BURKE, RICHARD J.; Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, died Tuesday, February 14, at age 79. In 1959 he was the first faculty member hired to help start this new public university, and taught there until retiring in 2005. Burke was Chairman of the Philosophy Department from 1969 to 1988. He taught courses in ethics, philosophy of religion, philosophy of peace and war, and ancient Greek philosophy. He mentored new faculty, taught thousands of students and contributed to the moral conscience of the university. Completely unpretentious and accessible to everyone, he freely shared his vast knowledge of Western philosophy. His dedication to teaching is illustrated by the fact that in four and a half decades of teaching, he never missed a class. He published many scholarly articles, an anthology of readings in Western civilization, and a book entitled "Philosophical Bagatelles," with essays on contemporary issues in social philosophy. Those essays offered critical reflections on ethics, religion, politics, and culture, but without the technical language often found in current philosophical writings. Born in New York City, the son of Richard J. Burke and Muriel Hayward Rushmore, Professor Burke graduated from Georgetown University in 1953 and received his Ph.D. in 1959 from the University of Chicago, where he was mentored by the distinguished Aristotelian scholar, Richard McKeon. In 1968-69 he taught at the New School for Social Research in New York City. In 2005 he gave a generous grant to Oakland University to set up the Richard J. Burke Lecture Series in Philosophy, Religion, and Society. This annual event has since brought major social philosophers to the Oakland campus, including Daniel Dennett, Peter Singer, and Richard Falk. Burke's philosophical orientation drew strength from what he called "A Rhetorical Conception of Rationality." It took rationality beyond the bounds of science and philosophy proper, to include other intellectual contexts, including history, literature, and in general, "humanist rhetoric." He believed universities should aim at "rhetorical rationality" by helping students to achieve a critical understanding of "what ought to persuade them" when reading widely in philosophy, science, history and literature. He argued, for example, that "it is wrong to believe in God" because, based on the most compelling observations and experience, there simply is no evidence to adequately support such a belief. Burke's interests took him all over the world, from Peru to Afghanistan and from Tanzania to Siberia. Prof. Burke is survived by his sisters, Susan and Cynthia Burke, of Charlottesville, VA; brother, Donald Burke, of Boulder, Colorado, and close friend and former spouse, Jenni Burke, of Ferndale, MI. A memorial service will be held on Saturday, March 24, 11 a.m., at St. John Fisher Chapel, 3665 Walton Boulevard, Auburn Hills, Michigan.
Published in The Oakland Press from Feb. 18 to Feb. 19, 2012.