A true man of the world, the philosopher Irwin Edman was once described by a colleague as "a blend of Plato, Santyana, and Manhattan--with a dash of Dewey." Certainly Columbia was in Edman's blood. Born in Morningside Heights, he stayed home to attend the College. Shortly after entering the Columbia Graduate School he became an instructor in the philosophy department, and remained a powerful presence on campus until his untimely death in 1954.
As a student, Edman became well-known as secretary of the Boar's Head Club, the College's literary society, where he regularly astonished his fellow members (including John Erskine) by reciting the club's minutes in verse. When the College decided to establish the course in Contemporary Civilization, Edman not only helped plan the syllabus, but in the spring of 1919 he penned an original work, Human Traits and Their Social Significance, for use in CC, which he also taught. When Erskine began the General Honors course in 1920, Edman was one of its original instructors. In 1932, he helped establish the Colloquium on Important Books, and in 1935 he chaired a planning committee for Humanities A, which he also taught for many years.
Famous for both his absent-mindedness and his ability to memorize entire pages of poetry and prose, Edman was popular among undergraduates not only for general education courses, but for his regular departmental offerings. Many considered Philosophy 3-4 one of the truly great Columbia College courses. An internationally known scholar, Edman lectured at the Sorbonne and at the Athenaeum in London, but he also sought out general readers in such books as The Contemporary and His Soul, Candle in the Dark, Philosopher's Holiday, and Philosopher's Quest. His philosophical interests never strayed far from the practical problems of living.