The University of Michigan Philosophy professor, William Frankena, achieved international stature in Moral Philosophy and the History of Ethics during his 40+ year tenure at the University of Michigan. Although he probably will not be considered to be of the same caliber as his younger fellow Dutch American philosophers, Plantinga and Wolterstorff, in terms of quality of contributions to the field of Philosophy, he did become internationally known for his contributions to the field of Ethics. His first published paper entitled, “The Naturalistic Fallacy”, which appeared in the academic journal “Mind” in 1939, put Frankena in the Philosophy discipline limelight. He continued to publish many more important papers on Ethical Theory, the History of Ethics, and the Philosophy of Education during the remainder of his academic and scholarly career. He was considered by his contemporaries to be an insightful ethical thinker, and also an erudite historian of Ethics.
Frankena is also well known for the widely used textbook entitled, “Ethics”, published in 1963. The text is still widely used today and has been translated in eight languages. His most important essays have been assembled in an edited publication by Kenneth Goodpaster. The collection was published in 1976 and is entitled, “Perspectives on Morality: Essays by William K. Frankena”. In 1981, the academic journal “The Monist” devoted its entire July issue to Frankena with the title, “The Philosophy of William Frankena.
His colleagues in the field of Philosophy, as a measure of esteem, elected him to be the president of The American Philosophical Association for the 1965-1966 time period. In addition, Frankena served as Chair of the Council for Philosophical Studies from 1965 to 1972. He was also named a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the National Academy of Education.
In 1974, Frankena was invited to deliver the prestigious Carus Lectures to a Meeting of The American Philosophical Association. He is also the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Fellowship from the Center for Advanced Study of Behavioral Science, a Senior Fellowship from the National Endowment of the Humanities, and a Fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation.
Professor Frankena has held visiting positions at Harvard University, Columbia University, Princeton University, the University of Washington and the University of Tokyo. In 1978, the University of Michigan honored Frankena as the first Distinguished Senior Faculty Lecturer in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts. In that same year the Regents of the University of Michigan awarded him emeritus status.
Frankena joined the University of Michigan in 1937 as an Instructor in the Department of Philosophy, and rose to the Roy Wood Sellars and Distinguished Collegiate Professor of Philosophy. At Michigan he served as the Chair of the Department of Faculty Achievement Award among other academic positions during his 40 year tenure at the University of Michigan.
William Frankena was born in Manhattan, Montana on June 21, 1908. He grew up in Zeeland, Michigan where he was raised in a Dutch American community with firm roots in the Dutch Reformed tradition. He attended Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan and received his B.A. degree in 1930. He began his graduate work at the University of Michigan, but from there went on to Harvard University, where he studied with C. I. Lewis, Ralph Barton Perry and Alfred North Whitehead. He received his Ph.D. Degree from Harvard University in1937. His doctoral dissertation was entitled, “Recent Intuitionism in British Ethics”.
William Frankena married Sadie Roelfs in 1934. His wife passed away in 1978, fully 16 years prior to his death. There are two surviving sons, Karl R. of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Mark W. of Alexandria, Virginia, plus four grandchildren.
Memorial Minutes, William Klaas Frankena, 1908-1994
In Memoriam: William K. Frankena. [Retired professor of Philosophy at the University of Michigan] [Obituary]
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