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Richard Popkin

Richard Popkin



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In one of Victor Serge’s last works, The Case of Comrade Tulayev, written over fifteen years ago, the Russian equivalent of the Oswald story is set forth. An alienated young man, unhappy with the many aspects of his life in the Soviet Union - the food, his room, his job, etc. - acquires a gun, and manages to shoot Commissar Tulayev one night when he is getting out of a car. An extensive investigation sets in, followed by an extensive purge. Millions of people are arrested and made to confess to being part of a vast conspiracy against the government. The actual assassin is, of course, never suspected, since no one can imagine him as a conspirator. He continues to lead his alienated unhappy life, while the government uncovers the great plot.

In contrast, when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, a solution emerged within hours: one lonely alienated man had done the deed all by himself. The investigation by the Dallas Police and the FBI then proceeded to buttress this view, and to accumulate all sorts of details about the lone assassin, some false (like the murder rap), some trivial (like his early school records), some suggestive (like the bag he carried into the Book Depository), some convincing (like the presence of his rifle and the three shells). From its origins in Dallas on the night of November 22, 1963, the career of the theory of a single conspirator indicated that this was the sort of explanation most congenial to the investigators and the public (although the strange investigation of Joe Molina, a clerk in the Book Depository, from 2 a.m. November 23 until the end of that day, mainly for his activities in a slightly left-wing veterans’ organization, suggests a conspiratorial explanation was then under consideration).

The Warren Commission, after many months of supposed labor and search, came out with an anticlimatic [sic] conclusion, practically the same as that reached by the FBI in its report of December 9, 1963, except for details as to how it happened. The Commission, clothed in the imposing dignity of its august members, declared its conviction that one lone alienated assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, had indeed carried out the crime...

However, the “official theory” was in many ways implausible. It involved a fantastic amount of luck. If the FBI and Warren Commission reconstructions were correct, Oswald had to get the rifle into the building without attracting attention. Only two people saw him with a long package, and none saw him with it or the rifle in the building. He had to find a place from which he could shoot unobserved. The place, according to the “official theory,” was observed until just a few minutes before the shooting. He had to fire a cheap rifle with a distorted sight, old ammunition, at a moving target in minimal time, and shoot with extraordinary accuracy (three hits in three shots, in 5.6 seconds, according to the FBI; two hits in three shots in 5.6 seconds, according to the Commission). If the “official theory” of the Commission is right, Oswald had no access to the rifle from mid-September until the night before the assassination, and had no opportunity whatsoever to practice for at least two months. Having achieved such amazing success with his three shots, Oswald was then somehow able to leave the scene of the crime casually and undetected, go home, and escape. But for the inexplicable (according to the “official theory”) Tippit episode, Oswald might have been able to disappear. In fact, he did so after that episode, and only attracted attention again because he dashed into a movie theater without paying.

The critics have argued that the Commission’s case against Oswald, if it had ever been taken to court, would have collapsed for lack of legal evidence. A legal case would have been weakened by sloppy police work (e.g., the failure to check whether Oswald’s gun had been used that day), confused and contradictory reports by witnesses (e.g., the mistaken identification of Oswald by the bus driver), and questionable reconstructions by the Commission (e.g., testing the accuracy of the rifle with stationary targets). The Report (against the better judgment of at least two of the Commission’s staff, Liebeler and Ball) had to rely on some of the shakiest witnesses, like Brennan and Mrs. Markham. It also had to impeach some of its best, like Wesley Frazier.

I have documents indicating that U.S. intelligence agencies had a laboratory producing robot murderers (Manchurian Candidates) and that at least one of them took part in the assassination of John F. The programmer of this robot murderer is presently at large. I will provide the information to you at your convenience.

First thing in the morning, CBS News calls (Richard Popkin) about a possible interview with Daniel Schorr. The professor is inspired to the phone once more. Bill Turner, onetime FBI man turned assassination scholar in San Francisco, apparently agrees to serve as bodyguard for the Washington excursion. The bad news is that the stakeout in the Midwest has been lifted for lack of action. There's also some advice from Bernard Fensterwald, the Washington lawyer with such diverse clients as James McCord and James Earl Ray.

