In Memoriam: Emeritus Professor of Philosophy Stephen A. Erickson

Prof. Emeritus Stephen Erickson

Stephen A. Erickson, emeritus professor of philosophy, passed away on September 20 at the age of 83 of Parkinson’s Disease.

Philosophy was more than an academic discipline for Erickson; it was his love. He told Pomona College Magazine in 1996, “I chose philosophy because I can’t remember a time when the question of what life meant didn’t obsess me.”

An expert on existential philosophy, Erickson was a widely respected and published philosopher and a noted scholar. His published volumes include Language and Being (1970), Human Presence at the Boundaries of Meaning (1984) and The (Coming) Age of Thresholding (1999). He is also known for his 24-lecture series in The Great Courses titled “Philosophy as a Guide to Living.”

In the description of the lecture series, Erickson said that “philosophy can be construed in our time not just as a technical discipline; it can also be construed as guidance in the art of living, the pursuit of the very meaning of life, and the means for attaining this meaning.”

With a deep affection for students and Pomona College, Erickson was a consummate teacher. He taught at Pomona for 56 years and held the E. Wilson Lyon Professor of the Humanities endowed chair before retiring in 2020. During that time, he earned the Wig Distinguished Professorship Award for excellence in teaching four times, in 1968, 1985, 1989 and 1994.

Students consistently cited his brilliant mind, humility and kindness. Through his engaging lectures and abundant office hours, he taught them how to live and think and was able to make philosophy accessible and relevant to their lives.

Johanna Glaser ’10 took Philosophy in Literature with Erickson during her first semester at Pomona and says, “Within two weeks of his class, I knew I was going to major in philosophy.”

“Erickson wasn’t afraid to be a little tough on me,” recalled U.S. Senator Brian Schatz ’94, also a philosophy major, in Pomona College Magazine in 2013. “I once wrote something sort of substandard for him, and he wrote a note to me that said: ‘Brian, we both know you’re better than this, and that is what matters.’”

Born in Fairmont, Minnesota, Erickson was the only child of 12-year Minnesota state senator Chris Erickson and Venus Erickson. Erickson graduated from St. Olaf College in 1961 summa cum laude and never lost touch with his Midwestern roots.

He went on to receive his Ph.D. in 1964 from Yale University at the age of 24. Upon graduating, he was immediately hired by Pomona President E. Wilson Lyon.

Ever witty and self-effacing, Erickson told Pomona College Magazine in 1996, “Pomona has put up with me for 32 years now and deserves grateful acknowledgement, if not deep sympathy.”

He is survived by his wife Pauline Erickson; children Chris Erickson and Erika Erickson; three grandchildren; stepchildren Aaron Bastien, Renée Bastien and Jorden Bastien; and six step-grandchildren.