Kent Johnson Fund

Kent Johnson Fund

Promoting undergraduate research in Philosophy

Kent Eric Johnson

1970 – 2017


After my son, Kent Johnson, died, it was important to me that he be remembered in a way that he would have appreciated.  Setting up or contributing to an educational fund was the obvious choice.  However, more than just a general fund, I wanted to honor Kent’s love of learning and exploring challenging issues, that is, his love and dedication to research.  He was always curious.  His inquisitiveness lead him to look for answers to questions that puzzled him.   As an undergraduate at St. Olaf College, he was encouraged to look for answers through researching the questions.  Therefore, I have chosen to donate financially to the Philosophy Department at St. Olaf to enable other students to go beyond a desire for knowledge to delving into ideas to produce knowledge, to go beyond thinking or believing in something to having the knowledge and evidence to explain those beliefs.   Following are memories that I have of my son as a student in philosophy at St. Olaf who not only made research his profession, but used research to enrich his every-day life..

Kent’s experience at St. Olaf occurred when the college still had the Paracollege, which was a perfect situation for him.  He was a self-starter and an independent learner.  The faculty recognized his insatiable desire to learn, provided guidance, and encouraged him to pursue the research necessary for him to either answer the questions he posed to them or to lead him to other questions in pursuit of an answer.  

One of the more important influences on his interest in research was spending a semester studying in England. Kent’s letters reflected his thoughts regarding the program of study and research he determined and the conferences he had with professors, as he had no prescribed classes.  He also made use of the time off from his studies to travel.   Because of research he had done concerning ancient Greek, he located a monastery in Greece where a monk, an expert in that old language, lived.  Kent spent several days in conversation with the monk, ultimately leaving with more knowledge about the subject and more information that would require diligent research.

Because of the experiences at St. Olaf and because of the interest that his professors took in him, he decided to attend graduate school.  Corliss Swain, a professor Kent mentioned many times, spent time and effort contacting people who she felt would keep him stimulated and challenged in terms of his interest in philosophy.  On August 14, 1994, he left to attend the University of Florida to study philosophy.  He valued his professors’ expertise, becoming more confident in his ability to question various philosophers’ thoughts that he had previously accepted.  From there, he attended Rutgers University to further pursue studies and research in philosophy.

Following is a summary of Kent’s education and accomplishments.  Before reading that, however, know that he wasn’t just a serious scholar 24/7.  He was funny.  He loved playing jokes on others.  He had a dry sense of humor.  He was a great water-skier.  He worked out religiously at local gyms.  He researched his Prius for a year before he bought it.  And, a great pleasure, he would write in bed using a hospital tray.  

Kent Johnson graduated from St. Olaf in 1994 with a B.A. in philosophy and ancient languages and went on to earn an M.A in philosophy from the University of Florida in 1996 and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Rutgers University in 2001.  From 2001-2017 he taught, engaged in research and wrote while in the Logic and Philosophy of Science Department at the University of California-Irvine.  His publications appeared in Nous, Mind and Language, Philosophical Psychology, Language Sciences and Philosophy of Science.   The articles highlighted his research and expertise in statistical methodology, modeling, and probabilistic inference, as well as his interests in philosophy of language, philosophy of psychology, and cognitive science.

Kathleen S. Sernak

    (St. Olaf, 1965)

Kent Johnson Research