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HGSE Remembers Professor Israel Scheffler

On Friday, April 24, the HGSE community celebrated the life and career of Professor Israel Scheffler in a memorial tribute.

Retired HGSE Professor Israel Scheffler, a philosopher of education, passed away on Sunday at the age of 90.  He began his career at HGSE in 1952 where he worked for 40 years teaching courses and conducting research on the philosophy of education.

“Israel Scheffler leaves behind a lasting legacy in the field of the philosophy of education — his philosophical interpretations of language, symbolism, science, and education remain as resonant and relevant today as when they were written,” said Dean James Ryan.

Scheffler published 17 books in his lifetime, including The Language of Education (1960), Reason and Teaching (1973), In Praise of the Cognitive Emotions…(1991), Worlds of Truth: A Philosophy of Knowledge (2009), and two autobiographical volumes. His works have been translated into seven different languages, and in recent years, Routledge has reprinted six of his books as part of their Routledge Revival series, with a seventh slated to be re-released next month.

HGSE Administrative Assistant to the Administrative and Academic Deans JoAnne Sorabella, who worked alongside Scheffler for 18 years, recalled his kindness, generosity, and thoughtfulness, as well as how hard he worked on publications. “We go back so far that I remember using carbon paper for copies instead of the copy machine,” she said. “He wrote his books out all long hand and I would type them in at first on the IBM Selectric typewriter and as we progressed we moved forward to the computer,” she said. “We spent hours learning how to use a computer and discovered the internet together.”

Scheffler earned a B.A. and M.A. degrees in psychology from Brooklyn College, an M.H.L. and a D.H.L.(hon.) from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied with American philosopher Nelson Goodman.

Shortly after graduating the University of Pennsylvania, he was appointed to the faculty at Harvard. In 1964, he was named Victor S. Thomas Professor of Education and Philosophy. He retired from the faculty in 1992.

“He made major contributions to the philosophy of education and the philosophy of science,” said Professor Catherine Elgin. “He also went out of his way to foster the work of his students, colleagues and friends. He was renowned for his kindness. Although he was an acute critic, his target was always the argument, not the arguers. He respected the arguers and sought to help them make the best case possible for their positions. He was a mensch.”

Following his retirement, he continued to make important marks on the field working as the co-founder, co-director, and director of the Philosophy of Education Research Center at Harvard University.  In addition to his many contributions to the Harvard community, he also served as a founding member of the National Academy of Education.  In 1971, he was named a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Scheffler is survived by his wife, Rosalind; his son, Samuel; his daughter, Laurie; and two grandchildren. Services will be held tomorrow, Wednesday, February 19, at 11 am at Temple Emanuel, 385 Ward Street, Newton, Mass.


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