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Irving Copi

Irving Copi

Irving Copi

The Bertrand Russell Society

Irving Copi, 1917-2002*

Irving M. Copi, retired professor emeritus in philosophy from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, died peacefully at his home in Honolulu on August 19, 2002. Born July 28, 1917 in Duluth Minnesota, Irving attended school there and was captain of the Debate Team at South Central High School (pity his opponents!) and later was chess champion of Ann Arbor in 1935. He was inspired philosophically by his teacher Bertrand Russell at the University of Chicago, and was cited by Russell in his autobiography as one of his 3 best and brightest students. Copi held professorships at the University of Michigan (1958- 1969), and the University of Hawaii (1969-1990), as well as appointments at the University of Illinois, Air Force University, and Princeton University. He received numerous academic honors, including Guggenheim and Ford Foundation fellowships, a National Science Foundation grant, and a Fulbright-Hays Senior Research Fellowship. Irving did seminal work in the development of computers, co-authoring The Logical Design of an Idealized General-Purpose Computer in 1954, authoring Artificial Languages in 1958, and Realization of Events by Logical Nets with Elgot and Wright in 1958. Other of his well-known works include Objects, Properties, and Relations In the Tractatus 5.542 in 1958, Essays on Wittgenstein's Tractatus, edited with Beard in 1966, and The Theory of Logical Types in 1971. His celebrated texts – Introduction to Logic and Symbolic Logic – were translated into many languages and dominated the field for several decades.

It is not widely known that in his younger days, Irv was a noted political activist, drawn to socialism. He dropped out of college during the Second World War to work in the auto factories of Detroit, where he became a UAW shop steward and organizer. He remained throughout his life devoted to achieving social justice and human welfare.

Although known internationally primarily as a logician, Irv confessed to me one time that his deepest aspiration was to be a metaphysician, that he yearned to have a comprehensive vision of the world and our place in it. He exhibited throughout his career an enduring commitment as a philosopher to the search for truth and wisdom.

Among the many personal qualities that Irving Copi embodied so thoroughly in his personal and professional life, we would surely count his integrity as a person, his loyalty to friends and generosity to students, and his extraordinary wry sense of humor. Irv was simply incapable of dissembling or pretending that he was other than himself. He loved to play poker and was welcomed to any game for, being unable to "fake it," quite naturally he was something less than a stellar player. Once you were Irving's friend, you remained so no matter what professional differences might arise. He was always available to his students and enjoyed taking them sailing on his beloved boat. His wry humor was somewhat legendary here. I recall vividly when, at a time when passing an examination in logic was mandatory for all our graduate students, a student asked Irv what kind of questions he might expect to find on the exam. Irv advised him to ask the department secretary to look at some past exams. After taking the exam, the student came to Irv rather perplexed and said that the questions given were exactly the same as those given last year. "Yes," Irv spontaneously replied," but we changed the answers!"

We will miss Irving Copi mightily but take solace in knowing that with his wonderful family, devoted friends and numerous admirers, he lived the good life and meant so much to so many of us.

Eliot Deutsch, University of Hawaii at Manoa

*  from Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association vol. 76, no. 2 (2002), 125-26.