In Memoriam: Joel Feinberg

Jeff Harrison
March 31, 2004

Joel Feinberg, a professor of philosophy and law whose work helped to shape the American legal landscape, died on March 29. He was 77.

A memorial service is planned for Saturday, April 3, at 2 p.m. at Academy Village, 13701 Old Spanish Trail.

Feinberg came to the UA in 1977 from Rockefeller University in New York when that school eliminated its philosophy department amid budget cuts. He had also taught at Brown, Princeton and UCLA. He became the philosophy department head at the UA in 1978, and was among the first nine Regents' Professors named at the University of Arizona in 1988.

Feinberg already was one of the best-known philosophers in the world when he arrived at the UA, said Ronald Milo, a professor emeritus of philosophy who was on the UA faculty at the time.

He published widely on moral issues such as capital punishment, the treatment of the mentally ill, civil disobedience and environmental ethics.

"Joel was primarily interested in the relationship between morality and law, about the role of law in a free society and about the extent to which law may be used to enforce the moral views of society," Milo said.

UA Regents' Professor Keith Lehrer, who as department head hired Feinberg, said Feinberg opened up the field of the philosophy of law.

"His ability to connect law with morality and ethics brought the philosophy of law into the mainstream, and made it a subject of major inquiry," said Lehrer. "What he really did was create an area and made it central both to lawyers and philosophers."

Lehrer said he first met Feinberg in 1957 as a graduate student searching for interesting classes at Brown University.

"He already had a reputation as a stellar teacher," said Lehrer. "He wasn't charismatic, but he could illustrate what he had to say with the perfect example."

Lehrer said he tried several times to draw Feinberg to the UA. At the same time Rockefeller closed its philosophy department, the UA was charging hard to build a reputation as a major research university.

Lehrer said hiring Feinberg set the UA philosophy department on a trajectory to become one of the best in the nation. Even in retirement, Feinberg mentored six graduate students toward their doctoral degrees.

"At his death he deserved our undying gratitude for enlightening philosophy with his brilliant examples and enriching our lives with his own example," said Lehrer.

Feinberg is survived by his wife, Betty; a sister, Lois Kozlow; two children and three grandchildren.


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Memorial service for Joel Feinberg