Family Card - Person Sheet
Family Card - Person Sheet
NameProf. Werner (David) Ferdinand FALK
Birth25 Apr 1906, Kantstrasse 124, Charlottenberg, Berlin, Germany
Death11 Oct 1991, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA
Birth1906, Berlin, Germany
Death11 Oct 1991, Chapel Hill, Florida, USA
FatherDr Fritz FALK (1873-1957)
MotherCharlotte Betty CASSIRER (1886-1972)
Birth18 Nov 1910, Armadale, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Death21 Oct 2008, Royal Melbourne Hospital, Melbourne Vic Australia
Birth18 Nov 1910, Armadale, Victoria, Australia
Birth18 Nov 1910, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia1063
Death21 Oct 2008, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
FatherHon Harold Edward COHEN (1881-1946)
MotherFreda PIRANI (1886-1969)
Marriage1936, Oxford, England
Divorce1959, Melbourne, Australia
ChildrenAnne Elisabeth (1939-2020)
 John Richard (1941-2007)
Birth18 Jan 1933
Death12 Jul 2002
ChildrenAdam Frederick (1965-)
 Toby (1966-)
Birth27 Sep 1938
MarriageDec 1972, Chapel Hill
Notes for Prof. Werner (David) Ferdinand FALK
See also -
Misc Note 2 - additional details of his life from various sources

Curriculum Vitae - assembled by Jim Falk from WD Falk's records (held by Jeanette Falk)

Chapter by Jeanette Falk on WD Falk's life, especially in the USA:

Original thesis documents, statements of examiners, etc at

Not for publication - Transcript of a taped account from David Falk (interviewed by Jim Falk) at the beach house, 1987. (WD Falk's Account below is drawn from this)

WD Falk's Comment (edited):
In 1914 we moved to a small town near Berlin, called Fustenwalde and when it became clear that he would be stationed there for a long time, we all moved to Fustenwalde. And my first school and pre-school and gymnasium experiences were all in that little place from 1914 to 1919.

It was in the following 4 or 5 years that we didn't live in Berlin but in this little provincial town near Berlin. Of course I went to school there, I went to the gymnasium there, and I never felt right. This wasn't the atmosphere which I could feel at home with and I had difficulties about having friends. They were terribly antisemitic there. These are very formative experiences - the school age, you know.

Not only my parents but the whole Cassirer caboodle was totally irreligious. They were Jews. They were not Jews who tried to conceal that they were Jews. There was that too - people who got baptized, people who became outspoken German nationalists - all that sort of thing. Or somewhere or other denied it because they didn't want anything to do with Jews. The Cassirers - if I take my grandfather as a further example - you could never see near a Synagogue. He thought the Synagogue was something for women. My grandmother - his wife - could go there but not him.

And the last in the family, the last person who still did sort of see their [friday] evenings was my great grandmother - my mother's grandmother - which is part of the family's saga because it was gross muter Cecilia

But anyway, these years in a small town were all wrong, you know, and of course my parents were full of anxiety because the question was always "will he be sent to the front" or "will we be able to stay where we were". But he were never sent to the Front so all this worry was unnecessary but of course the worry was there because the uncertainty was there.

And what is more - what I think was really bad - we were as long as before 1914 - of course, we had two maids and one cook and ein kinderfaller (educators). And then when 1914 came everything was abolished, and we lived in a smaller apartment in the provincial town and my mother had to do everything. We had one maid and that was all who did the cooking. But the whole brunt of my mother's ideas and energy fell upon us children, you know, and that wasn't good. So, still I see this as an unpleasant experience.

And then we went back to Berlin and there was the 1919 revolution and all the anxiety connected with that. I mean we had shooting in the street and went to school past a big hotel which had been turned into a fortress. So it wasn't a very peaceful early days.

And then one consequence of this was that I never managed to get into the right school. I mean, what do I mean by the right school? There were two gymnasia where young people of our class and religion would go. They were academically famous and if you had been to any of them you would have been with your likes. But I had to go because I couldn't get into these - it was all too late - I had to go to school which was the opposite of this. It was in a very reactionary Berlin district where there were no Jews but only reactionaries.

It was stupid. The teachers were reactionaries and anti-semites and the students, these boys, also. I mean we got the full brunt of anti-seminitism there and I remember I was a big strong 12 year old and I remember in the lunch break the few Jewish guys that were there in that school would line up behind me in a corner of the courtyard and the college students would attack us and we would defend ourselves. It wasn't pleasant at all.

So this whole story of my later school years, my recollection is a very unpleasant one, full of tensions. And in consequence I was not a good student. I was a good student in a few subjects that interested me - there I was very good.

