Carnegie Mellon University
October 26, 2015

30 Years of Philosophy at CMU

By Correy Dandoy

30 Years of Philosophy at CMU

The year was 1985, and three philosophers were asked to establish a Department of Philosophy at Carnegie Mellon University. As current Department Head David Danks recalled, then-CMU President Richard M. Cyert told Clark Glymour, Teddy Seidenfeld and Wilfried Sieg: Whatever the department becomes, make sure you are the best in the world at what you do.

Fast-forward to 2015, and it’s safe to say, “Mission accomplished.”

The department celebrated its thirtieth anniversary on October 16 and 17 in grand fashion, welcoming more than 100 current and former faculty, alumni and prominent speakers.

“Perhaps the best part of the weekend was realizing just how much the department is a family. We help one another, occasionally argue, and always welcome back those who have moved away,” said Danks, professor of philosophy and psychology. “It was heartwarming to see that this isn’t just a place with wonderful teachers and researchers, but also a true community, in the best sense of that word.”

Events kicked off with welcome remarks from Danks, CMU President Subra Suresh, and President Emeritus Jerry Cohon, who all expressed their excitement about what the department has accomplished during its three decades. Highlights included the 2014 $7.5 million grant from the Department of Defense to reshape the foundations of mathematics and earlier work by department faculty and students that helped create the field of modern – or automated – causal discovery.

The first afternoon rounded out with four talks on various topics, all from pairs of speakers that included one faculty member and one alumnus of the department. Saturday started with several more talks, including a panel titled “What is CMU Philosophy?” Discussions focused on what sets the department apart from others and why it means so much to its members, current and past.

“There is nothing else like the CMU Philosophy Department. For me, this event really made that clear in a way that wasn't possible for me as a student in the program,” said Ben Jantzen, who earned his M.A. in philosophy and Ph.D. in logic, computation and methodology and now is an assistant professor of philosophy at Virginia Tech. “Hearing the history of the department told as a single coherent story by so many voices, I really got a sense for what makes CMU philosophy special: a genuine dedication to important and difficult problems and the collective will to actually make progress against those problems.”

The anniversary celebration culminated with a reception and dinner at the Carnegie Museum of Art’s Hall of Sculpture and included remarks from Provost Farnam Jahanian and former Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences Dean John Lehoczky, as well as Seidenfeld, Sieg and current Dietrich College Dean Richard Scheines, all former department heads.

“This celebration showcased everything that is best about the CMU Department of Philosophy: it is interdisciplinary in the truest sense of the word; engaged with the real world; and nurturing towards its students,” said attendee and presenter John Bruer, who previously served on the department’s advisory board, and is president emeritus of the James S. McDonnell Foundation. “I am always impressed by the collaborative research and ideas that come out of the department, and this weekend was no exception.”

View photos from the 30th anniversary celebration

Learn more about CMU’s Department of Philosophy