E. F. KAELIN, American Philosopher

Biography | Bibliography


Frick, Beverly. E. F. Kaelin, c. 1987, Tallahassee.

Eugene Francis Kaelin was born October 14, 1926 in a flat on Thirteenth Street in Saint Louis, Missouri. He is the fourth of eleven children to Bertha Emma Earnie, a first generation American with a German Lutheran immersion education (18), and Albert Aloysius Kaelin (17), a Swiss-German Catholic who worked as a non-union (74) pressman for Walter Taube. Eugene Francis also worked as a “printer’s devil” for Taube when still in primary school (73).

Kaelin attended St. Agatha parish school on Ninth St. His first book, a life of the Virgin, consists of an analysis of religious imagery devoted to her (34). Two years after the Kaelin family moved from Michigan Avenue, he graduated from St. Agatha’s in 1940. His tuition to South Side Catholic High School was paid for by the Reverend Fr. O.T. Siesner (37). Kaelin was the editor of South Side’s The Clarion—Joe Garagiola, who graduated a year ahead, had served as editor of the sports page (211)—and graduated as valedictorian of his class. Kaelin refused a scholarship in business to the Jesuit St. Louis University in favour of studying journalism at The University of Missouri—Columbia (38), where he was awarded membership in Phi Eta Sigma at the end of his first year on May 23, 1945 (40). His boyhood friend and classmate, Robert Herguth, was his roommate there, later becoming a columnist for The Chicago Daily News (69).

From March 3, 1945 to August 11, 1946, Kaelin served in the US Marine Corps: first in boot camp at Paris Island, and upon promotion to Private First Class, assigned to Camp Lejeune, near Jacksonville, North Carolina, and finally in a casual company at Camp Pendleton, California (55). He was transferred to Barber’s Point in Pearl Harbor and then to the payroll office of the Fourteenth Naval District, during which time Albert Aloysius died of Bright’s disease (56-60). Kaelin received his separation papers at the Naval Air Station in Chicago. Six hours in economics and six hours of English literature earned at the Marine Corps Institute which would serve as transfer credits to Columbia. The rest of his BA was subsidized by the so-called G. I. Bill (61-62). It was an Institute teacher who suggested that he read Hegel (62).

As an undergraduate, Kaelin’s area of concentration was the humanities, including French, German, English and American literature. In his last two years, his area of specialization was German philosophy, especially that of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. His “work in distinction was completed under Professor Arthur Berndtson” when he graduated in 1949 (73). He earned a Phi Sigma Iota for French and Phi Beta Kappa for overall performance (77). Kaelin earned a Fulbright Scholarship to France for the 1950-51 academic year (78).

After a month’s orientation at The University of France at La Sorbonne, Kaelin began his MA at the Faculty of Letters on the Cours Pasteur at the Bordeaux centre (87). Professor René Lacroze introduced him to the philosophy of Sartre, de Beauvoir and Merleau-Ponty (87). Under the Alsatian Professor Jean Stoetzel, who “had attended the University of Chicago, learned of the philosophy and social psychology of George Mead, and became interested in introducing Mead to French studies” (88), Kaelin was assigned to assist a colleague, M. Georges Thibault, to translate Mead’s Mind, Self and Society into French (88). During this time, he lived in a room above a garage at 120, rue du Tondu. Later, on a double date at Le Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux (91), he met Pierrette Nicole Jeanne Demartini, who happened to be a neighbour, living on la rue de Landiras (89). They corresponded for two years upon his return to the United States until she joined him there to marry.

Kaelin elected to pursue his Ph. D. at the University of Illinois, Urbana in 1951-52 (101), where he was a teaching assistant of logic (104). He chose Alain (nom de plume of Émile Chartier), whom he considered as ranking above first, Voltaire, secondly Descartes, as philosophical writers, as the subject of his dissertation, with a minor in French drama (104). Upon completion, Kaelin was invited to be an instructor of philosophy at the University of Missouri—Columbia. Demartini had completed her nursing studies at la Croix Rouge Française (108). They married in Clayton, Missouri, a suburb of Saint Louis, on December 30, 1952. Like many graduate students of that era, their first home was a furnished Quonset hut (119-120). The couple then moved to Urbana, and lived in Bachelor Officer’s Quarters while Kaelin began his Ph. D. at the University of Illinois—Champaign. (110). His professors in philosophy were Gotshalk, Fish and Turquette; and in French Drama, Claude Viens (133). Kaelin was awarded his Ph. D. in philosophy in 1954, working at Barcus Lumber Company of Champaign until the upcoming academic year (134). Their first child, Valérie Chantal was born on December 30, 1953 (160).

