Philosophical Genealogy. Especially in America, academic philosophy has long been dominated by an ideology of 'pedigree' (a term which was once often used with impunity by 'top' philosophers). Maybe this partly explains the lack of diversity in the profession. This still-prevalent ideology --- America's smiley-faced (and of course meritocratic!) version of what in the UK and Europe used to be the main kind of social regressivism --- allows privileged kids who went to expensive private schools as teenagers or even as preteens to lord it over kids who went to public schools. But the ranking culture in philosophy can also be used against this trend, in the pragmatic style of a compromising liberalism. For some American public schools which are not perceived as elite in wider society have philosophy departments that are ranked above those at the most elite private schools. Rutgers is the clearest example, and this is the reason why I decided to attend Rutgers instead of Yale and Cornell, to which I was also admitted with full financial support when I applied to graduate school in 2007-2008.
Before I went to Rutgers, I was a public school kid who applied to only one undergraduate school for economic reasons; I was raised from age 14 by a single mother, and my father's family were all descendants of East Europeans who before the 1850s were serfs. Yet this public school supplied an impressive philosophical education. My main undergraduate advisors were Evan Fales (pictured with me right), Sarah Buss (then at Iowa), and Richard Fumerton. Evan chaired my honors thesis and supervised me for many independent studies. While he was a huge influence, I was also strongly influenced by Sarah and Richard. Sarah sparked my interest in normativity, and Richard my overriding interest in epistemology. Evan’s dissertation advisor was Joseph Margolis, Sarah’s was Harry Frankfurt, and Richard’s was Roderick Chisholm. Currently the Philosophy Family Tree project doesn’t list advisors for Margolis or Frankfurt. But the Chisholm line traces back to Leibniz, through Kant.
My biggest influence at Rutgers was Ernest Sosa, my dissertation advisor. While Ernie’s dissertation advisor was Nicholas Rescher, he has always emphasized that Chisholm, who was a former colleague, was the greater influence. While there is a direct line from each of Rescher and Chisholm to Leibniz, Rescher’s line is almost completely different, running through logicians and then mathematicians, including Euler and Bernoulli.
I had other very strong influences at Rutgers. In my first two years, I was torn choosing between Ernie and Alvin Goldman as my dissertation advisor. Goldman’s influence was almost as strong as Ernie’s, and I continued to work with him even after I’d chosen Ernie as the chair. Besides being a member of my dissertation committee, Goldman taught me in numerous seminars and an independent study. The Goldman line runs through Carl Hempel, Hans Reichenbach, Karl Jacobi, and many others, to Leibniz’s biological father, though not through Leibniz himself.
Ruth Chang was a similarly powerful influence. In addition to being a member of my dissertation committee, she supervised me for two independent studies, and perhaps the most influential seminar I took was her seminar on practical reason in my first year. Ruth’s dissertation advisor was Derek Parfit, who also directly influenced me through three co-taught seminars. Because Parfit doesn’t have a PhD, he gets listed as having no genealogy at the PFT project. But he describes his philosophical genealogy well in the preface to Reasons and Persons, listing Gareth Evans as a critical influence, as well as his first teachers P. F. Strawson, A. J. Ayer, David Pears, and Richard Hare.
I was influenced by other philosophers as a graduate student. Jonathan Dancy was the external on my dissertation committee, and Susanna Schellenberg joined the committee after my prospectus defense. Both were strong influences. And I took seminars with Jerry Fodor, Zenon Pylyshyn, Jason Stanley (then at Rutgers), Ted Sider, Barry Loewer, Holly Smith, Jeff McMahan (then at Rutgers), Brian Weatherson (then at Rutgers), Brian McLaughlin, Jeffrey C. King, Martha Bolton, and Robert Bolton. I also spent much time talking to Errol Lord in Princeton, who became a frequent co-author.