Born in Chicago, Illinois, Kalish earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in psychology and his doctorate in philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. He taught at Swarthmore College and the University of California, Los Angeles.
Kalish was perhaps best known for his outspoken opposition to the war in Vietnam and later, his opposition to U.S. military involvement in Nicaragua and Grenada. As chairman of the Philosophy Department of the University of California, Los Angeles, Kalish hired Marxist political activist Angela Davis, an act that drew considerable controversy at the time. In 2001, the University's Philosophy Department initiated the Donald Kalish Prize for intellectual excellence, given to the most promising undergraduate student in the Department.
Kalish was a founder of the Concerned Faculty of UCLA. He served as a member of the University Committee on Vietnam, and as Vice-Chairman of Peace Action Council, Los Angeles. He is known for his leadership role with the Peace Action Council in a 1967 protest against President Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam policies at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, which brought out 10,000 people. He was also an organizer of the 1967 March on the Pentagon to protest the Vietnam War and his activities were prominently chronicled in Norman Mailer's The Armies of the Night (1968).
Kalish was a devoted teacher and regularly gave his students his home phone number with the instruction that if they ever wanted to discuss an assignment, to call him anytime, day or night.
- Logic: Techniques of Formal Reasoning by Richard Montague and Donald Kalish
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