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Richard B. Brandt
LSA Minutes


Richard B. Brandt, Roy Wood Sellars Distinguished College Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, passed away September 10. 1997, in Ann Arbor. He was 86 years old. One of the most influential moral philosophers of the second half of the twentieth century, Professor Brandt was the author of six books and nearly one hundred articles. He joined the Michigan Department as Chair in 1964, and served ably in this capacity for thirteen years. During his tenure, the Department grew from twelve to twenty faculty members. In 1976, he was awarded the University's Distinguished Faculty Achievement Award.

Professor Brandt was born October 17, 1910 in Wilmington, Ohio. He grew up in Troy, Ohio, and graduated from Denison University in 1930. He studied at Trinity College, Cambridge University, where he received a second B.A., then at Tuebingen University. He received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from Yale University in 1936. Before coming to Michigan, he taught philosophy at Swarthmore College, where he was named Charles and Harriet Coxe McDowell Professor. At Swarthmore and Michigan, he trained many students who are now distinguished philosophers. Two of his former students are current members of the Michigan Department. After his retirement from Michigan in 1981, he taught as visiting professor at the Institute for Philosophy and Public Affairs at the University of Maryland, Florida State University, Georgetown University Law Center, and University of California, Irvine. He was prolific with important work to very near the end of his long life. His Facts, Values, and Morality was published in 1996.

Traditional philosophical questions. Brandt insisted, are often confused, and a philosopher must work to identify what is clear and important in them. He rejected appeals to "intuition," and worked to find better ways to support philosophical conclusions. His "rule-utilitarianism," today a leading theory of right and wrong, bases answers to moral questions on the benefits that flow from the widespread acceptance of a moral code. Brandt first set forth a version of this position in Ethical Theory (1959), which has been translated into Italian, Spanish, and Polish. In 1974. Brandt was selected to give the John Locke Lectures at Oxford University, which were the basis for A Theory of the Right and the Good (1979), his crowning achievement. Here he addressed traditional moral concerns by identifying a new question with a clear meaning: What kind of moral system would a person support for a society in which he expected to live, if he made optimal use of all available information? Brandt's books were landmarks, always careful and trenchant, learned and inventive.

Professor Brandt's work was by no means confined to the foundations of ethics. He wrote on public moral issues regarding suicide, the rules of war, the use of nuclear weapons, defective newborns, abortion, euthanasia, criminal responsibility, and welfare policies, and contributed to a wide range of problems in epistemology and philosophy of mind. His philosophical theories drew on his vast learning in psychology and anthropology, and in this way he expanded the scope of contemporary philosophy. In Hopi Ethics (1954), based on research he conducted in Arizona, he pioneered the use of anthropological data to examine fundamental philosophical issues.

A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Professor Brandt was a Guggenheim Fellow, a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, and an NEH Senior Fellow. He served as President of the American Philosophical Association (Western Division), the American Society for Political and Legal Philosophy, and the Society for Philosophy and Psychology. He was a member of the AAUP committee investigating UCLA's termination of Angela Davis.

Professor Brandt lived philosophy intensely, engaging his colleagues and students in long and avid philosophical conversation on whatever he had been reading, hearing, or writing. He was always determined to get to the root of an issue. His philosophical opinions were strong, but he kept questioning their grounds and exploring reasons to change his views. He was a lunch-time regular at the Michigan League, where he organized the Ethics Table, a weekly discussion group.

Professor Brandt is survived by two children, Richard C. Brandt of Salt Lake City, Utah, and Karen Brandt of St. Paul. Minnesota; two grandchildren. Jared Brandt of San Francisco, California and Kristen Campbell of Davis, California; and by his friend and companion, Karina Niemeyer of Ann Arbor.

Louis Loeb and Allan Gibbard