First of all was German literature - writing essays. And later on I had one wonderful teacher who taught us philosophy and taught us things like that and there I got my A's. But otherwise I didn't really like to work for that school. And then , you see there was still never straight failures. I got through my matriculation and there was the question of what to do. And I said I wanted to go to the university and I don't care what I do there, but at least I want to have had that experience. But there was no money. And so, through Fritz's offices, I got a job - an apprenticeship - in a firm that made motor car accessories. They sold the windshield wiper that was operated by hand. And they sold a machine that you used if your tyres got too smooth - then they would take it to the garage and there the machine would roughen up the tyres - a machine that roughs up rubber and smoothes it !

Well, I used to work there and then do what I had already done at school because I was great in my last years at school for being absent. And I did that on a big scale because I thought just to be absent one day or two days you got found out. The teachers says "where's your letter of excuse from your parents". So I decided if I stayed away for two weeks it would be clear that I must have been sick and when I came back no-one would ask me. And I got away with that quite a number of times.

But what did I do those days when I didn't got to school? There was a museum collection in Berlin called the Prince Collection (Kuchfeshtishe Kabinet) where you could go and ask for Rembrants or whatever you liked - graphic works - and they would be taken out of their shelves and put in front of you on a desk. And you spend all day just looking at Rembrandt graphics, or whatever. And well, when I was an apprentice I did the same thing, except I stayed as long as I had to stay and then instead of going home I would go to the Kuchfeshtishe Kabinet or something similar and study graphic art. I did that for two years . That was my only consolation.

I was not a good salesman. First of all I wasn't interested, and secondly I was much too embarrassed. A singe boy of 18 or 19 going to these rough (garage) quarters, and Jewish into the bargain.

I got my matricultion in '24 which was just the end of the inflation and everyone was really broke. But three years later things had settled down and my father lent me some money. The custom was that in the professions, someone like my father would send out bills at the end of the year. Only once. And of course you couldn't convince my father that he should charge retrospectively more - you know that a visit was worth 5 marks in January, if he billed it 12 months later he couldn't still charged 5 marks. But he charged 5 marks at the end. They were in a terrible situation, and many professional people likewise.

But all this had become easier and, needless to say, it was Uncle Fritz - who has always played a big positive part of my life - that he convinced my parents that I ought to go to University. And, so I did.

I went to the University in Berlin. Except to say in Germany you can university hop. You can easily move from one university to another. And I for instance had one semester in Zurich because we had friends there.

So after Uncle Fritz decided I should go to University there was still the question what should I do at the university. And what I wanted to do was philosophy. And that didn't appeal to my father at all. Because if really they had to bring the sacrifice of sending me to university then I should do something there with some practical future. So one day my father came home and he said he'd had a long conversation with one of his patients, a banker, and the banker had said there is only one thing for me to do and that is to study economics.

So, I knew nothing about economics, but I knew the regulations of the university which permitted in Berlin someone to take a Ph.D. with philosophy as a subsidiary subject. You had two main subjects and two subsidiary subjects to study for a Ph.D. And you could for instance have what I eventually had which was economics and sociology as my main subjects and philosophy and art history as my two subsidiary subjects.

What I then did to strengthen this - you see you choose the subjects for Ph.D. theses, and in this German system, in those days, you didn't get any help from anyone. And I had one professor who was really interested in economic organisation within the business. Well with that professor I had a little more contact and he was an interesting man. And he suggested a totally unsuitable subject - namely to write a thesis on the differences between different industries with regard to the possibility of forming cartels. I thought this an interesting subject. It was concrete and it was not too close to something finicky. And I started to work on this but my unconscious mind just wouldn't function in the right way.

I did a good deal of work on this topic but it got out of my hands. It developed into a much more theoretical topic and it ended up with my writing a thesis on the judgment of value - a basic problem in the methodology and of the economics - all so to speak on the question of how is economics possible as a discipline. And I got myself another professor who was interested in these questions (or questions of this sort) - a very famous man, Bernard Songbart. And I arranged with him that this was the thesis I was to write under him. I had one conversation with this man at the beginning and one conversation when I presented the outlines of my thesis to his graduate seminar. And I never saw him again. That was having a supervisor in Germany.

Now that is a story which I can tell. When I started on that thesis and chose this man as supervisor I knew that he was working on these questions. And there were two questions which were sort of around academia and economics - nothing to do with economics . The one was the old Max Weber thing whether you could have a value free social science? And so that invited the question "can you have a value free economics?". And the other question concerned the nature of economics as a discipline - namely whether (it was a typical German problematic which had descended from the 19th Century) whether economics would be a predominantly historical discipline or whether it should be a theoretical mathematical discipline - which worked out the theory of the market and the theory of equilibrium of forces that worked the establishment of such equilibrium presupposed. Now I had a bright idea. My idea was that these two questions, unrelated as they seem, belong together, and that economics had to be conceived as a discipline that was not value-free and was not historical. But I mean that in so far as it pursued it's theoretical framework it was the framework of the British welfare economics, and not something concerned with the history of the production of fever thermometers in the Black Forest, I mean, which was the historical school approach.

