Jan Narverson Biography

Jan Narveson is a native of Minnesota, U.S.A. and was educated at the University of Chicago (B.A. in Political Science, 1955, and in Philosophy, 1956); and earned the PhD at Harvard (1961) with a year at Oxford (1959-60) on a travelling Fellowship. He has taught at the University of New Hampshire, U.S.A., 1961-3, after which he taught at the University of Waterloo, from which he retired in 2004. He was Visiting Professor at Johns Hopkins (1967), Stanford University (1968), and the University of Calgary (1976), and was a Visiting Research Scholar at the Center for Philosophy and Public Affairs at Bowling Green State University, Ohio (Fall 1990). In 2006, Jan was designated a Distinguished Professor Emeritus. He has continued occasional teaching since his retirement, including several terms for the Political Science Department, with which he was cross-listed.

A selection of his many publications is included elsewhere on this site. He is or has been also on the editorial boards of many journals, such as Ethics, Social Philosophy and Policy, Journal of Social Philosophy, International Journal of Applied Philosophy, Philosophy Research Archives, The Journal of Value Inquiry, the Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Dialogue, and Public Affairs Quarterly, and serves or has served as referee for many other journals and for several University presses. He frequently presents papers, talks, and commentaries at workshops, conferences, and colloquia around North America, in the United Kingdom, and occasionally elsewhere. Among his involvements was a long-time chairmanship of the Canadian Association for Publishing in Philosophy. More recently, and up through the present, he has been acting chairperson of the Canadian Association for Reductionism in Philosophy, which has annual meetings and occasonal publications.

During his active teaching career, he taught the array of departmental courses on ethics and political philosophy: Introduction to Social and Political Philosophy, Business and Professional Ethics, Moral Issues, History of Ethical Theory, Contemporary Ethical Theory, and seminars on moral and political subjects. He was also the architect of the course, Arts 301 – an Introduction to the Humanities, which he several times taught and acted as lecturer on various subjects. He is also the creator of the more recent Philosophy 105 (Distance Education.)

Narveson’s professional work began with serious explorations of Utilitarian philosophy, which led to his first book, Morality and Utility (Johns Hopkins, 1968.) Later, however, he became persuaded of the unworkability of utilitarian theory and embraced the Contractarian idea, especially under the influence of David Gauthier. However, he departed from Gauthier in following up the contract idea into Libertarianism, resulting in his next monograph, The Libertarian Idea (Originally Temple University Press, 1988, but then republished by Broadview Press, 2001).

After that came Moral Matters, a set of essays on many of the standard topics in ethics (Broadview Press, 1993, second edition 1999.) His next work collected many of his essays over the years on many theoretical as well as some practical issues in ethical and political theory, Respecting Persons in Theory and Practice (Rowman & Littlefield, 2002). The same publisher brought out his general introduction to political philosophy, You and The State (2008) In 2010, his general introduction to ethical theory appeared (This is Ethical Theory – Open Court, 2010). Various other publications are listed in the bibliography section of this site.

His primary non-philosophical activities concern music. He is the founder and president of the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society, for which he arranges its busy concert schedule (recent years has run to 70 or more concerts per year); and has been on the boards of directors of several local musical organizations such as the K-W Symphony Orchestra. He wrote a weekly column of musical criticism for the University of Waterloo Gazette while it was published (ceasing in 2004), and continues to present the commentary on a weekly radio program devoted to chamber music. He also occasionally reviews concerts for the K-W Record, writes program notes for many concerts around the community, and currently writes a column for the new newspaper devoted to music in the area, The Music Times (which is published and edited by Jean Narveson.) He also has one of Ontario’s largest record collections and has presented illustrated talks on music to local audiences. His many activities on behalf of music in the Kitchener-Waterloo community have brought him a Volunteer Award (l987) and an Honorary Doctorate (D.Litt.) from Wilfrid Laurier University. In addition, he has in recent years taught several times for Wilfrid Laurier University’s Laurier Advanced Learning and Living program, including several courses on music – which are music appreciation courses, informed by his very extensive acquaintance with classical music and by his enormous library of recordings.

He is listed in Who’s Who, Canadian Who’s Who, Contemporary Authors, and Who’s Who in American Education. In 1989 he was elected to membership in the Royal Society of Canada (this country’s highest recognition of scholarly achievement). In 2003, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada, for which the citation notes his activities in music – especially with the Chamber Music Society (q.v.), and his work in Business Ethics.