Robert Hahn (professor)

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Robert Hahn (professor)
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Born (1952-08-25) August 25, 1952 (age 71)
New York City
Alma mater
  • University of Chicago
  • University of California at Berkeley
  • Philosopher
  • Professor

Robert Hahn (born August 25, 1952 in New York City) is an American philosopher and since 2002 is a Professor of Philosophy at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Hahn's teaching interests and specialties include ancient Greek philosophy, the history of philosophy and science (astronomy and mathematics - especially geometry), Kant and modern philosophy, Ethics, and Logic. His research centers on ancient Egyptian and Greek architecture and building technology, ancient geometry, and metaphysics - connecting the origins of Greek philosophy to the historical, cultural, and technological contexts of the early Greek philosophers. [1] [2]


Hahn graduated from Union College with his B.A. in Philosophy in 1973. During his undergraduate years, he also studied Sanskrit at the University of Chicago (Summer, 1972). Hahn began his first-year graduate studies at the University of California at Berkeley, transferring the following year to Yale University where he went on to earn three degrees: M.A. in Philosophy (1975), M.Phil. in Philosophy (1975), and Ph.D. in Philosophy (1976). [3] Hahn’s dissertation was entitled “Did Plato ‘Schematize’ the Forms: Structure, Value, and Time, in the Later Dialectical Dialogues,” directed by Karsten Harries and joined in committee by Robert S. Brumbaugh and Heinrich von Staden.

Early Academic Career

After graduating from Yale, in the fall of 1976, Hahn worked with Gregory Vlastos (who had recently left Princeton to become the Mills Professor of Philosophy) at the University of California at Berkeley, followed by an appointment back at Yale in the Spring of 1977 as a Lecturer in Philosophy. Subsequently, in 1977, Hahn was appointed to his first tenure-track position at the Arlington branch of the University of Texas, Arlington, but left the next year for a 3-year appointment (1978 - 1981) jointly at Brandeis University (in the Department of Philosophy and the History of Ideas) and Harvard University (in the Extension). At Brandeis, Hahn created the Boston Area Colloquium for Ancient Philosophy which is still functioning after more than forty years. [4]. Hahn was Visiting Professor of Philosophy at the American College of Greece (Deree College) from January to August 1980. In 1981, Hahn was an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Denison University, and in 1982, joined the faculty of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale as an Assistant Professor of Philosophy. He became an Associate Professor in 1988.

Study Abroad Programs

The Harvard program gave Hahn the opportunity to teach philosophy, mostly to older adults, and this proved pivotal in his development of Ancient Legacies, a Study Abroad program with trips to Greece and Turkey, and Egypt. Since 1983, the program has brought together a variety of participants - from undergraduate and graduate students to members of the public - around the theme "Ideals of Excellence" and what the ideas and discoveries of the ancient world still have to teach us. The interdisciplinary, team-taught, travel-study program that Hahn began at Brandeis/Harvard, has continued for forty years at Southern Illinois University. In Greece, participants discuss the Olympic games and run a short footrace in an ancient stadium; they examine vases and votives in museums and then visit a local pottery workshop where they have a chance to try to produce similar forms; in an ancient bouleuterion they recreate the trial of Socrates from a translation of Plato’s Apology that Hahn and his staff produced; they learn to make seasonal sundials on the beach as part of an introduction to ancient astronomy; and they perform an ancient play in an ancient theater with costumes and masks they make themselves. In 1992, Hahn began organizing annual trips to Egypt as part of the Ancient Legacies program. [5][6] As of 2021, Ancient Legacies has conducted 63 separate programs, enrolling more than 1,200 participants. [7]

Research and Publications

In the 1980’s, Hahn's research began to focus on accounting for the origins of Greek philosophy. He published the essay “What did Thales want to be when he grew-up?” in a Festschrift honoring Robert S. Brumbaugh (Plato, Time, and Education (1987)) that began to explore the contributions of engineering and technology to early Greek Philosophy. As his work proceeded, Hahn realized that monumental stone temple architecture that began contemporaneously in the 6th century BCE contributed to Anaximander’s cosmic vision in a manner he regarded as vastly under-appreciated. As he developed his knowledge of stone temple architecture in archaic Ionia, he realized that the Greeks learned much about it from the Egyptians, since the earliest philosophers – Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes – came from Miletus, a Greek city that had a trading colony in Naucratis in the Nile delta. Hahn, therefore, enlarged his studies of monumental temple architecture to include Egypt.. In 2000, Hahn was invited to give the Theophilos Veikos lecture at the University of Athens and, based on the discussion there, went on to publish Archaeology and the Origins of Philosophy (2010), a book that argued how appeals to archaeological artifacts and reports could bring fresh insight into the abstract and speculative thinking of the early philosophers [8]. While approaches to Greek philosophy tend to regard that abstract and speculative thinking arises only when one transcends the body and senses, Hahn’s studies showed, instead, that it was also by means of bodily and sensory experience that speculative thought sprang forth for the early Ionian Greek philosophers. Hahn argues, by following the diagrams connected with ancient reports, that Thales plausibly knew an interpretation of the so-called ‘Pythagorean theorem.’ The argument rests on archaeological evidence, ancient Egyptian mathematics, and Euclidean geometry (the evidence of developments in geometry that preceded him and that were later preserved by Plato in the Timaeus). Hahn argues that Thales’ lines of thought had a metaphysical meaning, seen in the context of Aristotle’s testimony that the earliest philosophers imagined an underlying substance – a basic unity from which all things come and to which they return upon dissolution. Thales posited it was water, and Hahn argues that geometry might have identified the underlying structure of water (and of all things): the right triangle.


  1. "Robert Hahn, Professor; Director, Ancient Legacies Program". Southern Illinois University. Retrieved 28 July 2023.
  2. "Robert Hahn, Professor (Full)". Retrieved 28 July 2023.
  3. "Curriculum Vita of Robert Hahn" (PDF). Southern Illinois University. Retrieved 28 July 2023.
  4. "Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy". Retrieved 28 July 2023.
  5. "Ancient Legacies: Intellectual Adventures in Greece & Egypt". Retrieved 30 July 2023.
  6. "Global Seminar: Ancient Legacies Greece". Retrieved 28 July 2023.
  7. "Curriculum Vita of Robert Hahn" (PDF). Southern Illinois University. Retrieved 30 July 2023.
  8. "Archaeology and the Origins of Philosophy". Retrieved 30 July 2023.

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