"Fensterwald says I'm crazy to go into the President's office with Gregory," the professor is telling me in the car. "He thinks Gregory might tell the President about flying saucers or something. But I'm too committed to Greg. Fensterwald is my lawyer, I want his advice, but there are times I must make up my own mind."

More bad news. The National Tattler has apparently gotten a call from a Russian¬sounding name with a bad conscience and sent its reporter "off to God-knows where to meet him. There's every reason in the world now for the real assassins to send these guys on a wild goose chase."

We are driving to the office of his local lawyer. Roger Ruffin, the man who put financier C. Arnholt Smith behind bars. A quick trip to talk about the foundation. One of Ruffin's secretaries has found a key to the professor's safe deposit box in the parking lot, where he had lost it earlier. The professor is grateful.

Back at the house, a call to Donald Freed in L.A. to compare notes about hypnotized assassins. Freed, co-author of Executive Action with Mark Lane, has a new book coming out about the programming of Sirhan Sirhan.

"I stayed up until 4:30 last night marking passages in the documents for you," the professor tells him. "Just don't get your movie out before I get my story out!" (Freed is seeing Orson Welles these days about movie rights.)

Outside, the ocean breezes sponge the air. A few students are dropping by once again, veterans of Watergate. That means they spent hours in the professor's garage helping clip and file the newspapers. It's getting dark when the doorbell rings again and, casually, Julie goes to answer it. The professor turns to me confidentially, whispering: "Don't you think she should be a little more careful?"

All perspective is fading. I remember a conversation about ex-neighbors, how Barry Goldwater used to haunt La Jolla and Earl Warren even lived next door. I remember the professor wondering aloud: "Is Care CIA?" I remember the Midwest stakeout starting up again with some students from the New German Critique, a radical journal.

The last thing I recall is sitting on my bed transcribing a taped interview with a CIA man about murder attempts on Castro. The professor is on the floor below, sifting through reams of files. A car is screeching up outside. Anxiously, I peer out the windows. I walk around in a zombie - like state checking that all the doors are locked.

Another book published during this period was The Second Oswald by Richard Popkin. It was a short book, only 174 pages including nine appendices, and first appeared in condensed form in the July 28, 1966, issue of The New York Review of Books.

Most of the critics had never heard of the author. "Who is Popkin?" Harold Weisberg asked Sylvia Meagher in August. Popkin was then the chairman of the Department of Philosophy at the University of California in San Diego; he had previously published a book called The History of Skepticism from Erasynus to Descartes.

Ostensibly, Popkin's article was a review of Whitewash and Inquest. Popkin acknowledged that the former was the first critical study of the Commission's case based on a close analysis of the twenty-six volumes, but said its power was diminished by its noisy and tendentious tone. Inquest, on the other hand, was "a remarkably effective book" that explained how the Warren Commission's main objective was presenting a politically acceptable account of the assassination.

But the thrust of Popkin's article was a theory he felt explained the assassination based on the available evidence. The first-generation critics - and here Popkin meant not just Weisberg and Epstein, but Vince Salandria, Fred Cook, Sylvan Fox, and even Thomas Buchanan - did little more than raise questions that the Warren Commission had left unanswered. An alternative explanation was needed. As Allen Dulles had commented, if the critics had found another assassin, "let them name names and produce their evidence."

The solution offered by Professor Popkin was what he called the "second Oswald" - a scenario derived from the official evidence suggesting that someone might have been impersonating Lee Harvey Oswald in the weeks and months before the assassination. The twenty-six volumes, Popkin wrote, contained numerous reliable reports placing Oswald in one location when equally reliable reports placed him elsewhere at the same time. Toward what end? "Critics have brought up the second Oswald as an insufficiently explored phenomenon that might throw light on the case.

One of those critics was Harold Weisberg, who during the summer of 1966 was beginning to feel more optimistic about his work. Whitewash was about to be serialized in a Spanish newspaper and was selling well enough for him to have another five thousand copies printed. He also felt the attitude of the American press was beginning to change. He was being called more often to make speeches and to appear on radio and TV.

