Raphael Demos

Raphael Demos (/ˈdɛms/; Greek: Ραφαήλ Δήμου;[a] January 23, 1892 – August 8, 1968) was a Greek-American philosopher. He was Alford Professor of Natural Religion, Moral Philosophy and Civil Polity, emeritus, at Harvard University and an authority on the work of the Greek philosopher Plato. At Harvard, he taught Martin Luther King Jr.

Raphael Demos
Raphael Demos.jpg
Demos in 1927
Born(1892-01-23)January 23, 1892
DiedAugust 8, 1968(1968-08-08) (aged 76)
aboard ship, en route to the U.S.
EducationHarvard University (PhD, 1916)
EraContemporary philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
InstitutionsHarvard University
ThesisThe Definition of Judgment (1916)
Doctoral advisorAlfred North Whitehead
Other academic advisorsBertrand Russell
Doctoral studentsDonald Davidson
Other notable studentsMartin Luther King Jr.
Main interests
Moral philosophy

Early lifeEdit

Demos was born to Ottoman Greek parents at Smyrna (now Izmir), in the Ottoman Empire, on January 23, 1892.[1][2] His father had been converted to evangelical Christianity by missionaries and had become an evangelical minister.[3] Demos was brought up in Constantinople, and earned his A.B. degree in 1910 from Anatolia College in Marsovan.[2]

According to the recollections of Bertrand Russell, Demos saved up and traveled steerage to the United States specifically to improve his education, having read all the books available to him at home.[2] Arriving in Boston in 1913 without money, he first worked as a waiter in a restaurant[2] and then as a janitor in the Harvard student halls of residence in order to fund his tuition at the university.[4] He studied under Bertrand Russell, who was temporarily at Harvard, and Russell found Demos to be one of his best students and was impressed by his enthusiasm for philosophy which he found refreshing.[3][4] Demos obtained his PhD in 1916 for a dissertation titled The Definition of Judgment.[5] He was naturalized as an American citizen in 1921.[2][6]


Demos married Jean and they had a son, John Demos, who attended Harvard University and became a noted historian at Yale University, and a daughter, Penny, who attended Radcliffe College. Jean was on the staff of the New England Conservatory of Music from where she later received an honorary doctor of music degree.[7] Demos's sister, Dorothy Demetracopoulou, graduated from Vassar College in 1927.[8]


Demos began his academic career at Harvard as an assistant in philosophy in 1916–17, rising to assistant professor in 1926. He studied at the University of Cambridge in 1918–19.[2] He was a Guggenheim Fellow in 1927, awarded for "a study of the philosophy of evolution and social philosophy, principally in Paris, France",[9] for which he studied at the University of Paris in 1928–29.[2] In 1934, Demos lectured on Plato's social program, arguing that Fascism and Communism had their roots in his philosophy.[8] He became Alford Professor of Natural Religion, Moral Philosophy and Civil Polity in 1945 in succession to William E. Hocking and he was a member of the Doty committee which produced the report "General education in a free society" completed the same year. He was a fellow of Adams House.[10] In 1956, he received an award from the Rockefeller Foundation, as well as from the American Philosophy Association in 1959 and the Littauer Foundation in 1960.[2] He also taught at the Harvard Extension School.[11]

Demos retired from Harvard in 1962 after which he taught at Vanderbilt University in 1962–63 and 1964–67. He taught at McGill University in Montreal in 1963–64.[10]

In May 1963, Demos wrote to Martin Luther King Jr. asking whether King had ever been a student of his at Harvard. King replied to say that he had attended the university for two years as a special student and taken Demos's course on the Philosophy of Plato in 1952–53 for which he had received an B from Demos.[12] Coincidentally, King's wife, Coretta, had studied with Demos's wife Jean at the New England Conservatory of Music.[13][14]

Death and legacyEdit

Demos died of a heart attack on 8 August 1968 while on board the S.S. Anna Maria returning to the United States. He had been living in Athens with his wife since 1967, teaching on a university year in Athens course.[10] His papers relating to Aristotle are held in the archives of Harvard University.[15] A volume of essays in Demos's honour was issued in 2016.

Selected publicationsEdit


  1. ^ Greek: [ˈðimu]


  1. ^ Raphael Demos. Oxford Reference. Retrieved 14 November 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Shook, John R. (Ed.) (2016). The Bloomsbury encyclopedia of philosophers in America: From 1600 to the present. London: Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 249. ISBN 978-1-4725-7056-7.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  3. ^ a b Feinberg, Barry, & Ronald Kasrils. (2013). Bertrand Russell's America: His transatlantic travels and writings. Volume One 1896–1945. Abingdon: Routledge. p. 40. ISBN 978-1-135-09955-8.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ a b Monk, Ray (1996). Bertrand Russell: The spirit of solitude 1872–1921. New York: The Free Press. p. 350. ISBN 978-0-684-82802-2.
  5. ^ The definition of judgment WorldCat. Retrieved 28 October 2016.
  6. ^ Raphael Demos › Petition for Naturalization. fold3. Retrieved 28 October 2016.
  7. ^ NEC Honorary Doctor of Music Degree. New England Conservatory of Music. Retrieved 28 October 2016.
  8. ^ a b RAPHAEL DEMOS TO LECTURE ON PLATO'S SOCIAL PROGRAM. The Vassar Miscellany News, Volume XVIII, No. 39, 11 April 1934, p. 4.
  9. ^ Raphael Demos. John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Retrieved 28 October 2016.
  10. ^ a b c Professor Raphael Demos, 77, Dies. The Harvard Crimson, 13 August 1968. Retrieved 28 October 2016.
  11. ^ Shinagel, Michael (2010), The Gates Unbarred: A History of University Extension at Harvard, 1910–2009, Harvard University Press, p. 52, ISBN 978-0674051355
  12. ^ Ireland, Corydon (January 16, 2013). "When King came to Harvard". Harvard Gazette. Retrieved 2020-07-29.
  13. ^ Letter from MLK to Dr. Raphael Demos 19 July 1963. The King Centre. Retrieved 28 October 2016.
  14. ^ John J. Ansbro, Martin Luther King, Jr: Nonviolent Strategies and Tactics for Social Change, Rowman & Littlefield, 1982 , p. 16.
  15. ^ Papers of Raphael Demos, ca. 1950-ca. 1969 (inclusive). WorldCat. Retrieved 28 October 2016.

Further readingEdit

  • Andriopoulos, D. Z. (2016) The idea of Agathon: In honour of Raphael Demos, professor at Harvard University. Athens: Philosophical Inquiry.