Charles Rippin, '61

Charles Rippin '61
When you first came to Princeton what did you think your major would be?

I had no preconceptions during my Freshman year at Princeton as to my future major. Instead, I chose a broad and highly diverse range of liberal arts courses with the idea I’d later make that decision.

What made you decide to major in philosophy?

There were a number of important factors. In high school, I read (and continue to enjoy) Bertrand’s Russell’s “A History of Western Philosophy,” along with Alfred North Whitehead’s “Science and the Modern World,” among many of their works. So, I really had a strong interest in philosophy from an early age. My first year at Princeton I attended the wildly popular Philosophy 101 introductory course, "Philosophy and the Modern Mind," James Ward Smith '38 *42  taught in McCosh 50--always filled to the rafters with undergraduates and, maybe, a few graduate students, too. I also took a somewhat higher-level philosophy course my sophomore year given by Douglas G. Arner, an Assistant Professor. I later discussed with Professor Arner my majoring in philosophy. He strongly encouraged me to do so. That quickly turned out to be a most happy choice of majors!

Are there any stories about your experiences as a philosophy major at Princeton that you’d like to share?

I was extremely fortunate to have Gregory Vlastos, then departmental chair, as my Senior Thesis Advisor. He fully supported my exploration of “The Right to Revolution in Burke.”  Professor Vlastos was a pre-eminent scholar and teacher in Greek Philosophy, but early in his career he was ordained as a minister in the Congregational Church. He had an abiding interest in human rights—therefore, the perfect counselor for my thesis. George W. Pitcher, then an instructor, was pretty much my favorite teacher—I took all his courses—Wittgenstein and J. L. Austin predominating.  There was a dazzling---alas, in retrospect!--constellation of junior faculty at the time. I audited a course in advanced logic Hillary Putnam, an Assistant Professor, taught utilizing Quine’s “Methods of Logic.” Irving Copi, a Visiting Professor, instructed from his own iconic textbook, “Symbolic Logic.” Arthur Szathmary was my preceptor for an aesthetics course. Paul Benacerraf ’52 *60 P11, an instructor, and Hugo Bedau and Sylvain Bromberger, lecturers, also spent a lot of time in lengthy discussions with us undergraduates. Professor Carl (‘Peter’) Hempel was Senior Thesis Advisor for my best friend and classmate in our undergraduate years at Princeton, Ed Zschau ’61 P86. Moreover, graduate students like my friend, Dave Conway ’60 *67, always pitched in as mentors.  And I’ve always fondly remembered my delightful encounters with the now late Professor Jerrold Katz *60, then an instructor, at the long-gone student & faculty haunt with bare tiled walls, “The Balt” (‘Baltimore Dairy Lunch’), on Nassau Street. One day, sitting on one of the Balt’s 19th Century schoolhouse chairs alongside Professor Katz, he suddenly exclaimed: “I’ve solved the Problem of Induction!!” He then proceeded to tell me how he accomplished this feat. [Many years later, I found and purchased in mint condition at The Argosy Book Store in Manhattan Professor’s Katz’s earliest published work, “The Problem of Induction and Its Solution” (1962).] Whether or not Professor Katz had actually solved the problem of induction, he did go on to a splendid career as a full professor, first, at M.I.T., then City University of New York. In any case, Professor Katz was certainly emblematic of Princeton philosophy teachers who will spend an hour or two or even more in serious informal conversation with an undergraduate philosophy major.

What did you do immediately after leaving Princeton?

Upon graduation from Princeton I was commissioned an Ensign in the U.S. Navy and reported aboard the USS FORRESTAL (CVA-59), an aircraft carrier, in the Mediterranean Sea. (I had attended Princeton on an NRTOC scholarship with a four-year service commitment.) I spent most of the ensuing four years at sea with a final tour of duty in Vietnam. During that time, I often found my readings of Wittgenstein and other 20th Century philosophers sustaining. After the Navy, I earned an LL.B. from The University of Virginia Law School. I was in private law practice in New York City and Georgia until the mid-1980’s when I made a happy career change into higher education fundraising.

What do you do now?

In 1989, I joined the Princeton development office as a capital gifts officer and continue to seek support for financial aid, faculty support, and many other key University programs and projects. Of course, my experience as a philosophy major at Princeton has inspired me in this ‘labor of love’ the past 25+ years here. [This interview was conducted in January 2015]

Final Words?

When I returned to Princeton in 1989, I renewed my ties to the Philosophy Department. Over the following years, I’ve attended numerous talks, conferences, and other gatherings within the department and gotten to know a number of its outstanding scholars and teachers. Most recently, I joined a reading group on the history of probability organized by Professor Dan Garber, then departmental chair.

At the very start of his famous essay, “The Aims of Education“ (1916), Alfred North Whitehead wrote:

“Culture is activity of thought, and receptiveness to beauty and humane feeling.”

I believe these words could well serve as an imprimatur for Princeton’s Department of Philosophy--great, fifty years ago, great now.