Irving Singer, 1925-2015
– MIT News
Irving Singer, a professor emeritus of philosophy at MIT, died Feb. 1 at age 89. Singer was an eminent philosopher whose academic career spanned 65 years — with more than half a century as a professor at MIT.
Singer was the author of 21 books in the field of humanistic philosophy, focusing on topics such as the philosophy of love, the nature of creativity, moral issues, aesthetics, and philosophy in literature, music, and film. His works have been translated into Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and Spanish, among other languages.
The MIT Press recently honored Singer’s career by initiating “The Irving Singer Library,” which includes republication of his books including “The Nature of Love,” volumes 1, 2, and 3, and “Meaning in Life,” volumes 1, 2, and 3; “Cinematic Mythmaking: Philosophy in Film”; “Ingmar Bergman, Cinematic Philosopher: Reflections on his Creativity”; “Mozart and Beethoven: The Concept of Love in Their Operas”; and “Modes of Creativity: Philosophical Perspectives.” Other books by Singer include “George Santayana, Literary Philosopher”; and “Santayana’s Aesthetics: A Critical Analysis.” A manuscript in progress at the time of Singer’s death was titled “Creativity in the Brain.”
A three-day conference in 1991 focusing on Singer’s work generated a book titled “The Nature and Pursuit of Love: The Philosophy of Irving Singer,” edited by David Goicoechea (Prometheus Books, 1995).
Samuel Jay Keyser, a professor emeritus of linguistics who had an office next door to Singer’s in MIT’s Stata Center, remembered his colleague fondly: “We were good office friends, and I am so sorry to hear he has passed on. It is the end of an era.”
Singer retired from MIT in 2013, having served on the MIT faculty in the Department of Philosophy and Linguistics (and its forerunners) since 1958. Until age 85, he was still actively teaching. Singer enjoyed teaching immensely, appreciating it as integral to his process of developing ideas that would inform his writing projects. Several of Singer’s course lectures are viewable on MIT OpenCourseWare, on topics including “Philosophy in Film and Other Media”; “Feeling and Imagination in Art, Science, and Technology”; and “The Nature of Creativity.”
Timothy Madigan, an associate professor of philosophy at St. John Fisher College, recalled Singer’s influence on his work: “Irving was a role model to me, and a true exemplar of a man of wisdom. He will be greatly missed, but his works will continue to live on.”
Born in Brooklyn to the late Isadore and Nettie Singer, who emigrated from Austria-Hungary and owned a grocery store in Coney Island, Singer graduated from Townsend Harris High School at age 15, having skipped three grades. After beginning undergraduate studies at Brooklyn College, Singer served in World War II.
Recognizing his skill as a writer, the Army selected Singer to chronicle his infantry’s activities, culminating in a document titled “History of the 210th Field Artillery Group” (U.S. Army, 1945). In his later years he wrote a book, currently unpublished, titled: “Memories of World War II,” which included letters home to his brother Mark.
Singer studied at Biarritz American University in France in the months after the war, and then, as a beneficiary of the GI Bill, completed his AB at Harvard University, where he graduated summa cum laude in 1948 and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. In Biarritz he met David Wheeler, who would become a renowned Boston theater director; the two became roommates at Harvard, as well as lifelong friends.
Singer went on to graduate studies at Oxford University and Harvard, earning a PhD in philosophy at Harvard in 1952. Singer joined the MIT faculty after appointments at Harvard, Cornell University, the University of Michigan, and Johns Hopkins University.
Singer was awarded a Fulbright research scholar grant (1955-56, Paris), a Guggenheim fellowship (1965-66), and a Rockefeller Foundation grant (1970, London). He was a fellow of Villa I Tatti, Harvard’s center for Italian Renaissance studies in Florence, for two years, from 1965 to 1967.
Singer’s knowledge and love of opera led to a friendship with Leonard Bernstein, beginning during the composer and conductor’s 1973 Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard. Bernstein thanked Singer for his academic contributions in the book resulting from that famous series of lectures.
Singer was predeceased by his wife, Josephine Fisk Singer, who passed away on Oct. 1, 2014. He leaves four children — Anne, Margaret, Emily, and Ben — four grandchildren, and five nephews and nieces.
List of Publications
19 January 2010
1. “Analyticity,” The Journal of Philosophy, August 1951 (with M. Perkins).
2. “The Definition of More Valuable,” Analysis, June 1953 (with M. Perkins}.
3. “The Logic of Our Language,” The Hudson Review, Autumn 1953.
4. “The Aesthetics of Art for Art’s Sake,” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, March 1954.
5. “The World of George Santayana,” The Hudson Review, Autumn 1954; this essay also appeared in French, German, Spanish, Italian, and Korean translations of Perspectives U.S.A., (No. 13); also in a Polish translation in Tematy, January 1962.
