Saul Kripke (1940-2022)

Saul Kripke, one of the most influential analytic philosophers of the 20th Century, has died.

Professor Kripke was well-known for his work in philosophy of language and logic, with his Naming and Necessity, the book version of lectures he delivered at Princeton University in 1970, widely recognized as one of the most important works of 20th Century analytic philosophy. An overview of his influential work can be found here and a list of his publications can be viewed here.

At the time of his death, Kripke was Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Computer Science at CUNY Graduate Center. From 1977 to 1998 he was a professor of philosophy at Princeton University. Prior to that, he held positions at Rockefeller University, Harvard University, and Princeton, and even before he earned his BA from Harvard in 1962, he taught courses at Yale and MIT. He held many visiting positions around the world over the course of his career, including at Cornell University, UCLA, Oxford University, the University of Utrecht, and Hebrew University, to name just some of them.

A 1977 New York Times article about Kripke’s life and career up to that point, and his reputation as a genius, conveys his standing at the time, at least among some philosophers:

Kripke’s potential, his controversial views and his position as [a] budding genius in world analytic philosophy have combined to make him a man who inspires awe and excitement among philosophers. In fact, he has already become something of a cult figure in philosophical circles—gossiped about, studied, analyzed and claimed as a kindred mind. Some philosophers lose their reserve when speaking of him. The cult phenomenon is itself remarkable, for philosophers as a group have such large egos that they correct Aristotle as they would a schoolchild, and they have such a healthy sense of skepticism that they doubt whether such things as proper names exist. Even in groups of two or three, they lace their conversation with exit clauses and qualifiers to guard against having a trapdoor sprung under some private reality. They do not, in short, subordinate or let go of themselves easily, and yet Kripke has been known to bring to their brain‐twisting conclaves the atmosphere of an early Beatles concert.

A 1996 Lingua Franca article by Jim Holt looks at some of the controversial aspects and upshots of Kripke’s reputation.

Among his many honors were the 2001 Schock Prize in Logic and Philosophy from the Swedish Academy of Sciences.

He died on September 15th.

Obituaries and memorial notices elsewhere:
Saul Kripke, Philosopher Who Found Truths in Semantics, Dies at 81” by Sam Roberts at The New York Times
The Mozart of Modality” by Stephen Harrop at City Journal
Saul Kripke Obituary” at The Guardian

UPDATE (10/20/22): Wiley, the academic publisher, has put together a “memorial collection” of open-access materials, including 7 articles by Kripke and 12 articles and book chapters by others about his work. You can view it here.

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Colm McGivern
Colm McGivern
1 year ago

Wow. What an immeasurable loss to the philosophical community.

Colm McGivern
Colm McGivern
Reply to  Colm McGivern
1 year ago

As an update, I had no idea of his allegations of sexual misconduct. His philosophical contributions will be greatly remembered, however perhaps in a slightly tainted light.

no name, for obvious reasons
1 year ago

Saul Kripke is a philosophical legend, for sure. But he leaves behind “a very serious and painful legacy of alleged sexual misconduct”, as Mary Peterson reminds us on Twitter. I hope this is not overlooked in the deluge of tributes that we’re sure to face in the coming days.

Reply to  no name, for obvious reasons
1 year ago

See also the tweets from Catarina Dutilh Novaes and Henrik Lagerlund.

Daniel Andler
1 year ago

I took Kripke’s course on modal logic at UC Berkeley in 1970. I don’t remember how long he stayed on the faculty there. I do remember that, as a graduate student in model theory, I utterly failed to grasp the interest of Kripke’s ideas. I do remember that he behaved in such a strange way, it was hard for most of us to focus on the content of the lecture… Anecdotes, no more…

Reply to  Daniel Andler
1 year ago

Kripke was very likely on the spectrum, no? His skill in math and logic was certainly prodigious, but I got the sense that he struggled with much else. I wonder if we’ll learn more about his personal life in the coming days; he was an enigmatic figure in some sense.

GS Subramanian
GS Subramanian
1 year ago

Prof.Saul Kripke was a most distinguished philosopher. We have all profited from his books and articles.
We are missing a noblest intellect.

Dennis Rohatyn
1 year ago

Kripke proved once and for all
that death is a rigid designator,
thus laying the groundwork for
necessary truth. As water is a
sore decayer of semantic theory,
it follows that what is written on
H2O is the quintessence of rust,
in all possible intellectual whirls.
Quod erat resolutum.