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William K. Frankena
LSA Minutes


William K. Frankena, Roy Wood Sellars Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, passed away on October 22, 1994. He was 86. When he was awarded emeritus status in 1978, the Regents of the University noted that "he is renowned for his learning in the history of ethics, a subject about which he is generally believed in the profession to know more than anyone else in the world."

As a philosopher, Professor Frankena was known for clarity and penetration, and for structuring philosophical issues in ways that achieved new insights. Beginning with his famous paper "The Naturalistic Fallacy" (published in 1939), he brought these virtues to a wide range of topics in moral philosophy, the history of ethics, moral psychology, the philosophy of education, and religious ethics. His Ethics has been translated into eight languages; its second edition is in its twenty-fourth printing. A number of his most important essays are collected in Perspectives on Morality: Essays by William K. Frankena (Kenneth Goodpaster, editor).

Professor Frankena was born in Manhatten, Montana in 1906. Soon thereafter, his family moved to Zeeland, in western Michigan. After receiving his B.A.from Calvin College in 1930, he went on to graduate study in philosophy, first at Michigan, where he received his B.A. in 1931, and then at Harvard. He spent 1935-36 studying at Cambridge University, and received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1937. That year, Professor Frankena went to the University of Michigan as an Instructor in Philosophy. He stayed at Michigan until his retirement, serving as Chair of the Department of Philosophy from 1947 to 1961.

Professor Frankena earned virtually every honor the University could bestow. He received the University's Distinguished Faculty Achievement Award, and was named the Roy Wood Sellars Distinguished Collegiate Professor of Philosophy. In 1978, he was honored as the first Distinguished Senior faculty Lecturer in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, and also received the Warner G. Rice Humanities Award for that year. Professor Frankena served three terms as a member of the College Executive Committee. Known within the University for his integrity, courage, and forthrightness, and dedication to the fundamental values of the institution, he played a critical role in defense of fundamental academic freedoms during the McCarthy era.

Within the profession, Professor Frankena served as Chair of the Board of Officers of the American Philosophical Association, Chair of the Council for Philosophical Studies, and President of the American Philosophical Association's Western Division. He delivered the prestigious Carus Lectures to the Association. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Education. He was a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study of Behavioral Science, a National Endowment for the Humanities Senior Fellowship, and a Rockefeller Fellowship. He held visiting positions at Harvard, Columbia, Princeton, Tokyo, and the University of Washington.

William Frankena spent a full sixty years at the University of Michigan, as graduate student, faculty member, and emeritus professor. Bill did more than anyone else to make the Department an intellectual and social community, and was a cherished and revered member of it. The Department awards in his honor, and now in his fond memory, the Frankena Prize for Excellence in the Undergraduate Concentration.

William Frankena was a loving and devoted spouse and parent. He married his beloved Sadie (Roelfs) in 1934, and they lived happily until her death in 1978. Frankena is survived by two sons, Karl R. of Ann Arbor and Mark W. of Alexandria, Virginia, four grandchildren, and one brother.

Louis Loeb
Stephen Darwall