REMEMBERING FIRST GRADUATE DANIEL N. ROBINSON, A PHILOSOPHER WITH A KEEN SENSE OF HUMOR
Daniel N. Robinson, who was the first man to receive a doctorate from the Graduate Center in 1965, made a career out of being curious.
At the Graduate Center, he studied neuropsychology. According to a tribute published by Oxford University shortly after Robinson’s passing in 2018, his early publications focused on information-processing in the visual system and the central nervous system. This research led to more questions and by the end of his life he had parlayed a Ph.D. in Psychology into being an academic philosopher.
Robinson explored a variety of topics in the 52 books he wrote and edited. His Intellectual History of Psychology is considered a classic. In it, he examined ideas about human nature and how they evolved in the context of their times, from the ancient world to the modern day. Other books included Wild Beasts and Idle Humours: The Insanity Defense from Antiquity to the Present and How Is Nature Possible: The Project of Kant’s First Critique.
Robinson served on the faculty of Georgetown University for 30 years before retiring as a distinguished professor emeritus of philosophy. From 1991 to 2018, he lectured annually at Oxford University, where he was a philosophy faculty fellow. His lectures there, still available online, covered the ideas of John Locke, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant.
“Whatever the topic of his lectures in any year, students were guaranteed a charming wit and lively, lucid presentation,” Oxford wrote in a posthumous tribute.
Robinson’s humor and lucidity translated well in the digital world. He lectured for the Great Courses’ series on philosophy and served as the principal consultant to PBS and the BBC for their award-winning series The Brain and The Mind. On YouTube, his lectures such as “Science, Scientism, and the Public Good” and “A Critique on Psychiatry” have attracted thousands of views.
Robinson received two lifetime achievement awards from the American Psychological Association and in 2011 was selected for the Josephy Gittler Award for significant contributions to the philosophical foundations of psychology.
In 2009, he returned to his alma mater to receive the Distinguished Alumni Award. He also helped the Graduate Center celebrate the fact that it had granted 10,000 degrees by hooding Kristen Case (Ph.D. ’09, English) as the honorary 10,000th graduate.
In a New York Times article about the 2009 commencement, Robinson showed his characteristic wit. He remembered that the other graduate at the Graduate Center’s first commencement, Barbara B. Stern (Ph.D. ’65, English), was pregnant. “The little girl she was carrying will be at the ceremony. If I get a chance, I will say this is the second time she has seen me be awarded something.”
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