Philosophy was part of the scholastic exercises prescribed from the beginning of the College. One of the exercises at the first Commencement in 1769 was “a Syllogistic Dispute ... on this Thesis, ‘Materia cogitare non potest.’” Notes taken by Solomon Drowne 1773 in his junior year reveal that President Manning’s lectures in philosophy touched briefly upon psychology, intellectual and moral philosophy, ontology, and natural philosophy, and this instruction was completed in only a few days more than a month. The Laws of 1783 prescribed “Hutchinsons moral Philosophy” in the third year and “Locke on the Understanding” in the fourth. The earliest professors of philosophy were the presidents, James Manning and Jonathan Maxcy. From 1811 to 1825 Calvin Park was professor of moral philosophy and metaphysics. William Giles Goddard succeeded Park from 1825 to 1834, when he switched to the teaching of rhetoric and the evidences of Christianity, and President Wayland became professor of moral and intellectual philosophy. Wayland was the author of two textbooks, The Elements of Moral Science, and The Elements of Intellectual Philosophy, both of which went through many editions. Ezekiel Gilman Robinson 1838, who studied under Wayland before the writing of the Intellectual Philosophy, wrote of Wayland’s teaching;
“His strong sense of ethics and his profound love of truth made him a most impressive teacher of ethics ... He was no metaphysician; his moral science, even in its distinctively theoretic portions, was more practical than metaphysical ... Nor was he widely read in the science of ethics. Allusions in his lecture-room to authors whose views differed from his own were extremely rare. He had thought out his ethical principles for himself, and his conclusions were deep and strong, and rooted in the very depths of his being. Above all men whom I ever knew, he was the embodiment of what he taught. Clear and analytic in his own thinking, he insisted on analyzed and logical thought in his pupils.”Robinson studied under Wayland while he was writing The Limitations of Human Responsibility, and observed:
“His ‘Moral Science’ had pleased neither the slaveholders nor the abolitionists. ... To defend himself, chiefly against the abolitionists, he wrote his ‘Limitations.’ Most of the positions taken, and of the principles defended, came up for questioning and discussion by our class. The teacher was full of his subject, encouraging and entering into the discussions with the liveliest zest.”After Wayland, succeeding presidents continued to perform also as professors of moral and intellectual philosophy. Barnas Sears taught from 1855 to 1867, and Ezekiel Gilman Robinson from 1872 to 1889. In the intervening years of 1867 to 1872, George Ide Chace took over in the place of Alexis Caswell, a mathematician who had come out of retirement to serve as president.
Until the late 1880s the instruction in philosophy consisted of two semesters in the fourth year, which included courses in Intellectual Philosophy (Hamilton’s Lectures of Metaphysics, Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, Wayland’s Intellectual Philosophy, Porter’s The Human Intellect, Sully’s Outlines of Psychology) and Moral Philosophy (Robinson’s Principles and Practice of Morality), lectures in Natural Theology, and Evidences of Christianity, and an elective course of lectures on the History of Philosophy. The 1889-90 annual catalogue of the University reflects a change in the teaching of philosophy. The courses offered, all taught by President Andrews, included Psychology, Ethics, and Philosophy of Religion and Evidences of Christianity, all required in the senior year, and an elective course in History of Philosophy. Logic, though not offered that year, is mentioned, indicating that the teaching of logic was now removed from the Department of Mathematics, where it had been since 1874. The 1890 catalogue states, “The primary aim in the required philosophical studies is to strengthen and discipline the pupil’s mind, and as far as possible to render him a safe, strong, independent thinker and investigator. Along with this goes a practical purpose, especially pronounced in Ethics, to aid pupils in mastering those important problems in this department which are basal to all high intellectual life and to conduct. Great attention is given to the topics of Practical Ethics and casuistry now of such peculiar interest to the world.” In 1890 the president met with graduate and honor students in a “Philosophical Seminary.” Edmund Burke Delabarre joined the department as associate professor of psychology in 1891 and started the first psychology laboratory. Professor James Seth came in 1892 and taught philosophy until 1896. Walter Goodnow Everett 1885, after several years of teaching Latin, was appointed associate professor of philosophy in 1894 and remained with the department until his retirement in 1930. In his last year his course in Ethics attracted a record registration of 125.
A Philosophical Club was started in 1893 for “the independent discussion of philosophical questions.” In October 1895 the Club invited William James, who had just published his paper, “Is Life Worth Living?” to speak to the Club. James’s theory was challenged on this occasion by undergraduate John Elof Boodin ’95, and as a result, for his next appearance in the same year to give the annual address for the Philosophical Club, James prepared his famous address, “The Will to Believe.” He also became a lifelong friend of the offending Boodin, who was for a time an instructor at Brown, before he became a professor of philosophy at several colleges including the University of California at Los Angeles.
William H. P. Faunce became president in 1899 and assumed the title of professor of moral and intellectual philosophy. He gave a course in Practical Ethics until 1911-12. Alexander Meiklejohn was instructor and assistant professor of philosophy from 1899 to 1902, and had the title of associate professor of logic and metaphysics from 1902 to 1912.
The Philosophy Club was reinstituted in 1926 and invited speakers who generated discussions which lasted past midnight. In 1930 the department inaugurated Monday afternoon teas which provided informal meetings of the faculty and students. Psychology was removed from the Philosophy Department in 1930. In 1929 a course in the History of Philosophy was instituted and was required of all students concentrating in philosophy. It was soon discovered that this course could not possibly cover the philosophy of the last 100 years, and a new course in Contemporary Philosophy was begun a year later. With the introduction of a new course in Social Ethics at the same time, the department found itself unable to continue teaching small sections of the Introductory course in the Fundamental Problems of Philosophy, and the course was then taught to all the students in large lectures twice a week with a third meeting of small sections.
Curt J. Ducasse joined the department in 1926, and in 1930 succeeded Professor Everett as chairman, a post he retained until his own retirement in 1951. The department was enlarged by the arrival of Charles A. Baylis (logic and ethics) in 1927, Ralph M. Blake (history of philosphy and metaphysics) in 1930, Arthur E. Murphy (contemporary philosophy, epistemology, and ethics) in 1931, Frederick C. Dommeyer (social and ethics) and William Barrett (contemporary philosophy and aesthetics). Vincent A. Tomas came in 1938, Roderick M. Chisholm and Richard C. Taylor in 1947, John Ladd in 1950, John W. Lenz in 1953, and Richard Schmitt in 1958. Professor Chisholm ’38, who remained at Brown until his retirement in 1987, turned down many offers to teach elsewhere, but did accept visiting professorships at Harvard, Princeton, the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois in Urbana, and the University of California in Santa Barbara, and frequently taught at the University of Graz and the University of Würzburg in Austria. Several volumes of essays in his honor by his Brown students, his Austrian students, and international scholars attest to Chisholm’s reputation as a philosopher and his importance to Brown’s Philosophy Department. The department chairmen after Ducasse were Ralph M. Blake, Roderick M. Chisholm, Vincent A. Tomas, Ernest Sosa, Phillip L. Quinn, Dan W. Brock, James Van Cleve, and Jaegwon Kim. In addition to the standard concentration in philosophy, the department also offers concentrations in ethics and political philosophy and in logic and philosophy of science.