When Weisberg read Popkin's article, he concluded Popkin had stolen his work. An entire chapter in Whitewash was devoted to what Weisberg called the "false Oswald," which he said proved there had been a conspiracy. Popkin's plagiarism was so obvious, Weisberg told Sylvia Meagher, that even her old associate Curtis Crawford had mentioned it to him.

Meagher thought the allegation was absurd. "I am amazed at the suggestion that any plagiarism was involved," she told Harold. "What do you refer to? I am very careful always to take into consideration parallel discovery and reasoning, which is widespread among critics of the WR and almost inevitable."

Weisberg declined to elaborate. But this was not the first time he had lashed out at other critics, and it was a cause of some concern for Sylvia; she was beginning to think Weisberg suffered from a persecution complex. The previous spring Weisberg had clashed with Vince Salandria after concluding Salandria could have placed a review of Whitewash, but did not, in Liberation. He had also been angry with M.S. Arnoni, who had dismissed Whitewash as having nothing new. "You are much too conceited about your book," Arnoni told him. Weisberg challenged this, but Arnoni would not be drawn into a debate.

Forswearing philosophy for a spell in the 1960's, Dr. Popkin joined the chorus of doubters who prominently disputed the Warren Commission Report on the assassination of President John F. In an article in The New York Review of Books and in a paperback he argued that the commission's single-assassin solution was not just implausible, but also impossible in terms of the commission's evidence.

The book, "The Second Oswald" (Avon, 1966), promptly came under attack. Eliot Fremont-Smith, in a review in The New York Times, called it "a very hasty book, but fascinating reading."

In the field of the history of philosophy, Richard Popkin, who has died aged 81, was best known for his work on scepticism, and especially for his classic study The History Of Scepticism From Erasmus To Descartes (1960).

A professor at the University of California, San Diego, (1963-73) and Washington University, St Louis, Missouri (1973-86), he was among the founders of the Journal Of The History Of Philosophy, and, with Paul Dibon, started the International Archives In The History Of Ideas; he also wrote about the 1963 assassination of the US president, John Kennedy.

The History Of Scepticism revolutionised the received picture of both the history of philosophy and the history of science, by demonstrating the influence, in the century before Descartes, of ancient Greek sceptical arguments about the impossibility of knowing God and the world.

In making his case for this central contribution to the development of modern science and philosophy, Popkin gave attention to the intellectual context of the time, especially the role of religious disputes in the take-up of philosophical scepticism deriving from the discipline's Greek founder, Pyhrro. Instead of treating the history of science and philosophy as a series of breakthroughs by canonical figures, Popkin sought to view the thought of the past from within its own framework...

Popkin also achieved fame with The Second Oswald (1966), the book in which he disputed the findings of the Warren commission that Kennedy was killed by a lone assassin. He foresaw the rise of religious fundamentalism in the United States and the Middle East, contributing an analysis of its American dimension in Messianic Revolution (1998, co-authored with David Katz). He also wrote for a general philosophical readership, with such books as Philosophy Made Simple (co-authored with Avrum Stroll, 1969).

Popkin was an inspirational teacher who gave great encouragement to younger scholars, such as myself. When I first met him, I was struck by his wry sense of humour, and the touch of scepticism that ensured he never took himself or others over-seriously. All who knew him remember his generosity; and he was always good company and an entertaining raconteur.

Richard H. Popkin, a retired professor of philosophy at the University of California, Los Angeles, who became a specialist on skepticism and its history through the centuries, died here Thursday, his family said. He was 81 and had emphysema, which caused him to use a wheelchair.

Dr. Popkin, despite limited vision, had been working on a book about the 16th-century Rabbi Isaac of Troki in Russia, said his son, Jeremy, of Lexington, Ky.

As an author, Dr. Popkin published his most durable book, ''The History of Skepticism From Erasmus to Spinoza," in 1960, and continued updating it through a 2003 edition.

