Peter Tumulty Professor of Philosophy

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M.A., Ph.D. University of Notre Dame
B.A. Cathedral College of the Immaculate Conception

Areas of Expertise:

My interests connect one way or another with clarifying the nature and significance of the moral dimension to human existence. This leads to examining such topics as: the nature of moral experience; the conditions for making objective yet fallible value judgments; the reconciliation of universal human rights with respect for cultural diversity; the significance of the apparent encounter with an Absolute as our moral lives mature; etc.

Courses I Teach:

  • Human Rights
  • Ethics

My Saint Michael’s:

I joined Saint Michael’s College faculty in 1974.

I consider it a “success story” when a student comes to see more clearly why they, and all other persons, possess intrinsic dignity and worth, when this has become so much more than just a politically-correct slogan.

Saint Michael’s seeks to help students see the deeply mysterious, sacred aspect of our life together. This requires much more than career training whether in a profession or in a specialized scholarly field, though these rightly have an important place; it means Saint Michael’s never forgets the uniqueness of the persons who are with us, not only at the College but in the world, especially the poor.

What inspires our philosophy students most, I strongly suspect, is their own growing awareness of just how existentially “deep” the meaning of life is.

Our students are caring, keenly interested in community service, and eager to explore some of the deep ambiguities that lie at the center of our personal and social lives, all while having a really good time!

It is hard to choose my favorite class to teach — I do enjoy them all. But perhaps there is a special place for the first introductory course. The metaphor of “minds lighting up” often receives its most vivid realization there. It is very satisfying to show young students how philosophers like Plato, Wittgenstein and Kierkegaard can genuinely lower one’s “inner mental fog index.” It is very satisfying to help free students to see more deeply into life.


Research Interests:

Ethics; human rights; philosophy of mind; Wittgenstein and Classical American Philosophy (James and Dewey)

Currently, I am researching the various types of preconditions for cognitively significant judgments of various kinds (e.g., farming; science; morality; etc.), especially as they bear upon the formation of the young in a progressively secular and commercial society with disorienting consequences for ever more vulnerable individuals and communities.

Awards & Recognition

Past published articles include: “Judging God by ‘Human’ Standards: Reflections On William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience;” “A Contemporary Bridge From Facts To Values: But Will Natural Law Theorists Pay The Toll?;” and “Aristotle, Feminism and Natural Law Theory.” My article “Recognizing Varieties of Objectivity in Promoting a Global Culture of Human Rights: Remarks in the Tradition of Plato, Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein” appeared in International Philosophical Quarterly in December 2009.


Life Off Campus:

Outside Saint Michael’s, I spend lots of time and conversation with family and friends; politics; films; travel; and spoiling my grandchildren Fiona and Jack.

Favorite Quote:

“A true philosopher would rather lose an argument and win the truth than win an argument and lose the truth” – a paraphrase of Socrates.