Dear Alumni and Friends,

As the Director of the Program in Political and Social Thought, appointed by Dean Meredith Woo to serve in academic years 2012-13 and 2013-14, I am a trustee of something handed down to us from both the recent and the distant past.

From the recent past, we need to thank the Program’s former Directors, among whom are names well known at UVA and beyond: the founding Director, the political theorist Dante Germino; his successors, the historian H. C. Erik Midelfort and the political and legal philosopher John Simmons; Associate Dean Bill Wilson, who is now Director of Graduate Studies at the Jefferson Scholars Foundation; the historian and ethicist William Lee Miller, who died in 2012 after a long and productive life; and Associate Professor of Government and Foreign Affairs, Michael J. Smith, who as Director from 1999 to 2012 has given the Program much of its current shape and character.

Central to the Program is an engagement with classic texts and arguments, from Plato, Euripides, and Aristotle onward to Augustine and Aquinas and Machiavelli and Hobbes; and also with modern and contemporary classics, from Adam Smith to Mill to William James to Max Weber, and then  to such philosophers and social thinkers as de Beauvoir and Rawls and Foucault and Flyvbjerg and Butler and Nussbaum  and Appiah, not forgetting forays into such spaces as Tolstoy’s stunning War and Peace or the recent film (stunning in other ways) Margaret.

The aim is not theory for its own sake, but clarity and precision in thought and expression and an awareness of alternative possibilities. If one hallmark of the Program is its commitment to confronting the best or most provoking of what has been thought and written, another hallmark is its commitment to guiding students toward the writing of a substantial work of undergraduate research focused on an important issue or problem in current society, politics, or culture. Here the expertise, goodwill, and labor of many faculty in various departments of the University have been essential to making the Program what it is.

To Friends: We hope that our new Webpage—as well as the Facebook page—will give you some idea of how we are faring today at the University of Virginia. PST is the antithesis of MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses).  Such projects are fine in their place—they can be remarkable efficient, for example, in conveying, at long distance, technical information and skills to highly motivated students. But if you want to grasp, at the deepest level, what Adam Smith or Lev Tolstoy or John Rawls mean for us, now, it is hard to do so without disciplined discussion among peers, under the watchful eyes of a seasoned scholar and guide. Even Dante needed his Virgil. 

To Alumni: There are over six hundred of you, and every year 18-20 new graduates are added.  After leaving UVA you have engaged in a remarkable number and variety of occupations in a remarkable number of places. Your paths in life attest not only to your own intelligence, creativity, and energy but also to the value of the Program. Feel free to browse this Website, which will give you some sense of the current shape of the Program. We also invite you to visit and contribute to the Program’s Facebook page, and we especially invite you to join the recently founded PST alumni group on LinkedIn.

Real education is expensive—although ignorance, especially confident ignorance, is more expensive. Consider giving to the Program. Aside from a generous bequest of some years ago from Thomas C. Sorensen, whom we pause to remember at this very moment, and a wonderful gift from Linda Moore Miller endowing a thesis prize in honor of her late husband, the Program has operated on a shoestring, surviving thanks to the generosity of its various Directors and of the many UVA faculty who, year in and year out, go the extra mile to advise students in their research projects. Your gift will help preserve and broaden the Program’s excellence.


Allan Megill
Program in Political and Social Thought



 faculty_megillAllan Megill, Director

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