academic lineage

Warning: this post is rather long. But I think it’s rather interesting myself.

I think I’ve figured out my academic parentage a good ways back (doing this provided me with some lovely procrastination). There are a couple of links that I’m not entirely sure about yet, but here is how I think it goes:

1. Sydney Penner – I trust that you’ve heard of him.

2. Scott MacDonald – Cornell’s resident scholar of medieval philosophy; particularly interested in Augustine and Aquinas.

3. Norman J. Kretzmann (1928-1998 ) – He joined Cornell’s department in 1966 and became a prominent representative for medieval philosophy. A good bit of the current interest among analytic philosophers in medieval philosophy can probably be credited to him.

4. Albert L. Hammond (1892-1970) – According to an obituary in the proceedings of the APA, he was an exemplary teacher. When he retired the philosophy graduate students at his university, Johns Hopkins, changed the name of their club to ‘The Hammond Society’. But ‘he did no committee work’ — clearly I need to learn something about his strategy. He also has a collection of essays on horce racing, bridge, sex, ethics, epistemology, and ontology entitled Proprieties and Vagaries. I need to get my hands on that.

5. Arthur O. Lovejoy (1873-1962) – Yes, the guy who wrote The Great Chain of Being and a father of what is known as the study of the ‘history of ideas’ (he was a founder of both the History of Ideas Club at Johns Hopkins and the Journal of the History of Ideas). Apparently, the president of Harvard vetoed hiring him on grounds that he was a known troublemaker.

6. Josiah Royce (1855-1916) – Here we definitely get to strange metaphysics: Royce is the most prominent American advocate of absolute idealism. In a rather different vein, Boolean algebra may also go back to him (it was one of his students who first axiomatized it). Royce had numerous prominent students other than Lovejoy, e.g., T. S. Eliot, George Santayana, C. I. Lewis, and George Herbert Mead. Perhaps trying to get one’s head around strange metaphysics makes for good stimulation.

7. George Sylvester Morris (1840-1889) – Perhaps best known as a mentor of his more famous student, John Dewey. Morris taught at the University of Michigan and Johns Hopkins. In the words of one reviewer, ‘Morris’s philosophy is a dynamic variety of theistic idealism compounded mainly of Fichte and Hegel, but nevertheless rooted in Aristotle and modified by the rigors of pioneer living’. Or, according to Dewey in a review in The Philosophical Review of a biography of Morris: `he acieved, by means of a combination of Greek and German thought, a triumphant reconciliation of traditional religion with rational intelligence, of the older New England individualism with devoted loyalty to the purpose and meaning of objective institutions, of moral faith with the pronouncements of science’. I’m not sure exactly what all that amounts to, but it sounds interesting and impressive.

8. Friedrich Adolf Trendelenburg (1802-1872) – Morris may have gotten his ‘combination of Green and German thought’ from Trendelenburg, who led an Aristotelian revival, albeit of an idealist Aristotle. Trendelenburg was a key figure in the resurgence of interest in the history of philosophy in Germany. after the grand system-making of the early nineteenth-century. He said some interesting things: ‘One must have a philosophical system, just as one must have a house, and this house each must build for himself’. He generally seems to have thought that the things he studied were rather important: ‘The ancient languages and the mathematics are the way to the heights of humanity and into the innermost nature of things’. He spent two hours each week every semester publicly expounding Aristotle to a voluntary class.

9. Karl Leonhard Reinhold (1757-1823) – Best-known as an advocate and popularizer of Kantian philosophy. He was very good at this. For example, in the spring semester of 1794, 600 students were enrolled in his three lecture courses on Kantian philosophy at the University of Jena. How many students were enrolled altogether at the university? 860. Reportedly, even Kant himself was charmed by the Reinhold’s presentation of his views. Reinhold eventually changed his mind, though, about the merits of Kant’s philosophy. And thus began a series of espousals and subsequent rejections of various philosophical views, apparently ending with something that anticipates the so-called ‘linguistic turn’ in twentieth-century philosophy.

10. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) – Yeah, the Königsberg chap. You might have heard of him. But I bet you haven’t heard this quotation before: ‘So, in starting a conversation, we must begin with what is near and present, and then gradually go on to more remote subjects, if they can be of interest. When we go from the street into a group gathered for conversation, the bad weather is a good and common expedient. For if we enter the room and begin talking about the news from Turkey that has been in the papers, we do violence to others’ imagination, since they cannot see how we got to this subject. For in any communication of thought the mind requires a certain order, and in conversation the introductory ideas and the beginning are as important as in a sermon’.

11. Martin Knutzen (1713-1751) – Never heard of him before? Neither had I. But Kant spoke of him with great appreciation.

12. Christian Wolff (1679-1754) – If there is such a thing as a prominent German philosopher between Leibniz and Kant, Wolff would be it. He didn’t just do philosophy — he wrote rationalist works on pretty much all academic subjects of the time. He was also instrumental in changing the language of German philosophy to, well, German.

13. Ehrenfried Walter von Tschirnhaus (1651-1708 ) – Typically, Wolff is called a student of Leibniz. There is some reason for that, since he was much influenced by Leibniz, corresponded with him, and had him read his thesis. Besides, that’s a way to get another famous name into the genealogy. But let’s go with Wolff’s actual thesis advisor — Leibniz is famous enough without undue credit. And von Tschirnhaus is also an interesting chap. Besides philosophy, he studied mathematics, particularly curves and algebraic equations. Isn’t it cool to have a curve named after you? The von Tschirnhaus cubic is the curve y^2 = x^3 + 3x^2. There is also something called the Tschirnhaus transformation. In more down to earth matters, he invented European porcelain.

14. Arnold Geulincx (1624-1669) – He was a Flemish philosopher who started out a Roman Catholic and ended up a Calvinist. He didn’t think that the mind and body can influence each other, so he argued for something called ‘occasionalism’, i.e., the view that the mind’s intention to move the body is an occasion for God to move the body that way.

15. Erycius Puteanus (1574-1646) – The names are getting increasingly interesting, aren’t they? Puteanus was a Belgian humanist and philologist. For a time, he dreamed of re-establishing a classical cult of eloquence in Belgium. But he discovered that his efforts to that end were useless, so he wrote books instead.

16. Justus Lipsius (1547-1606) – Lipsius’s claim to fame is his being the father of Neostoicism and the principal figure in the revival of Stoicism in the Renaissance. Montaigne called him ‘the most learned man’.

And that’s as far back as I can take it. Alas, it doesn’t take me back to Francisco Suarez or even to a fellow scholastic, but to a humanist contemporary of his. I suppose, though, that if it has to start with a humanist, Lipsius is more philosophically interesting than many. And there was undoubtedly some Suarezian influence along the way, since a couple of the people in this line might well have used Suarezian textbooks in their own education.

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3 Responses to academic lineage

  1. Lisa says:

    Very impressive, Sydney. I must admit, I don’t even know who was my advisor’s advisor… Embarrassing.
    How did you find all this out?

  2. fustianist says:

    I checked a couple of dissertations (sometimes they’re online through Proquest — ILL came in handy for one of them). A Google search on a name will often get some useful information. Once you’re farther back in the line and the people are a bit more famous, you can typically find encyclopedia entries and the like. There are also a few well-developed disciplinary genealogies online that are really helpful, especially once you get farther back: The Mathematics Genealogy Project ( and The Philosophy Family Tree ( Of the two, the mathematics one is far more complete.

    You might think that mathematics doesn’t have much to do with your discipline, but I suspect that you would only need to go back several generations until the disciplinary lines merge. For example, one website that I looked at said that pretty much all American psychologists can trace their lineages back to William James, Wilhelm Wundt or Rudolph Hermann Lotze. And all three of them are in both the math and philosophy genealogies and so you can easily see how the lines go back from there.

    Of course, that will only give you a list of names. A bit more procrastination will be needed in order to find out something interesting about the bearers of those names.


  3. Lisa says:

    Looks like I’ll have to go to the Harvard Psych dept to track down my advisor’s dissertation. 😉

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