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
Professor
University of Connecticut

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Aldo Antonelli
6 years ago

Although I did not know Richard as well as Mitch did, I have fond memories of him, and I am saddened by the news of his passing. The impressionistic memory that is most vivid for me is that of his laughter — he loved telling jokes, of which he seemed to have an inexhaustible supply, including off-color ones, and his laughter at his own joke would prove to be contagious to all those around him.Report

Christopher Gauker
Christopher Gauker
6 years ago

A long time ago, I was one Richard’s assistants in “Philosophy for Engineers”, one of the main sources of enrollments for the Pittsburg philosophy department. I remember coming upon Richard early one morning outside of the building. He was staring up at the sky. As I approached, he said he was thinking about what he was going to say in class. I thought, oh, that’s how it’s done. No real preparation. Just think about it for a few minutes before going on stage. That sounds like a criticism. But it’s not. He had just one point that he wanted to make; and he hammered on it most engagingly for 50 minutes. For that audience, it was exactly right. I wish I could do that rather than filling up my lectures with complicated stuff and preparing that complicated stuff for hours on end. Well, other memories are starting to come back . . . He was one of a kind.Report

Christopher Hitchcock
6 years ago

I too have fond memories of Richard from my grad student days. He was renowned for his dirty jokes. I will relate one of the printable ones. Richard told me this one while I was on the job market (that would have been the Eastern APA in December ’92). He said that in a prior year, he had been the placement director. One of the Pitt students on the market was being interviewed at a Catholic University. At the smoker Richard met a nun who was on the faculty, so he wanted to make a good impression for the sake of the student. So he told her this joke: “What do you do if you are facing a rhinoceros with three balls? Walk him, and pitch to the giraffe.” According to Richard, the good sister bust a gut laughing. I suspect this was really just Richard’s way of being irreverent to take my mind off the stresses of the market.Report

Ram Neta
6 years ago

Most of the philosophers who knew him will remember Richard for his shockingly off-color jokes, usually delivered at the most inappropriate times (e.g., in front of a job candidate, or a prospective graduate student). I remember him not only for those jokes, but also for his generosity and candor. Richard was the only teacher I ever had who told me that he expected much more from me than I was giving him, and he was also the only teacher I ever had who held my views up for public ridicule (and somehow, by doing so, made me take myself that much more seriously as a philosopher). I’m still grateful to him.Report

Donald Dummett
Donald Dummett
6 years ago

While only a young philosophy student, I have been influenced greatly by his works in the analytic philosophy of religion, which are to be revisited for their high level of acuity and sophistication. Richard Gale shall be truly missed.Report

M
M
6 years ago

Christ Almighty, I hope that when I pass, I am not memorialized in a blog by people rhapsodizing over my least professional tendencies, e.g. habits like telling off-color jokes in front of job candidates or grad students.Report

Cecil
Cecil
Reply to  M
6 years ago

Anyone who knew Richard would know that that’s precisely how we would want to be remembered. Anything else would be making a mockery of what Richard stood for.Report

Henry Jackman
6 years ago

Richard was both demanding and hugely supportive when I was a graduate student at Pitt, and I’d say that my continued interest in the history of Philosophy is largely due to his influence. I never had a professor, or seen one since, that conveyed such a sense of genuine excitement about philosophical ideas and arguments.Report

anonymous
anonymous
6 years ago

Christ Almighty, I hope that when I pass, the traits my colleagues fondly recall are not targeted for opprobrium on a blog by scolds worrying about the moral panic du jour.Report

Richard McDonough
Richard McDonough
5 years ago

I had Richard for several courses, including our senior honours seminar, between 1969 and 1971 at Pitt. Richard’s courses were incredibly clear, well organized, and enlightening. His sense of humour was fantastic. Some have said his comments were blunt. I suppose that is true, but I never found them demoralizing. Once my friend and I were discussing some things we were writing on philosophy and Richard told me to send him “some of my junk”. I always felt a great sense of humour behind his blunt remarks and he was never reluctant to have a bit of fun at his own expense either. He helped us not to take ourselves too seriously. I re-contacted him a few years ago and was corresponding with him, from my home in Singapore, at the time of his death. He was a joy to know and will be very much missed.Report

Rev Dr John Arthu Orr
5 years ago

I studied under Richard at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. The closing line In the abstract of my thesis, about “keeping the conversation going” is taken directly from Richard. In the literature he had been an “atheistic Jew.” I believe I helped Richard transition to be a “nominal Jew” to even a “just-in-case Jew” since he hung a mezuzah I gave him on the doorpost of his last two residences. Richard taught me about William James and John Dewey, sometimes just the two of us at his home on the river. Maya would welcome me with milk and cookies after school. I have fond memories of them both and remember them in prayer.Report

Michael Giove
Michael Giove
3 years ago

I met Richard randomly walking my dog in a park near his home in Knoxville, TN. When we discovered that we had philosophy as well as dogs in common we had long philosophical discussions in the park while walking our dogs in the park for several years. Richard’s dog “Mo” was funny and beautiful in his own right. We had late night, stiff drinks , clam chowder and snacks at “Shuck” a local Knoxville seafood eatery (He introduced me to the joy of a fried oyster sandwich there). Richard had a wonderful, politically incorrect sense of humor and a sharp wit that he used to probe my knowledge of philosophy and to challenge my ideas in a constructive way. Richard was impressed with my knowledge of both William James and Dewey that paled compared to his. I adored Richard and his wife as one of the treasures of the world in Knoxville. I was deeply saddened by Richard’s loss of his wife and his later passing but I know Richard wouldn’t want anyone sad on his account as he preferred to leave you with a smile – so I will always remember the extremes of kindness (I witnessed many) he would go to leave anyone he interacted with a smile.Report