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Memorial Minutes, 2011
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Leonard H. Ehrlich, 1924–2011

Leonard H. Ehrlich, professor emeritus of philosophy and of Judaic studies at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and longtime APA member, passed away at the age of eighty-seven in Hingham, Massachusetts, on June 8, 2011. He leaves behind his beloved wife and partner of sixty-seven years, Dr. Edith née Schwarz, his children Professor Carl S. Ehrlich (Rabbi Michal Shekel) and Dr. Karin Ehrlich Adelman (Professor Howard Tzvi Adelman), and his grandsons Yonah, Yossi, Elie, Shimi, and Natan.

Leonard was born on April 2, 1924, to a middle-class Jewish family in Vienna, Austria. His parents, originally from southern Poland, had moved to the erstwhile capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire shortly after the end of World War I. In his youth, Leonard experienced the turmoil of the times, including the rise of anti-Semitism and Nazism, and the incorporation of Austria into Nazi Germany in 1938 (the Anschluss). Among other events, he experienced the November pogrom (aka Kristallnacht) later that year and witnessed Hitler marching in triumph through Vienna on the first anniversary of the Anschluss. Forbidden from attending school, Leonard was preparing to escape the coming catastrophe by attempting to immigrate illegally to British Mandatory Palestine with his Zionist youth group, when his parents received the coveted affidavit to immigrate to the United States in November 1939, two months following the outbreak of World War II.

Settling with his parents in Chicago, Leonard received his American citizenship upon being drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943. In spite of his strong support for the war effort, he didn’t want to be put in the position of harming other human beings. Hence, Leonard volunteered to become a front-line medic. Shortly before being shipped to the European front, his best friend since his schooldays in Vienna, Edith Schwarz, hopped on a bus for the three-day ride from New York to Kansas, where Leonard was stationed, in order to marry him. Leonard served with distinction in Europe, participating in the Battle of the Bulge and being awarded the Silver Star and the Purple Heart. Ironically, the war’s end found him stationed in his native Austria. His experiences in the war, including the loss of comrades and the murder of most of his extended family, led Leonard to a lifelong search for the answer to the question: Why?

Following their respective graduations from Roosevelt University, Edith and Leonard, who had received his B.S. in chemistry, decided to continue their studies in psychology in Europe, partly in order to track down any family members who may have survived the Holocaust. Enrolling at the University of Basel, they were also required to take courses in philosophy, which is how they first encountered Karl Jaspers. Ultimately, this encounter was to lead to both of them switching their academic interests from psychology to philosophy. What stood out for Leonard was Jaspers’s ability to make philosophy relevant to the great moral issues of the day through works such as his The Question of German Guilt. The more he delved into the topic, the more Leonard was convinced that it was philosophy that would be able to provide the answers to the questions that were troubling him. For Jaspers, philosophy was not only theoretical but practical. Grappling with moral and ethical issues also informed the essence of his being and his personal behavior towards others, all of which resonated deeply with Leonard, who found his answer to a world gone mad in his own unimpeachable honesty, integrity, modesty, and principle.

A contact established for them by Jaspers with Charles Hendel of Yale University led to Leonard’s and Edith’s enrollment at that institution subsequent to their return to the States. In 1956, shortly after completing his comps, in the middle of which their first child was born, Leonard received an invitation to teach in the philosophy department at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Although he was just beginning work on his dissertation, owing to a lack of money to support his growing family Leonard accepted the job. The University of Massachusetts at Amherst was to remain his academic home for the whole of his thirty-five-year teaching career.

As an exponent of what became known as continental philosophy, Leonard came to feel increasingly marginalized within his own department, in which analytical philosophy eventually became predominant. Although Leonard appreciated and indeed would devote units of his popular courses to logic (as well as encourage his children to study logic), for him it was a part of the philosophical tradition and not the be-all and end-all, since—after all—it could not answer the fundamental questions of existence that had enticed him to philosophy in the first place. This brought him into conflict with the younger members of his department, who seemed to view what he did as outdated and irrelevant.

Leonard’s unhappiness with his departmental situation may have been a factor in his enthusiasm for initiatives outside his home department. One of his major legacies was as the main founder and the longtime director of the university’s Judaic studies program (now the department of Judaic and Near Eastern studies), and indeed he also taught courses in Jewish philosophy as part of his teaching load in the philosophy department.

Another legacy was a direct outgrowth of his area of specialization: the philosophy of Karl Jaspers, which was the main focus of his scholarly output as of the time of his 1960 Yale dissertation. During the following half-century, Leonard became arguably the world’s leading Jaspers scholar, with a monograph (Karl Jaspers: Philosophy as Faith [1975]), edited and annotated translations (with Edith Ehrlich and George B. Pepper, Karl Jaspers: Basic Philosophical Writings [1986, 1994]; with Michael Ermarth and Edith Ehrlich, Karl Jaspers: The Great Philosophers, Vols. III and IV [1993 and 1994]); four volumes of the proceedings of the International Jaspers Conferences coedited with Richard Wisser; and some three dozen articles and chapters about Jaspers in various publications (view the complete list).

