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USC Philosophy Professor Earns Fellowship

By Merrill Balassone
May 4, 2011

James Van Cleve, professor of philosopy in USC Dornsife.

James Van Cleve, professor of philosopy in USC Dornsife.

From the possibility of time travel to the theory of knowledge, USC Dornsife Professor of Philosophy James Van Cleve has devoted his more than 30-year career to exploring the most puzzling questions of the universe.

On April 27, Van Cleve was one of 32 scholars chosen from around the world to spend a year pursuing his research at the National Humanities Center in the Research Triangle Park of North Carolina.

Van Cleve will spend the year writing his new book, Problems From Reid, based on the work of Scottish philosopher and David Hume contemporary Thomas Reid. Van Cleve said he’s already completed much of his research, including trips to the Reid archives in Scotland and trying out preliminary chapters on students in his seminars.

Since he began teaching at USC in 2002, Van Cleve has led courses and seminars on a dozen different topics, including “History of Modern Philosophy” and “Time and Time Travel,” which he called “a fun sideline.”

Van Cleve is the seventh USC faculty member to be named a National Humanities Center fellow.

Scott Soames, chair of the Department of Philosophy, called Van Cleve a “meticulous scholar and teacher” who makes even the most complex philosophical concepts comprehensible to his students.

“He covers a lot of different related areas, and he’s able to bring historical matters to bear on contemporary questions of philosophy,” Soames said.

Funding for the individual fellowship grants, totaling nearly $1.5 million, is made possible by the center’s endowment, grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities and by contributions from National Humanities Center alumni.