Pamela Hieronymi, '92


When you first came to Princeton what did you think your major would be?

I think I listed English, Physics, and Engineering on my application.  So, I had no idea.

What made you decide to major in Philosophy?

I couldn't really figure out how to write English papers. I felt I was asked to say what the author said, but I couldn't help but think, The author said it so well the first time!  What do I have to add? So, I couldn't orient myself, there. Then I took an introductory course with Bas van Fraassen, and felt I suddenly knew what I was doing. I was wrong. I received a C on my first paper. Then, for the first time, I went to office hours. My TA helped me find my way. When it came time to decide where to major, I collected together old course catalogs and asked myself where I could take the required number of courses without taking courses I was uninterested in. The answer was obvious.

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

I was one of (I think) three female majors (one other of whom is also now a philosophy professor), but, somehow, I was completely oblivious to that fact.  What stands out to me is the time and effort put into my education by the faculty—especially the junior faculty.  I took my first ethics course from Sarah Buss, and she oversaw, with great energy and encouragement, my junior paper on emotions.  I was stunned to find one could think productively about emotions.  Elijah Millgram, my thesis advisor, met with me weekly.  He wanted to know what I thought.  My first assignment was to write out what he called my heartfelt cry—to put to paper something I cared about and could spend an entire year writing about.  It was the beginning of the research project I'm still engaged in, twenty-plus years later.  Elijah always took my ideas completely seriously.  His constant refrain was, Okay, what's the example?  (It was the hardest, but the most important, question to answer.)  (He also put squiggly lines under turns of phrase he would call woolly.  I eventually learned what that meant.)  Dick Moran offered courses on utterly fascinating subjects, like bad faith. He was never satisfied with but always encouraging about my work.  I took a very small senior seminar with Harry Frankfurt (I think that was my second class with him).  It was an inspiration.  He was the second reader for my thesis—which contained two chapters criticizing his work.  He was only ever encouraging (in his slightly curmudgeonly way).  I believe one of his comments was, It is remarkable how anti-Kantian you allow yourself to be, without ever mentioning Kant.  When I returned to grad school and decided to try my own hand at this, I set Harry's work as the one to emulate.  I also remember, well and fondly, the courses I took from Gilbert Harman, John Cooper, and David Lewis.  (However, for whatever it is worth, it was Cornell West who made me think it might be a good idea to be a professor!)  It was an amazing start, and I am very grateful.

What did you do immediately after leaving Princeton?

I spent two years working at a non-profit in Washington, DC, before returning to academia.

What do you do now?

I am a Professor in the Philosophy Department at UCLA. [This interview was conducted in September 2014]

Final words?

I have focused on my own experience, which has landed me back in the academy, among people I still know and am happy to have the chance to thank. But I strongly encourage anyone inclined to major in philosophy to do so, perhaps especially if you do not plan to stay in the academy. I will let the other alumni, who have taken different paths, explain why (lest I find myself back in English class, They said it so well the first time!).