Herbert Fingarette

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Herbert Fingarette
Herbert Borenstein

January 20, 1921
DiedNovember 2, 2018 (aged 97)
Leslie Josephine Swabacker
(m. 1945; died 2011)
Academic background
EducationUniversity of California, Los Angeles (BA, PhD)
Doctoral advisorDonald Piatt
Academic work
Moral psychology
InstitutionsUniversity of California, Santa Barbara
Military career
Service/branch United States Army
Battles/warsWorld War II

Herbert Fingarette (January 20, 1921 – November 2, 2018)[1] was an American philosopher and professor of philosophy at the University of California, Santa Barbara.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Fingarette was born Herbert Borenstein in Brooklyn. His father, David Borenstein, manufactured sewing machine parts. As a teenager, he moved with his family to Los Angeles. He later adopted the last name of his stepfather, Harry Fingarette. Fingarette initially studied chemistry at the University of California, Los Angeles, but left to serve in the United States Army during World War II, where he was assigned to the Pentagon. He later earned a Bachelor of Arts degree and PhD in philosophy from UCLA[3] under the direction of Donald Piatt.[4]


Fingarette's work deals with issues in philosophy of mind, psychology, ethics, law, and Chinese philosophy.[5]

In his 1969 monograph Self-Deception, Fingarette presents an account of the titular concept influenced by the work of Jean-Paul Sartre,[6] Sören Kierkegaard and Sigmund Freud, as well as contemporary work in physiology and analytic philosophy. Fingarette argues that traditional accounts of self-deception fall invariably into paradox because these accounts see self-deception in terms of perception or knowledge. Such paradoxes may be resolved, Fingarette claims, by re-framing self-deception as a problem of volition and action. On these new terms, he defines self-deception as an agent's persistent refusal to "spell out" (explicitly acknowledge) and to avow some aspect of his engagement in the world.[7]

Fingarette's 1972 monograph Confucius: The Secular As Sacred was described in a peer-reviewed academic journal as "one of the most significant philosophical books on the subject to be published in a long time."[8]

Fingarette also influentially applied his work in moral psychology to pressing social and legal issues, particularly those surrounding addiction. In his 1988 book Heavy Drinking, Fingarette challenges the disease theory of alcoholism popularized by groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Fingarette's arguments were employed by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 1988 decision to deny VA educational benefits to two alcoholic American veterans.[9][10][1]

Months before his death, Fingarette was the subject of a documentary short film Being 97,[11] which deals with growing old, death, absence, and the meaning of life.[12]

Personal life[edit]

He was married to Leslie Josephine Swabacker from 1945 until her death in 2011. Fingarette died in Berkeley, California in 2018. He was survived by his daughter and two grandsons.[1]


  1. ^ a b c "Herbert Fingarette, Contrarian Philosopher on Alcoholism, Dies at 97". New York Times. November 15, 2018. Retrieved June 23, 2021.
  2. ^ "Department of Philosophy - People". University of California, Santa Barbara. Retrieved October 26, 2012.
  3. ^ Roberts, Sam (November 15, 2018). "Herbert Fingarette, Contrarian Philosopher on Alcoholism, Dies at 97". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved July 30, 2021.
  4. ^ "Herbert Fingarette". Philosophy Family Tree. Retrieved October 23, 2012.
  5. ^ "Philosophy Faculty". University of California - Santa Barbara. Retrieved November 2, 2012.
  6. ^ Hirsch, Julie. "Ethics and Self-Deception". Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved October 23, 2012.
  7. ^ Fingarette, Herbert (2000). Self-Deception. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 34, 46. ISBN 0520220528.
  8. ^ Rosemont Jr., Henry; Fingarette, Herbert (October 1976). "Review: Confucius--The Secular as Sacred by Herbert Fingarette". Philosophy East and West. 26 (4): 463–477. doi:10.2307/1398287. JSTOR 1398287.
  9. ^ Beyette, Beverly (March 23, 1988). "Alcoholism: Is It Really a Disease? : Controversial Author Contends Drinking Is Modifiable Behavior". LA Times. Retrieved November 2, 2011.
  10. ^ Peele, Stanton. "Herbert Fingarette, Radical Revisionist Why Are People So Upset With This Retiring Philosopher?". Retrieved April 19, 2021.
  11. ^ "Being 97 (2018)". IMDB. Retrieved November 22, 2020.
  12. ^ Buder, Emily (January 14, 2020). "A 97-Year-Old Philosopher Ponders Life and Death: 'What Is the Point?'". The Atlantic.

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