Ted Cohen (1939-2014)

Ted Cohen, a professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago, has died. Professor Cohen worked mainly in aesthetics, the history of aesthetics, and on some topics in the philosophy of language. He is especially known for his work on metaphor and the philosophy of humor, including his 1999 book, Jokes: Philosophical Thoughts on Joking Matters.

Sara Bernstein (Duke) shares these reflections: “I took seven classes with him at UChicago because he was so smart, funny, thoughtful, and interesting. I learned a little about Kantian aesthetics and a lot about jokes and metaphor. I also learned the pedagogical art of birdwalking– shifting to a different topic to grab students’ attention, and then pulling them back in after grabbing it.”

(I hope to update this post with links to obituaries and other remembrances as they become available.)

UPDATE: Eric Schliesser shares his remembrance here, which includes a note that Cohen was known as the great soul of the “Latke-Hamantash Debate.”

UPDATE (3/25/2014): Here is the Chicago Sun-Times obituary for Cohen.

Beyond the Ivory Tower. Workshop for academics on writing short pieces for wide audiences on big questions. Taking place October 18th to 19th. Application deadline July 30th. Funding provided.
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10 years ago

(for Ted Cohen)

We sit at rectangular tables, formed into a square.
The others, more women than men,
have woolen coats, frizzy hair,
spiral notebooks, felt-tipped pens.
We wait for the professor of aesthetics
to tell us how to spot the beautiful when we see it.

He hurries in, kept late by a student entranced
by his talk or starved for attention.
Breathless, he begins: The first art was dance
according to Collingwood.
He mentions movement and gesture–a woman squirms;
I hope to know her by the end of the term.

I think of Plato’s cave, and how the light
from outside cast shadows against the wall.
It is January, and what sun we get is bright
but we are shades who walk the halls.
He’s a skeptic, bearded and short;
like Socrates, a questioning sort.

To Croce, he says, art is the expression of emotion.
This does not come as a revelation
To the woman beside me who looks on with devotion
That borders on veneration.
He distinguishes sentiment from sentimentality,
She scribbles on, tracing a shadow for reality.

The progress out of the cave is tedious and slow.
By hour’s end the yearning for beauty is dispelled
and in its place distinctions invidious are all we know,
among mind and soul, and the body where they’re held.
She stops to chat him up afterwards,
earnest furrows across her forehead.

I found him on the internet the other day,
His air laconic, the beard now ashen grey.
Three decades hadn’t doused the fire, only banked the coals,
His look facetious under heavy-lidded folds.
I saw within the dark of his eyes’ squint–
Dry tinder that needed only a flint.

Con Chapman