Memories of Bill Alston
September 17, 2009 — 16:41

Author: Thomas Senor  Category: Uncategorized  Comments: 11

Jeremy’s post did a great job laying out many of William Alston’s contributions and helped me understand the role Bill played long after I had left Syracuse and Bill had retired. Thanks very much for your thoughts and reportage, Jeremy. There is one item, though, that I’d like to correct. Bill’s dissertation director was Charles Hartshorne, not Wilfred Sellars. In fact, I remember Bill saying that two of the three members of his dissertation committee were Hartshorne and Carnap. And it turned out that Quine was at Chicago on the day of his defense and (somehow) he ended up sitting in. How would y’all like to defend your dissertation in front of those guys? How could one say anything that they’d all agree with? How could one say anything at all?
As for me, my first meeting with Bill Alston didn’t go particularly well. I had arrived in Syracuse the week before to begin graduate school. I was at SU primarily because that’s where Alston was. I had corresponded with him a bit about the doctoral program there and had been impressed that he had taken the time to write back to a prospective student. Bear in mind that this was in the day of the electric typewriter–there was no email and almost no one yet had a personal computer. So writing a letter meant running paper through the roller, typing out what you wanted to say (undoubtedly having to dab some whiteout along the way), and then addressing the envelope.