Dr. James Harrington, PhD
In October 2021, our community suffered a very unexpected loss: Dr. James Harrington taught in the Philosophy Department and the Honors Program. In the stories and impressions that have been shared since his passing, a few comments have come up again and again. Jim’s intellectual curiosity and energy had no bounds; neither did his care for others. He loved to discuss and debate; he loved to help. He embodied the ethos of the Honors Program through his desire to learn and to impart knowledge, and he embodied the Jesuit mission of cura personalis through his collegiality and his work with students.
Those who taught the longest with Jim commented on his presence: it is hard to imagine teaching HONR 102 without him there, debating topics at planning meetings with the team of instructors and rolling up his sleeves to pitch in when technology went awry. They could give testimony to his humanity, as well. Dr. Rothleder remembers his support, walking her across campus, while she hobbled along with a broken ankle in a clunky boot. Dr. Whidden reflected, “in recent years, it's dawned on many of us that we need to prioritize students' mental health, but I think Jim knew this from the first day he stepped in the classroom, many years ago.” An imposingly tall figure, Jim nevertheless had a gentle nature that was exemplified by his love of animals. The two kittens he adopted during the pandemic would float or fly across the computer screen during Zoom calls.
I knew Jim only for a short time, but because of that I can remember our first encounters better. I can remember sitting next to him in the very first meeting I attended as an instructor in the Honors Freshman Seminar, three years ago now. I volunteered to teach Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Jim leaned in next to me and said, “You know, you could do a really good Kantian reading of Jane Austen.” I laughed and said, “that sounds fascinating, but I think you’ll have to teach it!” I felt like we understood each other from that very first meeting. I was looking forward to many more years of thought experiments, disagreements, and agreements with my colleague Jim.
The wonderful thing about academics is that they leave their words behind: you can read Dr. Harrington’s book, Time: A Philosophical Introduction (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015). It exemplifies his ability as a teacher to explain the most complicated ideas in ways that his students (and colleagues) could understand and absorb: this book does not presume any philosophical or scientific background on the part of the reader. It is divided into three sections: the logic of time, the epistemology of time, and the physical structure of time. As the reviewer for Dialectica concludes, “Harrington’s book is probably one of the best introductions to the philosophy of time.”