John J. McDermott (1932-2018)

John J. McDermott, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Humanities at Texas A&M University, has died.

Professor McDermott was known for his work on American Philosophy. Prior to coming to Texas A&M, he taught at Queens College (CUNY). He earned his Ph.D. in philosophy at Fordham University.

In 2016, Professor McDermott was awarded the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award from the William James Society. We was a past president of that group, as well as of the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy.

Michael Young, the president of Texas A&M, writes of Professor McDermott:

He believed in the centrality of the humanities as a means to a great education because it defines what it means to be human. John McDermott never lost sight of our core mission of teaching what it means to live a good life and how to live it… Dr. McDermott’s writings and teaching not only influenced people, but also literally saved lives. I know of stories of people in great despair who read his work and it brought them back from the brink. What more could we do on this earth than to help each other?

Professor McDermott did not shy away from the big yet personal questions of philosophy. In a 1991 paper, “Why Bother: Is Life Worth Living?“, he writes:

Only a response of refusal to accept the righteous character of the inevitability of death can make it possible for life to be worth living… 

I try as hard as I can to believe that the nectar is in the journey and not in its final destination. I stand with T.S. Eliot, who warns that “For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.” Perhaps I can describe my philosophical position as a Stoicism without foundation. Walt Whitman says it for me better than I can say it for myself. “The press of my foot to the earth springs a hundred affections, they scorn the best I do to relate them.”

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