Obituary — Elias Baumgarten


Elias Baumgarten, associate professor emeritus of philosophy at UM-Dearborn’s College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters, died May 5 after an extended battle with complications arising from esophageal cancer.

He was 78 years old, and is survived by his sister Rochelle/Medhahshri Gatlin, his goddaughters Benna and Mira Kessler, his close friends, and the many students he influenced during the course of his life.

A photo of Elias Baumgarten
Elias Baumgarten

Elias was born in Brooklyn, New York, on July 15, 1945. He and his family moved to California in 1952.

He graduated in 1963 from North High School in Torrance, California, where he was a champion debater. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy from Brandeis University in 1967, and his Ph.D. in philosophy from Northwestern University in 1972.

Elias joined UM-Dearborn in 1972 and taught there until he retired in 2018. His courses included Introduction to Philosophy, Ethical Theory, Bioethics, and Ethics of War, Peace, and Nationalism, and Ethics of Social Policy. He won the Distinguished Teaching Award in 1977.

His most important publications include “Zionism, Nationalism, and Morality” (2000) and “Curiosity as a Moral Virtue” (2001). He served for many years on the Pediatrics Ethics Committee and Adult Ethics Committee at the U-M Medical Center and on the Executive Committee of the Medical Ethics Resource Network.

Elias’ greatest love was teaching and learning. He greatly valued his relationships with students, some of whom remained friends or at least correspondents long after they graduated from UM-Dearborn. He especially valued coming to know some of his Arab and Muslim students who changed his life and his perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As a Jew and a human being, Elias hoped above all to see a peaceful and just solution to this conflict and to this end sought to foster dialogue between advocates for both sides. His role model here was the great Jewish sage Rabbi Natan, who defined a hero as “someone who turns an enemy into a friend.”

Elias’ other great loves were conversation, enjoying natural beauty, hiking in the wilderness, art and architecture, baseball and world travel. Over time, he traveled widely in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, the Far East and Africa.

His innate curiosity, his sense of adventure, and his open mindedness enabled him to see farther and deeper into foreign places and cultures than most of us who venture beyond our shores.

Finally, Elias was a kind, empathic, caring individual who took life seriously, but viewed it always with a keen sense of humor and irony. In living his ideals, he touched the lives of countless people in various settings for the good. May his memory be a blessing to all those who were fortunate enough to know him.

Elias was overwhelmed and grateful for the loving and diligent care he received at Angela Hospice. Memorial contributions, if desired, may be made to Angela Hospice in Livonia at, a 501(c)(3) organization.

A memorial will be scheduled in the mid- to late summer. For more information, contact Michael Mulvihill at [email protected].

Submitted by the College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters


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