Philosophy courses have been taught at Davidson since at least 1900, but there was no official department until 1946. Before 1946, courses were covered mainly by members of the Bible department. Philosophy was always listed in a separate department, but no professors were hired to only teach philosophy.
In the late 1920s, a philosophy club was founded by senior students in the department, and it soon became Omega Phi Alpha, the philosophy honorary fraternity. However, the club folded in 1932.
In 1945, a faculty committee recommended the creation of a distinct Chair of Philosophy with a professor who had been fully trained. The college hired Dr. George Abernathy in 1946, and he was the only professor in the department until 1961. In 1961, Earl MacCormac joined the department, and two new professors came in the next six years.
In 1965, the department conducted a self-study that identified two goals: to provide preparation for majors who wished to continue philosophy in graduate school, and to make a contribution to the work being done in liberal arts at the college. In 1985, the department conducted another study, and its newly identified goals were to teach students to write and think critically and creatively, to introduce non-majors to the study of philosophy, to maintain a strong program for majors, and to provide a stimulating and supportive environment for the faculty.
Since 1974, the department has helped teach courses in the Humanities program and in the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies. Since 1989, and the establishment of the Medical Humanities program, the department has also been active in teaching courses like bioethics and Medical Ethics. In 2009, the Vann Center for Ethics was established, and the philosophy department often works collaboratively with the Center to offer courses and presentations.
In 2007, the department won an award from the American Philosophical Association (APA) for Excellence and Innovation in Philosophical Programs. The APA highlighted the department’s senior capstone seminar and retreat as extremely valuable experiences for students.
In 2010-2011, the department will offer 24 classes (out of 30 that are listed in the catalog) ranging from introductory level courses to the senior thesis and colloquium. There is a major and a minor. Members of the department also help teach for the Humanities program and writing courses. The department consists of six members: Professors Irwin Goldstein, David Robb (Chair), and Lance Stell (on leave in the fall), and Associate Professors Meghan Griffith, Sean McKeever, and Paul Studtmann.
Beaty, Mary D. A History of Davidson College. Briarpatch Press, 1988.
“Philosophy Department.” Davidsoniana File. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.
Photograph of George Abernathy. Photograph collection, number 19-0338a. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.
Photograph of OPA members. Quips & Cranks. 31 (1928).
Photograph of Philosophy Department today. Bill Giduz.
Author: Sarah Adams, ’10
Date: July 2010
Cite as: Adams, Sarah, “Philosophy Department” Davidson
Encyclopedia July 2010. https://digitalprojects.davidson.edu/omeka/s/encyclopedia/page/philosophy-department