Immeasurable Imprint

Professor John Lachs sparked an enduring passion for philosophy among countless students

John Lachs, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Centennial Professor Emeritus

Upon his retirement in 2021, Professor John Lachs had been a fixture in the university community for so long that many couldn’t imagine campus without him. For more than 50 years, Lachs’ thought-provoking philosophy lectures had been perennial favorites among not only students but also alumni, who eagerly signed up for his many appearances at Reunion and Vanderbilt Chapter events.

“Professor Lachs’ scholarly insights and engaging teaching style have left an immeasurable imprint on Vanderbilt,” said John Geer, the Ginny and Conner Searcy Dean of the College of Arts and Science and professor of political science. “He has influenced countless lives by making philosophy remarkably accessible to everyone. You can’t help but come away from a discussion with Professor Lachs feeling as though you see the world—and yourself—a bit more clearly than you did before.”

Lachs, professor emeritus of philosophy and Centennial Professor Emeritus, earned his doctorate from Yale University in 1961 and joined Vanderbilt’s faculty in 1967. His philosophical interests have centered on metaphysics, political philosophy and ethics, with a particular focus on American philosophy and German Idealism. He is the author of multiple books, including most recently Meddling: On the Virtue of Leaving Others Alone (Indiana University Press, 2014) and Freedom and Limits (Fordham University Press, 2014).

During his more than half-century on campus, Lachs is proud to have taught more than 10,000 Vanderbilt students who enrolled in his highly popular Introduction to Ethics course. He also was the first reader on 72 graduate student dissertations, an extraordinary number for any faculty member.

“It’s incredibly rewarding when I come across alumni of all ages who share great memories from their time in my classes,” Lachs said upon announcing his retirement. “And some of my former students are now sending their grandchildren to my lectures. I’m deeply grateful to have been able to evoke so many Vanderbilt students’ enduring passion for ethics.”

Learn more about Professor John Lachs.