Della Rocca named Sterling Professor of Philosophy

Michael Della Rocca.
Michael Della Rocca

Michael Della Rocca, an authority on the history of early modern philosophy, rationalism, and contemporary metaphysics, as well as epistemology and the philosophy of action, has been appointed the Sterling Professor of Philosophy, effective immediately.

The Sterling Professorship is awarded to a tenured faculty member considered one of the best in his or her field and is one of the university’s highest faculty honors.

Della Rocca is a member of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) in the Department of Philosophy.

A Yale faculty member since 1991, Della Rocca is the author of three field-defining monographs. “Representation and the Mind-Body Problem in Spinoza” (Oxford University Press, 1996) was the first extensive study of Baruch Spinoza’s philosophy of mind. In it, Della Rocca concentrates on two problems crucial to the philosopher’s work in this domain: the requirements for having a thought about a particular object, and the problem of the mind’s relation to the body. Della Rocca contends that Spinoza’s positions are systematically connected with each other, providing a new and illuminating perspective on Spinoza’s philosophy as a whole. In “Spinoza” (Routledge Philosophers Series, 2008), Della Rocca places Spinoza’s work in context, and explains his system of thought as structured around the Principle of Sufficient Reason, according to which the world is thoroughly intelligible and there are no facts lacking an explanation. This radically rationalist interpretation of Spinoza has opened up new directions of research into Spinoza’s philosophy and seventeenth-century philosophy and has shaped the methodology available for understanding other key periods in philosophy.

Della Rocca’s most recent book, “The Parmenidean Ascent” (Oxford University Press, 2020) draws on and expands the rationalism at work in his earlier books and has been hailed by scholars as a volume that issues a deep challenge to the overly restrictive and less than bold ways in which philosophical debates often take place. Beginning with early Greek philosophy, Della Rocca reveals how monism shapes philosophical understandings of being, action, knowledge, meaning, truth, and metaphysical explanation, and he elides the distinction between philosophy and the study of its history. In addition to these influential books, Della Rocca is editor of “The Oxford Handbook of Spinoza” and co-editor of the forthcoming Principle of Sufficient Reason. He has authored dozens of articles which have appeared in The Journal of Philosophy, The Journal of the History of Philosophy, Mind, Philosophical Review, and numerous other journals and edited volumes.

Della Rocca’s exceptional service to Yale includes chairing the Department of Philosophy from 2001 to 2010 during a period of renewed growth and transformation, serving as the department’s director of undergraduate studies, and chairing the Yale College Committee on Teaching and Learning. Della Rocca played a leading role in the creation of the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct and served as its first chair. An outstanding teacher, Della Rocca received the Sarai Ribicoff Award for Teaching Excellence in 1998 and the Graduate Mentor Award in 2006. His graduate advisees hold faculty positions at universities in the United States and beyond. In addition to teaching courses in the Department of Philosophy, Della Rocca has taught and served as the philosophy course coordinator in the Directed Studies program. Finally, Della Rocca served on the Humanities Doctoral Education Advisory Working Group in 2020-2021, playing a key role in imagining the future of humanities education.

Della Rocca leads scholarly initiatives beyond Yale. As co-editor of Seventeenth-Century Philosophy for the “Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,” and member of the editorial boards for the Journal of the History of Philosophy, Springer’s Studies in the History of Philosophy of Mind series, and History of Philosophy Quarterly, Della Rocca has shaped the intellectual trajectory of the field.

In recognition of this influence, Della Rocca has been invited to speak at institutions around the world. In 2014, he delivered Harvard’s Whitehead Lectures, and he has given named lectures at Michigan State University, the University of Leiden, and Skidmore College, symposia on his books have taken place at the Critical Antiquities Workshop in Australia, and at Tel Aviv University, and he has given keynote addresses at conferences and colloquia around the world. In addition, Della Rocca regularly serves on review committees for philosophy programs at other institutions including, most recently, the review committee for the Harvard Department of Philosophy.

He earned his B.A. in philosophy at Harvard and his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

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