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Cooper Harold Langford
LSA Minutes

Aug. 25, 1895 - Aug. 28, 1964

On August 28, 1964, at the beginning of his retirement furlough, Cooper Harold Langford died, after thirty-five years on the faculty of this College. He is survived by his wife Marion and a son, Cooper Harold III, by his first marriage. His son, Cooper, is a professor of chemistry at Amherst College.

Langford was born in Dublin, Arkansas, August 25, 1895, and later attended the University of Arkansas for one year, 1914-15. He then transferred to Clark University and took his A.B. degree there in 1920, having spent the two years, 1917-19, in the army, much of the time in France. From 1920 to 1924 he did graduate work at Harvard, taking a Ph.D. in 1924, not in philosophy but in psychology, though he had already become interested in mathematical logic. In 1923 he was married to Susan Coffman, who died after the War, following a long illness with multiple sclerosis. In 1924-25 he studied logic and philosophy in Cambridge, England, on a Sheldon Fellowship from Harvard. Returning to Harvard, Langford was an instructor there for two years. Then, after two years as an assistant professor at the University of Washington, he came to The University of Michigan as an associate professor in 1929, becoming a full professor in 1933. He was a Guggenheim Fellow in 1935-36 and divided his time between Vienna and Cambridge, England.

During these and the following years Langford published a considerable number of masterly and original papers on logical topics. One of Langford's early papers contains a decision method for a theory of linear order. Historically, this is one of the first decision methods to be given for a logical system. In 1932, with C. I. Lewis of Harvard, he published a book, Symbolic Logic, of which he wrote the second half. This book was important both because of the merit of its contents and because it was the first systematic book in its field in this country and the first in English in two decades. These publications gave Langford an international reputation among both mathematicians and philosophers. The book was reprinted as a paperback in 1950 and 1959.

Langford helped to found the Association for Symbolic Logic and the Journal of Symbolic Logic, serving as an editor of the Journal from 1936 to 1940, and as president of the Association from 1941 to 1944.

Besides the Association of Symbolic Logic. Langford was a member of the American Mathematical Society, the American Philosophical Association, and the University Research Club.

In 1947-48 Langford was on sick leave. He was also remarried, to Marion Miller. He returned to duty in full vigor in the fall of 1948, writing some excellent articles, but in December suffered a stroke which completely incapacitated him for a time and left him partly cripple.. He again went on sick leave. Upon regaining his speech, he resumed work on a somewhat reduced scale for the rest of his life, still publishing short papers occasionally and teaching with pleasure and effect.

At the height of his career Harold Langford gave lustre to a Department already made outstanding by the presence of Roy Wood Sellars and Dewitt H. Parker. He had, in Parker's words, a "most brilliant mind" and "a touch of genius". He was an able lecturer and a stimulating teacher, being at once a master of clear and cogent statement, a sharp critic, and an acutely original thinker. His impact was greatest on his graduate students, to whom he was a friend as well as a teacher, but it was felt in the University as a whole. He came, some will remember, as a replacement for Robert Hark Wenley a forceful personality, humorist, and Hegelian idealist. Langford maintained some of the force and humor, but a greater change philosophically can hardly be imagined, for he was a proponent of the logic and analytical philosophy which Bertrand Russell and G. E. Moore had used for three decades in attacking the idealism Wenley had stood for. Langford was, in fact, part of the crest of the wave of development in symbolic logic and, in this country, one of the pioneers of the analytical philosophy which has since become widely prevalent, even though he was critical of some of its later forms, for example, logical positivism.

William Frankena
Arthur W. Burks