Remembering Professors Bill Talbott and James Mish’alani

Submitted by Sarah Kremen-Hicks on

The Department of Philosophy sadly reports the deaths of two of our esteemed emeritus colleagues in spring 2023.

Bill Talbott
Professor Bill Talbott passed away May 17, 2023, after a nearly four-year fight with lung cancer. Bill graduated from Princeton with an A.B. in Philosophy in 1970, and then served for two years as a conscientious objector, based on his moral opposition to the Vietnam War. He received a Ph.D. in philosophy from Harvard University in 1976. Following his graduation, he moved to Seattle, where he raised his two daughters and worked as a paralegal before joining the Department of Philosophy at the University of Washington in 1989.

Bill taught courses across a wide range of topics, including epistemology, human rights, rational choice theory, philosophy of law, and moral and political philosophy. He won a UW Distinguished Teaching Award. His four books include: "Learning from Our Mistakes: Epistemology for the Real World" (Oxford 2021); "Human Rights and Human Well-Being" (Oxford 2010); "Which Rights Should Be Universal?" (Oxford 2005); and "The Reliability of the Cognitive Mechanism" (Garland 1990). Faculty and students alike already miss Bill’s generous mentorship, incisive philosophical mind, and legendary poem writing.

Bill’s wide influence is reflected in comments shared online (e.g.,, including “hands down one of the greatest professors I’ve ever had. Brilliant, kind and inspiring” and “His encouragement for close careful reading and his infectious glee for discussing arguments in detail had a massive impact on my life.”

His family welcomes your condolences at Donations may be sent in Bill's name to the Southern Poverty Law Center,

Community reminiscences of Bill Talbott:

Colin Marshall: “Bill was a wonderful philosopher and a wonderful person. He would say that he was interested in "anything normative," and he meant it. As a colleague, he helped me better understand epistemology, ethics, political philosophy, metaethics, and metaphilosophy. Bill was also a truly dedicated teacher and mentor, and was almost supernaturally good at intellectually empowering students who were otherwise marginalized. It's hard to find the words to express how much he will be missed.”

Sara Goering: “Not only was Bill a talented, insightful and wide-ranging philosopher -- at ease in epistemology, normative theory, human rights and more -- he was a wonderful mentor, award-winning teacher, and hilarious and caring departmental poet. He will be deeply missed.”

Elliott Sober: “He was an inspiration -- curious, argumentative, funny, upbeat, and creative. I read his last book while he was finishing it. It wowed me. We correspond about the book, rekindling our friendship from long ago. In doing so I realized what a mistake it was that we lost contact with each other for decades. I miss him.”

Jane Ritchey: “He will always be in our hearts, our conversations and our realm of ideas.”


James Mish'alani
Professor James K. Mish’alani passed away March 29, 2023. Jim joined the UW Department in 1963, after receiving his PhD from Brown University. He started out as an analytic philosopher (“Thought and Object” and “’Duty’ ‘Obligation’ and ‘Ought’” were two of his published papers) and later shifted his philosophical interests, becoming the department’s default representative for the Continental tradition. He retired in 1999.

Reminiscences of Jim Mish’alani from fellow faculty members:

Ron Moore: Jim was a lovely colleague--smart, witty, versatile, and thoughtful.  He had an almost magical rapport with his students, helping them to feel philosophy's appeal and appreciate the pertinence of philosophical study.  He was particularly interested in the field of drama, and I believe he got involved in the practical side of theatre after his retirement.  He was a good department citizen, helping us out by teaching courses (focusing mainly on Continental philosophy) the rest of us were unwilling to offer, but ones many of our students really wanted to have offered.  Jim had a great baritone voice, an easy smile, and, more often than not, a wry sparkle in the eye.  A sweet, sweet guy.  What a loss!

Andrea Woody: Jim was a generous man and a wide ranging, creative thinker. When I was hired, Jim moved out of the office he had occupied on the mezzanine for many years, prior to his own retirement, to ensure that I would have an office with a window. At the time, I was deeply touched by his consideration of me and his willingness to move to an office with no window. Now, years later, I am even more touched thinking of how ensconced we become in our offices and how much effort it takes to move everything out.

Ken Clatterbaugh: Jim was, along with his professional contributions, an accomplished cook, I remember his baba ghanoush and other Middle East recipes. He built a wonderful arbor in the backyard, covered by grape vines. It was the best place in Seattle to sit on a warm day. Jim and Sue’s kindness and generosity always made guests feel welcome in their home. Jim’s openness to philosophy subjects not taught regularly in the department of philosophy made his courses attractive to students seeking guidance in these subjects, such as phenomenology.