The University Record, September 17, 1997
Richard Booker Brandt, professor emeritus of philosophy, died here Sept. 10. He was 86 years old.
Considered one of the most influential moral philosophers of the second half of the 20th century, Brandt was the author of nearly 100 articles and six books, including A Theory of the Good and the Right (1979), generally considered his crowning achievement in ethics.
"Richard Brandt was one of the most eminent and influential moral philosophers of his generation," said Allan F. Gibbard, the Richard B. Brandt Distinguished Professor of Philosophy. "His books were landmarks, and he was prolific with important articles to very near the end of his long life. His writing was always careful and clear, trenchant and imaginative.
"Traditional philosophical questions, he insisted, are often confused, and a philosopher must work to identify what is clear and important in them," Gibbard said. "He rejected appeals to 'intuition,' and worked to find better ways to support philosophical conclusions. Brandt was creative and insightful in reformulating questions, proposing solutions to them and arguing for his positions. He was always determined to get to the root of an issue. His 'rule-utilitarianism' is today one of the leading theories of moral right and wrong. It bases answers to moral questions on the benefits that flow from the widespread acceptance of moral rules in a society.
"Brandt's work," Gibbard added, "was by no means confined, though, to the foundations of ethics. He worked on a wide range of philosophical problems, and on public moral issues regarding suicide, the rules of war, defective newborns, and welfare policies. In developing his philosophical theories, he drew on a vast range of learning not only in philosophy, but in psychology and anthropology, and in this way he expanded the scope of contemporary philosophy."
Brandt was born Oct. 17, 1910, in Wilmington, Ohio. He graduated from Denison University in 1930. He studied at Trinity College, Cambridge University, where he received a second B.A., then at Tuebingen University. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Yale University in 1936. He taught philosophy at Swarthmore College until 1964, then assumed the chairmanship of the Department of Philosophy at the U-M, where he later was named the Roy Wood Sellars Distinguished College Professor of Philosophy.
He was a fellow of the Guggenheim Foundation, a fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences in Stanford, Calif., and a senior fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities. He served as president of the American Philosophical Association, western division, and was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
In 1974 he was selected to give the John Locke lectures at Oxford University, which were the basis for A Theory of the Good and the Right.
He is survived by two children, Richard (Gigi) Brandt of Salt Lake City, Utah, and Karen Brandt of St. Paul, Minn.; two grandchildren, Jared (Rachel) Brandt of San Francisco, Calif., and Kristen (Jim) Campbell of Davis, Calif.; and by his friend and companion Karina Niemeyer of Ann Arbor.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Alzheimer's Association of South Central Michigan, P.O. Box 1713, Ann Arbor, MI 48106, or a charity of choice. A memorial service is planned for later this fall.