Lionel McPherson, '90

Lionel McPherson '90
When you first came to Princeton what did you think your major would be?

Philosophy and English. I soon learned that Princeton allowed only one major, presumably because of the senior thesis requirement. I chose Philosophy but also took the courses of an English major.

What made you decide to major in philosophy?

Late in high school we read some existentialist literature, which I found deep and exciting. I followed up by reading William Barrett's Irrational Man, which sustained my enthusiasm. My freshman year, which I did at Stanford, I signed up for the Philosophy track of the Western Civilization requirement. The manner of thinking and argument in Philosophy, as much as the mostly standard subject matter, proved an excellent fit for my sensibilities. Somewhat naively, I realized that one could have a job being a philosopher—which I decided I might rather pursue as compared to continuing on a path toward medical school.

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

In the spring semester of my junior year, Professor John Burgess alerted me that I was in luck: they had just hired Richard Moran, an analytically-trained junior philosopher who, like me, was into "alternative" connections with literature and critical theory. Professor Burgess was right. My senior year—with Professor Moran as my thesis adviser—became the most intellectually rewarding experience I have had. When I was a graduate student in Philosophy at Harvard, Professor Moran moved to that department and served on my dissertation committee. Basically, Dick (he finally convinced me to stop calling him by title) is my philosophical mentor, though we work on different issues. I am grateful that Princeton had the good sense and ecumenical spirit to hire him.

What did you do immediately after leaving Princeton?

I worked in New York for two years: as an arts and media critic for the now-defunct Brooklyn City Sun newspaper, and as the "race desk" coordinator for the progressive media-watch group FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting). My plan was to go to graduate school in Philosophy after a break and some experience in the non-academic world—which is what I did.

What do you do now?

I'm an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University. My areas of specialization are moral, political, and social philosophy. [This interview was conducted in December 2012]

Final words?

Not yet. I have quite a lot to say in the meantime.