William & Mary

Strange Looks from Tourists for Sam Thacker '08

“I encourage all William and Mary students to take at least Intro to Philosophy,” said Sam Thacker ’08.Sam Thacker '08

Whenever people are exposed to philosophy, he said, they find it more interesting than they anticipated. Sam, an alum of both the Philosophy and Economics departments who “got into my philosophy major really late,” seems to have made up for the lost time.

For his honors thesis, Sam explored Nietzsche’s ethics under the tutelage of Professor Timothy Costelloe. Sam is specifically interested in Nietzsche’s ressentiment, “the driving concept” in that philosopher’s work, On the Genealogy of Morals. Ressentiment, as Nietzsche sees it, is the displacement of a person’s failure onto some other external being. In blaming something else, the want and need for revenge is triggered in this person. The philosopher identifies such ressentiment as a motive in the development of moral history. But Sam delved further into the concept. Through his own research, he developed a more nuanced definition and “plugged it into the original work to see if it’s internally consistent.”

As head of the Philosophy Club, Sam played an integral role in the process of hiring a new faculty member. “When the department was interviewing candidates, the Philosophy Club went out to lunch with a candidate each week,” he said. “He or she would be exposed to a small slice of the student body, and it let us get a feel for their interests.” Given the selection of nearby restaurants, the experience was at times a little surreal. “We would discuss Kant’s ethics over hot dogs,” Sam said. “Tourists gave us strange looks.”

Sam worked hard to revamp the Philosophy Club with the help of its members and Professor Matthew Haug, a new faculty adviser who “has been an extraordinary help to the club by really assuming an active role.” The club now regularly hosts discussions and movie screenings, emphasizing the philosophical content of such recent films as The Root of All Evil, Richard Dawkins’s controversial religion documentary; Match Point, a 2005 Woody Allen drama; and the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men, which won an Academy Award for best picture. The screenings are followed by an hour-long discussion among students and faculty, and nonmajors are encouraged to attend.

Twice a year, philosophy professors and their students duke it out in a student-versus-faculty volleyball match. “I have very good relationships with members of the Philosophy faculty,” Sam noted. This good experience carries over to his view of the College as a whole: “I’ve liked it quite a bit. The campus is beautiful, and the faculty are always very accessible.”