Phillip H. Rhinelander

Faculty Profile

In the jargon of philosophers, Phillip H. Rhinelander is a paradox of being and becoming. For forty-four years' change and diversity have been second nature to him. He is a philosopher turned lawyer turned administrator. He writes, sails a yawl, plays a piano, composes light operettas and teaches Humanities 4. Perhaps his breadth of interest is fitting, for as the new Chairman of the Committee on General Education, Rhinelander is at the helm of a diverse amalgam of courses that is the College's most important educational experiment of the generation.

Rhinelander is a tall man with sharply-cut features and a shock of reddish-brown hair that is fighting a losing battle with his bald spot. He sounds like Nigel Bruce, the radio Sherlock Holmes, except that he has a habit of emitting a short, high-pitched grunt when he speaks. Instead of doodling, students often tote up Rhinelander's grunts per minute in the margin beside their lecture notes.

Rhinelander can trace his life's activities in a circle. Born in Cambridge, he majored in Classics and philosophy at Harvard. After graduation, he struck off into law. His trial work during the '30s left him with the habit of pacing up and down while he talks, as if he were before a jury. But Rhinelander soon found the law a bit dull--"no more than fitting together pieces of a jigsaw puzzle." The more abstract fascinations of his former field tugged him back toward Harvard, and just before the war, he took a job in the Classics department.

After a stretch in the Navy, he got into General Education at the very bottom, as a section man in Humanities 1. Two years later, he and Dr. Howard Hugo teamed up to offer Humanities 4, the Good and Evil course. Hum. 4 drew so much praise in subsequent Confy Guides, that in three years its enrollment soared from fifty to five hundred and fifty, largest in the College. Accustomed to the give-and-take of small sections, Rhinelander found himself addressing a mass meeting three times a week. "It rather disconcerted me," he admits.

But even more imposing is his present job. As Chairman of the Committee on General Education, Rhinelander calls administrative signals for a program that numbered 6,500 students last year. Lesser jobs have buried pedagogues under mountains of memos, but Rhinelander is determined to remain primarily a teacher. He will continue in Humanities 4 this year, and act as head tutor in Philosophy, besides giving the Lowell Lectures on Philosophy (his subject: Causation, Freedom, and Morality.)


Rhinelander has lived with General Education for five years. When he speaks about it, he slides into a chair, props his head in his hand, and looks thoughtful. "General Education," he says, "gives students a chance to do some original thinking. It presents a problem for them to wrestle with. I get a great deal of satisfaction from teaching it, and I think most students like it, too. Why, some have even suggested that we make G.E. a field of concentration!"