Columbians Ahead of Their Time
 Irwin Edman
Irwin Edman "Education is the process of casting false pearls before real swine."

Irwin Edman (1896–1954)
Philosopher, poet
Columbia College 1900, PhD 1920
Faculty 1920-54

A true man of the world, the philosopher Irwin Edman was once described by a colleague as "a blend of Plato, Santayana, and Manhattan--with a dash of Dewey." An internationally known scholar, Edman lectured at the Sorbonne and at the Athenaeum in London as well as Columbia, but he also sought out general readers in such books as The Contemporary and His Soul, Candle in the Dark, Philosopher's Holiday, and Philosopher's Quest. His philosophical interests never strayed far from the practical problems of living. Famous for both his absent-mindedness and his ability to memorize entire pages of poetry and prose, Edman was popular among undergraduates not only for general education courses, but for his regular departmental offerings. Many considered Philosophy 3-4 one of the truly great Columbia College courses.

Columbia was in Edman's blood. Born in Morningside Heights, he stayed home to attend the College. Shortly after entering the graduate school he became an instructor in the philosophy department, and remained a powerful presence on campus until his untimely death in 1954. As a student, Edman became well-known as secretary of the Boar's Head Club, the College's literary society, where he regularly astonished his fellow members (including John Erskine) by reciting the club's minutes in verse. When the College decided to establish the course in Contemporary Civilization, Edman not only helped plan the syllabus, but in the spring of 1919 he penned an original work, Human Traits and Their Social Significance, for use in CC. In addition to teaching CC, Erskine began the General Honors course in 1920 and served as one of its original instructors. In 1932, he helped establish the Colloquium on Important Books, and in 1935 he chaired a planning committee for Humanities A, which he also taught for many years.

Adapted from Timothy P. Cross, An Oasis of Order: The Core Curriculum at Columbia College (New York: Columbia College, Office of the Dean, 1995).


Edman's intellectual home


A Columbia tradition


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Philosopher and teacher

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Columbians Ahead of Their Time

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