He attracted mainstream readers with such books as his 1966 ''The Second Oswald: The Case for a Conspiracy Theory," about the assassination of John F. In the book, Dr. Popkin strongly challenged the finding of the Warren Commission that Lee Harvey Oswald had acted alone in fatally shooting the president during a 1963 motorcade in Dallas.


Richard Popkin

In the field of the history of philosophy, Richard Popkin, who has died aged 81, was best known for his work on scepticism, and especially for his classic study The History Of Scepticism From Erasmus To Descartes (1960).

A professor at the University of California, San Diego, (1963-73) and Washington University, St Louis, Missouri (1973-86), he was among the founders of the Journal Of The History Of Philosophy, and, with Paul Dibon, started the International Archives In The History Of Ideas he also wrote about the 1963 assassination of the US president, John Kennedy.

The History Of Scepticism revolutionised the received picture of both the history of philosophy and the history of science, by demonstrating the influence, in the century before Descartes, of ancient Greek sceptical arguments about the impossibility of knowing God and the world.

In making his case for this central contribution to the development of modern science and philosophy, Popkin gave attention to the intellectual context of the time, especially the role of religious disputes in the take-up of philosophical scepticism deriving from the discipline's Greek founder, Pyhrro. Instead of treating the history of science and philosophy as a series of breakthroughs by canonical figures, Popkin sought to view the thought of the past from within its own framework.

His history brought him international recognition and was translated into four languages. He expanded his thesis in later editions of the book (most recently in 2003), and in The High Road To Pyrrhonism (1989), which took the story through to David Hume. His interest in the contribution of non-philosophical strands (especially religion) to the history of philosophy led to pioneering studies of the interaction of Jewish and Christian philosophy and theology, and of topics such as kabbalism and millenarianism.

In his many books, the originality of his approach brought new perspectives, both on little-known figures, such as the French millenarian Isaac la Peyrère and the English bible scholar Joseph Mede, and on major figures, especially Spinoza and Newton. Popkin played a major role in generating interest in Newton's legacy of non-scientific manuscripts. The Newton Project, based at Imperial College, London, and Cambridge, which is currently editing these, owes much to his initiatives.

Born in Manhattan, Popkin was the son of a secular Jewish couple who ran one of America's first public relations firms. His mother, Zelda Popkin, also worked as a journalist and wrote detective fiction.

At Columbia University, her son switched from mathematical logic to study the history of philosophy under John Randall Jr and Paul Kristeller, gaining a master's degree in 1945 and a PhD in 1950. By then, he was already an instructor at the University of Connecticut, and in addition to his principal chairs, went on to hold many other visiting appointments.

Among many honours, he was awarded fellowships by the Guggenheim and the Fulbright foundations, and, in 1996, was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. For most of his life, he was an indefatigable researcher in the libraries and archives of both western and eastern Europe.

Popkin also achieved fame with The Second Oswald (1966), the book in which he disputed the findings of the Warren commission that Kennedy was killed by a lone assassin. He foresaw the rise of religious fundamentalism in the United States and the Middle East, contributing an analysis of its American dimension in Messianic Revolution (1998, co-authored with David Katz). He also wrote for a general philosophical readership, with such books as Philosophy Made Simple (co-authored with Avrum Stroll, 1969).

Popkin was an inspirational teacher who gave great encouragement to younger scholars, such as myself. When I first met him, I was struck by his wry sense of humour, and the touch of scepticism that ensured he never took himself or others over-seriously. All who knew him remember his generosity and he was always good company and an entertaining raconteur.

In 1986, Popkin and his beloved wife of 60 years, Julie, settled in Pacific Palisades, California, where they welcomed a steady stream of international visitors to their home. At about the time that his worsening emphysema prevented him from travelling, the advent of email enabled him to remain in touch with friends and scholarly contacts throughout the world.

He continued to be active throughout his retirement, despite becoming nearly blind and unable to walk: he had almost completed a book on the anti-Christian polemicist Rabbi Isaac of Tokri when he died.

He is survived by his wife, a son and two daughters.

· Richard Henry Popkin, philosopher, born December 27 1923 died April 14 2005


Richard Popkin, Historian of Philosophy and Skepticism, Dies at 81

Dr. Richard Henry Popkin, a historian of philosophy and its particular tradition of skeptical thought, died on Thursday at a hospital in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 81 and lived in Los Angeles.

