Dr. Robert Hoag: Discovering Truth in Philosophical Pursuits

Originally posted on January 31, 2012 by Erica Cook

by Erica Cook ’13
Dr. Robert Hoag Passionate about the search for ethical and moral truth, Dr. Robert Hoag, Chairman of Division V, teaches philosophy courses in ethical and political philosophy and law at Berea College.

Hoag earned his bachelor’s degree from Davidson College and went on to earn his graduate degrees from the University of Virginia. Although he went to a prestigious institution, his background is quite similar to that of a Berea College student. Hoag is a first generation college student raised by a single mother in Daytona Beach, Florida, but with her indelible support and his undeniable dedication, he set out to achieve his dreams despite their economic difficulties. Hoag affirmed,

“The Great Commitments attracted me to Berea because they were doing the right thing: creating access for people who otherwise probably would not have the opportunity to attend college. And that’s really important.”

Hoag came to Berea College in 1983. He has taught courses on human rights and international law, domestic policy questions, civil disobedience, and economic justice. Hoag teaches a two-course sequence in the history of political philosophy that includes the teachings of philosophers such as Plato, Locke, Rousseau, and Marx. Hoag also teaches a senior seminar every third year, which is a required senior research class called GSTR 410.

“Truth is very difficult to get to, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.”

The students are Hoag’s favorite aspect of working at Berea. He especially likes teaching first-year students because “you see a lot of growth. Berea students, unlike students in many places I have been, are very bright and capable but do not realize it.” Many Berea College students do not grasp their own potential, especially first-year students. However, in many instances those same students become some of the most successful people in their communities with the help of Berea’s extraordinary faculty and staff. When given the opportunity, Berea students achieve impressive goals, and by the time they graduate, have striking résumés to prove so. Hoag claims,

Students discover they are brighter intellectually than they might have known before. I love seeing that happen, and the possible explanation is that they haven’t been challenged in a certain way.”

Some philosophy majors at Berea have gone to prestigious institutions such as Columbia Law School and Vanderbilt University. One student in particular came from a very poor county in West Virginia. When he arrived as a first-year student, he struggled with his reading and writing skills. However, he worked diligently, went to law school, and found professional success upon his return to West Virginia. “We train them to think and write very well. Then they go off and do really well for themselves.”

Hoag himself is an example of the personal and academic growth he encourages in students. Throughout his high school years, Hoag thought he wanted to work in the medical field, but toward his senior year, he began to question the social issues sweeping the nation in the 1960’s: the Vietnam War, the role of religion in society, Civil Rights, and Jim Crow laws. He decided to take a variety of different aptitude tests and found that his interests pointed toward a future in law. Following some deep introspection, he took a humanities course called History of Ideas during his first year at Davidson College. Hoag absolutely loved the class, due mostly to his inspirational professors and interesting discussions about topics he was passionate about. He came to the conclusion that he no longer wanted to pursue a scientific career, but rather engage in theoretical discussions.

Outside of the classroom, Hoag enjoys discussing new ideas and good books with good people, and he is committed to producing such good ideas in his writing. He has written articles for professional journals in philosophy that deal with human rights and the Just War Theory. He has also written book reviews for a number of book releases in his discipline. Ideally, Hoag would like to produce a 100-page book on humanitarian wars he has been polishing since his last sabbatical.

Although Hoag has accomplished a great deal in his tenure, much is still left in his vision for the division. Hoag would like to observe a much more integrated use of what philosophy has to offer within the curricula of a variety of disciplines, such as psychology, chemistry, and the pre-professional programs. Hoag also thinks it would be beneficial to include some classes in feminist philosophy and philosophy of the environment. By incorporating new classes and integrating the existing ones into other disciplines, he feels like the philosophy program could spread what they have to offer to more students, enriching their personal and educational experiences, both during their time at Berea and throughout the rest of their lives.


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Tags: Division V, Dr. Robert Hoag, philosophy

Berea College, the first interracial and coeducational college in the South, focuses on learning, labor and service. The College admits only academically promising students with limited financial resources, primarily from Kentucky and Appalachia, although students come from 40 states and 70 countries. Every Berea student receives a Tuition Promise Scholarship, which means no Berea student pays for tuition. Berea is one of nine federally-recognized Work Colleges, so students work 10 hours or more weekly, earning money for books, housing and meals. The College’s motto, “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth,” speaks to its inclusive Christian character.