Kaelin took his fledgling family to Bordeaux in 1954-55 as a post-doctoral research scholar from the University of Illinois to refurbish the translation of Mead’s Mind, Self and Society again with Thibault (159). The work was interrupted by an appendectomy (159-161) and difficulties in translation. It would not be published until Les Presses Universitaires de France in 1962 as L’Esprit, le soi et la société, after the project changed hands from Stoetzel to “Professor Georges Gurvitch, then a member of the sociological division of the Centre National de Recherches Scientifiques,” who added a third translator to the team, M. Jean Cazeneuve (159). The family returned to St. Louis that summer.

Professor Gotshalk recommended Kaelin both to Pennsylvania State University at College Park and at the University of Wisconsin—Madison. Kaelin accepted the position at the University of Wisconsin after successfully negotiating a matching offer. He taught there from 1955-1964. Originally living in the University Housing apartments, where lightning struck the building, travelling along the apartment’s electrical system because of the lack of lightening-arresters. So, they moved to a fisherman’s cottage in Hickory Hollow near Lake Waubesa. After the birth of their second child, Carolyne Pascale in 1958, Pierrette and Gene moved the family to an abandoned farm house on Clayton Road (172-73). In 1960, their last child, Martine Lawrence was born.

The University of Wisconsin years were extremely productive. Colleagues included: Albert Ramsberger, Arthur Garnett, Karl Boegholt, Julius Weinberg, Bill Hay, Mark Singer (174) and Haskell Fain (177). Kaelin taught “Logic,” Introduction, Philosophy of Art, Nineteenth Century American, and Twentieth Century European Philosophy” (174), doubling the enrolment in the department because “Professor Fred Logan, head of the Department of Art and Art Education, who made…the undergraduate [Philosophy of Art] a pre-requisite for all his students and who sent his graduate students to learn the philosophy of their trade” (174-75). This partnership led to relationships with the artists Al Sessler, Warrington Colescott, the sculptor Leo Steppat, Dan and Darcy Meeker; ceramist turned glass sculptor, Harvey Littleton; mosaicist Marjorie Kreilick, and David W. Ecker, a graduate student who would become a long time collaborator in art education, eventually as Chair of the Department of Art Education at New York University (175-76, 208-209). Other students at the time were Bill Kriegers, sculptor and his wife Devora (209) and Maxine Sheets, the modern dancer who became an anthropologist.

Kaelin was promoted to assistant professor in 1957; was awarded the William Henry Kiekhofer Memorial Teaching Award in 1959; received American Council of Learned Society funds to study at the Institute for Humanities in 1960, where he completed research for An Existentialist Aesthetic, published in 1962. He was promoted to associate professor in 1961 (176). As associate editor of Arts in Society, he published some of Sylvia Plath’s poems (190).

Also in 1962, when the head librarian and President of the Wisconsin American Civil Liberties Union deemed Ralph Ginzburg’s four volumes of Eros, obscene, perhaps because of the twenty-seven counts of obscenity by the Federal Government, and that these should therefore be destroyed, Kaelin assembled a committee challenging the ruling in the name of “free search for the truth”, rather than on the question of pornography (177). Before leaving on sabbatical with the family in Germany, he was asked to give a last lecture (on the metaphysics of Theodore Dressler’s Sister Carrie). So many attendees arrived that the lecture hall had to be moved twice from a seating capacity of fifty to 150 to 500 (178).

Kaelin applied his sabbatical to refreshing his German at the Goethe Institute in Staufen-im-Breisgau before attending the Universität at Freiburg-im-Bresigau, furthering his studies in Hursserl and Heideggar in 1964-65 (178) which found fruition in Art and Existence (Bucknell, 1970) and Heidegger’s Being and Time: A Reading for Readers (Tallahassee, 1988) (178). At the end of his sabbatical, Madison was unable to match a new offer by Florida State University–Tallahassee and so he re-located to continue his university career from 1965 to 1996 (179). Disappointed Madison students postered the new Elvjehem Museum of Art with signs agitating for his return, the mathematics building was bombed that same year, conscientious objectors to the Viet Nam war were fleeing to Canada (179) and the South was in the midst of its de-segregation program.