The cause was complications of emphysema, his family said.

Skepticism, a hallmark of Western philosophy since ancient Greece, is an attitude of systematic questioning, not philosophical dogmatism or zealotry. Dr. Popkin wrote a history of skepticism that appeared in 1960. It included thinkers like Descartes and Spinoza as it went through editions and revisions.

He expanded the work to "The History of Scepticism From Savonarola to Bayle," now in its second edition, published by the Oxford University Press in 2003. The author documents an era pivotal to Western thought, an age of doubt as well as faith.

Besides numerous articles and book chapters, Dr. Popkin wrote and edited 36 books, often in collaboration with others. Among the many still in print are a paperback, "Spinoza," published in England last year, as well as "Third Force in 17th-Century Thought" (1991) and "Skeptical Philosophy for Everyone" (2001), written with Avrum Stoll.

He was the editor of the Columbia History of Western Philosophy, published by the Columbia University Press in 1999, and "Jewish Christians and Christian Jews: From the Renaissance to the Enlightenment" (1993). Also in print is "Scepticism and Irreligion in the 17th and 18th Centuries" (1993), which he edited with Arjo Vanderjagt.

Forswearing philosophy for a spell in the 1960's, Dr. Popkin joined the chorus of doubters who prominently disputed the Warren Commission Report on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In an article in The New York Review of Books and in a paperback he argued that the commission's single-assassin solution was not just implausible, but also impossible in terms of the commission's evidence.

The book, "The Second Oswald" (Avon, 1966), promptly came under attack. Eliot Fremont-Smith, in a review in The New York Times, called it "a very hasty book, but fascinating reading."

At his death, Dr. Popkin was working on a book about Rabbi Isaac of Troki in Lithuania, who composed a polemic against Christianity in the 16th century, and a collection of essays on philosophical skepticism.

Dr. Popkin was born in Manhattan. He graduated in 1943 from Columbia University, where he also received a master's in 1945 and a doctorate in 1950. He started teaching philosophy as an instructor at the University of Connecticut in the 1940's.

Other positions followed, and he was a professor of philosophy at the University of California, San Diego, from 1963 to 1973. He was a professor of philosophy and Jewish studies at Washington University in St. Louis from 1973 to 1986 and was more recently affiliated as an adjunct professor with the University of California, Los Angeles.

Surviving are his wife of 60 years, Juliet Greenstone Popkin a son, Dr. Jeremy D. Popkin of Lexington, Ky. two daughters, Margaret L. Popkin of Silver Spring, Md., and Dr. Susan J. Popkin of Vienna, Va. a brother, Roy, also of Silver Spring and five grandchildren.


The Columbia History of Western Philosophy

Richard Popkin has assembled 63 leading scholars to forge a highly approachable chronological account of the development of Western philosophical traditions. From Plato to Wittgenstein and from Aquinas to Heidegger, this volume provides lively, in-depth, and up-to-date historical analysis of all the key figures, schools, and movements of Western philosophy.

The Columbia History significantly broadens the scope of Western philosophy to reveal the influence of Middle Eastern and Asian thought, the vital contributions of Jewish and Islamic philosophers, and the role of women within the tradition. Along with a wealth of new scholarship, recently discovered works in 17th- and 18th-century philosophy are considered, such as previously unpublished works by Locke that inspire a new assessment of the evolution of his ideas. Popkin also emphasizes schools and developments that have traditionally been overlooked. Sections on Aristotle and Plato are followed by a detailed presentation on Hellenic philosophy and its influence on the modern developments of materialism and scepticism. A chapter has been dedicated to Jewish and Moslem philosophical development during the Middle Ages, focusing on the critical role of figures such as Averroës and Moses Maimonides in introducing Christian thinkers to classical philosophy. Another chapter considers Renaissance philosophy and its seminal influence on the development of modern humanism and science.

