Rockefeller University Philosophy Program

compiled by James C. Klagge.

There is a short account of the Rockefeller program by its chair for several years, Harry Frankfurt, “Reflections of My Career in Philosophy,” in Portraits of American Philosophy, ed. Steven Cahn, Rowman & Littlefield, 2013, pp. 103–128, esp. pp. 113–117.  (Originally published in Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, November, 2011, pp. 89–107, esp., pp. 96–98.)  He concludes with: “That was the end of what I suppose was a somewhat spectacular, but not really a very successful, episode in the history of American philosophy.”

There is also an account by Donald Davidson of his time at Rockefeller in his "Intellectual Autobiography," in The Philosophy of Donald Davidson (The Library of Living Philosophers, Volume XXVII), ed. Lewis Hahn, Open Court, 1999, pp. 3-70, esp. pp. 50-54.  As Davidson said, "The position seemed too good to be true..."  

While the program was known externally as the Rockefeller Philosophy Department, internally it was known as "Dr. Frankfurt's Lab" and later as "Joel Feinberg's Laboratory," while the Logic Group was known as "Hao Wang's Laboratory," in keeping with the nature of the institution.  In practice there was little or no distinction between the programs from the students' point of view.

The flavor of the university as a whole is captured in this account in the New York Times of the June 1976 graduation ceremony, where a Philosophy PhD dissertation is even mentioned.  Rockefeller University Catalogs for 1967-68 through 1978-79 are posted here.  They name the regular and visiting faculty and the graduate fellows.  I have found they are not completely reliable, especially concerning dates.  Rockefeller University Annual Reports are posted here.  They contain some information about research projects, publications, people, and degrees granted.

Here is a list I have compiled of people that were associated with the programs at Rockefeller, gathered from a variety of sources:


Philosophy Faculty:

Henry E. Kyburg, Jr.—Research Associate (1961–1962)

Ludwig Edelstein—Professor (1963–1965)

Harry M. Neumann—Research Associate (1963-1964)

Harry Frankfurt—Research Associate (1963—1964), Associate Professor (1964–1968), Professor (1969–1976), Chair (1966–1973).  Frankfurt wrote his book "Demons, Dreamers and Madmen: The Defense of Reason in Descartes' Meditations" while at Rockfeller.  

Ernest Nagel—(1966–1967, Affiliate 1967-1968).  Apparently Nagel and Frankfurt together recruited the initial faculty in the Philosophy program.  Robert Paul Wolff, a colleague of Nagel's at Columbia wrote in his memoir: "...the experience of actually being at the Rockefeller was rather soul-numbing. Scientists work in groups in labs, so there is always some socializing...that goes on. But when Nagel showed up, they gave him an office, measured him for a desk, and said, 'All right. Welcome. Now think.' It drove Ernest nuts. After only one year, he came crawling back, asking to be rehired at Columbia. And now, Columbia made him a University Professor!"

Robert Schwartz—Research Associate (1966–1968), Assistant Professor (1968-1973)

Joel Feinberg—Professor (1967–1977), Feinberg replaced Frankfurt as Chair (1973-1977).  While Rockefeller's reputation came from its focus on technical philosophy, the original intended scope was broader, as evidenced by the original appointments of Feinberg, Nozick, Cohen and Wilson.  In fact Feinberg advised four dissertations in value theory broadly construed.  

S. Marshall Cohen—Associate Professor (1967-1970; on leave 1970-1973).  While on the Rockefeller faculty Cohen got the new journal Philosophy & Public Affairs organized and financed, as its Founding Editor.  The first issue appeared in Fall 1971, and Feinberg and Nozick were on the Editorial Board.  

Robert Nozick—Associate Professor (1967–1969)

Margaret Dauler Wilson—Assistant Professor (1967–1970)

John Dolan—Assistant Professor (1967–1971).  Dolan was a serious anti-war activist, whose primary ties were to the Catholic left and the War Resister's League. He was a pacifist, and later became an anti-abortion activist. 