6. Review of A Philosophical Scrutiny of Religion by C.J. Ducasse, The Philosophical Review, July 1954.
7. Review of Reflections on Poetry by Alexander Baumgarten, The Philosophical Review, January 1955.
8. “Literary Truth,” The Hudson Review, Summer 1956.
9. “The Language of Aesthetics,” The Hudson Review, Summer 1956.
10. Essays in Literary Criticism by George Santayana, Scribner, 1956, (Editor) Edition of writings by Santayana with an introduction by Irving Singer.
11. “Constantes Américaines,” Information et Documents, Paris, 1957.
12. “Quelques Réflections sur la Culture Américaine,” Mercure, Paris, 1957.
13. Review of Julien Benda by Robert J. Miess, Michigan Alumni Quarterly, Autumn 1957.
14. Review of Montaigne’s Discovery of Man by Donald M. Frame, The Philosophical Review, January 1957.
15. Santayana’s Aesthetics: A Critical Analysis, Harvard University Press, 1957. Reprint edition: Greenwood Press, 1973.
16. “Ortega on Love,” The Hudson Review, Summer 1958; reprinted Spring 1964.
17. “Painting vs. Ontology,” The Hudson Review, Summer 1958.
18. “Time, Distance, and Form in Proust,” translation from the Spanish of an essay by José Ortega y Gasset, The Hudson Review, Winter 1959; reprinted in The Hudson Review Anthology, Vintage, 1962; reprinted in Aspects of Time, C.A. Patrides, ed., Manchester University Press, 1976.
19. “Art and Sociology,” The Hudson Review, Summer 1959.
20. Review of Santayana: The Later Years by Daniel Cory, The New York Review of Books, September 1963.
21. Review of Essays in Aesthetics by Jean-Paul Sartre, The Philosophical Review, Summer 1965.
22. Review of Dramatic Personages and Love Declared, both by Denis de Rougemont, The New York Review of Books, January 1965.
23. The Nature of Love: Plato to Luther, Random House, 1966. A chapter is reprinted in Perspectives on Sexuality: A Literary Collection, James L. Malfetti and Elizabeth M. Eidlitz, eds., Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972.
24. “Love in Ovid and Lucretius,” The Hudson Review, Winter 1965-66.
25. “The Shadow of Dom Juan in Molière,” Modern Language Notes, December 1970.
26. “Molière’s Dom Juan,” The Hudson Review, Autumn 1971.
27. “Two Essays on the Don Juan Myth in Molière,” MIT Publications in the Humanities, 1972.
28. “Types of Female Orgasm,” The Journal of Sex Research, October 1972 (with J. Singer).
29. “Periodicity of Sexual Desire in Relation to Time of Ovulation in Women,” Journal of Biosocial Science, November 1972 (with J. Singer).
30. Review of The Nature and Evolution of Female Sexuality by Mary Jane Sherfey and The Female Orgasm by Seymour Fisher, The New York Review of Books, November 1972.
31. “Andreas Capellanus: A Reading of the Tractatus,” Modern Language Notes, December 1973.
32. The Goals of Human Sexuality, W.W. Norton, 1973. English edition: Wildwood House, London, 1973. Paperback editions: Wildwood House, London, 1973; Schocken Books, New York, 1974. Dutch translation, A.W. Bruna, 1976. Chapters reprinted in Readings on Ethical and Social Issues in Bio-Medicine, R. Wertz, ed., Prentice-Hall, 1973; in Handbook of Sex Therapy, J. and L. LoPiccolo, eds., Plenum, 1978; and in Philosophy of Sex: Contemporary Readings, A. Soble, ed., Littlefield, Adams, 1980.
33. “Beethoven: The Passion in Fidelio,” The Hudson Review, Summer 1974.
34. “Erotic Transformations in the Legend of Dido and Aeneas,” Modern Language Notes, December 1975.
35. “Opera as Expression: Notes on the Relation between Words and Music,” The Hudson Review, Summer 1976.
36. “Santayana and the Photographic Image,” Proceedings of the Bicentennial Symposium of Philosophy, October 1976.
37. “Death in Venice: Visconti and Mann,” Modern Language Notes, December 1976.
38. “Words and Music in Opera,” Dialogue, April 1977. This essay also appears in French, Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, Romanian, Polish, and Russian translations.
39. “Santayana and the Ontology of the Photographic Image,” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Fall 1977.
40. Mozart and Beethoven: The Concept of Love in Their Operas, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977. Reprint edition: Books on Demand, 1990.
41. “Night’s Wonder World,” (“Richard Wagner and the Philosophy of Love”), Opera News, December 1983.
42. “George Santayana on his 120th Birthday,” Bulletin of The Santayana Society, December 1984.
43. The Nature of Love Volume 1: Plato to Luther, University of Chicago Press, 1984. Revised second edition with a new Preface. Paperback edition, 1987. Chinese translation, YuNan Publishing Co., 1988. Spanish translation, Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 1992. A chapter is reprinted in The Philosophy of (Erotic) Love, Robert C. Solomon and Kathleen M. Higgins, eds., University Press of Kansas, 1991; also in Philosophical Perspectives on Sex & Love, Robert M. Stewart, ed., Oxford University Press, 1995.
