In memoriam Frank Cunningham (1940-2022)

Published: February 4, 2022

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With deep sadness the department announces the passing of our colleague Frank Cunningham. He suffered from leukemia and died at his Vancouver home on February 4, 2022, assisted by the Canadian Medical Assistance in Dying program. Maryka Omatsu, his wife of more than 50 years, wrote: “Frank died as he lived, courageously and true to his principles.”

Cunningham joined the Department of Philosophy at the University of Toronto in 1967 as a lecturer when still completing his doctorate, supervised by David Gauthier. The dissertation dealt with the philosophy of social science and was later published in book form as Objectivity in Social Science (1973). For the remainder of his career, Cunningham focused his research on political philosophy, with a particular emphasis on democratic theory, which led to a number of  books: Democratic Theory and Socialism (1987), Theories of Democracy: A Critical Introduction (2002), The Real World of Democracy Revisited and Other Essays on Socialism and Democracy (1994), The Political Thought of C. B. Macpherson: Contemporary Applications (2019), and, most recently, Ideas in Context: Essays in Social & Political Theory (2020). Cunningham also excelled as a teacher at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, supervising 19 doctoral dissertations and serving on many more committees during his time at the university.

From 1982 to 1988, Cunningham served as our department’s chair, setting the stage for its rejuvenation after years of being unable to make any appointments. During his time as chair he also laid the groundwork for the enormous success of philosophy in the decades to come, introducing the idea of making it a high school subject for the first time in Ontario, and shepherding the proposal through multiple levels of government approval. Many people at the time viewed the idea with great skepticism, worrying that the approach would cut into  first-year enrollment: they believed this cohort consisted largely of students who a needed a humanities course in their undergraduate studies but who had disliked English and history in high school. Cunningham proved them wrong. He further spearheaded the university’s introduction of an organized program in bioethics for both undergraduates and graduate students. Between 2000 and 2005, he served as principal of Innis College.

Cunningham retired from U of T in 2009 and moved to Vancouver, where he was affiliated for a couple of years with the Urban Studies program at Simon Fraser University.

We mourn the passing of a great colleague, exceptional philosopher, dedicated teacher, innovative thinker, and generous human being. His absence will leave a hole in the world. Our thoughts are with his family and closest friends.

Please look for a longer memorial in this space in the days to come. You can also read the obituary for Cunningham in the Globe and Mail.