Sydney Shoemaker—Visiting Associate Professor (1967-1968), Associate Professor (1968–1969)

John Earman—Assistant Professor (1969–1971)

Donald Davidson—Professor (1970–1976).  Davidson's Presidential Address to the Eastern APA, "On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme," was given December 28, 1973, in Atlanta.  In 1973 Davidson and Harman published a collection of original essays, "Semantics of Natural Language," that included Kripke's "Naming and Necessity," as well as an essay by John Wallace.  In 1975 they almost published another collection, "The Logic of Grammar," which, however, never was properly distributed because the publisher, Dickenson, folded soon after sample copies were distributed.  It was a programmatic collection which included four essays by Davidson, as well as essays by Wallace, Harman, and Scott Weinstein.  

John Wallace—Associate Professor (1970–1972)

John L. King—Assistant Professor (1973-1974)

Harold D. Levin—Research Associate (1970—1971)

Daniel Isaacson—Research Associate in Mathematical Logic and Philosophy (1971—1973)

David Malament—Research Associate in Philosophy (1974—1975)

David Pears—Visiting Professor (1967—1968)

Sydney Morgenbesser—Visiting Professor (1967—1968)

Willard Quine—Visiting Professor (Spring, 1968).  During this term Quine gave the inaugural John Dewey Lectures, "Ontological Relativity," at Columbia University, March 26 and 28, 1968.  

Wilfrid Sellars—Visiting Professor (1969-1970).  Sellars and Margaret Wilson held a seminar series on Kant, where Sellars claimed Kant as an early Sellarsian.  

Michael Dummett—Visiting Professor (Spring, 1973).  Daniel Isaacson recalls: "Dummett gave lectures and seminars at Rockefeller in the period from 19 April to 21 June 1973.  During this time he gave weekly lectures on his own work, a joint seminar with Donald Davidson on Davidson’s ideas (in which my notes record him as having said, 'Davidson’s project is impossible; if language is taken holistically, it can’t explain how communication is possible'; my notes don’t record a response from Davidson), and two lectures on Saul Kripke, with Kripke present, 'On Naming and Necessity', and 'On the Causal Theory of Reference'."  (Dummett's visit is not listed in the catalogue, but given the extent of his activity, it must have been official.)

Thomas Nagel—Visiting Professor (1973–1974)

Joseph Raz—Visiting Professor (Fall 1974)

Gilbert Harman—Visiting Professor (1974—1975).  The Rockefeller catalogues actually list Harman as a Visiting Professor for 1974-75 and 1975-76.  Harman, on the other hand, does not remember ever being an official visitor.  I have compromised, and listed him for one year!  Harman recounts Davidson's work while at Rockefeller and their joint work here.  

Other visiting faculty who have been mentioned, but are not listed in the catalogues, include: Jerry Fodor, Jerry Katz, Brian McGuinness (1970), Anthony Kenny, Elizabeth Anscombe (she was a friend of Dolan, and she assisted with Hambourger's dissertation), and Hyman Gross (he was a co-editor with Feinberg of an anthology on Philosophy of Law).  It was sometimes unclear who was an official visitor and who was unofficial.  


Logic Faculty:

Hao Wang—Professor of Mathematics and Philosophy (1967–1991).  Wang was in charge of the logic group.  Wang's papers are archived at Rockefeller.  As he wrote in a 1989 memoir of Tharp: "In 1967 I invited R. M. Solovay, S. A. Kripke, D. A. Martin, and Tharp to join me at Rockefeller."  While at Rockefeller Wang published work in the philosophy of mathematics and the philosophy of logic. And he became a close confidant of Gödel beginning in 1967, conversing and corresponding with him about a broad range of topics over a number of years.  Wang arranged for Gödel to receive an honorary degree from Rockefeller in June 1972 (apparently his last public appearance outside Princeton).  He then published two books about Gödel's little-known unpublished views.  Wang remained on the Rockefeller faculty after the program was closed, supported only by his assistant, Marie Grossi.    

Saul Kripke—Visiting Associate Professor of Philosophy and Mathematical Logic (1967–1968 & 1969—1970), Faculty Affiliate (1970—1971), Associate Professor (1971—1973), Professor (1973—1976).  Kripke's "Naming and Necessity" lectures were given at Princeton on January 20, 22 & 29, 1970.  He gave the six John Locke lectures for 1973 at Oxford, October 30-December 4, 1973: "Reference and Existence."  He gave "Outline of a Theory of Truth," December 28, 1975, at the Eastern APA in NYC; with a longer 3-lecture version given previously at Princeton in June.  

