In Memoriam: Harry G. Frankfurt

July 18, 2023
Harry G. Frankfurt

The James Madison Program joins the University in mourning the death of Harry G. Frankfurt, professor emeritus of philosophy at Princeton, who died in California at age 94 on July 16, 2023. Robert P. George, Director of the Madison Program, paid tribute to Professor Frankfurt as “that rarest of things in academia or anywhere else: a genuinely independent thinker.” George noted that “if you wanted to know what Harry thought about an issue, you needed to ask him. It was no good trying to guess. He did not fit into philosophical schools, ideological camps, or tribes or categories of any type. He was a true philosopher: a lover—and seeker—of wisdom.”

Professor Frankfurt made major contributions to philosophy in a number of areas. Perhaps his most celebrated work among professional philosophers was on the problem of free will and responsibility. He became known to the wider public on account of his work on the nature of truth and the various forms of dishonesty. He also made important contributions to our understanding of the nature of value and to the scholarly literature on the thought of René Descartes.

Professor George, commenting on his close personal friendship with Professor Frankfurt, observed that “Harry was someone whose opinions I valued and whose counsel I sought whenever I needed to make significant decisions. He was the first Princeton faculty colleague with whom I shared my vision of an academic program in American ideals and institutions, and he helped me to shape what became the James Madison Program.” George went on to say that Professor Frankfurt, who had served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, was “a patriot in the highest and best sense; he believed in the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States and felt that America’s calling was to live up to those principles and model them for the world.”