44. The Nature of Love Volume 2: Courtly and Romantic, University of Chicago Press, 1984. Paperback edition, 1987. Chinese translation, YuNan Publishing Co., 1989. Spanish translation, Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 1992. A chapter is reprinted in The Philosophy of (Erotic) Love, Robert C. Solomon and Kathleen M. Higgins, eds., University Press of Kansas, 1991.
45. The Nature of Love Volume 3: The Modern World, University of Chicago Press, 1987. Paperback edition, 1989. Chinese translation, YuNan Publishing Co., 1992. Spanish translation, Siglo Veintiuno Editores, l992. A chapter is reprinted in On Love and Friendship: Philosophical Readings, Clifford Williams, ed., Jones & Bartlett, 1995.
46. “Santayana’s Philosophy of Love,” Bulletin of the Santayana Society, Fall 1987.
47. Review of On the Nature of Things Erotic by F. Gonzalez-Crussi, The Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 1988.
48. “The Meaning of Life: Does Anything Matter?” Medicine and the Humanities Video Library (Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions), Spring 1988.
49. Meaning in Life: The Creation of Value, The Free Press, 1992. Japanese translation, Hosei University Press, 1996. Spanish translation, Siglo Veintiuno Editores, forthcoming. Korean translation, Han-Maum Publishing Co., forthcoming. Chinese translation, Yei Chiang Publishing Co., forthcoming.
50. Introduction to The Last Puritan, Vol. 4, The Works of George Santayana, MIT Press, 1994. Paperback edition, 1995.
51. The Nature and Pursuit of Love: The Philosophy of Irving Singer, Prometheus Books, 1995. Two interviews with Irving Singer, twenty papers by others on Irving Singer’s philosophy, and Irving Singer’s response entitled “A Reply to My Critics and Friendly Commentators.”
52. Meaning in Life Volume 1: The Creation of Value, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. Includes a new preface. Paperback edition, 1996. A chapter is reprinted in Philosophical Entrées: Classic and Contemporary Readings in Philosophy, Dale Jacquette, ed., McGraw-Hill, 2001.
53. Meaning in Life Volume 2: The Pursuit of Love, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994. Paperback edition, 1995. Japanese translation, Hosei University Press, 1998.
54. Meaning in Life Volume 3: The Harmony of Nature and Spirit, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. Paperback edition, 1998.
55. “Les Images de Soi,” Qui Sommes-Nous?, Rencontres Philosophiques de l’UNESCO, Gallimard, 1996.
56. “Nuevas Reflexiones sobre El último puritano“, Limbo, No.2. 1997.
57. Reality Transformed: Film as Meaning and Technique, MIT Press, 1998. Paperback edition, 2000.
58. “A Pilgrimage to Santayana,” The Hudson Review, Summer 2000.
59. George Santayana, Literary Philosopher, Yale University Press, 2000.
60. “The Morality of Sex: Contra Kant,” Critical Horizons, No. 2, 2000.
61. Feeling and Imagination: The Vibrant Flux of Our Existence, Rowman & Littlefield, 2001.
62. Sex: A Philosophical Primer, Rowman & Littlefield, 2001; expanded edition 2004.
63. Explorations in Love and Sex, Rowman & Littlefield, 2001. A chapter is reprinted in The Philosophy of Sex: Contemporary Readings, 4th edition, ed. Alan Soble, Rowman & Littlefield, 2002 .
64. “Santayana on Culture and Religion,” Bulletin of the Santayana Society, Fall 2002.
65. “The Dead: Story and Film,” The Hudson Review, Winter 2004.
66. Three Philosophical Filmmakers: Hitchcock, Welles, Renoir, MIT Press, 2004.
67. Sex: A Philosophical Primer: Expanded Edition with a new chapter on “Marriage: Same-Sex and Opposite-Sex,” Rowman & Littlefield, 2004. Paperback edition, 2004.
68. Ingmar Bergman, Cinematic Philosopher: Reflections on his Creativity, MIT Press, 2007.
69. “Love and Autonomy,” The Encyclopedia of Love in World Religions, 2007.
70. Cinematic Mythmaking: Philosophy in Film, MIT Press, 2008.
71. Philosophy of Love: A Partial Summing-Up, MIT Press, 2009.
72. The Irving Singer Library, MIT Press, first segment: volumes 1, 2, and 3 of The Nature of Love trilogy plus new preface for each volume. 2009.
73. The Irving Singer Library, MIT Press, second segment: volumes 1, 2, and 3 of Meaning in Life trilogy plus new preface for each volume. 2010.
74. The Irving Singer Library, MIT Press, third segment: Mozart and Beethoven: The Concept of Love in Their Operasplus new preface. 2010.
75. Modes of Creativity: Philosophical Perspectives, MIT Press, 2011.