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Irving Singer papers

Identifier: MC-0700

Scope and Contents

The collection documents the professional activities of Irving Singer from approximately 1950 to 2009.

Materials include: reports, writings, including drafts and proofs, reprints, notes, and program materials.


  • approximately 1950s to 2000s


Access note

This collection is open.

Conditions Governing Use

Access to collections in the Department of Distinctive Collections is not authorization to publish. Please see the MIT Libraries Permissions Policy for permission information. Copyright of some items in this collection may be held by respective creators, not by the donor of the collection or MIT.

Biographical Note

Irving Singer, 1925-2015, was a professor emeritus of Philosophy and Linguistics (and its forerunners) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for over 55 years. (1) He began his career in writing at the age of 20 after being chosen to record his infantry’s actions during World War II, resulting in the article “History of the 210th Field Artillery Group” (US Army, 1945). Singer attended Brooklyn College for 2 years before enlisting in the army. After the war he attended Biarritz American, Harvard, and Oxford Universities for his degrees, graduating in 1948 with his BA and in 1952 with a PhD. (2)

He joined the Institute in 1958 as a lecturer before being promoted to associate professor a year later in 1959. He was promoted to full professor in 1967. (3) While Singer is most well known for his 21 published books, he also served as a psychiatric consultant at Johns Hopkins University (4), co-taught seminars on music (5), and led multi-day conferences on his shorter papers leading to the publication of The Nature and Pursuit of Love (Prometheus Books, 1995). (6) He held numerous honorary positions, including those as a Fulbright, Guggenheim, and Rockefeller Scholar. (7) Additionally he spent two years in Florence, Italy as a Villa I Tatti Fellow. (8)

Above all, Singer is known for his literature. His first publication was Santayana’s Aesthetics: A Critical Analysis (Harvard University Press, 1957) while working at Harvard, while his first full length book was The Goals of Human Sexuality in 1973 at MIT. In addition to his work in classical topics, he had a passion for the philosophy of music and cinema, resulting in the later titles Three Philosophical Filmmakers: Hitchcock, Welles, Renoir (MIT Press, 2004) (9) and Ingmar Bergman, Cinematic Philosopher: Reflections on His Creativity (MIT Press, 2007), which was shortlisted for the 2008 Kraszna-Krausz Award for the Best Moving Image Book. In 2008 the MIT Press established The Irving Singer Library to honor him, initially republishing 7 titles and later expanding to over a dozen. (10) Singer retired in 2013 at the age of 88. (11)

1. “MIT SHASS: News - 2013 - Irving Singer, MIT Philosopher and Author, Retires after 55 Years.” Accessed April 22, 2020.

2. MIT News. “Irving Singer, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Dies at 89.” Accessed April 22, 2020.

3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology Office of the President. “President’s Report Issue,” 1959.

4. ———. “Report of the President 1969,” 1969.

5. ———. “Report of the President and the Chancellor Issue 1974-1975,” 1975.

6. ———. “Reports to the President for the Year Ended June 30, 1995,” 1995.

7. MIT News. “Irving Singer, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Dies at 89.” Accessed April 22, 2020.

8. Massachusetts Institute of Technology Office of the President. “Report of the President 1967,” 1967.

9. ———. “Reports to the President 2003–2004.” Accessed April 22, 2020.

10. ———. “Reports to the President 2007–2008.” Accessed April 22, 2020.

11. “MIT SHASS: News - 2013 - Irving Singer, MIT Philosopher and Author, Retires after 55 Years.” Accessed April 22, 2020.


53.6 Cubic Feet (53 record cartons, 2 manuscript boxes, and 1 oversize folder)

Language of Materials



Materials are stored off-site. Advance notice is required for use.

Source of Acquisition

Materials were given to the Department of Distinctive Collections (formerly the Institute Archives and Special Collections) by Irving Singer and his family in August 2013.

Selected Bibliography of Irving Singer

  • Santayana's Aesthetics: A Critical Analysis, Harvard University Press, 1957. Reprint edition Greenwood Press, 1973.
  • The Nature of Love: Plato to Luther, Random House, 1966.
  • The Goals of Human Sexuality, W.W. Norton, 1973.
  • Mozart and Beethoven: The Concept of Love in Their Operas, John Hopkins Press, 1977.
  • The Nature of Love, Volume 1: Plato to Luther, University of Chicago Press, 1984. Revised second edition, 1987.
  • The Nature of Love, Volume 2: Courtly and Romantic, University of Chicago Press, 1984.
  • The Nature of Love, volume 3: The Modern World, University of Chicago Press, 1987.
  • Meaning in Life: The Creation of Value, The Free Press, 1992.
  • Introduction to The Last Puritan, Volume 4, The Works of George Santayana, MIT Press, 1994.
  • The Nature and Pursuit of Love: The Philosophy of Irving Singer, Prometheus Books, 1995.
  • Meaning in Life, Volume 1: The Creation of Value, Johns Hopkins Press, 1996. Includes a new preface.
  • Meaning in Life, Volume 2: The Pursuit of Love, Johns Hopkins Press, 1994.
  • Meaning in Life, Volume 3: The Harmony of Nature and Spirit, Johns Hopkins Press, 1996.
  • Reality Transformed: Film as Meaning and Technique, MIT Press, 1998.
  • George Santayana, Literary Philosopher, Yale University Press, 2000.
  • Explorations in Love and Sex, Rowman & Littlefield, 2001.
  • Sex: A Philosophical Primer, Rowman & Littlefield, 2001.
  • Feeling and Imagination: The Vibrant Flux of Our Existence, Rowman & Littlefield, 2001.
  • Three Philosophical Filmakers: Hitchcock, Welles, Renoir, MIT Press, 2004.
  • Ingmar Bergman, Cinematic Philosopher: Reflections on His Creativity, 2008.
  • Cinematic Mythmaking: Philosophy in Film, MIT Press, 2008.
  • Philosophy of Love: A Partical Summing-Up, MIT Press, 2009.
  • Creation of Value, MIT Press, 2010.
  • Modes of Creativity: Philosophical Perspectives, MIT Press, 2011.

Processing Information note

Some collection descriptions are based on legacy data and may be incomplete or contain inaccuracies. Description may change pending verification. Please contact the MIT Department of Distinctive Collections if you notice any errors or discrepancies.

Processing Information note

This transfer list covers 56 containers of materials. Boxes 1-40 are listed so that like materials are gathered intellectually together. Boxes 41-56 are listed by box number, further processing will be carried out.

August 2013 Transfer List to the Irving Singer Papers
Chris Tanguay
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2020 April: Biographical note written by Ashlynn August
  • 2021 October 4: Edited by Lana Mason for compliance with DACS single-level optimum requirements.

Repository Details

Part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Libraries. Department of Distinctive Collections Repository

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Libraries
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