University of Rochester

Philosopher, Scholar Lewis White Beck Dies

June 12, 1997

Lewis White Beck, Burbank Professor Emeritus of Moral and Intellectual Philosophy at the University of Rochester, died June 7 in Rochester. He was 83.

Professor Beck, a world-renowned scholar of German philosopher Immanuel Kant, joined the University's Philosophy Department in 1949 and served as its chairman from 1949 to 1966. An associate dean of the graduate school from 1952-56 and dean from 1956-57, Professor Beck was appointed Burbank Professor of Moral and Intellectual Philosophy in 1962.

"With his wisdom, wit, and his charm, Lewis deeply affected everyone who had any association with our department," said Richard Feldman, outgoing philosophy chairman. Under Professor Beck's guidance, the University of Rochester's Philosophy doctoral program gained international recognition.

Professor Beck's publications included Philosophic Inquiry (1952), A Commentary on Kant's Critique of Practical Reason (1961), Early German Philosophy (1969), The Actor and the Spectator (1975), and Essays in Kant and Hume (1978). His translations of Kant's Critique of Practical Reason and The Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals are widely used.

He was a Guggenheim Fellow in 1957-58 and a Fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies in 1964-65. In addition to being a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Science, he was a member of its board of directors from 1970-78.

Professor Beck also served on the National Endowment for the Humanities Council from 1970-75. He was president of the American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division, in 1971 and chair of its board of officers from 1974-77. He was also president of the North East Society for 18th Century Studies in 1977.

He received honorary degrees from Emory University, Hamilton College, the Eberhard Karl University of Tubingen in Germany, and was at various times visiting professor at George Washington University, Columbia University, the University of Minnesota, the University of Western Ontario, Sir George William University in Montreal and the University of California at Berkeley.

Professor Beck, a long-time resident of Rochester, received the University of Rochester's first Edward Peck Curtis Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 1962.

Born in Griffin, Ga., on Sept. 26, 1913, Professor Beck received his bachelor's degree from Emory University in 1934, and his master's and doctoral degrees from Duke University (1935, 1937). Before coming to Rochester, he was a Fellow at the University of Berlin (1937-38), an instructor at Emory University (1938-41), assistant professor at the University of Delaware (1941-46), and associate professor (1946-48) and professor (1948-49) at Lehigh University.

After retiring in 1979, Mr. Beck retained his office in the Philosophy Department. He often taught informal seminars and regularly met with graduate students to discuss their research and writing.

He is survived by his wife, Caroline, of Rochester, and his two sons, Brandon of Virginia, and Hamilton of Moldavia, Eastern Romania, and two grandsons.

A memorial service will be held at the University's Faculty Club in the Frederick Douglass Building at 1 p.m. Saturday, June 21.