Donald Anthony Martin—Assistant Professor of Mathematical Logic and Philosophy (1967–1968), Associate Professor (1968—1975), Professor (1975—1977)  (On leave 1972-73 at UC Berkeley).  Martin reports: "One of the successes in post-Cohen set theory has been showing that the principal ZFC-undecidable questions of descriptive set theory can be answered if large cardinal axioms are added to ZFC.  The combined work of a number of people has shown that determinacy axioms yield answers to these questions and that the determinacy axioms used follow from---and are almost equivalent with---large cardinal  axioms.  This program was what I mostly worked on during my decade at Rockefeller.  I was fortunate in several ways to be at Rockefeller during that decade.  The visit of Jeff Paris is an example.  The most important example is that my being at Rockefeller made it possible for me to collaborate in person with Bob Solovay during much of the decade."

Leslie H. Tharp—Assistant Professor of Mathematical Logic (1967–1972), Associate Professor (1972—1975).  Tharp gave a series of seminars on Cohen’s theorem on the continuum hypothesis.  

William J. Mitchell—Assistant Professor of Set Theory (1972—1976).  Notes on “Sets constructible from sequences of Ultrafilters”.  

Robert M. Solovay—Visiting Associate Professor (1967—1968).  Solovay gave a series of weekly lectures on two-cardinal transfer properties.  

Ronald B. Jensen—Visiting Associate Professor of Mathematical Logic (1968—1970), Associate Professor (1970—1971).  Jensen gave a series of lectures on his work on constructible sets.  

Joseph Shoenfield—Visiting Professor of Mathematics (1969—1970)

Jeffrey B. Paris—Visiting Assistant Professor of Logic (1970—1971).  Paris recalls: "Rockefeller was certainly a great place for me to work, mixing with brilliant logicians such as Tony [Martin] and being right there at the cutting edge of research. (This was before the internet, it mattered where you were.)"  

Charles Parsons—Visiting Professor (1971—1972).  Isaacson recalls Parsons gave a series of lectures on Solutions to the Liar Paradox beginning on January 13, 1972.

Seymour Papert—Visiting Professor of Mathematics (1971—1972).  

J. Barkley Rosser—Visiting Professor of Mathematics (1973—1975)

Karel Hrbáček—Research Associate in Logic (1969—1971)

Azriel Levy—Guest Investigator in Set Theory (1968—1969).  While this is how the catalogue described him, Levy writes: "Maybe I visited the university for a day or two, but I did not have any meaningful connection with logic at Rockefeller University."  

Kenneth W. McAloon—Guest Investigator (1976).  Martin confirms that McAloon was at Rockefeller for an extended time.  

One visiting faculty who has been mentioned, but is not listed in the catalogue, is Per Lindström.  (This, as well as the unofficial visitors listed above, might have simply been a talk as opposed to some kind of residency.  I simply have not been able to tell.)  Another logician who was around a lot, even if unofficially, was Stanley Tennenbaum.  Isaacson has notes from lectures given March 15 & 22, 1973, by John Myhill on Constructive Mathematics.  

The Mathematics Group, which was headed by Mark Kac, was on the same floor as the logicians.  The philosophers were on the floor above.  In addition to the logicians who visited in the Mathematics Lab, listed above, Morris Schreiber also offered lectures attended by logic students.  Kac was involved in some of the interviews for incoming students.  

It is noteworthy that neither Kripke nor Martin nor Cohen had a PhD (all among the original batch of appointments in 1967).  Perhaps this speaks to the flexibility of the university, but they had all been Junior Fellows of the Harvard Society of Fellows—Cohen in 1955-58, Kripke in 1963-66 and Martin in 1965-67.  The Junior Fellowship was originally instituted in 1932 as an alternative to the PhD system, but more recently was granted near or at the end of doctoral studies.  Hao Wang had been a Junior Fellow in the late 1940's.  (And among visitors, Quine had been a Junior Fellow 1932-6, and Parsons from 1958-61, though both of them aquired PhD's as well, from Harvard.  Sellars, who visited Rockefeller, also lacked a PhD.)  

