To: Dr. Sidney A. Ribeau, President
2400 6th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20059
Dear Dr. Ribeau-
The American Philosophical Association has recently brought to my attention that “A Presidential Commission on Academic Renewal at Howard University has issued a recommendation to eliminate the Philosophy program as an independent department, and combine it with the existing program in Classical Civilizations and, perhaps, add some offerings in Religious Studies.” As a professional philosopher with great respect for the academic integrity Howard University has displayed throughout its distinguished history, I strongly urge you to reject this recommendation of the commission’s.
Philosophy, as an academic discipline, is unique. It’s methodology of carefully examining and critically evaluating the logical relations between ideas is, like that of mathematics, largely a priori. It is quite distinct from the empirical, largely a posteriori methodology of social sciences like History (Classical Civilizations) or Anthropology (Religious Studies). Also, unlike such social sciences, philosophy is, at its core, “normative” in the sense of being concerned with questions of how one should live and how one should come to believe or disbelieve various sorts of propositions, in contrast to the social sciences, which properly describes how we do live and how we do operate psychologically. Philosophy would be irrelevant were it not informed by the social sciences, but it is not a social science itself, and any attempt to merge philosophy with such a department seems likely to result in a deterioration of philosophy’s core mission.
Interdisciplinary programs are laudable, of course, but their value depends on maintaining basic distinctions between disciplines. Thank you for considering this request.
Dr. Larry A. Herzberg
Associate Professor of Philosophy
University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh