Campus News

Emeritus Professor of Philosophy Daniel Merrill

March 23, 2016

Communications Staff

The following, which appeared on the Dicken Funeral Home and Cremation website, was provided by Karen Merrill ’86, daughter of Daniel Merrill. It was edited for style by Lisa Gulasy, who added quotations from Martin Thomson-Jones, associate professor of philosophy; Gary Kornblith, emeritus professor of history; and Alfred MacKay, emeritus professor of philosophy.


Daniel Merrill
Image by John Seyfried

Emeritus Professor of Philosophy Daniel Merrill died March 13, 2016, after a brief hospitalization.


Dan was born in South Bend, Indiana, in 1932. He was the third of five children. His parents, Kenneth and Helen Merrill, nurtured his love of books and music, and he remained close to his siblings his entire life.

Graduating from Riley High School in 1950, Dan continued his education first at Princeton University as a math major and then at the University of Minnesota where he pursued his PhD in philosophy. In the early summer of 1955 he met Marlene (Marly) Deahl, also of South Bend, and they were engaged three months later. They would have celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary this August.

Dan and Marly moved to Oberlin in 1962 where they raised two children, Steve and Karen. Dan cherished his students and colleagues in the Department of Philosophy, and he threw himself into the life of the college. “Dan embodied the expectations and ideals Oberlin College had for its faculty: teaching, advising, and career development; scholarship, research, and publication; and service, governance, and curriculum development,” says Alfred MacKay, emeritus professor of philosophy. “He was one of the two philosophers who interviewed me right out of graduate school in 1967 and recommended my hiring. He has been my friend, mentor, and advisor since.”

Dan enjoyed learning about a range of scholarly fields, and his sense of fairness made him a sought-after member on many college committees over his 36-year career at Oberlin. He edited and authored a number of publications, most notably his book, Augustus de Morgan and the Logic of Relations.

“Dan was among the most respected members of the faculty for four decades. He was an incredibly wonderful and generous person who contributed enormously to the college as a teacher, colleague, and citizen,” says Gary Kornblith, emeritus professor of history. “I will forever miss his wide-ranging curiosity, gentle wisdom, and cheerful kindness.”

“I didn't overlap with Dan in the philosophy department, as I was hired as his replacement when he retired, but I did get to know him well,” says Associate Professor of Philosophy Martin Thomson-Jones. “For many years he was a regular attendee at our departmental visiting speaker events and would often come to dinner afterwards. He always asked great questions at the talks, and he told interesting stories about the history of the department and the history of the profession at dinner. He also passed on lots of interesting philosophical tidbits to me that I still use in my teaching. I quote him on one topic every year when I teach deductive logic, for example. I've always felt honored to have been Dan's replacement, and I'm grateful to have known him as a friend.”

Dan adored music, and until the last couple years when his health slowed him down, he and Marly could be found attending scores of concerts each year. He especially loved concerts in the Oberlin College Artist Recital Series and by the Cleveland Orchestra. Dan’s retirement years also allowed him and Marly to spend a great deal of time with friends and family both in Oberlin and in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where they bought a small house they called “Salem” in 1987. There they continued their love of music by attending the summer Grand Teton Music Festival. “Salem” was also a place where another side of Dan came out: that of someone who loved wildlife and leisurely float trips down the Snake River and who was deeply engaged with local land and conservation issues.

Dan is survived by his beloved wife, Marly; his son, Steve, daughter-in-law, Nancy Day Merrill, and their children Annabelle and Jessie Mei; his daughter, Karen, her former partner, Martha Umphrey, and their sons Theo and Dash; his sisters Martha Pickrell and Cynthia Tamny, sister-in-law, Helen Merrill, brother in-law, Michael Tamny, and a number of nieces, nephews, and cousins. He was preceded in death by his parents, his sister, Janet Merrill, and his brother, Kenneth Merrill.

The burial office and Eucharist will be celebrated at 9:30 a.m. on April 30 at Christ Episcopal Church. A memorial service celebrating Dan’s life will be held the same day at 1 p.m. at Christ Episcopal Church (162 South Main Street, Oberlin). Donations in Dan’s memory can be made to Friends of the Artist Recital Series at Oberlin College. Arrangements were in the care of Dicken Funeral Home and Cremation Service, Elyria. Send online condolences via this webpage.

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