In Memoriam: John Edwin Smith, Celebrated Philosopher and Editor

John Edwin Smith, an early champion of the tradition of American philosophy who taught at Yale for nearly 40 years, died on Dec. 7 while visiting his daughter in Arlington, Virginia. He was 88 years old.

Smith’s many publications include “Reason and God, The Spirit of American Philosophy,” “Experience and God,” “Themes in American Philosophy,” “Purpose and Thought: The Meaning of Pragmatism,” “America’s Philosophical Vision,” “Royce’s Social Infinite,” “The Analogy of Experience: An Approach to Understanding Religious Truth” and “Quasi-Religions: Hinduism, Marxism, Nationalism.” Works about his ideas include “Reason, Experience and God: John E. Smith in Dialogue” and “The Recovery of Philosophy in America: Essays in Honor of John Edwin Smith.”

Smith was also a force in inaugurating the critical editions of the major figures of American thought. He was the general editor of the “Works of Jonathan Edwards” and the volume editor of volume two of Edwards’ “Religious Affections.”

Born in Brooklyn, New York, on May 27, 1921, Smith received his B.A. and Ph.D. in philosophy from Columbia University and an M.Div. from Union Theological Seminary. He began his teaching career at Vassar College in 1945, and then taught at Barnard College 1946 to 1952, when he joined the Yale faculty. He was appointed the Clark Professor of Philosophy in 1972 and was chair of the philosophy department for five years. He retired in 1991.

Smith served as president of the American Philosophical Society, Eastern Division, the American Theological Society, the Metaphysical Society of America, the Hegel Society and the C.S. Peirce Society. He was the founder and long-time president of the Society of Philosophers in America. He gave named lectureships at several universities, including Harvard, Marquette, Princeton Theological Seminary and Union Theological Seminary.

An amateur chef, he was a member of the Culinary Institute of America.

Preceded in death by his wife of 55 years, Marilyn Schulhof Smith, Smith is survived by his daughters, Robin Smith Swanberg of Wellesley, Massachusetts, and Diana Smith of Arlington, Virginia; his son-in-law, Charles; and his grandson, Tyler.

A memorial service is planned for early this year. Contributions in Smith’s memory can be sent to the Jonathan Edwards Center, Yale Divinity School, 409 Prospect St., New Haven, CT 06511.

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