Hilail Gildin, 1929 - 2015
Professor Emeritus Hilail Gildin died on March 4. He had been ill since Hallowe'en.
Hilail came to Queens College in 1961 from the University of Chicago (BA 1957, PhD 1962) where he studied under Leo Strauss. He edited and wrote an introduction for Political Philosophy: Six Essays by Leo Strauss (1975) and published his most significant work, Rousseau's Social Contract: the Design of the Argument in 1983. He founded the journal Interpretation and edited it until his death.
Hilail taught at Queens for fifty-two years, opening thousands of minds to the thoughts of the great thinkers. One of the first things he asked for after his hospitalization was Plato's Phaedo.
Philosophy, like most things important, is difficult to define. The term stems from two Greek words that, when conjoined, may be translated as “the love of wisdom.”
So what is philosophy? It has to do with knowing. Not “knowing” as in merely being cognizant of facts, but rather in terms of "making sense of" or "understanding". While some individuals are content to be learned, the student of philosophy seeks true comprehension.
To study philosophy is to strive after defensible views on the basic issues of knowledge and value. Philosophy challenges one to develop consistent and reasonable positions on such matters as the nature and scope of human knowledge, the grounds for moral and political principles, the character of religious belief, and the methods employed by both practical and theoretical sciences. This study encourages responsible, independent thought and action. And it widens one’s experience by disclosing surprising alternatives to settled opinions and habitual beliefs.
Wisdom alone is the science of other sciences.
Like many schools, Queens College has a Department of Philosophy. But to think of philosophy as a department unto itself is misleading. Philosophy is not a substitute for study in other disciplines. Rather study and knowledge of other fields is necessary for serious philosophy to take place. Physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, economics, history, and cultural studies all provide important, though incomplete perspectives on individuals and realities. In philosophy, we attempt to assemble and arrange these perspectives to achieve a more complete understanding of reality, the world, and humanity. Thus, philosophy is not in competition with other disciplines but, on the contrary, depends on them. Likewise, philosophy is essential to, and permeates, other disciplines.
Philosophy often concerns itself with more pervasive questions that do not belong to one given discipline or another. These are more general questions that concern all human beings. What is the nature of reality? Does it have a meaning or purpose? Is the human being free? Is the world a deterministic system? Is there an objective morality? Do we have moral duties? What are the limits, if any, of human understanding? What am I? What might I become?
A major or minor in philosophy represents the finest tradition of liberal arts studies and will be of value in any vocation that prizes this tradition. Logic and ethics are critical elements in the study of philosophy. And these, too, are inherent in numerous professional fields and in life itself. The foundations of philosophical study can prepare students for a variety of careers, especially those who plan to pursue further graduate or professional degrees in such fields as law, medicine, journalism, psychology, education, computers, art, and so on.
Students interested in these or similar fields are invited to consider a second major or a minor in philosophy as a natural complement to their main specialization. From the wide variety of philosophy offerings each semester, students may select courses of particular relevance to their other work.
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