Happiness is a topic often discussed by philosophers. For professor James Kreines, it even figures into the question of why one should study philosophy at all.
“If you get the bug you’ll find it to be the most ecstatic thing in and of itself,” he said.
Yale’s Philosophy Department has many reasons to smile. No longer plagued by the infighting that once tore it asunder, the department starts the year with five newly appointed professors. Undergraduate enrollment in philosophy courses has risen in the last five years, from 1,284 students in the 1997-1998 school year to 1,695 last year.
“I think the undergraduate major is thriving,” department chairman Michael Della Rocca said.
On the staff side, senior professors Susanne Bobzein, Robin Jeshion and Sun-Joo Shin, and junior professors Troy Cross and Michael Nelson are all new appointees to the department.
Director of Graduate Studies Karsten Harries said he thought the addition of new faculty members was a great asset to the department.
“We are just becoming large enough now again to have a fully functioning philosophical community,” he said.
This significant expansion comes after a year of particularly successful searches. Harries said he thought last year yielded “a good harvest.”
“A lot of pieces just suddenly fell into place,” he said. “To be honest, we were lucky in last year’s having such a good response to searches.”
Professor Gabriel Richardson said she thought the department’s success in hiring the junior faculty members it had been seeking spoke to the department’s strength.
“They’re exactly the people we wanted,” she said.
Della Rocca said he hopes the new professors will help strengthen areas like political philosophy and ancient philosophy. He said the department is already particularly strong in the history of philosophy — a rare strength, according to Richardson — moral philosophy, and aesthetics.
Several professors said they are particularly excited about Bobzein, who teaches ancient philosophy.
Richardson, who also teaches ancient philosophy, called Bobzein’s arrival “wonderful.”
Harries said the department has traditionally had two senior professors who concentrate on classical philosophy; Bobzein makes only one. But he pointed out that junior professors Richardson and Tad Brennan both teach classical philosophy.
Philosophy major Timothy Willenken ’03 agreed that the new faculty members would help the department offer a more rounded course selection — he pointed to logic and the philosophy of language as two areas that may improve.
But he added that the increase in the number of tenured faculty members is not too important for undergraduates.
“While the department has expanded greatly in terms of the number of tenured faculty members, the absolute size of the department has not changed very much,” Willenken said. “There are not many more course offerings than there were in the past. As far as undergraduates are concerned, it doesn’t really matter what percentage of the faculty are tenured.”
Bobzein, Jeshion and Shin — the three new senior professors — are part of a group of 12 newly tenured female professors this year at Yale, a record number for the University.
Richardson said she thought the presence of women in senior positions might inspire female students.
“I do think it probably is encouraging to women students to see older women who have actually succeeded in doing this,” she said.
Della Rocca said the appointments were made irrespective of the professors’ gender.
“The appointments are made on the quality of their work,” he said. “They’re all leading people in the field.”
Kreines agreed that the three would be an asset to the department based solely on their talent.
“I think that all three of them would have enriched the department a great deal male, female or otherwise,” he said. “I’m happy about it, but I think that has something to do with knowing who they are.”
Harries said he liked the fact that the new hires were “all fairly young.”
“I think it’s more of a gamble, but also they still have their best work ahead of them,” he said. “The department is getting fairly young, actually.”
Philosophy graduate student Todd Buras GRD ’04 said he saw a positive side to the vacancy of some senior positions during his time at Yale. He said he enjoyed attending job talks or guest lectures given by candidates for the open positions.
“One of the best parts of my graduate education has been all the job talks we’ve had,” he said.
Harries, who has been a member of the department longer than any other professor said he feels better about the department than he ever has.
In the past, the department had a reputation for infighting, but now it has moved on.
“There’s none of that anymore,” Della Rocca said. “We’ve gone a long way in the rebuilding process and we’ve really turned a corner.”