Richard Gale (1932-2015) (Updated)

Richard Gale, who spent much of his career at the University of Pittsburgh, has died. Gale had also held appointments at NYU, Hunter College, Vassar, and the University of Tennessee. He worked on pragmatism and philosophy of religion. Prior to entering graduate school in philosophy, Gale was a lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, and also worked in record promotion for a recording company.

UPDATE: Mitchell Green of the University of Connecticut shares the following:

I learned soon after I met Richard Gale that I had to be careful in what compliments I paid him. As a Teaching Assistant for his Introduction to Philosophy class in about 1988 at Pitt, I one day mentioned that I liked the sport coat he was wearing. He immediately took it off and gave it to me over my protestations. After that I started to filter my expressions of admiration, at least of those things he could give away. Fortunately, there was much else to appreciate in Richard even beyond his unreflective generosity.

Richard M. Gale was born in Brooklyn in 1932 to Moe and Gertrude Gale. His father was in the music business and Richard spent much of his youth hanging around with jazz musicians who would become legendary such as Ella Fitzgerald and Van Alexander and Robert Merrill. (Some of this history is captured in the movie, The Savoy King, which includes interviews with Richard.) Richard received a Bachelor in Music from Ohio Wesleyan in 1954, after which he served as lieutenant for two years in the U.S. Air Force. He then enrolled at NYU to study Philosophy, receiving his MA in 1958 in and his Ph.D. in 1961. In 1959 he married Maya Mori, and the couple had three children in the early Sixties. Richard took his first full-time teaching position at Vassar in 1961, but he was recruited to the then-expanding philosophy department at Pittsburgh in 1964. He was promoted to Associate Professor there in 1967 and to full professor in 1971. Richard remained on the faculty at Pitt until his retirement in 2003. Subsequently, Richard and Maya moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, where the two could be closer to their grandchildren. Over the last decade Richard also taught part-time at the University of Tennessee.

In the first two decades of his career, Richard’s research was focused on metaphysics, with emphasis on the philosophy of time. Among his books during that period are the anthology, The Philosophy of Time (1967), for which he wrote five ten-page section introductions; The Language of Time (1968), and Negation and Non-Being (1976). In later years his energies turned to the philosophy of religion and pragmatism. In 1991 he published On the Nature and Existence of God, and in 2007 published both God and Metaphysics, and On the Philosophy of Religion. He also co-edited, with A. Pruss, The Existence of God in 2003, and edited The Blackwell Companion to Metaphysics in 2002. In pragmatism, his focus was on the exegesis of William James and John Dewey, publishing The Divided Self of William James (1999), The Philosophy of William James: an Introduction (2004), and John Dewey’s Quest for Unity: The Journey of a Promethean Mystic (2008). Of the over 100 articles that he published, some of the better-remembered are ‘Propositions, Judgments, Sentences and Statements,’ (in the P. Edwards 1967 Encyclopedia of Philosophy), ‘The Fictive Use of Language’ (Philosophy, 1971), and ‘William James and the Wilfullness of Belief,’ (Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 1999). Richard told me that he took pride in being one of the few philosophers of religion who did not have a theistic agenda to push. He also felt that he raised the level of analytical rigor in research on pragmatism.

Richard was so enthusiastic about philosophical discussion that the only way to end one with him was to have or fake an emergency. Like his Pitt colleagues Joe Camp and Nuel Belnap, Richard was also extraordinarily generous with his comments on student writing. From Richard, those comments were also very blunt, and we needed to learn to check our egos at the door before hearing them. Richard was unstinting, for instance in his criticism of my tendency as a grad student to hide behind unnecessarily complex formulations of ideas. My gratitude to him for making me see how to do better continues to this day. Richard also took pleasure in injecting a Lenny Bruce idiom and sensibility into a sometimes-precious philosophical culture. Most important, Richard showed by example how to do philosophy in a way both exacting and exhilarating, without in the process taking oneself too seriously.

Richard and Maya were thoroughly devoted to each other for five decades, and made a gracious and exuberant couple. He once remarked, “Maya’s a deeper person than I am, and I’m better at counterexamples than she is. So things balance out.” The couple are survived by their three children Andy Gale, Larry Gale, and Julia Mullaney.


Mitchell Green
University of Connecticut

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