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Robert Hoag
Dr. Robert W. Hoag
Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus; The Henry Mixter Penniman Chair in Philosophy, Emeritus|Philosophy
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Areas of Scholarship

  • Ethics, social and political philosophy, philosophy of law
  • Contemporary social issues at the intersections of law, ethics, and political philosophy, such as, for example, abortion, capital punishment, free speech, civil disobedience, human rights, “just war” theory, theories of distributive justice, limits of law and liberty, etc.
  • John Stuart Mill and consequentialist/utilitarian theory

Honors and Awards

  • The Seabury Award for Excellence in Teaching, Berea College
  • Phi Beta Kappa, Omicron Delta Kappa, Davidson College
  • Phi Kappa Phi, Berea College
  • DuPont Fellow, University of Virginia
  • Burlington Scholar, Dana Scholar, Davidson College
  • North Carolina Fellow, Davidson College

Grants, Fellowships

  • Faculty-Student Collaborative Research Grants, 2012 & 2014
    “Capital Punishment” and “Humanitarian Interventions”
    The Undergraduate Research and Creative Projects Program, Berea College
  • John B. Stephenson Fellowship for Faculty, the Appalachian College Association, 2008-09
    “Armed Humanitarian Interventions: Rights, Wrongs, and Recourse to War Principles”
  • National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute, 2004
    “War & Morality: Re-thinking the Just War Tradition for the 21st Century”
    George Lucas, Director. United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD.
  • Jesse duPont Summer Seminar for Liberal Arts College Faculty, 2003
    “Humanitarian Interventions: Legal, Ethical, and Political Dilemmas”
    Allen Buchanan and Jeff Holzgrefe, Directors
    National Humanities Center, Research Triangle Park, NC
  • Finalist, National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship for College Teachers, 1991
    “John Stuart Mill:  Happiness, Rules, Character”
  • National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar, 1984
    “The Moral Limits of the Criminal Law”
    Joel Feinberg, Director.  University of Arizona, Tucson
  • Newcombe Fellowship, Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, 1982-83
    “John Stuart Mill on Morality, Law, and Human Welfare”


  • Introductory philosophy courses: formal and informal logic, contemporary social and legal issues, ethics, introduction to philosophy
  • Upper level courses: history of political philosophy, philosophy of law, theories of punishment, social contract theory, ethical theory, foundations of ethics, contemporary political philosophy, theories of justice, human rights and international law, armed humanitarian interventions and “just war” theory
  • Interdisciplinary courses:
    • U.S. Traditions: “Equal Justice Under Law,” “Three American Revolutions,” “Social Justice, Individual Freedom.”
    • Western Intellectual Traditions: “Law and Order in the West,” “Trials of the West: Socrates, Jesus, Joan of Arc,” “Modernity: Revolutions, Evolutions, Dissolutions”
    • “Winter Mountain Sports”

Selected College Service

  • Academic leadership: Division Chair, Department Chair, Faculty Status Council on tenure and promotion, Humanities Division representative, Faculty Liaison to the Board of Trustees
  • Leadership of review and advisory ad hoc committees focused on: critical thinking, residence life and student conduct code, service-learning, College Labor Program, general education planning and design, interdisciplinary law program design, academic restructuring design
  • Numerous search committees for interdisciplinary and disciplinary faculty appointments, deans, provosts, academic vice president, college president

Other Interests, Activities

American political and legal history; history of Native American culture, law, and government policies; golf, tennis, surfing, hiking; good discussions of good books with good friends.

“The right attitude in philosophy is to accept aims we can achieve only fractionally and imperfectly…It means in particular not abandoning the pursuit of truth, even though if you want the truth rather than merely something to say, you will have a good deal less to say. Pursuit of the truth requires more than imagination: …it requires readiness to attack one’s own convictions. That is the only way real belief can be arrived at.

There is a persistent temptation to turn philosophy into something less difficult and more shallow than it is.  It is an extremely difficult subject, and no exception to the general rule that creative efforts are rarely successful.”

- Thomas Nagel.  The View From Nowhere

“…[A] moral theory adequate to its … job is going to have to be a more complex affair than we might have expected it to be. … Nobody expects chemistry or physics to be simple; why do so many people expect moral theory to be simple?

But the fact is that there is no end to the range of possible situations in which human beings may find themselves…. This comes home to us particularly vividly when we turn to the literature of law. Case[s] … are like … short stories, each of which ends in a moral problem. …[T]he moral theorist can learn, not merely from the story itself, that is, not merely from the possibilities of human action which the story reminds us of, but from the judge’s decision and his or her argument for it.”

-Judith Jarvis Thomson, Rights, Restitution, and Risks

A Fundamental Philosophic Credo

“Faith in reasoned argument,

Hope for reasoned agreement,

Clarity of reasoned expression,

And the greatest of these is clarity.”

Robert Brandom, Tales of the Mighty Dead


For more information: Current curriculum vitae

  • University of Virginia, Ph.D. in Philosophy (May, 1983) Thesis: “J.S. Mill on Happiness and Morality”
  • University of Virginia, M.A. in Philosophy (August, 1980) Thesis: “W.V. Quine on Ontological Commitment”
  • Davidson College, A. B. in Philosophy, cum laude (May, 1976)
Publications & Works
    • “Capital Punishment.”  The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  (September, 2018)
    • “Armed Humanitarian Intervention.”  The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  (July, 2015).
    • “Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.” “Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural, Rights.” “Human Security.” “Rome Statute of 1998.”  The Encyclopedia of Global Justice. Dean K. Chatterjee, Editor.  Springer, 2011.
    • “Human Rights, Humanitarian Wars”
      The Berea Magazine, Fall, 2011
    • “Violent Civil Disobedience: Defending Human Rights, Rethinking Just War.”  Rethinking the Just War Tradition.  Eds. Michael Brough, John W. Lango, Harry van der Linden (Albany: SUNY Press, 2007), pp. 273-299.
    • “The Recourse to War: A Historical Theme in Just War Theory.” Studies in the History of Ethics.  A Symposium on the Ethics of War and Peace in Historical Perspective.  Ed. Larry May. February 2006. http//