Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest academic honor society, has awarded its 2011-12 Romanell Professorship to Amherst College Professor of Philosophy Alexander George. As part of this prestigious professorship, George is to deliver three public lectures on the Amherst campus, all on a unified theme of his choosing. “I expect to talk about belief in miracles,” George says, “via a consideration of the views of David Hume and of Ludwig Wittgenstein.”
“This honor recognizes your distinguished achievements within the field of philosophy, as well as your vast contributions to the understanding of philosophy by the public,” wrote Phi Beta Kappa Secretary John Churchill in a letter notifying George of his professorship. George’s achievements and contributions include establishing the Amherst Lecture in Philosophy series; launching the website AskPhilosophers.org and its companion book, charity and mobile app; and writing and editing numerous books and articles on philosophy (among other subjects). When asked why he believes it is important for the general public to have access to and understanding of philosophical discussions, George says, “Philosophical thought is one of the gems of human creation. A culture is impoverished in so far as they are kept out of sight, under lock-and-key in the vaults of universities.” He has taught at Amherst since 1988, holds degrees from Harvard and Columbia Universities and is himself a member of Phi Beta Kappa.
The Romanell-Phi Beta Kappa Professorship is made possible by an endowment from the late Dr. Patrick Romanell—a Phi Beta Kappa member and H.Y. Benedict Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas at El Paso—and his wife, Edna. It has been awarded to only one scholar each year, always in the field of philosophy, since 1983. Each chapter of Phi Beta Kappa may nominate only one person for the professorship per year; the Amherst College chapter nominated George in May of 2010.
Natasha Staller, professor of the history of art and president of the Amherst chapter, emphasizes that the Romanell Professorship is reserved for “extremely eminent” philosophers and that Amherst is one of only two “Colleges,” as opposed to universities, to have one of its faculty chosen for it (the other being Dartmouth College). “What a coup for Alex,” she says, “and what a coup for Amherst that he won.”
Of being chosen for the Romanell, George says, “I am honored by it, commend the selection committee on its good taste and look forward to conversations with friends, colleagues and neighbors.”