William E. Kennick Papers
William E. Kennick taught philosophy at Amherst College for more than 35 years. He was the William F. Kenan Jr. Professor from 1978 to 1980 and the G. Henry Whitcomb Professor from 1976 until 1993, when he retired -- the last Amherst professor forced to do so because he had turned 70. He served as faculty marshal from 1972 to 1993.
Kennick was born in 1923 in Lebanon, Ill. Co-valedictorian of his high school class, he received a full tuition scholarship to Oberlin College, which he supplemented by working in steel mills every summer. He graduated from Oberlin in 1945 with honors in philosophy, the only summa cum laude graduate in his class. He entered Cornell University as a Susan Linn Sage Fellow in philosophy but was called up by the Army in 1946. He served for 18 months in the U.S. Army Medical Corps.
While recovering from an injury suffered during basic training, Kennick was summoned by a major who asked how he'd like to be a clinical psychologist. Reluctantly, he accepted an assignment to the neuropsychiatric department at Madigan General Hospital at Fort Lewis in Tacoma, Wash. After the Army, Kennick took a special teaching fellowship at Oberlin, after which he returned to Cornell and was awarded a Ph.D. in philosophy. He taught briefly at Boston University before returning to Oberlin in 1951. Three years later, he was named permanent head of Oberlin's philosophy department.
He arrived at Amherst in 1956 and began to teach a two-semester course on the history of philosophy. "His seriousness as a teacher, sometimes felt as severity, brought out responsive efforts in his students who wanted to be taken seriously, who looked not just for a degree but an education," said Henry Clay Folger Professor of English William H. Pritchard '53. Kennick regularly handed out a four-and-a-half page single-spaced document he compiled, "Some Rules for Writing Presentable English." He was among those who lamented the demise, in 1966, of the New Curriculum and its program of required core courses.
Kennick was acting dean of the faculty in 1979-80. He was also the author of 23 papers and numerous reviews. He wrote and edited the textbook Art and Philosophy (1964 and 1979) and co-edited Metaphysics: Readings and Reappraisals (1966). His 1958 essay, "Does Traditional Aesthetics Rest on a Mistake?" was, for decades, one of the more influential and reprinted essays in aesthetics. He inaugurated the aesthetics course at Amherst and also taught courses on metaphysics and the works of Ludwig Wittgenstein.
Kennick died in Amherst on April 12, 2009 after a long illness.
[Source: "Professor Kennick, Remembered." Amherst, Summer 2009]