Philosophy professor Scott Soames will be leaving next fall to teach at the University of Southern California.
The announcement of his departure, after a 24-year career at the University, comes as one of a series of setbacks for the department this year, following professor Beatrice Longuenesse and lecturer Mark Greenberg's decisions to leave next fall.
Soames, 58, specializes in the philosophy of language and the history of analytical philosophy. Princeton does not have a graduate program in linguistics or an undergraduate linguistics major.
Soames said his decision was influenced by the strength of USC's programs in these areas and his plans to marry over the summer. His fiancee Martha Dencker, a reporter for the Newark Star-Ledger, is already in the process of selling her house here, he said.
"We both think it's a nice idea to start in a new place," Soames said. "[USC has] real plans for building a world-class department in this area of philosophy . . . I found that exciting."
The picture for the University's Department of Philosophy seems less rosy, however. Gilbert Harman, the department's director of Graduate Studies, called Soames' departure "a serious blow."
"He's one of the most distinguished people we've got," said Harman, who has known Soames since he started at the University in 1980. "His courses have been very popular and useful at both the undergraduate and graduate level."
Soames said he loves Princeton but noted the changes in the philosophy department resulting from the loss of faculty members who have died or moved away.
"This department has for basically 30 years been the leading department in the [United] States and, I would argue, in the world. But in the last five years that position of priority — being number one — has been very seriously threatened," Soames said.
Harman said there have been a number of faculty deaths in the last few years, including professors Margaret Wilson in 1998, David Lewis in 2001 and Richard Jeffrey in 2002.
Faculty members who have left include Saul Kripke and, this year, Longuenesse. She plans to teach at New York University next year because her significant other works in New York City. Greenberg, who is also leaving, will attend law school at UCLA, Harman said.
Philosophy department chair Mark Johnston did not return phone calls.
James Higginbotham, chair of the philosophy department at USC, confirmed that Soames would be joining the faculty next fall. Higginbotham said Soames will teach the first-year graduate course, "Philosophy 500," in the fall, and in the spring give a workshop-style course on the two-dimensional approach to semantics.
"Scott and I have know each other for many years," said Higginbotham, who, like Soames, is a linguist. He added that Joseph Aoun, dean of the College at USC, is also a longtime friend of Soames and a fellow syntactician.
Soames said he would continue advising his five University graduate students from California.
Harman said Soames' courses were usually packed.
"We're going to miss him," Harman said.
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