And I knew that my professor was working on these two problems, on a book which he was going to call "Die Zwei Nationale Economies" and in which he would argue fervently for the historical and value-free approach. So where he was working on this book I was working on my thesis. And we finished about the same time - never communicating with each other. So I handed in my thesis and one good morning, which I still remember quite clearly, there was a letter which had just come from this professor. And he said "Dear Mr Falk, I cannot deny that this is an interesting thesis but in order even to report on it to the Senate, which was part of the routine, I would have to submit my whole book refused. Find yourself", and this was a typical German thing, "find yourself a professor who will take it. I can't take it, its against my convictions." So I did find myself a professor, in Heidelberg. I went to Heidelberg.

It's a very good system. And he gave me a first for it. Because the first one, [Prof Sombart] was a conservative. The other [Prof Lederer] was a socialist. Well one of my theses was that the planned economy involved value judgments. I mean I said that we had to treat economics altogether as a teleological system. It serves ends. That is to say, my model for that sort of things was [Pigou] and the idea of welfare economics. [Pigou] will love this. He said that the guts of Adam Smith was to describe the mechanisms by which welfare is produced - something worth having. Now if this isn't etc.....

So you can imagine how many ups and downs those universities had for me. But that ended well. Because I got through what I set out to do and it was productive and it got me a teaching job at the German School of Politics in Berlin. It was a very interesting place. It was founded in 1919 with a view to provide an education for journalists and other people involved politics, cultivating an objective scientific approach to politics. And it was staffed very interestingly. We had people from all parties. We had a communist, we had a Nazi, we had a lot of middle of the road people.

One of my colleagues was the guy who later on became Reich President. What was his name now - the first Reich President after the second world war. I was with him of course before the 2nd World War. I was with him in the early '30's. I had a job there from 1930 to 1933.

I got my Ph.D. in the spring of '30. And, this is how these sort of things just happened. I mean I never set out to have an academic career. I didn't know what I would do after. I thought perhaps I would find a job in industry or something. I had an interesting job while I was a student which actually paid for all my extra expenses - for, I think for 3 or 4 years which was - ah, that is another story.

I had a girlfriend at the university and her friend was a director of a car manufacturing outfit. And he was a member - there was a National Union of Industries or something one of these big framework organisations which was concerned with the interests of industry in general. And they had study groups. And this man was the head of one of these study groups. And he knew the secretary who would keep the minutes of the meetings, which were interesting because they were on planned economies, and sometimes we had some Russians come to talk to us on planned economies. And he knew the secretary and this girl , who was then his wife, and she wasn't my girlfriend any more, recommended me because she thought it was a nice idea. And he took me and for three years of my university career I worked for him and it was very good because it didn't take so much of my time, I learned a lot about things I would not have learned otherwise, and I relieved my parents of having to spend any money on me except what money they spent by my living there and my eating there. So this was a good solution. Otherwise this wouldn't really have worked - this study.

And, ah yes, then at one time the School of Politics had on their programme a seminar on a book that had more recently come out. You may still even know Manheim, who used to be a political philosopher. And that was a matter of interest to me and so I went over and was a student there for that course.

That course was run by a man who I found very interesting , Professor Solomon, a sociologist who had still been working under Weber - a very interesting man. And he sort of selected me. He thought I was good and so we became friends and he thought well of my contributions to that seminar. And when I came back from Heidelburg that year with my Heidelburg First - that was one of the greater moments of my life because I didn't have such very high ideas of myself. But, as it turned out, I was much better than I thought I was because as it turned out I got a First in my thesis and in every oral examination whether it was on fine arts or philosophy or sociology or economics. I got firsts in everything - so much so that it was thought that this was the best first that Heidelburg had turned out in the last 20 years or something. I was invited to dinner with the Dean and there was all great festivities. And, of course, I had a better view of myself than I had up till then. You see, it told me one thing. I had been mistaken about myself. One can be better than one thinks one is. I'm just throwing that in without any special ecteras! It but also shows how much part chance can play because when I came back Professor Sullivan said to me "you know, I'm going away for semester would you take my course". I said "what is the course supposed to be". He said "on Marx". And I said "well Marx, I can teach about." And so I taught that summer at the University and at the end of this the Director asked me, and he said, would I want a job there?

They had a vacancy for someone who could do just economic theory and political theory and a little later they had a much more specific job which was really very interesting. They had a little sub-school which was called the Trade Union School and that was a 3 years course for specifically for young trade unionists to study bits of economics and law and politics. And he asked me if I wanted to be Head of this school which, I mean, wasn't a big thing but it had to be organised and I would lecture there too, and so on. And I accepted this. So very early on suddenly I had all this. And it was nice. And I had these three very productive years. I wrote some good papers which were published and the future seemed to have a future.