The faculty was apparently not without conflict.  Kripke's paper "Is There a Problem about Substitutional Quantification?" (in: Truth and Meaning: Essays in Semantics, 1976, pp. 325-419) took aim at views advanced in papers by colleagues Wallace and Tharp and endorsed by colleague Davidson.  In an opening footnote Kripke explains: "I began [this paper] early in 1972, in a mood of dismay over the fairly common acceptance of the Wallace-Tharp thesis at my own university..."  Kripke calls himself "puzzled" by their views, and sees "no merit in any of these claims..."  


"Graduate Fellows" (=Graduate Students):

Eugene M. Kleinberg—Logic (Began in 1967, PhD 1969: "Strong Partition Properties for Infinite Cardinals," advisor, D.A. Martin).  Kleinberg was an undergraduate in mathematics at MIT, and came to Rockefeller at the urging of Les Tharp, who had just been recruited from MIT to join the Logic program.  Kleinberg taught mathematics at SUNY Buffalo.  

Michael E. Jubien—(Began in 1967, PhD 1972: "The Intensionality of Ontological Commitment," advisor, Saul Kripke).  Jubien was already a graduate student in philosophy at Duke, where he learned about the new program from his department head.  He was interviewed for the program by Nagel and Kac.  

Daniel M. Farrell—(Began in 1967, PhD 1974: "Paying the Penalty: The Role of Punishment in Theories of Justified Civil Disobedience," advisor: Joel Feinberg).  Farrell was already in a graduate program at University of Chicago when John Dolan was recruited from there by Frankfurt and Nagel to join the Rockefeller faculty.  He timed his interview at Rockefeller so that he could participate in the "Spring Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam" demostration in NYC on April 15, 1967.  At that event he witnessed Dolan burn his draft card.  Farrell taught at Ohio State beginning in 1971.  

Michael E. Bratman—(Began in 1967, PhD 1974: "Thought, Action and Acting Against One's Better Judgment," advisor, Donald Davidson).  Bratman had been an undergraduate at Haverford. Bratman has taught at Stanford since 1974.  

Robert Michael Hambourger—(Began in 1968, PhD 1976: "Determinism and Fatalism," advisor, Saul Kripke).  Hambourger taught most of his career at North Carolina State University.  

Jules Coleman—(Began in 1969, PhD 1972: "Fault, Blame and Justice in the Distribution of Automobile Accident Costs," advisors: Joel Feinberg and Donald Davidson).  Coleman was already a graduate student at University of Michigan interested in philosophy of physics when he came to Rockefeller, planning to work with Earman.  He arrived in NYC early in the summer, before Nozick left for Harvard, and Nozick advised him somewhat along the following lines: 'Whatever our technical skills may be, we are most likely to spend our careers as consumers rather than producers of technical work.  It is far better to take those skills and apply them in areas of political philosophy where others have not done so than it is to produce second class technical work that cannot stand on its own.'  Coleman adds: "In the end Nozick's suggestion was the single most influential and beneficial advice I have ever received in my academic career." 

Scott Weinstein—(Began in 1969, PhD 1975: "Some Applications of Kripke Models to Formal Structures of Intuitionistic Analysis," advisor, Saul Kripke).  Weinstein has taught at Penn since 1975.  

Brian J. Schlosser—(Began in 1969, PhD 1975: "Contemporary Ethical Naturalism," advisor, Joel Feinberg).  Apparently Schlosser died tragically in his early 30's.

Douglas Raymond Busch—Logic (Began in 1970, PhD 1973: "Some Problems Connected with the Axiom of Determinacy," advisor, D.A. Martin)

David Malament—Logic (Began in 1970, PhD 1975: "Does the Causal Structure of Space-Time Determine Its Geometry?" advisor, D.A. Martin).  Malament reports: "I spent six months in prison (mid-June 1971 -- mid-December 1971) for violation of the Selective Service Act. (I had returned my draft card and then refused induction into the Army.) That came at the end of my first year as a graduate student at Rockefeller.    The University made things as easy as possible for me. They even allowed me to use the University auditorium for a benefit concert to raise money for my legal defense (without charge). Peter Serkin and Richard Goode, wonderful pianists, gave a joint recital."  After returning to Rockefeller he wrote "Selective Conscientious Objection and the Gillette Decision" for a tutorial with Feinberg, and it was then published in Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 1, number 4, Summer, 1972, pp. 363-386.  

