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Richard H. Popkin (December 27, 1923—April 14, 2005) was a historian of philosophy in the second half of the twentieth century.

His 1960 work The History of Scepticism from Erasmus to Descartes introduced previously unrecognised influence on Western thought in the seventeenth century, the Pyrrhonian Scepticism of Sextus Empiricus. Popkin was also an internationally acclaimed scholar on Jewish and Christian millenarianism and messianism.


Richard Popkin was born in Manhattanmarker to Louis and author Zelda Popkin, who jointly ran a small public relations firm. Popkin earned his Bachelor's degree and, in 1950, his Ph.D. from Columbia University. He taught at American universities, including the University of Connecticutmarker, The University of Iowamarker, the University of California San Diegomarker, Washington University in St. Louismarker, and the University of California Los Angelesmarker. He has been visiting professor at University of California Berkeleymarker, Brandeis Universitymarker, Duke Universitymarker, Emory Universitymarker, Tel Aviv Universitymarker, and was Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York. Popkin was the founding director of the International Archives of the History of Ideas and the first editor of the Journal of the History of Philosophy.

Among his honors, Popkin was awarded the Nicholas Murray Butler Medal by Columbia University and was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciencesmarker. He was president emeritus and founding editor of the Journal of the History of Philosophy.

Richard Popkin spent his later years living in Pacific Palisadesmarker, Californiamarker. He died of emphysema in Los Angelesmarker in April 2005. His papers have been archived at the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library at UCLAmarker.


Professor Popkin is survived by Juliet (née Greenstone), whom he married in 1944, and two of their three children, Jeremy Popkin (b. 1948) and his younger daughter, Susan Popkin (b. 1961). Margaret Popkin (1950-2005) was a prominent civil rights lawyer and activist, known particularly for her work in El Salvador during the civil war of the 1980s.


His books include The History of Scepticism from Erasmus to Spinoza, The Third Force in Seventeenth-Century Thought; Introduction to Philosophy (with Avrum Stroll); The High Road to Pyrrhonism; and Messianic Revolution: Radical Religious Politics to the End of the Second Millennium (with David S. Katz). He was editor and translator of selections from Pierre Bayle’s Historical and Cultural Dictionary and edited the 1999 Columbia History of Western Philosophy. Among his last works was his book "Disputing Christianity" completed posthumously by his son. A volume of essays in his honor, The Legacies of Richard H. Popkin, edited by his son Jeremy Popkin, was published in 2008.

He wrote a disturbing essay on David Hume and enlightenment racism. Beyond his philosophical works, he is noted for writing The Second Oswald in 1966, an early work questioning the lone gunman explanation of the John F. Kennedy assassination.


  • Popkin, R. The History of Scepticism from Savonarola to Bayle (Oxford, University Press: 2003). ISBN 0-19-510768-3
  • Popkin, R. and Stroll, Avrum. Philosophy Made Simple (Made Simple; 1993). ISBN 0-385-42533-3
  • Popkin, R. The Columbia History of Western Philosophy (Columbia University Press; 1999). ISBN 0-231-10128-7
  • Popkin, R. The Second Oswald (Avon Books; 1966). (Commercial ebook has ISBN 1-886420-27-0).

See also


  • Popkin, R. The History of Scepticism from Savonarola to Bayle (Oxford, University Press: 2003).

External links

  • , with an introduction by Richard H. Popkin

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