Joseph Zalman Margolis, 97, renowned philosopher and author, died Tuesday June 8 of heart failure in his Philadelphia home.
At the time of his death, Mr Margolis was writing an article that would have anchored the final project of his life – bringing together the many strands of his 70-year career in a trilogy of books of his philosophy.
A few weeks earlier, he had received copies of his latest book in advance, Critical Margolis, a selection of his articles and book chapters from the last 25 years. In addition to his more than 30 books, he has written countless articles and anthology chapters. Some have been translated into Chinese, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish and Russian. Margolis was fluent in French, German, Italian and Spanish as well as her native English.
The philosopher and his twin brother Israel were born in Newark, NJ, to Harry and Bluma Margolis. Israel Margolis arrived on May 15, 1924, followed a few minutes later by Joseph Margolis just after midnight on May 16.
Their father, a dentist, was a leader of the local Jewish community. Joseph Margolis respected his father very much, but followed his own path.
âHe did not follow his father in the faith, rather becoming an atheist from an early age. But living a fair life, without judging others, was important to him, âsaid his son, Mike.
He would figure significantly in his work.
âMy father examined what it means to be human, including how to live a meaningful and deeply moral life, even in the absence of faith,â his son said.
Mr. Margolis had his first contact with fame at the age of 4, when a local newspaper reported that he had saved his brother from a burning building.
During World War II, the Margolis twins went to fight. Joseph Margolis volunteered to be a parachutist. He was injured in the Battle of the Bulge and later received the Purple Heart, his son said. While in a foxhole, he learned that his father had died in New Jersey and that his twin had been killed in France, the son said.
After the war, Mr. Margolis obtained a BA in Romance Languages ââfrom Drew University. But when a professor suggested that philosophy might be a better area for a student’s analytical mind, he got a master’s and a doctorate in philosophy from Columbia University.
During his career, Mr. Margolis and his work have greatly touched the lives of others.
âMany of his students have become great philosophers themselves,â said his son.
Mr. Margolis has taught at Long Island University, University of South Carolina, University of California at Berkeley, University of Cincinnati and University of Western Ontario.
But Temple University was his academic home. He began teaching at Temple in 1967 and held the Laura H. Carnell Chair of Philosophy from 1991 to 2021.
âJoe was an exceptional philosopher, known and admired wherever people practice academic philosophy,â said Espen Hammer, chairman of Temple’s philosophy department. âHe was also a wonderful colleague and a great teacher. We miss him dearly. “
Mr Margolis was so committed to teaching that he continued to work until halfway through the spring semester, said Asia Friedman, of Wynnewood, one of his step-grandchildren and a sociology professor at the University of Delaware. He even worked during the pandemic, educating students on Zoom, she said.
âJoe is just the warmest, humblest, most engaged person in the life of the spirit,â she said. âHe never wanted to retire. He felt that if he ever stopped it would be the end. He wasn’t ready for this.
Austin Rooney, professor of philosophy at Rutgers University in Camden, studied with Mr. Margolis while studying for his doctorate at Temple and worked closely with him.
Rooney stated that Mr. Margolis was his own person, an original, from his preference for typewriters on computers to his dedication and love of teaching to his open seminar teaching style that left room for de many points of view.
âHe was very supportive of students from all walks of life, whatever project they were interested in,â Rooney said.
“He was also very careful not to force his point of view on things,” he added. âHe had a light hand. He wanted people to thrive on their own terms.
Mr Margolis has also made friendships across the world, his son said, many with people he has met on his frequent trips abroad to speak at international philosophy conferences or give talks. conferences at universities in more than 25 different countries around the world.
âJoe lived his life with courage and integrity and died with dignity,â his son said. âHe will be sadly missed by his family, friends, students and colleagues. “
Besides his son and his step-granddaughter, Mr. Margolis is survived by another son, Paul Margolis a daughter, Naki Margolis; her stepdaughter Jennifer Friedman; six grandchildren; two step-grandchildren; a half-great-grandchild; and other relatives. His first wife, Cynthia Baimas; second wife, Clorinda Goltra; and his stepdaughter Lovegrove Hunter died before him.
A memorial service for Mr. Margolis will be held from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, July 25 at Banca, 600 Spring Garden St., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19123.
Editor-in-chief Susan Snyder contributed to this article