Remembering Ruth Lenney Kleinfeld (Feb. 9, 1928-July 31, 2021) by Prof. Arindam Chakrabarti

When I remember Dr. Ruth Lenney Kleinfeld, the first thing I recall is a pair of unusually sparkling eyes. Ruth spoke softly but loved to think about the hardest problems of philosophy and neuro-science. She was generous but rather selectively social. She researched genetics and biological sciences but avidly read philosophical psychology, Indian and Chinese philosophy, and aesthetics. She was a connoisseur of the Opera and used to listen to Western classical music with blissful meditative absorption. She was also an unfailingly regular audience of our departmental Friday afternoon colloquia. Even when her mobility became restricted and she was not allowed to drive, she was always energized to listen to undergraduate philosophy majors present their papers in a seminar. For at least four to five consecutive years, I remember watching her strike up warm friendships with the brightest undergraduates and graduate students, in the classes she attended, discussing the assigned readings and comparing notes.

We—Vrinda and I –came to know her only in the last 20 years of her life, but she became part of our family in every domestic detail of our and her daily life, even after she moved to Kahala Nui, where she hosted so many breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for us.

After she retired from her teaching position at the University of Hawaii Manoa, Ruth started attending as many philosophy classes as she could. I have had her sitting with the prescribed textbooks and taking notes in at least 12 of my–mostly senior undergraduate—classes over the years. She worked for at least 5 years, with two successive Deans, to set up the Ruth Lenney Distinguished Chair in Indian Philosophy of Mind and the Center for Eastern Philosophy of Consciousness and the Humanities (EPOCH). She made an effort to take part in all the events that we could organize under the auspices of those two programs as long as she could. 

When I had to go off to Stony Brook to accept another endowed chair, she was very sad but she wholeheartedly supported my move by trying to put me in touch with her niece Louise in Long Island so that my transition could be smooth. We discussed the philosophical issue of conflicted desires during this period: how could she wish, at once, that I stay back in Hawaii to teach and supervise research for EPOCH and also wish that I thrive in Stony Brook in my new position. In her last weeks I intensely experienced the double bind of wishing that she was released from a still beautiful but incurably suffering body and also wishing that I could discuss the pros and cons of the brain-mind identity theory with her. 

Ruth touched dozens of lives of budding philosophers in our department, many of whom have blossomed into tenured professors of philosophy all over the world. I shall always feel her presence in every new philosophy course I shall teach anywhere in the world and more so when I shall try to emulate her in ageing gracefully, though I shall never be able to be as kind as her.

One thought on “Remembering Ruth Lenney Kleinfeld (Feb. 9, 1928-July 31, 2021) by Prof. Arindam Chakrabarti

  1. Homage to a benefactress and dear friend

    Ruth Kleinfeld was a benefactress in the true sense of the word. She did good, and she spread goodness. The Department of Philosophy at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa is profoundly grateful for her decade-long encouragement and unwavering support.

    Ruth funded the Lenney Distinguished Chair in Indian Philosophy to promote Eastern Philosophy of Consciousness and the Humanities (Epoch) in perpetuity. She helped smaller projects such as the H. J. Salmony research to bring back from oblivion the existential philosophy of a German-Swiss Holocaust escapee. Also, she supported graduate student conference travels. She probably helped more students than we will ever know, which is the true mark of benefactors.

    While the Department will always be grateful for Ruth’s research and travel support, I believe we will mostly remember her assiduous participation in our events. We will miss her smile, her gentle nodding, and her soft voice. Our colloquia will never be the same again.

    Dr. Tamara Albertini
    Chair and Professor of Philosophy

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