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Sidney Morgenbesser, Esteemed Philosophy Professor Emeritus, Dies at 82
Sidney Morgenbesser

Columbia luminary Sidney Morgenbesser, John Dewey Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, died Aug. 4 at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center in Manhattan. He was 82.

A hit with both students and colleagues, Morgenbesser was best known for his keen intellect, collaborative teaching style and acute wit. Morgenbesser was honored with the Society of Columbia Graduates' Great Teacher Award in 1982. During the ceremony, Morgenbesser was lauded for his "outstanding qualities of mind and scholarship" and for his method of teaching, which "has a precision and an impatience with pretension, which turns undergraduates into honest, diligent students, eager to learn and question."

"Someone recently asked me what Sidney Morgenbesser was known for, and I had to say that he was known for being Sidney Morgenbesser," explained good friend and colleague Arthur Danto, Johnsonian Professor Emeritus of Philosophy. "He was one of the great philosophical personalities of the 20th century, or of any century, since the person most like him was Socrates, for both of them existed through impromptu philosophical conversations. I once fantasized traveling to see some a legendary wise man of the kind they show sitting in the mountains. Before I could ask my question about the meaning of life, he would say, 'Wait, how is Sid?' "

Morgenbesser was born Sept. 22, 1921, in New York City. After graduating from Columbia 's affiliate, the Jewish Theological Seminary, Morgenbesser took his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1950 and 1956, respectively. He joined Columbia as a lecturer in 1953. By 1966 he was made full professor and in 1975 he was named John Dewey Professor of Philosophy. A Guggenheim fellow, Morgenbesser served as the chairman of the New York chapter of Society for Philosophy and Public Affairs as well as an associate fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies . He was a book review editor of the Journal of Philosophy and a member of the editorial board of The Nation.

Published: Aug 05, 2004
Last modified: Jan 10, 2005

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