Together with his wife, Edith, and the late George Pepper, Leonard founded the Karl Jaspers Society of North America (KJSNA) in 1980. The centenary of Jaspers’s birth in 1983 inaugurated the first in a series of International Jaspers Conferences held in conjunction with the World Congress of Philosophy. The first five such meetings were organized by Leonard together with his close friend Richard Wisser, who jointly edited the first four volumes of proceedings to emerge from them (1988, 1993, 1998, 2003).

As the doyens of Jaspers scholars, Leonard and Edith were honored by having an issue of the online journal Existenz (Vol. 5, no. 2 [2010]) dedicated to them and featuring their writings, including fragments of a philosophical autobiography Leonard was working on when he passed away, and by the publication of a festschrift dedicated to them and to George Pepper, edited by Helmut Wautischer, Alan M. Olson, and Gregory J. Walters, Philosophical Faith and the Future of Humanity (2012), which takes its name from the title of an essay by Leonard included in the volume. Although Leonard knew they were in the works, unfortunately they did not appear until after his passing.

Other areas to which Leonard contributed include fundamental philosophy and Jewish philosophy. He had hoped to gather and edit his studies on the former in book form, a project that his passing precluded. His major contributions to the latter area include his monograph Fraglichkeit der Jüdischen Existenz: Philosophische Untersuchungen zum modernen Schicksal der Juden (1993), and a number of studies on Franz Rosenzweig. Apropos the latter, Leonard was named an honorary lifetime member of the International Franz Rosenzweig Society, and in 1988 he was named the first official Franz-Rosenzweig-Gastprofessor at the University of Kassel. He also served as a visiting professor at Mount Holyoke College and held guest professorships at the University of Freiburg and the University of Mainz.

In addition to the above, there was one project to which Leonard’s attention always returned during the last thirty-five years of his life: a philosophical and historical investigation of the decision-making processes of the Jewish leadership under Nazi domination. Written together with Edith, the manuscript of Choices under Duress of the Holocaust was completed shortly before his death. This magnum opus is currently being prepared for publication in two volumes of approximately 800 pages each and should appear in either 2014 or 2015.

Leonard continued working until shortly before the end. His last appearance in public was at a special session honoring the founders of the KJSNA on the society’s thirtieth anniversary at the APA Eastern Division meeting in Boston on December 27, 2010, at which he presented the paper that gave its title to the festschrift edited by Wautischer, Olson, and Walters. He died less than six months later of congestive heart failure.

- Carl S. Ehrlich, York University, Toronto

James Eadie White, 1939–2011

James E. White passed away on July 9, 2011. Professor White was born on April 7, 1939. He grew up in Denver, Colorado. After receiving a B.A. in philosophy from Dartmouth College in 1961, he went on to receive an M.A. and a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Colorado in 1963 and 1968, respectively.

He joined the philosophy department of St. Cloud State University in 1964 and taught philosophy there for thirty-six years, until his retirement in 2000.

Among his numerous publications were An Introduction to Philosophy and Contemporary Moral Problems. The latter text's great popularity is demonstrated by its ten editions, the last completed shortly before his death. The last four editions contained frequently updated materials on "War, Terrorism, Torture, and Assassination.”

Professor White was a popular teacher who attracted many students with his provocative and entertaining lectures and discussions. He had a gift for getting to the heart of philosophical issues by using contemporary examples. He brought enthusiasm to the subjects he taught, which was reflected in the enthusiasm of his students.

Besides ethics and epistemology, Professor White taught courses in aesthetics and Eastern religions. After retirement he continued to participate in departmental activities by sitting in on advanced classes and attending departmental colloquia.

Jim White was a highly accomplished mountain climber. He climbed Mount McKinley and went on two Himalayan expeditions with his brother Gene and was involved in rescues on both McKinley and Makalu in Nepal. He married his wife, Elena, in 1963, and the two of them shared many years of outdoor adventures, including climbing the Matterhorn together. They went on to have two sons, Mike and Leif, and enjoyed forty-eight years of marriage.

Jim was a central figure in St. Cloud's bike and ski community. Many testimonials have been given since his death, which praised him for his commitment to mentoring the members of these groups and for his generosity in providing them with the latest equipment.

Jim was preceded in death by his parents and his brother Gene. He is survived by his wife, Elena, his two sons, Mike and Leif, and a half-brother, Joseph White.

The loss of Jim's quick wit and his facility for creating counter examples to philosophical dogmas is something that those of us who were his colleagues will always regret.

- M. G. Anderson, St. Cloud State University

 

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