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Richard Wollheim


Richard Wollheim

Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus





The philosopher Richard Wollheim died in London on November 4, 2003, at the age of 80, having taught at the University of California, Berkeley from 1985 till the spring of 2003 and having served as chairman of the Department of Philosophy from 1998 to 2002. Born in London on May 5, 1923, Wollheim attended Winchester School and Balliol College, Oxford University. From 1942 to 1945 he was a soldier in the Second World War and was briefly taken a prisoner of war but eventually managed to escape. In a memoir soon to be published, Wollheim has given a vivid account of this phase of his life which included his participation in the liberation of the German concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen. From 1949 to 1982, Wollheim taught philosophy at University College, London, where in 1963 he became Grote Professor of Mind and Logic and permanent head of the department. After his retirement from University College he was a professor of philosophy at Columbia University from 1982 to 1985. In California he taught for some years at both UC Davis and Berkeley.


Among the honors Wollheim received was an invitation to deliver the William James lectures at Harvard University in 1982, in which he examined the problem of personal identity. The lectures were published in 1984 as The Thread of Life. Wollheim also gave the Ernst Cassirer lectures at Yale University in 1991, which led to his book, The Emotions, in 1999. In 1968-69 he was president of the (British) Aristotelian Society and from 1993 onwards of the British Society for Aesthetics. In 2002-03 he served as president of the Pacific Division of the American Philosophical Association. He was in addition an honorary affiliate of the British Psychoanalytical Society and an honorary member of the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute. In 1991 he was given an award for distinguished services by the International Society for Psychoanalysis.


Wollheim belonged to an extraordinarily productive generation of British philosophers whose influence is now broadly felt. Through his training at Oxford he became familiar early on with the methods of conceptual analysis that were then flourishing, but, where others used these methodological tools primarily in the examination of questions concerning mathematics, the natural sciences, and ordinary language, Wollheim employed them (after some work in political philosophy) mainly in such fields as the philosophy of mind, psychoanalysis, and the philosophy of art. Even before he came to these topics he had established his extraordinary independence of mind in a sympathetic and insightful work on the Idealist philosopher, F.H. Bradley (1959), against whom the analytic tradition in philosophy had originally revolted. Subsequent books on Sigmund Freud (1971), on The Mind and its Depth (1993), and on The Emotions (1999), reveal Wollheim’s profoundly committed and informed approach to the concerns of psychoanalysis. In the philosophy of art Wollheim published the monograph Art and Its Objects (1968), an original study of how art is perceived, a collection of essays On Art and the Mind (1973) and Painting as an Art (1987), which grew out of the Andrew W. Mellon Lectures, which he delivered at the National Gallery in Washington D.C. He was in addition the author of a novel with the Freudian title A Family Affair (1969), and of numerous philosophical and art critical essays.


Wollheim’s deepest intellectual commitment was to the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud and Melanie Klein. In many of his writings he sought both to interpret and use these theories drawing in this endeavor on the tools and concepts of contemporary philosophy. His true obsession in life was, however, art. In Painting as an Art he describes how he would contemplate a single painting for three hours at a time, believing that only in this way the work would reveal its meaning. For all his success Wollheim remained a man of admirable modesty about his achievements and kept a worldly distance from his own work. Both quintessentially English and at the same time entirely cosmopolitan, he was a great conversationalist and wit who could sum up people and situations in short, telling, and utterly hilarious phrases. Wollheim is survived by his second wife Mary, two sons Bruno and Rupert, and daughter Emilia.



              Alan Code

              Barry Stroud

              Hans Sluga