Gary Gutting (1942-2019) (updated)

Gary Gutting, emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, died this past Friday.

Professor Gutting worked on philosophy of religion, philosophy of science, contemporary French philosophy, and contemporary analytic philosophy.

He was well-known for his substantial work in public philosophy, authoring several columns and conducting a number of interviews with philosophers for The Stone feature in The New York Times. Also, he was the creator and a long-time co-editor of Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews (NDPR).

Professor Gutting received his PhD in philosophy in 1968 from St. Louis University, where he had earned a B.A. just four years before. After a year on a Fulbright Fellowship spent at the University of Louvain, he started as an assistant professor at Notre Dame.

Among other things, Professor Gutting was interested in showing what different kinds of philosophers—for example, theists and atheists, analytic and continental philosophers—could learn from one another. He wrote that he found it encouraging that there were signs of “philosophers following philosophical problems wherever they are interestingly discussed, regardless of the author’s methodology, orientation or style.”

In a column for The Stone, “Why Do I Teach?“, he wrote that a central aim of college education, particularly in the humanities, is to “make students vividly aware of new possibilities for intellectual and aesthetic fulfillment—pleasure, to give its proper name” and that “we should judge teaching not by the amount of knowledge it passes on, but by the enduring excitement it generates. Knowledge, when it comes, is a later arrival, flaring up, when the time is right, from the sparks good teachers have implanted in their students’ souls.”

Professor Gutting was once asked about the role of philosophy in a world in crisis. He answered:

I learned long ago from Candide that both optimism and pessimism are just ways of avoiding the work of improving the world. For optimism, improvement is unnecessary, for pessimism it’s impossible. But it always makes sense to do what we can to make things better in our immediate locale, where we have some reasonable chance of alleviating what Voltaire rightly saw as the three great evils of vice, poverty, and boredom. It might seem that philosophy would have little relevance to such immediate and mundane concerns, and it’s true that theory, high or deep, won’t tell us how to work in our gardens. But effective action requires accurate thought, and in our culture at least, the basic ideas we need for thinking trickle down from philosophy, as do the methods of thinking well.

You can read a detailed interview with Professor Gutting here, view his writings for The New York Times here, and browse a listing of his philosophical work here.

Gary Gutting

(via Peter Catapano)

[This post will be updated with links to other memorial notices as they appear. If you see any, feel free to share them in the comments or email them to me.]

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