Sanford G. Thatcher, '65


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

I entered as a student in the School of Engineering expecting to major in aeronautical engineering.

What made you decide to major in philosophy?

First I have to explain why I left engineering. (1) Science as taught to engineering students emphasized learning how to solve problems, but I found myself increasingly interested in the underlying theories of science, what you would call philosophy of science, instead. (2) All freshmen engineering students were required to take an engineering graphics course that met at 7:45 am. That was way too early for me. The first philosophy course didn’t meet until much later in the morning. (3) I got a D in freshman chemistry, the lowest score I had ever had before in my life, by far, and that made me think perhaps I was not cut out for a career in engineering after all.

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

I greatly enjoyed being a research assistant during my senior year for Walter Kaufmann, whose book on Hegel was in the process of being published. I was able to learn a lot about publishing by assisting him with various tasks such as proofreading galleys and preparing the index. He later wrote a letter of recommendation for me that helped me get my first job in publishing as an editor at Princeton University Press (PUP).

On the advice of faculty in Princeton’s department, I went to another school for graduate work, at Columbia, but was welcomed back for a second year of graduate study at Princeton. At the end of that year I left graduate school to pursue a career in scholarly publishing.  That career took me from being a copyeditor at PUP (1967-69), to philosophy and social science editor (1969-77), to assistant director (1977-85), to editor-in-chief (1985-89). I then accepted a job as director of Penn State University Press (1989-2009).  I was able to build substantial lists in philosophy at both presses, publishing some books written by Princeton faculty like Gilbert Harman, Stuart Hampshire, Joel Feinberg, George Pitcher, Richard Rorty, and Gregory Vlastos.

What do you do now?

I retired from Penn State in mid-2009 and moved to Texas, but still keep my hand in the business by acquiring books in political science part-time for two academic presses, serving on committees in the publishing industry, and writing articles about copyright law and about the publishing business. [This interview was conducted in February 2018.]

Final words?

Having abandoned the idea of teaching philosophy, I did not fully anticipate how satisfying a career scholarly publishing would be, and how much my training in philosophy would prove valuable in that profession.  But indeed it has, and I hope other philosophy majors will find similar ways to put their learning to good use in their lives and careers.