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Jyl Gentzler

William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Philosophy and Co-Director of the Writing Center

Departmental affiliation: Philosophy

Research Interests

I think that I am unusually puzzled by the nature of the discipline around which I have centered most of my professional life. What is philosophy? What are its objects of inquiry? How is it possible to gain philosophical knowledge? These questions have led me to the origins of Western Philosophical inquiry to see how the discipline began and developed.  My earlier work focused on the Socratic method of question and answer (sometimes known as "dialectic") that Plato dramatizes in his dialogues and which remains the primary method of philosophical inquiry today. I was interested in figuring out the distinctive features of the method, how (if at all) it differed from other intellectual methods (e.g., the scientific method, sophistry), and how the world and our mental faculties must be if such a method of inquiry were to be a reliable method for discovering truths. 

More recently, I have attempted to apply the philosophical insights of the Ancients, especially those of Plato and Aristotle, to contemporary philosophical debates. In particular, I’ve applied some of Aristotle’s thoughts about the nature of eudaimonia to contemporary ethical questions about what makes a life worth living and so what constitutes a death with dignity. Most recently, I’ve attempted to show how Plato's insights can contribute to contemporary debates about the nature of well-being, moral knowledge, and practical rationality.

Teaching Interests

I am fortunate to be teaching at Amherst College, where my teaching can mirror my research interests. Here are some of the courses that I’ve taught over the years: 

Philosophy 01: Rights and Wrongs (a writing intensive course)

Philosophy 11: Introduction to Philosophy

Philosophy 17: Ancient Philosophy

Philosophy 21: Self and Others

Philosophy 23: Health Care Ethics

Philosophy 25: Justice, the Good, and the State: The Classical Tradition in Political Philosophy

Philosophy 29: Freedom and Responsibility

Philosophy 33: Philosophy of Mind

Philosophy 39: British Empiricism

Philosophy 43: Marx and Marxism

Philosophy 46: Aristotelian Ethics

Philosophy 47: Aristotle’s Ethics and Politics

Philosophy 48: Plato

Philosophy 49: Aristotle

Philosophy 63: Analyzing Feminism

Philosophy 63: Plato’s Republic

Philosophy 63: Well-Being and Well-lived Lives

As my students know, my concern with the quality of their writing borders on an obsession.  I now have another outlet for this passion at The Writing Center at Amherst College.


Cornell University, Ph.D. (Philosophy), 1991

Cornell University, M.A. (Philosophy), 1988

Bryn Mawr College, A.B. (Philosophy), summa cum laude, 1985

Selected Publications

"Recollection and the 'Problem of the Elenchus'." Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy 10 (1994): 257-295. 

Method in Ancient Philosophy (editor). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

"What is a Death with Dignity?" Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 28 (2003): 461-487.

"The Attractions and Delights of Goodness: Some Platonic Reflections on Internalism." The Philosophical Quarterly 54 (2004): 353-67.  (Winner of the 2003 Philosophical Quarterly essay prize.)

"How to Know the Good: The Moral Epistemology of Plato's Republic." The Philosophical Review 114 (2005): 469-96.

 "How Should I Be?  A Defense of Platonic Rational Egoism." European Journal of Philosophy 23 (2015): 39-67.