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Paul Arthur Schilpp

Paul Arthur Schilpp

The Bertrand Russell Society

Paul Arthur Schilpp, 1897-1993*

Paul Arthur Schilpp, founder of the Library of Living Philosophers, died of respiratory failure on September 5, 1993. Born on February , 1897, in Dillenburg, Germany, Professor Schilpp was the son of a German fundamentalist minister. He came to America in 1913 to study English and graduated three years later with a bachelor’s degree from Baldwin-Wallace College in Ohio. Schilpp went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in divinity at Garrett Theological Seminary and a master’s in philosophy and religion at Northwestern University in 1922. He received a doctorate from Stanford University in 1936.

Professor Schilpp taught at the College of Puget Sound (1922-23), the University of the Pacific (1923-36), Northwestern University (1936-1965), and Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (Distinguished Research Professor, 1965-1981).

In 1989 the American Philosophical Association honored Professor Schilpp for his most important contribution to the field, the “Library of Living Philosophers,” the internationally known 21-volume series on the ideas of some of this century’s greatest thinkers. Schilpp was founder of the Library and edited or co-edited the first 19 volumes, beginning in 1939 with The Philosophy of John Dewey, followed by volumes on such figures as Santayana, Einstein, Russell, Popper and Sartre. In addition to the Library of Living Philosophers, Professor Schilpp produced an array of books widely translated into other languages, including his Kant’s Pre-Critical Ethics, The Quest for Religious Realism (the Mendenhall Lectures at DePauw University), and Commemorative Essays. But, above all, his primary interest was in teaching, and he was a superb teacher, who was at his best in lecturing on contemporary moral, social, political, and religious problems to hundreds of students at a time.

Professor Schilpp was a former president of the American Philosophical Association and served as a philosophy consultant for the Encyclopedia Britannica for 25 years. He received several honorary degrees and was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal of Phi Beta Kappa and the Bertrand Russell Society Award. Throughout his career, Paul was a leader in numerous social causes-chief of which were Universal Peace and World Government-and he was a member of the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy and the American Civil Liberties Union. He was a passionate and vociferous advocate of the importance of “thinking for oneself,” and he believed that reason could overcome prejudice and help us create a world in which we can all live together. In his own words: “All my life I have believed that no man is greater than the causes he espouses and to which he is dedicated and no cause is greater than the improvement of humanity in all areas. Humanity is in danger of succumbing to thoughtless emotionalism, unwilling to pay the price of serious thinking. Love, I believe, is more powerful than hate, and ideas are still the most effective weapons.”

Mark L. Johnson
Southern Illinois University at Carbondale


Controversy and debate seemed to follow philosopher Paul Schilpp around for most of his life. Throughout his long career at Northwestern University, and within the field of philosophy in general, Schilpp sought to provoke thought and encourage discussion.

Paul Arthur Schilpp was born in Dillenburg, Germany on February 6, 1897. His father, a Methodist minister, moved the family to the Midwest when Schilpp was 16. In 1913 he enrolled at Baldwin-Wallace College, Ohio. Although he was still unable to speak English; he taught himself the language as he attended school. In 1916, he received his A.B. from Baldwin-Wallace College. In 1918 he became the minister of Calvary Church in Terre Haute, Indiana. After three years Schilpp decided to return to school, and in 1922 he received a Bachelor’s of Divinity from Garrett Theological Seminary and an M.A. in Philosophy and Religion from Northwestern University. He spent one semester at the University of California, Berkeley in 1924 and audited courses at the University of Munich in 1928. In 1936 Schilpp received his Ph.D. from Stanford University for his dissertation entitled “A Critical Analysis of Kant’s Ethical Thought of the Pre-Critical Period.” He received four honorary doctorates over the course of his life, from Baldwin-Wallace College, Springfield College in Massachusetts, Kent State University, and Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Schilpp joined Northwestern University as a lecturer in the Department of Philosophy in 1936 after being fired from his previous positions at the College of Puget Sound, WA (1922-23) for religious radicalism and the College of the Pacific, CA (1923-36) for political, economic, and social radicalism. He was named Associate Professor in 1936 and became a full professor in 1950. While at Northwestern Schilpp was appointed to many special lectureships around the United States and the world. He was invited to teach at the University of Munich in 1948, the first American professor invited to teach at a German university since the end of World War II. Schilpp also received a grant from the Watumuli Foundation to lecture for a year (1950-51) at over fifteen Indian, Kashmiri, and Ceylonese universities.

Over the course of his career at Northwestern he was frequently at the center of controversy. Shortly after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death Schilpp gave a speech that labeled FDR a Judas Iscariot for leading the United States into World War II. This declaration caused an outcry among students, with many calling for the University administration to formally censure Schilpp. His sometimes rocky relationship with the University administration during the early part of his career was reflected in his being the only faculty member not to receive an automatic pay raise in 1947. In spite of these problems, Schilpp remained at Northwestern for nearly thirty years, retiring from the University when he reached its mandatory retirement age of 68. He did not, however, stop teaching. After leaving Northwestern in 1965 as Professor Emeritus, he became the Visiting Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, a position that he held for fifteen years until he finally retired for good in 1980.

Despite a number of important individual texts, including Kant’s Pre-Critical Ethics, Do We Need a New Religion?, The Quest for Religious Realism, Human Nature and Progress and The Crisis in Science and Education, Schilpp is best known for founding, editing, and contributing to the first nineteen volumes of the Library of Living Philosophers series. The first volume, on John Dewey, was published in 1939. The series includes works covering the work of Bertrand Russell, George Santayana, G. E. Moore, and Albert Einstein among others. After his retirement from Southern Illinois University in 1980 Schilpp stepped down as Editor of the Series, which is still being published today.

Schilpp was also active outside of the university setting. He remained a Methodist minister all his life, even though his viewpoints on religion differed widely from those of mainstream Methodists. He was an avowed advocate of world government and of prohibiting the use and production of nuclear energy and weapons. He was on the Board of Directors of the ACLU, the National Board of SANE (an anti-nuclear energy group), and was a member of the Board of Directors of the United World Federalists.

Schilpp met his first wife, Louise Gruenholz while he attended Baldwin-Wallace College. They had four children: Erna, a Northwestern University graduate; Marjorie; Robert; and Walter. In 1950 he married his second wife, Madelon Golden (WCAS 1945), a reporter who was a former student of Schilpp’s. They adopted two children: Erich in 1958 and Margot Marlene in 1962. Schilpp died on September 6, 1993, at age 96, of respiratory failure.

*  Obituary by Mark L. Johnson from Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association vol. 67, no. 6 (Jun 1994), 50-51.
Biography from the Schilpp Archives Webpage at Northwestern University