James Stephens
Philosophy & Religion

James Stephens

Professor of Philosophy
Years ago I taught at state universities where introductory classes might have hundreds of students enrolled. At Hillsdale, my introductory classes are typically no larger than 18-20. I know my students’ names, and we can talk with one another about the things we’re learning. I like to think that Socrates would feel right at home.
— James Stephens

Faculty Information

Additional Faculty Information for James Stephens

Education

B.A. in Philosophy, Yale University

Ph.D. in Philosophy, Princeton University

Awards

Daugherty Teaching Award

O’Herron Teaching Award

Memberships

American Philosophical Association

Biography

A gifted high-school teacher of mine assigned her students authors like Plato, Euripides, Goethe, Dostoyevsky, Eliot, and Hesse. She didn’t tell us that the authors were supposed to be too hard for high-school students. She told us only that we’d love them, and that they’d open up new worlds for us. Not knowing any better, we did what she told us—and we found she was right. It’s hard to wrap words around what it felt like to learn from such writers, but I decided then to be a teacher myself one day, and to do for my students—or to try to—what my teacher had done for me.

Hillsdale’s mission is to provide its students with the best possible liberal arts education, and so to make teaching paramount. Years ago I taught at state universities where introductory classes might have hundreds of students enrolled. At Hillsdale, my introductory classes are typically no larger than 18-20. I know my students’ names, and we can talk with one another about the things we’re learning. I like to think that Socrates would feel right at home.

My job description comes from figures at the genesis of the philosophical tradition: Socrates and the Delphic Oracle. Socrates told us to talk every day about the human excellences, the virtues, and to follow the logos wherever it leads. The Oracle at Delphi told us to know ourselves. Because my classes here are small, I and my students can follow those injunctions together in good Socratic fashion. And because Hillsdale emphasizes the history of the whole Western philosophical tradition, we can learn both about what we are and about where we come from.