, by showing them methods of critical thinking, scholarly investigation, intellectual honesty, and basic human decency. Then, it is up to my students to use these methods (or to not use these methods) out in the world to save the world, or to destroy it, as they choose. No one can do everything or be everything.

    The trouble with that model, as I see it, is that academicians only have a very, very brief influence on most young people. By contrast, governmental leaders, business leaders, and media thought leaders have a lifelong influence on citizens.

    Why should people like Rush Limbaugh, Tucker Carlson, Donald Trump, Jordan Peterson, Bernie Sanders, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have such an outsized influence on so many people, and the trained philosophers have such a miniscule influence?

    Yes, in part this is due to free market “demand” factors, and this is also due to non-demand decisions made by private owners of big capital.

    But it seems also due in part to the fact that academicians don’t seem interested in or willing to even try to venture out into the world of government, politics, and influential mass media.

    What about me? Shouldn’t I be criticizing myself for my failings, rather than putting pressure and negative judgments on people I don’t even know?

    Yes, I probably should be criticizing myself instead. There’s plenty to criticize.

    The thing is that I feel completely incapable of making any difference. I have written letters and emails to members of Congress, but it seems to have made no difference. I tried out Twitter–what a pointless frenzy of madness, lies, and hate!

    In general, the least competent and least honorable men and women seem to have all or most the power in the economy, government, and society.

    The most competent and most honorable (who in many cases are the academicians, especially the people who have seriously studied thinkers such as Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Voltaire, Marx, Nietzsche, Russell, Rawls, Galileo, Darwin, Freud, Popper, and so on) are on the sidelines (largely due to their own choice); alas, they’re not even in the game (at least, according to how I am defining “the game”).

    Remember the final scene in the 1968 film “Planet of the Apes”? Taylor, the astronaut character played by Charlton Heston, sees something that puts EVERYTHING in a new perspective for him–and for US.

  4. Tom,
    I’m not afraid of AOC or Sanders. They are not warmongers, nor did they attempt to invade the Capitol on January 6th. Am going to vote Democratic in all elections until I die—without even looking at the ballots. MAGA is a clear and present danger: we are in a limited national emergency.
    And where its locus? Impatience. The Capitol was invaded by impatient mobs. The Right is impatient to obtain maximum freedoms, when the world—and they—would have to evolve at an exponential rate to attain such freedoms that they want in their lifetimes.

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