Connecticut College Magazine · Fall 2007

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Through the Grape Vine: Scott Hafner ´80, Managing Partner Hafner Vineyard

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Philosophy Songs

Philosophy Songs

Professor translates ideas into lyrics.

Hear the songs:

Not-P
The Present King of France is Bald
The Category Blues
It´s Not Lonely At The Top: The Incredible and True story Of My Life as a Dominant Monad
Back in the Vat

by Mary Howard


Like many teenagers, Andrew Pessin, now associate professor of philosophy, fantasized about being a rock star. A guitar player and keyboardist, the Long Island native has been composing original songs since high school.

During his undergraduate days at Yale (he later went on to earn a master´s and Ph.D. in philosophy from Columbia) he performed in coffee houses and at open mike nights.
But the pull toward philosophy won out.

“I´ve always found almost everything interesting, including the fact that almost everything is interesting,” he says on his faculty Web site. “Ultimately, I gravitated towards philosophy, because in studying philosophy, one gets to learn (and think) about pretty much everything else. There´s philosophy of science, of mind, of religion, of literature …”

A member of the College´s faculty since 2005, and currently chair of the Philosophy Department, Pessin specializes in early modern philosophy and is particularly interested in the little-studied 17th-century French philosopher Nicolas Malebranche. Pessin has published numerous articles in peer-reviewed journals, is the co-author of Gray Matters: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind and co-editor of The Twin Earth Chronicles: Twenty Years of Reflection on Hilary Putnam´s “The Meaning of ´Meaning.´”

Though a career as a rock musician doesn´t seem likely at this point, Pessin has found a way to combine his love of music with his love of philosophy. He writes “philosophy songs” about failing logic exams (“Not P”) and, well, songs non-philosophers might find a bit challenging (“It´s Not Lonely at the Top: The Incredible and True Story of My Life as a Dominant Monad.”) While his subject matter may not always be understandable — “There´s no way to explain some of the songs without ruining them,” he says — his music is quite listenable, with his Dylan-esque voice and bluesy guitar style.

Pessin wrote and performed the Monad song for his colleagues at a National Endowment for the Humanities seminar on the philosopher G. W. Leibniz — “probably the only audience in a position to appreciate it” — and has even played for his classes, “though not the song about failing the logic exam.”

“I think it´s pure brilliance that Professor Pessin turns such a deep subject like philosophy into fun, catchy, graspable songs,” says Jeff Nemec ´09, who took Pessin´s History of Modern Philosophy class during his freshman year. “Not only is he a super talented philosopher/metaphysician and a great professor,” adds Nemec, “but he can
really play that guitar.”


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