Frithjof Harold Bergmann

December 24, 1930May 23, 2021

Frithjof Bergmann, professor emeritus of philosophy, and beloved father to Luke Bergmann, Jandy Bergmann and Ariel Sankar-Bergmann, died May 23 in Ann Arbor at the age of 90. Born to a mother who was Jewish and a father who was a Lutheran pastor, Frithjof grew up in the Austrian Alps during the darkest days of WW II, and although he spent his life in reflection, he was always ambivalent about it being his profession. His identity as a philosopher and professor — he studied with Walter Kaufman at Princeton and was a faculty member in the University of Michigan's philosophy department for close to half a century — meant an enormous amount to him. But these were designations he often presented to his audiences and readership as if they were weighted garments that he somehow was able to overcome. "Despite being a philosopher," he would say with a wry smile "I am trying to do something useful!" It was in part a restlessness with the customs of academic philosophy that led Frithjof from his earliest writing on Hegel (whose work he, in any case, seemed forever to value most) to the aphorisms of Nietzsche and other existentialist philosophers who wrote novels and plays. His most conventional book of philosophy, “On Being Free,” published in 1977, is noted for its stunning brilliance and also for the fact that it has no footnotes. It was more pointedly a sense of urgency in action, an understanding of the interplay of being and doing — "really doing something!" he might say — that made Frithjof such an exquisite teacher, as evinced by many awards for his instruction and by countless testimonies from his students, who include some of the preeminent Continental philosophers of the last 50 years. Robert Soloman, who as a student was so moved by Frithjof’s lectures on Neitzche that he abandoned plans for a career in medicine and later became one of the best known philosophers in the US, insisted throughout his long career that Frithjof was the best teacher of philosophy anywhere. Frithjof aimed not only to instruct but to move his students, out of a conviction that there was much to do, that the world could be made beautiful and humane, and that we should expect as much of ourselves. These were his hopes when he helped to organize the first teach-in during the war in Vietnam. And these were his hopes during the generational recession of the early 1980s. Frithjof threw himself into this catastrophe, emerging with a new way of thinking about jobs and human labor. He called this collection of ideas “New Work,” and in articulating it he drew from his whole breadth of experience — from reading Hegel to chopping firewood in frozen wintertime. He withdrew from academia in the decades following this commitment and traveled the globe to where work and quality of life were most perversely out of whack: Johannesburg and Soweto, Mumbai, among indigenous communities in British Columbia, and the impoverished neighborhoods of Detroit. Frithjof talked incessantly about “New Work.” He preached and proselytized. He damaged and even lost some relationships in the maelstrom of his global effort. But particularly over his last 10 years his work and life became more gratifying than ever before. He published his final book, “New Work New Culture” in 2019, and especially in Germany, “New Work” has become the foundation for a broadly adopted and celebrated set of intellectual, design and organizational efforts. In addition to his three children, Frithjof is survived by six grandchildren. For those who would like to make a gift in his memory, Frithjof’s family asks that they send donations to or


  • Helmut Bergmann, Father (deceased)
  • Else Graf, Mother (deceased)
  • Ariel Sankar-Bergmann, Daughter
  • Luke Bergmann, Son
  • Jandy Bergmann, Daughter


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Frithjof Harold Bergmann

have a memory or condolence to add?

Michael Marazita

June 15, 2021

I was an undergraduate student at Michigan back in the 1970's. I took all of Professor Bergmann's classes. He was cool and hip back in the 70's and seemed to really understand what life was all about then. I learned a lot of philosophy but a lot more about life, balance and being free. Thank-you Professor Bergmann for shaping a young mind to be open to novel ideas.

Martin Kraus

June 6, 2021

Some people gift us ideas and inspirations that will move many of us for a long time. Sometimes for a lifetime. You are one of them.

Thank you for being and your impact.

"The goal of life is not to be a successful person, but a valuable one." - Albert Einstein -

Robert Sessions

June 3, 2021

Frithjof was my mentor and friend through graduate school and beyond. We worked together on several projects in the turbulent late 60s and early 70s. With his guidance and support I built a course and writings on New Work that still have influence today in community colleges across the country. He was a great influence in my life for which I will always be grateful. Rest In Peace, dear friend.

Andrew Mills

June 2, 2021

I was an undergraduate student of Frithjof's in the late 80s, and was inspired to go on in philosophy because of his classes. He was warm, funny, smart, compassionate, and always gentle with us budding philosophers. Condolences to his family and close friends on Frithjof's death. I am consoled by warm memories of my time in his classroom and his office hours.

Rhonda Piazza

May 30, 2021

Fly high my friend. Until we meet again. I love you. Rhonda Piazza

Johannes Pfister

May 28, 2021

Thanks Frithjof,
we have very good memories about our time together at workshops, learning journeys in Europe and India, dialogs late at night. Thanks for your great Vision. We at UnaVision will go on working to make your ideas become reality. Rest in peace!

So long your friend Johannes