Ruth Allison Ryan—(Began in 1970, PhD 1976: “Visual Physiological Psychology and the Improvement of Psychophysical Generalizations," advisor, Donald Davidson).  The account of the 1976 graduation in the NYT summarized her thesis as: "the conceptual problems that arise in formulating, testing and applying nomological generalizations that connect physiological concepts with psychological concepts.”  Ryan went on to become a neurologist.  

Adina Schwartz—(Began in 1971, PhD 1976: "John Stuart Mill: A Program for Social Philosophy," advisor, Joel Feinberg).  After a position at Yale, Schwartz went to law school at Yale and became a public defender and then eventually a law professor.   

Howard Burdick—(Began in 1972, PhD 1977: "A Logical Form for Propositional Attitudes," advisor, Donald Davidson)

Alan Berger—(Began in 1972, PhD 1979: "Language and Science As An Epistemic Foundation of Logic: A Critique", advisor, Saul Kripke).  Berger taught for most of his career at Brandeis, and was founding director of the Saul Kripke Center at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

Jonathan Lear—(Began in 1973, PhD 1978: "Aristotle and Logical Theory," advisor, Saul Kripke).  Lear has taught at Cambridge, Yale, and the University of Chicago.  

John T. Bruer—(Began in 1974, PhD 1978: "Classical Mechanics as a Limiting Case of Quantum Theory," advisor, Bruce Knight-Biophysics Lab).  Breur was president of the James S. McDonnell Foundation.   

Daniel F. "Sandy" Bayer—Logic (Began in 1974, PhD 1977: "Second Order Logic and Logical Form," advisor, D.A. Martin).  Bayer became a research consultant in NYC.   

John Carson Simms—Logic (Began in 1974, PhD 1979: "Semihypermeasurables and Pi10 (Pi11)-Games," advisor, D.A. Martin).  Simms taught Mathematics and Computer Science at Marquette University.

Diana (now Felicia Nimue) Ackerman—(1968—1970; leave-of-absence at Stanford, 1969-1970, then transferred to Michigan PhD 1976)

Kenneth Henley—(1969–1970; then transferred to University of Virginia PhD 1972)

Ulf Friedrichsdorf—Logic (1969—1970; then transferred to Christian-Albrechts-Universitaet zu Kiel PhD 1973)

Jesse L. Yoder—(1973—1975; later transferred to U Mass Amherst PhD 1984)

Patricia Athay—(1974—1976; then transferred to Princeton PhD 1980)

Norton Batkin—(Fall 1974—Fall 1975; leave-of-absence at Harvard, Spring 1976, then transferred to Harvard PhD 1981)

Other graduate students who entered the program include: John Robert Brinkley (1967- ), Jerrold Martin Tannenbaum (1967- ), B. Thomas Peele (1969- ), Richard Franklin Reiss (1969- ), and Michael John Sullivan (1970- ).  Tannenbaum went on to become a lawyer and authored a textbook on Veterinary Ethics.  After doing military service and graduate coursework in Chinese and in Buddhist studies, Peele became a lawyer.  Rockefeller did not admit just anyone to its graduate programs: Gary Watson, in his 2018 Dewey Lecture to the Pacific APA, recounts applying and visiting campus in 1968, but being rejected after his interview with President Bronk.  Watson went to Princeton instead (PhD 1972) and then on to a stellar career!


A graduate student from the first entering class, Daniel Farrell, remarked: "There were no classes at Rockefeller, by the way, I mean in philosophy or the sciences.  One just worked with various people one-on-one.  In short order we (the first philosophy students) decided we needed at least *something* like small classes on various issues, and so we enlisted at least some of the faculty to give us something like very small seminars."

A somewhat later graduate student from the program, Jules Coleman, wrote: "There were fabulous periods of intellectual excellence.  We were there while Saul Kripke was preparing his Naming and Necessity lectures.  We were there to hear versions of Davidson's Locke Lectures.  Bob Nozick ... unveiled drafts of Anarchy, State and Utopia.  The courses were a hodge podge and hardly defined a program.  All of us who graduated could rightly feel that we were undereducated.  That said, we were blessed with unusual contact with substantial figures in philosophy at the top of the profession and their game."  

