Alan White

In your 35 years as a philosophy professor at Williams, you have helped students to make meaning out of big ideas such as truth, goodness, violence and beauty. You taught your students to clearly understand the merits of a philosophical question before critiquing it. You shared your process of breaking up a complex theory into its smallest meaningful parts, like atoms in a molecule. It’s only in reassembling those parts, you have said, that students can fully understand the theory. You enjoyed a good disagreement in the classroom or with colleagues, yet you remained steadfast in your belief that there was always a resolution to be found. Your teaching inspired at least one former student, who says he knew nothing about the discipline before taking a course with you, to major in the field, earn a Ph.D. and return to Williams to teach alongside you. Your own scholarly interests have varied widely, resulting in 17 articles, four monographs, an edited volume for which you also served as translator, and two books with a colleague in Germany. Early in your career, you focused on theories from Hegel, Schelling and Nietzsche. Later, you addressed questions about reality. Most recently, you’ve aimed for no less than developing a philosophical theory of, well, everything. It’s the subject of your latest book, which one reviewer describes as “a critically important work for all those deeply interested in philosophical issues and their significance for basic human concerns.” Citing that review on your faculty page, you also noted that people should buy the book for its beauty if not for its content, since the cover featured a painting by your art department colleague Barbara Takenaga. Outside the classroom and away from the computer, you have served as president of the Metaphysical Society of America, directed the Williams-Exeter Programme at Oxford, chaired the philosophy department twice and served as faculty affiliate to the volleyball team for 12 seasons. This last distinction kept you on the road often, traveling up and down the East Coast to cheer on our team. For your commitment to the argument, and its resolution, and for your work at Williams and in the world, we are eternally grateful. 

I hereby declare you the Mark Hopkins Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus, entitled to all the rights, honors, and privileges appertaining thereto.

May 31, 2021