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An Intellectual Legacy

Bernard Gert marks 50 years at Dartmouth, team-teaches course with four philosopher family members

This summer, as Professor of Philosophy Bernard Gert begins his 50th and final year of teaching at Dartmouth, his two children and their spouses-all four professional philosophers-will serve as guest lecturers for his course, Introduction to the Problems of Philosophy. Gert, who is the Daniel P. Stone Professor of Intellectual and Moral Philosophy, has taught in the course since 1959.

Professor Bernard Gert and Noah Dentzel '10
Professor of Philosophy Bernard Gert (left) speaks with Noah Dentzel '10 following his Introduction to the Problems of Philosophy course. Gert's two children, Joshua and Heather Gert, and their respective spouses Victoria Costa and John Roberts, are all philosophers and will be guest lecturing in the course this summer. (Photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

"It's the only family I've ever heard of where everyone is a philosopher," says Gert. "I never imagined this would happen-I actually discouraged them from going into philosophy because the job market was terrible-but I'm very proud of them."

Gert's son, Joshua, is associate professor of philosophy at Florida State University, while Joshua's wife, Victoria Costa, is assistant professor of philosophy there. Gert's daughter, Heather Gert, is associate professor of philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and her husband, John Roberts, is associate professor of philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

With Bernard Gert as a father, Joshua Gert says it was easy to learn about philosophy as he was growing up in Hanover. "When I was ten I read [George] Berkeley's Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous with him. It was one of many fun philosophical discussions we had," he says. Heather Gert says that though philosophy wasn't encouraged, "it was still obvious that he was thrilled when that was what I decided to do."

Now a professor himself, Joshua says that he does challenge his father on certain issues, such as rationality (Joshua is the author of Brute Rationality: Normativity and Human Action). But he also presents Bernard Gert's moral theory as one of the main options in his Introduction to Ethics class at Florida State. Heather says that when she teaches medical ethics she uses the book Bioethics: A Systematic Approach, which her father wrote with others.

The visiting lecturers will bring their respective expertise to four weeks of classes. John Roberts studies the philosophy of time, and in his week he will lecture on "Metaphysics-Fatalism and Time Travel." Victoria Costa, who has taught in this course at Dartmouth before, will present lectures on "Justice and Equality." Joshua's week is on "Metaphysics: Color," and Heather's is on "Epistemology: Skepticism." 

After all these years, Gert's enthusiasm for the class is not diminished. He refers to it as "THE college course," because students discuss topics such as the existence of God, which often aren't taught in high school. "It teaches you how to think," he says.

By STEVEN J. SMITH


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Last Updated: 12/17/08