Carnegie Mellon University
September 16, 2021

Peter Spirtes Named Marianna Brown Dietrich Professor and Head of Philosophy

By Stefanie Johndrow

Carnegie Mellon University’s Peter Spirtes has been named the Marianna Brown Dietrich Professor of Philosophy. Earlier this year, Spirtes was named the head of the Department of Philosophy in Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

CMU’s Department of Philosophy emphasizes interdisciplinary research that directly impacts areas like computer science, math, statistics, psychology, bioethics and human rights.

Spirtes has been on the CMU faculty since 1987. His research is often cross-disciplinary, involving philosophy, statistics, graph theory and computer science.

For several decades, Spirtes’ work has focused on the mathematical foundations of causal discovery.  Known as the TETRAD Project, Spirtes has provided theoretical leadership to a wide ranging collaboration that involved primarily Clark Glymour, Joe Ramsey, and Bess Family Dean Richard Scheines, but extended to many others in the Department of Philosophy and worldwide. Through this project, the researchers specify and prove under what conditions it is possible to reliably infer causal relationships from background knowledge and statistical data not obtained under fully controlled conditions. Their approach to causal discovery constituted a breakthrough in fundamental methods in artificial intelligence. In 2020, the Tetrad team won the Super Artificial Intelligence Leader (SAIL) award at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference in Shanghai.

“I have worked closely with Peter for almost 40 years, and it has not only been the most intellectually exciting collaboration I can imagine, but it has also been personally rewarding,” said Bess Family Dean Scheines. “Peter is a brilliant philosopher/computer scientist/statistician, but also a person of principle and high integrity. He has a great sense of humor, and it is little known, but at just 5’ 6”, Peter could at one time dunk a basketball — just amazing.”  

Spirtes is the first to hold the Marianna Brown Dietrich Professorship. Marianna Brown Dietrich is the namesake of the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences and was the mother of William S. Dietrich II.

“Bill Dietrich would be proud to see his mother honored with this professorship, as she was dedicated to lifelong learning,” said Edward Grefenstette, president and chief investment officer of the Dietrich Foundation and member of the CMU Board of Trustees. “She inspired Bill to explore the world and diverse new ideas and supported him throughout his life.”

“I am deeply grateful and honored to be named the first Marianna Brown Dietrich Professor,” Spirtes said. “The Philosophy Department at CMU has been built into one of the premier philosophy departments in the world, and I am optimistic that we can maintain that position in the coming years.”