At FSU, Kaelin attempted a number of structural changes upon becoming chair of the Department of Philosophy in 1969, succeeding in splitting the Department of Religion into its own entity, but Tallahassee was unable to retain candidates he had hoped would serve as a core group of researchers at FSU, including: Haskell Fain and Donald Crawford, who was to replace him as aesthetician, so that he might concentrate on European philosophy with a special interest in art education (208). Kwan T. Fann, a Maoist, taught Wittgenstein there for two years before teaching at York University’s Atkinson College in Canada. Fann returned to Taiwan, furthering his studies in Taoism and now owns and operates a Bed and Breakfast in Hsinchu with his wife Le Le. Other colleagues included: Anna Forbes Liddell, Bob Miller, Donald Clark Hodges (the former University of Missouri classmate who invited Kaelin to join FSU), David Gruender (a graduate student working with Bill Hay when Kaelin was an instructor there), and Edgar Henderson, editor of The Journal of Religion, whose house had been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (225-34).

Kaelin was lecturer in aesthetics in The Summer Institute of Ohio State University in 1966, organized by David Ecker, which also included Ed Feldman and Matt Baigell (209). Ecker organized another summer institute at New York University. Kaelin served on the National Advisory Committee on Aesthetic Education between 1968 through 1976 (210). At FSU, Ivan Johnson, Mary Lou Kuhn and Chuck Dorn encouraged his work, including “An Aesthetics for Art Educators, published by Teachers College Press in 1989” (210).

Kaelin was president of the International Society for Phenomenology and Literature probably during the 1980’s. [Anyone with the precise dates of his tenure in that capacity is encouraged to contact Valérie Kaelin to update this summary.]

“In the Spring of 1998…The Journal of Aesthetic Education, put out a special issue of essays in honor [of Kaelin’s career], edited by Ralph Smith. The contributors included David W. Ecker, Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe, Ann Lindsey, E. Louis Lankford, Maxine Johnson, Roxanne Farrar, Ellen Burns, and Debra Carter Mullen (211). The bibliography included—with permission of the University of Illinois Press—shows six full length books in addition to the memoirs In the Academy; Between Two Cultures, synopsised here, and seventy-three essays and articles, as well as editing, forewords, conference addresses and translation.

Some of his students included: Jay Knaack. Bob Jung, Emilio Roma III, David W. Ecker, Bill Krueger, Maxine Sheets-Johnstone, Earnie Williams, Karl Hein, Sue Cunningham Dickie, Mark Taylor, Susan Williams, Mike Stawser, Dane Depp, Parish Jones, Ed Jones, Charles Harvey, Aristoteles Santas, Susan Rouse, Karl Brock, Michael Lee Kelly, Dan Morrison in philosophy (283-88); Anne Lindsey, Margaret Johnson and Louis Lankford in art education (288); Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe, Ellen Burns and Roxanne Farrar in the arts (288).

Upon his retirement, Pierrette designed a home in Indian Head Acres, Tallahassee on the edge of a pond. To prevent erosion of the soil from the slope behind them, they created a terraced Certified Florida Garden with their own hands. In 2008, they moved to the Watermark Retirement Community in Southbury, Connecticut in order to live closer to their youngest daughter Martine and their grandchildren.

To appreciate the impact of his career, one might note that his book, An Existential Aesthetic: the Theories of Sartre and Merleau-Ponty, published in 1962 by University of Wisconsin press, is the earliest chronological citation in Stanford University’s Encyclopedia of Philosophy for the entry “Maurice Merleau-Ponty” (References). That is, he may be considered responsible for the introduction of continental philosophy to North America. He created an existential-phenomenological model of aesthetics (1962, 1970) and trained many theorists and practitioners alike in phenomenology.

## v.c. kaelin


Discover the Bibliography



Flynn, Bernard, "Maurice Merleau-Ponty", In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University, 2011-. Article published Monday, June 14, 2004.

Eugene F. Kaelin: A Bibliography of His Writings” qtd. in Special Issue: Essays in Honour of Eugene F. Kaelin: The Journal of Aesthetic Education, 32 no. 1 (Spring 1998): 73-79.

Kaelin, E. F. In the Academy; Between Two Cultures. Private Edition. Toronto: Polyglot Press and Promotions, 2006.


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Valérie C. Kaelin Website; “E. F. Kaelin, Philosophy: E. F. Kaelin, American Philosopher, a Biographical Summary.” December 13, 2012. Accessed Month, Day,Year.

MLA Kaelin, Valérie C., E. F. Kaelin, Philosophy : E. F. Kaelin, American Philosopher, a Biographical Summary. Toronto, 13 Dec. 2012. Web. Add Day, Abbreviation for Month, Year.