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George L. Kline (1921-2014).

On October 21, 2014, the philosophical community lost a widely admired elder, George L. Kline, Milton C. Nahm Professor Emeritus of Bryn Mawr College, at age 93. He was a true polymath, known especially for his work on the philosophical systems of Spinoza, Hegel, and Whitehead, for his contributions to ethics and the philosophy of history, and for his remarkably broad grasp of the intellectual histories of numerous Eastern and Western European cultures, above all that of Russia. He was also lauded for his superbly skillful, sensitive translations of the poetry of four of the most important Russian poets of the twentieth century, Brodsky, Pasternak, Akhmatova, and Tsvetaeva. His association, collaboration, and eventually deep friendship with the poet Joseph Brodsky was one of the more personally significant pleasures of his life. He was a linguist of noteworthy talent, with substantial command of several languages, which he brought to bear in both his philosophical and his literary endeavors.

In recognition of his significant contributions to the field, he was elected president of the Metaphysical Society of America for 1985/86. During that same period (1984-86) he was simultaneously serving as president of the Hegel Society of America. For much of his career he was also a mainstay of the Society for the Study of Process Philosophies. In 2012 that Society devoted its annual meeting in conjunction with the M.S.A. to "The Process Philosophy of George L. Kline." In 1999 he received a special commendation "For Distinguished Contributions to Slavic Studies" from the A.A.A.S.S.

Kline was born on March 3, 1921, in Galesburg, Illinois. He attended Boston University for three years (1938-41), but then interrupted his education to serve in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II as a lead navigator in B-24s, for which he received the Distinguished Flying Cross. After the war he completed his undergraduate education with honors at Columbia College (1947), followed by graduate degrees at Columbia University (M.A. 1948; Ph.D. 1950).

One of the dominant patterns of activity throughout his 65-year career was established at the beginning when, in 1949, two of his first three published articles (all in that year, while still a graduate student) were on aspects of Russian and Soviet philosophy. His doctoral dissertation, published as Spinoza in Soviet Philosophy in 1952, continued the pattern, exploring the significance of a renaissance of Spinoza studies among Russian Marxists in the 1920s. The following year Kline published his authorized translation of V. V. Zenkovsky's History of Russian Philosophy in two volumes, establishing himself as the leading authority on the subject in the West, a reputation which he maintained throughout the remainder of his career by virtue of an extraordinary number of publications (and additional translations) in this area. The entire field owes its shape in significant measure to Kline's personal contributions.

One of his life-long philosophical concerns was the defense of what he termed a "humanism of principles" as opposed to a "humanism of ideals." He argued for the primacy of the claims of presently existing individuals to self-realization and the enjoyment of value in the present, and rejected as illegitimate any attempt to treat them merely instrumentally, to sacrifice their lives in the name of some as-yet-unrealized future value or future state of society. He argued for this humanism of principles in a long series of publications extending from 1953 to 2000, including both of his presidential addresses. In his address to the H.S.A. he defended these principles against arguments drawn from Nietzsche and Marx. In his address to the M.S.A. he grounded this humanism in Whitehead's metaphysics, arguing that the present is ontologically prior to past or future, that "the present is characterized by actuality in the sense of actualization or activity, only present existents are agents." In mounting this last argument Kline was on very well-prepared ground: one of his most widely hailed contributions to process philosophy was his treatment of "Form, Concrescence and Concretum" in Explorations in Whitehead's Philosophy, edited by Lewis S. Ford and George L. Kline (1983), which thoroughly examined the logic of past, present, and future in Whiteheadian perspective.

During a professional career extending over sixty-five years, Kline published well over 300 journal articles, chapters in anthologies, encyclopedia entries, book reviews and review articles, and translations. He authored two monographs and edited or coedited six anthologies. In the midst of all this activity Kline somehow found time to render personal assistance to exceptionally large numbers of colleagues over the years (some of whom were also his ex-students), who often requested that he look over drafts of their works underway. The volume of such requests seemed inevitable both because he was a highly regarded authority--sometimes the authority--in more than one field of work, and also because his skills as an editor were legendary. The kindness, patience, and generosity with which he responded to this unending stream of requests went well beyond usual bounds. This would be but one of many reasons why so many of us held him so very dear.

Philip T. Grier

Dickinson College, Emeritus
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Author:Grier, Philip T.
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:In memoriam
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2015
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