Bringing Philosophy to Life

Geoffrey Sayre-McCord is presented the Thomas Jefferson Award by Chancellor Kevin GuskewiczIn their end-of-course comments, Geoffrey Sayre-McCord’s students describe him as “amazing,” “engaging,” “academically stimulating,” “respectful” and “brilliant” — as well as “a little goofy, as philosophy professors should be.”

They make it clear that it’s not only the content of an introductory class like “Virtue, Value and Happiness,” with its readings of Plato, Aristotle, Kant and Mills, that has helped them explore the nature of value. It’s also the enthusiastic way he teaches — moving through the classroom, engaging individual students, sharing personal stories — that provides them a living example of a man happy in his work and in his life.

“He finds a way to make dusty philosophic diatribes come alive and applies them well to the lives we live today,” one student wrote of the Morehead-Cain Alumni Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and the director of the philosophy, politics and economics (PPE) program in the College of Arts and Sciences.

The Faculty Council honored Sayre-McCord on Jan. 20 with the 2022-23 Thomas Jefferson Award, established in 1961 by the Robert Earll McConnell Foundation and presented annually to the faculty member who best exemplifies Jefferson’s values of democracy, public service and the pursuit of knowledge.

Teaching his own classes, running the PPE minor, working with the Parr Center for Ethics and National High School Ethics Bowl, Sayre-McCord is a professor dedicated to showing philosophy’s relevance to everyday life.

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