Turning to the modern era, contributors consider the importance of the Kaballah to Spinoza, Leibniz, and Newton and the influence of popular philosophers like Moses Mendelssohn upon the work of Kant. This volume gives equal attention to both sides of the current rift in philosophy between continental and analytic schools, charting the development of each right up to the end of the 20th century.

Each chapter includes an introductory essay, and Popkin provides notes that draw connections among the separate articles. The rich bibliographic information and the indexes of names and terms make the volume a valuable resource.

Combining a broad scope and penetrating analysis with a keen sense of what is relevant for the modern reader, The Columbia History of Western Philosophy will prove an accessible introduction for students and an informative overview for general readers.


Richard Popkin and his history of scepticism



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Richard Popkin, 81 author was scholar on skepticism

SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- Richard H. Popkin, a retired professor of philosophy at the University of California, Los Angeles, who became a specialist on skepticism and its history through the centuries, died here Thursday, his family said. He was 81 and had emphysema, which caused him to use a wheelchair.

Dr. Popkin, despite limited vision, had been working on a book about the 16th-century Rabbi Isaac of Troki in Russia, said his son, Jeremy, of Lexington, Ky.

As an author, Dr. Popkin published his most durable book, ''The History of Skepticism From Erasmus to Spinoza," in 1960, and continued updating it through a 2003 edition.

He attracted mainstream readers with such books as his 1966 ''The Second Oswald: The Case for a Conspiracy Theory," about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. In the book, Dr. Popkin strongly challenged the finding of the Warren Commission that Lee Harvey Oswald had acted alone in fatally shooting the president during a 1963 motorcade in Dallas.

Dr. Popkin also earned widespread attention for the 1998 book he co-wrote with David S. Katz, ''Messianic Revolution," about radical religious politics.

An internationally known authority on the interaction throughout history of Jewish and Christian philosophy and theology, Dr. Popkin examined millennial clues from the Bible and other religious writing pointing toward an apocalypse and ''rapture," or ascent to heaven after 1,000 years.

Inevitable disappointments when the end of the world failed to materialize, he theorized, led to development of radical religious and survivalist cults such as the Branch Davidians of the Waco, Texas, conflagration.

Dr. Popkin also edited the 1999 ''Columbia History of Western Philosophy," among other works.

In 1962, he helped found the International Archives of the History of Ideas. Two years later, Dr. Popkin founded the Journal of the History of Philosophy.

A New York native, he also taught at the universities of Connecticut and Iowa, Washington University in St. Louis, Harvey Mudd College, and the University of California, San Diego, where he founded its philosophy department.


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The Columbia History of Western Philosophy



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The History of Scepticism from Erasmus to Spinoza

"I had read the book before in the shorter Harper Torchbook edition but read it again right through--and found it as interesting and exciting as before. I regard it as one of the seminal books in the history of ideas. Based on a prodigious amount of original research, it demonstrated conclusively and in fascinating details how the transmission of ancient skepticism was a bital factor in the formation of modern thought. The story is rich in implications for th history of philosophy, the history of science, and the history of religious thought. Popkin's work has already inspired further work by others--and the new edition takes account of this, most importantly the work of Charles Schmitt. The two new chapters extend the story as far as Spinoza, with special reference to the beginnings of biblical criticism. . . . Popkin's history is of great potential interest to a wide readership--wider than most specialist publications and wider than it has (so far as I can tell) reached hitherto."--M.F. Burnyeat, Professor of Philosophy, University College London


Richard Popkin on Hume and Pyrrhonism

Popkin says that Hume’s theory provides the proper mixture of dogmatism and skepticism in a manner that Popkin deems even stronger than that found in traditional Pyrrhonism. Hume does not find the Pyrrhonist method of seeking quietude—counterbalancing opposing beliefs—always under our rational control. For Hume, Popkin says, radical skepticism is a threat—protected by the inherent inability of the human mind to sustain abstruse reasoning. No threat of general skepticism, which “leads to madness,” according to Popkin, emerges as long as Philo restricts himself to empirical challenges to Cleanthes. Having Philo employ general Pyrrhonian modes—infinite regress, for example—raises the specter of general skepticism that troubled Hume in the Treatise.

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