Obituary — Carl Cohen


Carl Cohen, professor emeritus of philosophy, died Aug. 26 at age 92. His 62-year tenure at U-M was one of the longest in university history.

Carl joined the U-M faculty in 1955 after completing his Ph.D. at UCLA. He was a founding member of the Residential College in 1967 and was the founder and 10-year director of the Medical Ethics Program at the Medical School. He chaired the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs and served on the Executive Committee of LSA.

A photo of Carl Cohen
Carl Cohen

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1931, Cohen moved to Miami at age 12. He attended the University of Miami and was on its national championship debate team. He graduated summa cum laude in 1951, obtained a master’s degree at the University of Illinois in 1952, and a Ph.D. in philosophy at UCLA in 1955.

He began his career at U-M in 1955, retiring after a stroke in 2017. In treatment for that stroke, his doctors, nurses and physical therapists included several former students.

Cohen was a member of the national board of directors of the American Civil Liberties Union and chaired its Michigan affiliate from 1971-74. He was also an active member of the labor panel of the American Arbitration Association, and served as a consultant to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Humanities Center and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

During sabbaticals and leaves, Cohen taught at the National University of Singapore, the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, universities in Cuzco and Trujillo in Peru (where he taught in Spanish), Hong Kong University, and the universities of Otago and Victoria in New Zealand.

Cohen published 10 books, translated into many languages, and scores of essays on contemporary philosophical controversies. Cohen’s books and articles contributed to the history of American philosophy.

His books include: “Democracy,”  “Civil Disobedience: Conscience, Tactics and the Law,” “Naked Racial Preference,” “Four Systems,” “Communism, Fascism and Democracy,” “A Conflict of Principles: The Battle over Affirmative Action at the University of Michigan,” and, most recently, “Both Wrong and Bad.” He co-authored “The Animal Rights Debate” with Tom Regan, “Affirmative Action and Racial Preference,” with James Sterba, and the most widely used textbook in logic around the globe, “Introduction to Logic,” with Victor Rodych.

Traveling widely, Carl hiked on remote islands in Scandinavia, Great Britain, the Mediterranean, Japan, the South Atlantic, the Caribbean and more. He also hiked Angel’s Landing at Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon at the age of 77, and took a train through the Canadian Rockies and a boat down the Danube at the age of 91.

Carl’s passions included chess, astronomy and dogs. Former students recall the Westie who accompanied him to class for 16 years.

Cohen’s first marriage to Muriel ended with her death in 1987. He is survived by two children from his second marriage: Jaclyn and Noah Cohen, three nephews, a niece, seven great-nieces and nephews, four great-great-nieces and nephews, and many close friends.

Carl’s impact on the field of contemporary philosophy, as a teacher, as a parent and uncle will be felt for decades to come. Alongside his notable intellectual and worldly accomplishments, Carl’s exuberant, energetically warm, generous, sometimes provocative, and highly engaged spirit is legendary among all he encountered.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Residential College at or Beth Israel Synagogue at


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