Philosophy teaching at Davis took root in 1952, while the campus was still known as College of Agriculture at Davis. Appointed to lead the newly formed Department of Philosophy and Fine Arts, Arthur Child was the only philosopher for 31 undergraduate students. Five years later William Bossart became the second faculty member, leading to separate status as the Department of Philosophy in 1958, and establishment of a major program in 1959, when the campus was designated the University of California, Davis. The faculty grew further with the addition of Neal Gilbert, Ronald Arbini, Marjorie Grene and John Malcolm in the 1960s. Professors Child and Gilbert established the foundation of an outstanding collection of philosophy books and journals in both the Shields and the Department of Philosophy libraries, according to a historical account that Malcolm, as a professor emeritus, prepared in 1999.
In 1965 the department enrolled its first graduate students. The main emphasis in undergraduate and graduate teaching was on the history of philosophy, a concentration that enabled many our early graduate students to gain community college teaching positions. Indeed, all members of the department were qualified to teach advanced courses in either ancient or modern (17th–18th century) philosophy. This focus was maintained in the late 1960s and the early 1970s when Fred Berger, Joel Friedman, G. J. Mattey and Michael Wedin joined our faculty. Virtually all members of the department, however, had interests other than history of philosophy. Marjorie Grene, for example, was internationally known in an impressive number of fields, notably continental (European) philosophy and philosophy of biology, in addition to her work on Aristotle, Descartes and other historical figures.
By the 1980s and '90s, the department's academic and scholarly research programs no longer focused predominant on the major figures of the past. The department inaugurated a History and Philosophy of Science program in 1983 under the supervision of James Griesemer. It was primarily a lecture series until 1990, when it became an interdepartmental program with an undergraduate minor. The program, which originally concentrated on philosophy of biology, came to include philosophy of physics, under Paul Teller. Several people, including Gerald Dworkin and Connie Rosati, had replaced Fred Berger in ethics and philosophy of law, a field in which the majority of our graduate students were working by then.