Philosopher Carl Wellman, the Hortense and Tobias Lewin Distinguished University Professor Emeritus in the Humanities in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, died of natural causes Saturday, July 17, 2021, at St. Mary’s Hospital in St. Louis. He was 94.
Born in 1926 in Lynn, Mass., Wellman grew up in Manchester, N.H. As a child, he fought a long battle with Steven-Johnson syndrome and after high school, at his doctors’ recommendation, studied at the University of Arizona, in hopes that the desert climate might improve his health. He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1949, double-majoring in philosophy and political science.
Wellman then pursued his doctorate in philosophy at Harvard University. He received Harvard’s Sheldon Traveling Fellowship, enabling him to spend a year at Cambridge University. There, he studied unpublished manuscripts by Ludwig Wittgenstein, inspiring a series of early papers.
Wellman earned his doctorate from Harvard in 1954. The year prior, he joined the faculty at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis., where he rose to department chair. His first book,“The Language of Ethics” (1961), investigated the logic of “ethical sentences,” those that express judgments of value or obligation. This was followed by “Challenge and Response: Justification in Ethics” (1971), which characterized the ways in which ethical statements can be contested; and the first edition of his popular textbook “Morals and Ethics” (1975).
In 1968, Wellman joined Washington University, where he taught seminars on the general theory of value, among other courses. Influenced by the civil rights movement, Wellman also began to develop a theory of rights that grappled with racial discrimination, affirmative action and other contemporary issues. These investigations informed his next book, “Welfare Rights” (1982), and subsequent work on rights, including “A Theory of Rights: Persons Under Laws, Institutions, and Morals” (1985), “Real Rights” (1995) and “The Proliferation of Rights” (1999).
Wellman was appointed to WashU’s Lewin professorship in 1988 and named emeritus professor in 1999. After retirement, he remained a prolific author, publishing on medical law, human rights, terrorism and counterterrorism, and constitutional rights. In all, Wellman published 12 books and numerous articles in Mind, Ethics, Philosophical Review, Journal of Philosophy and American Philosophical Quarterly, among others. In 2000, more than a dozen contemporary philosophers contributed to the collection “Rights and Reason: Essays in Honor of Carl Wellman.”
Wellman is survived by his wife, Farnell Parsons; by three of their children, Philip, Lesley and Christopher; and by five grandchildren. In accordance with his wishes, there will be no memorial service.