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Philosopher Frank Cioffi Dead at 83

“We’re very sorry to report the death of Frank Cioffi (1928-2012).

Frank Cioffi, Honorary Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of Kent at Canterbury, England, died early January 1, 2012, at his home in Canterbury, England. He was 83.

Professor Cioffi was born in New York City in 1928, to Salvatore and Melina Cioffi. His mother, Melina, died in childbirth, and Salvatore died soon after, “of a broken heart.”  Both of his parents had also lost their mothers in childbirth.  Frank, their only child, was then raised by his grandparents. He attended public school in New York City, and in 1946, joined the U.S. Armed Forces in Japan, where he served with the allied occupation forces until 1949.  After the war, he relocated to Paris, where he befriended James Baldwin and other writers and intellectuals.

Another friend, Lionel Blue, persuaded Frank to attend Ruskin College, Oxford, which led to his studying at Oxford University under the tutelage of Alan Bullock, Anthony Quinton, and Friedrich Waismann, and he earned B.A. and M.A. degrees in 1954. From 1954-56, he served as Research Officer in Social Psychology at Oxford.  From 1956-65 he was a Lecturer at the University of Singapore, where when along with other foreigners, he was asked to leave, the faculty senate passed a resolution that it regretted his departure. From 1965-73, he was a Senior Lecturer at the University of Kent at Canterbury. He was Visiting Professor at the University of California at Berkeley from 1970-72, and also held visiting appointments at Appalachian State University and the Australian National University.  In 1974, he was asked to be Professor and Foundation Chair at the newly formed department of philosophy at the University of Essex. After retiring from Essex in 1994, he was offered the position of Honorary Research Professor of Philosophy at Kent. His most influential early article, “Intention and Interpretation in Criticism” appeared in the 1963 Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society. It has been reprinted numerous times.  His first book, a volume co-edited with the late Robert Borger, Explanation in the Behavioural Sciences, appeared from Cambridge University Press in 1970, and it was soon followed by Modern Judgements: Freud (1973), published by Macmillan. His next two books appeared in 1998: Freud and the Question of Pseudoscience (Open Court), and Wittgenstein on Freud and Frazer (Cambridge). He also wrote for the Times Literary Supplement and the London Review of Books. Much of his academic career, he presented and wrote about Freud, Freud’s evasiveness, his distortions, and his surprising influence. He maintained that Freud was a great man but not an honorable one. In addition, Professor Cioffi spent considerable time evaluating the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein, and also examining fundamental human predicaments, as he does in his article, “When Do Empirical Methods Bypass the Problems Which Trouble Us?”

His most recent work concerned responses to atrocity, in particular to the Holocaust. He writes, “The situation is one in which we anticipate from some future state of epistemic consummation not merely the resolution of our perplexity as to what it is that troubles us, but closure whereas what keeps the thoughts flowing, is not ignorance but ambivalence, and what will put them at peace is not a discovery but a decision. The guilt of the living toward the dead, for example, needs to be exorcised and not merely acknowledged. As J. C. Powys puts it, ‘’You are allowed to forget.”

He is survived by his wife, Nalini, and his step-grandson, Luke. »

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