The Department of Philosophy
IN MEMORIAM: MICHAEL WYSCHOGROD
Michael J. Wyschogrod died last December 17 in New York City at the age of 87. He was the first chair of the Department of Philosophy at Baruch College, and built the philosophy department at Baruch from one professor in 1968, to three in 1971, six in 1972, and nine in 1985. He left Baruch in 1992 to become professor of religious studies at the University of Houston. (Michael Wyschogrod: Flight From Germany; youtube)
Michael was a renowned scholar of Jewish studies and very active in Jewish affairs locally and internationally. He worked tirelessly on interfaith matters, and played a role in convincing the Vatican to abandon its announced project of converting Jews to Christianity. Nevertheless he had a profound respect for Christianity, and a deep interest in the Christian doctrine of Incarnation. In his best known book, The Body of Faith (1989), he argued that the concept of the Incarnation is not absurd, and that Christians are only mildly mistaken when they proclaim that Jesus is God incarnate. In his view, God is incarnate in the whole of the Jewish people.
Despite orthodoxy in personal conduct, Michael could be surprisingly heterodox in his political views. He stunned the Jewish community in New York by publicly repudiating the Begin government in the wake of massacres of Palestinians that occurred after Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982. "Israel is not God," he told me, "Israel makes mistakes; God never does."
A similar heterodoxy infused Michael's work in philosophy. His dissertation, on Martin Heidegger, was one of the first book length studies of Heidegger in English. His exposition of Heidegger's concepts on an early morning television program led to an uncredited and amusing appearance in the movie, Bad Habits. He was also a student of Kierkegaard, and developed an interest in Aquinas, sparked when I gave him a copy of Aquinas's treatise on the Old Law.
Michael hated Heidegger but loved Heidegger's style of thought. He rejected modern "analytic" philosophy, and once described John Rawls' famous analytical theory of justice as "a brick wall with twenty holes large enough to drive a truck through." Despite his distrust of analytical philosophy, he had no dislike of logic or argument. He was always ready to engage any colleague or any student in philosophical discussion, and to seek some form of clarity no matter how long it took.
Perhaps Michael's doggedness in argument was inherited from his father, a famous chess player who used his reputation in chess as a ploy for extracting his family from Nazi Germany and bringing them to America in August of 1939, when Michael was ten years old. That ten year old speaker of Hungarian and German obtained a Columbia Ph.D. at twenty four and was full professor at forty. Baruch should remember him as one of the Founding Fathers of this college.
Douglas Lackey, Chair
PHILOSOPHY AT BARUCH
Philosophy deals with the most basic questions we human beings ask ourselves. Philosophy is about fundamental mysteries. It is a search for truth that poses general questions about the nature of reality, knowledge, values, reason, morals, conduct, and institutions.
If you wonder about philosophy's real world application, consider the following:
- Professional advancement increasingly requires a graduate degree (JD, MBA, MD, MS, or PhD) and studies consistently show that philosophy majors tend to perform better on entrance exams such as the GRE, LSAT, and MCAT.
- Many law schools look for philosophy majors because they have acquired the reasoning skills needed to understand legal theory.
- If you follow the fast track plan, you can get an MS in accountancy in addition to your BA in philosophy in just one more year right here at Baruch.
The objective of the Philosophy Department is to enable students to identify, clarify, and assess their own answers. We encourage student to examine the questions as subjects in their own right, to subject that examination to the rigors of rational thought and dialogue, and to search for clues in the greatest theories, ideas, and debates of human intellectual history.
Our department has particular strengths in legal and political philosophy (it is an excellent preparation for law school), aesthetics, ethics, metaphysics and philosophy of mind, and the history of ideas.
5th Floor, Room 295
Baruch College, Box B5/295
17 Lexington Ave.
New York, N.Y. 10010