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Dartmouth Philosopher Unites a Generation of Deep Thinkers

Though he says his first lecture in 1959 was not his best (paper airplanes flew from the balcony of 105 Dartmouth Hall) Bernard Gert has since become one of Dartmouth's most respected philosophy professors. "I benefited so much from my colleagues, and from how good the Dartmouth students are," says Gert, now the Daniel P. Stone Professor of Intellectual and Moral Philosophy. "They just kept asking really thoughtful, hard questions, and they made me develop a view I could defend."

Professor Gert
In Thornton Hall, philosophy major Scott Limbird ′09 (right) reviews books published by Philosophy Professor Bernard Gert. Limbird recently referenced Gert's book, Morality: Its Nature and Justification, in a paper he wrote for his Philosophy of Law class. (Photo by Tilman Dette ′10, cover image by istockphoto.com)
This summer, Gert begins his 50th and final year teaching at Dartmouth. An international scholar, he has led the study abroad program in Edinburgh six times and has served as visiting professor at universities in four different countries. He was chair of the department three times, and he has received a range of awards, including two Fulbrights and two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 1970 he published the landmark book, The Moral Rules, which, with changing titles, went through six editions and is still in print today as Morality: Its Nature and Justification.

Today, Dartmouth's philosophy department is "the best undergraduate department in the country," says Gert, because of the students, the quality of the faculty, and the College's historical willingness to tackle contemporary issues and interdisciplinary topics. The course Philosophy of Medicine has been taught since the 1960s, and now there are also philosophy courses on computers, language, law, and mathematics. Students are considering such questions as the one posed recently by Professor of Philosophy James Moor in his Philosophy and Computing course: "What if a medical computer was proven to be more accurate than doctors? Would you trust it to save your life?"

Jennifer Dziura
Former philosophy major and comedian Jennifer Dziura '00 performed on campus during the Dartmouth Undergraduate Philosophy Conference in April. (Photo by Kawakahi Kaeo Amina '09)

The College's philosophers were on display this April for the Dartmouth Undergraduate Philosophy Conference, sponsored by Aporia, the Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Philosophy. "Sometimes we forget that philosophy is a living, breathing, debatable, controversial, and relevant topic," says the conference's organizer and editor-in-chief of Aporia Tatyana Liskovich '08. "We hoped to provide a forum for students to wrestle with their own ideas." Featuring a keynote address, debates, dinners, and student presentations, the conference attracted over 60 undergraduates from institutions across the country, from Harvard to Tulane. There were also social events and a comedy show, "What Philosophy Majors Do After College," by Jennifer Dziura '00.

Dziura joked that "people think you know the meaning of life" when you study philosophy. Although Gert is doubtful about the truth of this statement, he believes that there is a profound-and warranted-respect for the discipline. Philosophy majors are accepted at very high rates to the medical and law schools, he says, and others excel in other fields, such as Sam Means '03, an Emmy award-winning writer for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart; Jay P. Bregman '01, co-founder of eCourier.co.uk, an innovative London delivery company; and Ruth Chang '85, professor of philosophy at Rutgers. Gert says: "They're well-rounded and confident, and they can do anything they want. They know they're good."

By STEVEN J. SMITH

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Last Updated: 6/19/08