Norman Melchert

Norman Melchert

Norman Melchert (1933-) is a philosopher and author. He was Selfridge Professor of Philosophy at Lehigh University from 1962 until his retirement in 1995. He is the author of several books, the most notable of which is his introduction to philosophy, The Great Conversation.


Early life and influences

Norman Melchert was born in 1933 in Waterloo, Iowa. The son of a prominent Lutheran minister, Christian thought has been a strong influence on his life, thought, and works.

As a child, he felt moved to follow in his father's footsteps and become a minister. To this end he graduated from Wartburg College in 1955 and went on to Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, simultaneously doing graduate work at the University of Pennsylvania. This was prompted by his interest in the work of Søren Kierkegaard. He graduated from seminary in 1958, and from U. Penn in 1959 (Masters degree) and 1964 (PhD). His thesis was a discussion of the work of humanist Roy Wood Sellars.

He taught at Lehigh University from 1962 until his retirement in 1995. In his early years there, he simultaneously held a post as assistant pastor at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania until 1965.

He resigned from the ministry in 1965 and became an agnostic. In spite of this change, he held on firmly to his belief in Christian ethics and has continued to attend church faithfully, which has prompted some to refer to him as an "agnostic in name only".

Personal life

In 1956 Norman married Novalene Black, who became his lifelong partner. Together they have three children.

He retired from Lehigh University in 1995 and with his wife moved to Richmond, Virginia where two of his sons and their families live. He then became an adjunct professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, teaching occasionally and continuing with his writings.

In the early 1970s he took up cycling and became a very successful racer in the veteran's class, winning many medals and trophies in Pennsylvania, Virginia and New Zealand, where his eldest son lives.


Originally his PhD thesis, this book was published in 1968.

  • Who's to Say? [2]

A dialogue involving six friends from university days on a cycling tour. Ten years on, they revive the lively discussions they had as students, this time discussing relativism. The six friends each take a different perspective on the issue and these are each presented without comment, allowing the reader to make a kind of Kierkegaardian choice. An interesting aspect of the work is that their tour forms a kind of allegory of the discussion (for example, the riders encounter long and steep hills on days when they discuss particularly difficult issues).

Who's to Say? is available as a Google Book.

  • The Great Conversation [3]

By far his most popular work, this widely-used textbook is currently in its sixth edition. it looks at philosophy as a great conversation through the ages on matters of the deepest concern to humanity. Starting from Homer and Hesiod, the book moves through history, presenting each philosopher's work in part as a response to previous philosophers. The latest edition includes sections on contemporary philosophers as well as Muslim, Buddhist, and Jewish thinkers.

  • Philosophical Conversations: A Concise Introduction [4]

An abbreviated and illustrated version of The Great Conversation.


  1. ^ Norman Melchert (1968). Realism, Materialism, and the Mind: The Philosophy of Roy Wood Sellars. Springfield, Ill.: Charles C. Thomas.
  2. ^ Norman Melchert (1994). Who's to Say? Indianapolis, In.: Hackett Publishing Company. ISBN 0872202712
  3. ^ Norman Melchert (2010). The Great Conversation (6th ed). Oxford University Press, USA. ISBN 978-0-19-539761-1
  4. ^ Norman Melchert (2008). Philosophical Conversations: A Concise Introduction (illustrated edition). Oxford University Press, USA. ISBN 0195328469

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