My parents were pleased . They hadn't expected this - and my mother of course - my father looked rather sceptically at all this talk of - but my mother of course, for a boy Cassirer, it was just what you would expect for her son. And I could go and talk to Ernst, and we could talk philosophy and... You see my first important paper which I published was on the idea of freedom in Marx and Hegel and it was published in a journal. So all was swinging along well and then 1933 came and ruined everything.

Thats when I went skiing. In March '33 we had a spring vacation at the School of Politics. And I always went skiing in my spring vacation. And so I went skiing and when I was packing I decided I might take one suit with me, which I never would otherwise do. Why, God knows!

Well, after two weeks away in Obergurgle - a wonderful place in Austria, the highest village in Austria, 2000 metres and the skiing! It is a glacier area and you can go and ski from one hut to another and never be below 2,400 metres. And for 10 days you get up in the morning. You do the mountain and ski down for 2 hours or something to the next hut. That was nice.

But after two weeks, I opened the paper and there was the Reichstaag's fire. And from there on there was no peace. First I got this telegram from my parents saying that I should stay and ski more and more because it was necessary for my health. And - well it was all quite clear because our Institute was the first thing which was taken over by Goebels. Because that was to turn it immediately into a political propaganda institute. And so finally I did not come back to Germany but went to Switzerland where we had friends.

Then I went to France. Then we all played a crazy game between Zurich and Paris, and Paris and Zurich. Where would we go? And then I decided there was no future in either Switzerland or France for various reasons, and the head of the School of Politics had in the meanwhile for the moment gone to London. And I was in correspondence with him and he said come here. Come to London. I will find you something. And I got something there - a kind of. The English Jews collected money for a fund to support refugee scholars before they could really be settled. And I got some of those funds, went to London in 1933, and stayed in England.

Comment from Jim Falk:
In 1946 I was born. In 1938 my father David (WD Falk) was offered and accepted a Lecturer position at New College in Oxford. In 1947, he went to Aberdeen filling for two terms the vacancy in the moral philosophy chair there, following the death of Professor John Laird, coming to Aberdeen in the Autumn of that year.

Subsequent to that he was offered in 1949/50 a permanent position at Aberdeen, but also a readership at Melbourne University, Australia. His preference was to come to Australia since he thought he would never get anywhere in the UK system. He accepted the latter and in 1950, accompanied by his family he travelled to Melbourne to take up that position.

He was initially very happy with Melbourne. At Melbourne University he was a member of the Philosophy Department and for several years Chairman of the Salaries Committee of the Staff Association and was at one time President of the Association.

He met Ruth Lowe at Melbourne University on her birthday in 1956. She was 21 years old.

He left Australia in early 1957 to take a sabbatical leave, and a visiting professorship in the US. Although he came back briefly later in that year when his father was dying and stayed a few weeks, he then returned to the US and never returned to Australia.

After a number of visiting appointments (see Curriculum Vitae) he eventually settled in North Carolina in 1963 where he took up the J.G. Hanes Professor of Humanities position in the Department of Philosophy. He moved into his house at Buttons Lane and married Ruth Loewe who had joined him. They had the two children Adam and Toby, but Ruth became increasingly unsettled. In 1970 Ruth and David agreed to separate and were subsequently divorced. Ruth originally moved in with another partner but that did not last.

David met his third wife Jeanette Strasser Filene in 1971. She had separated from her husband Peter Filene, and David from his second wife Ruth Loewe. Jeanette had embarked on an MA in Philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Despite family mythology, she never had David for a class. They chatted around Christmas 1971 and found they had much in common, including their interest in philosophy, separation from partners, and pairs of children of similar ages. They married in mid-December 1972 and moved to what has remained the family home in Allard Road, Chapel Hill, North Carolina in 1973.
Misc Note 2 notes for Prof. Werner (David) Ferdinand FALK
Prior to the war, the Falks lived

First in Liebnitz Strasse, Berlin,
Then in 62 Kurfuerstandum, Berlin.

Married Barbara Cohen in 1936 in Oxford.

Miscelaneous Notes
“I left German in 1932 as a refugee from Hitler, and settled in England where I resumed my university education in order to fit myself for university teaching in the English-speaking world... Throughout these changes I have been pursuing much the same philosophical interests. My concern in lectures and publications has been with ethics, value theory, political philosophy and the philosophy of mind. In the history of philosophy, I have made a special study of the eighteenth century, especially of the English empiricists and of Kant. ....”

At Melbourne University he was for several years Chairman of the Salaries Committee of the Staff Association and was at one time President of the Association.

Left Australia in 1957 for America.

Married Ruth Loewe
Married Jeanette Strasser Filene
Last Modified 25 Nov 2013Created 21 Mar 2024 by Jim Falk