One male graduate student remarked: "Unfortunately, the draft was breathing down my neck practically from the moment I got there.  It was very disruptive to my concentration and to my time there in general."  While some actively resisted the draft, others sought out alternative service for deferment, or volunteered to gain preferred placements. No new draft orders were issued after 1972.  

On a lighter note, New York was the place to be for sports in 1969-1970.  Tony Martin points out that the NY Jets, led by Joe Namath, won the Super Bowl in January 1969, upsetting the Colts; the Miracle Mets won the pennant and then the World Series in 1969, upsetting the Orioles; and the Knicks won the NBA Championship in April 1970.  (The Knicks then repeated in 1973, and the Yankees won the World Series in 1977.)  Not bad for sports fans.  

Faculty were allowed by Rockefeller to hold concurrent appointments at other institutions.  Sandy Bayer recalls: "Occasionally students would attend their lectures elsewhere.  Students would often drive down to Princeton to attend lectures, including those given there by Kripke, even though he was part of the Rockefeller faculty."  Robert Schwartz recalls giving seminars at Rockefeller on Kripke's "Naming and Necessity" when it came out because Kripke "was reluctant to do so."  

Another graduate student, Felicia Nimue Ackerman, wrote: "I was attracted to Rockefeller's program because of the lack of formal requirements, but eventually I discovered that this was like the situation in 1984 where 'nothing was illegal, since there were no longer any laws.' Of course, requirements can be petty and pointless, but the absence of any formal requirements makes it hard to show that you have been making satisfactory progress."  


The Philosophy program was closed in 1976, and the Logic program was closed in 1977.  A journalist's account of the situation was published on the front page of the New York Times.  A graduate student offered this explanation: "The ostensible reason for closing the department had to do with the increased costs of running the University post the Iran gas crisis during the Carter administration I believe.   Philosophy was always on shaky grounds for the following reason (there were others).  The aim was to build a department around the philosophy of science; however, the department took an entirely different shape.  Its strength was much broader than that."  Another graduate student added, however: "The demise of the department was not the doing of the university alone.  The philosophers helped a lot."

The professors continued to be listed on the faculty roster in 1976-1977 and then as Adjunct Professors for a couple years as the programs wound down and the remaining students finished their degrees.  (I have been told that tenure at Rockefeller only came with promotion to Professor.)  Between 1974-75 and 1978-9 about 8 other small labs were closed by the university or combined with other labs.  A couple others were clearly still in the process of being closed.  Hao Wang's Logic lab continued to be listed in the catalogue, presumably since he remained on the faculty, but no additional faculty or students were added.  The Dean of Graduate Studies at Rockefeller, James G. Hirsch, was credited by later graduate students for facilitating completion of their degree.  

In his blog Brian Leiter offered reflections on “The US Philosophy Hierarchy Over 50 Years,” including the following comments on Rockefeller (

“Leap ahead to the early-to-mid 1970s, and a new powerhouse program had arrived: Rockefeller University in New York, with Joel Feinberg, Donald Davidson, Saul Kripke some of the time, Harry Frankfurt, and others. Rockefeller hadn't displaced Harvard or Princeton, but it was competitive with Pittsburgh and Michigan and Cornell. Berkeley, UCLA, and Stanford were now solidly top ten departments by anyone's estimation, MIT was close, Columbia and Yale weren't, and maybe Chicago was. Rockefeller Philosophy came to abrupt end in 1976, when the administration decided to focus solely on the sciences, and the top-flight faculty scattered--Davidson to the University of Chicago, Feinberg to the increasingly prominent University of Arizona, Frankfurt to the fractured Yale Department, Kripke to Princeton.”

While it is true that Kripke ended up at Princeton, his mother sent him a letter addressed to him at the UCLA Philosophy Department in 1977.  I know because I saw the letter—I was a grad student there from September 1976–June 1983.  We assumed it was because she believed that is where he had decided to go.  (He had a standing offer from UCLA.)

Tony Martin did go to UCLA, initially only in the Math Department.  Leslie Tharp went to the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle.  William Mitchell went to the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton for a year.  

I would appreciate any corrections or additions to this compilation of information.  I have contacted or tried to contact all the living participants in these programs, and most all I have contacted have been helpful.  I am grateful for their assistance.