David Dick (1979-2022)


David Dick, associate professor of philosophy at the University of Calgary, has died.

In addition to his appointment in Calgary’s Department of Philosophy, Professor Dick was also a Fellow in the Canadian Centre for Advanced Leadership in Business at the Haskayne School of Business. Prior to that he was Chair of Business Ethics at Calgary. He earned his PhD at the University of Michigan in 2009, and was an undergraduate at the University of Utah.

Professor Dick’s research focused on issues relating to ethics and money, including questions about justice and wealth distribution, individual ethics of wealth and charity, as well as questions about the nature of money. You can browse some of his academic writing here. He developed an innovative and popular undergraduate course on the Philosophy of Money, and in 2015 he was the inaugural recipient of the University of Calgary’s highest teaching honour, the McCaig-Killam Teaching Award. In addition to his research and teaching, Dick engaged in a significant amount of public-facing work, presenting philosophy in a variety of mainstream media outlets and serving as the coordinator for the Integrity Network, a working group of ethics professionals from corporate, academic, and non-profit sectors. In 2017 he was named one of Calgary’s Avenue Magazine‘s Top 40 under 40.

The chair of Calgary’s Department of Philosophy, Nicole Wyatt, writes, “David was a much loved and respected colleague who was always kind and generous with his time. His enthusiasm for teaching and for philosophy was apparent to anyone who spent time with him, as was his genuine affection for his students and colleagues. He will be greatly missed by his UCalgary colleagues in the Department of Philosophy and CCAL, as well as those across the Faculty of Arts and the Haskayne School of Business.”

UPDATE: There is a fundraiser to support David Dick’s widow, Erin Dick-Jensen; you can read about it and donate here.

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Neil Sinhababu
9 days ago

So sad to hear this. He was a wonderful guy – full of good jokes, and always so kind.Report

JDK Brown
9 days ago

Dave described himself this way: a fairly typical example of what you get when you reach into the jar labeled “Straight, non-Mormon boy raised in Salt Lake whose first male role model was Freddie Mercury.”

If it was shiny, or sparkly, or sugary, or glam, or kitsch, Dave loved it. When he bowled, he would take a running start (and everyone would stop to watch). He made skull rings with tweed look effortless. At one point he had a pair of pants just for GWAR concerts. And, goddamn, he looked good in a dress!

His professional bio gives no idea of just how *fabulous* Dave was.

Please consider contributing to the Go Fund Me for Dave’s wife, Erin: https://gofund.me/23ae3c43.Report

Vanessa Carbonell
9 days ago

Dave was the best person. He was kind and funny, one of the kindest and funniest people I ever knew. But that doesn’t begin to capture it. He was like a disco ball, reflecting light and warmth and shine and love in all directions. If you knew him, you know. There are people who loved Dave all around the world, and they are reeling right now. I only wish we could have reflected Dave’s love back toward him in his time of need.
 
Dave was an only child, and he was so very devoted to his mom, especially after the death of his dad in graduate school. Dave spent the last few months back home in Utah fighting a private battle against corporate, medical, and financial bureaucracies to coordinate care for his mom. He was such a sensitive and caring person, up against the greed and callousness of the threadbare “system” of medical care and elder care here in the states. It is infuriating to think about.
 
Friends of Dave were surprised and amused when he was hired as a Chair in Business Ethics at Calgary straight out of graduate school at Michigan. He liked to joke that the job was such an absurd fit for him that he actually changed his mind and didn’t finish the application, but they saw his fabulousness and hired him anyway. It surprised no one that Dave took the opportunity and became a celebrated expert in the Philosophy of Money and a beloved teacher of a class on that topic. His students were so lucky.
 
Even as a grad student, Dave was known as an amazing teacher, and he was part of an acting troupe at Michigan that taught inclusive pedagogy through sketches. He was also our GEO union steward and deeply involved in labor organizing on campus. He was part of the successful drive to bring trans-inclusive health care benefits to U of M in 2006, a huge achievement. When he wasn’t wearing his red GEO t-shirt, Dave came to work dressed to the nines in tweed, with his hard-sided briefcase, his fancy pens, and his skull ring.
 
On a personal note, Dave was not only a friend but an important philosophical collaborator for me. Over the years we often read each other’s paper drafts. He was the first and most encouraging peer reader of my first publication. I’ll always remember him sitting across from me in a tiny booth at Frank’s Restaurant in Ann Arbor, eating French toast and talking about moral saints. Many years later, I sent him a draft that contained an unconventional, avant-garde first paragraph, framed as a legal disclaimer to the reader. Dave’s first comment was, “I HATE THIS”. Of course, I immediately took it out, and was so grateful to him for the kindness of telling me what he really thought.
 
If you can, please donate to the Go Fund Me to support Dave’s wife Erin.Report

Vanessa Bell Porteous
Vanessa Bell Porteous
Reply to  Vanessa Carbonell
9 days ago

THIS IS SO TERRIBLE. I hardly knew David. I met him (of course) when we shared a table at a carol singing for adults event at a pub in Calgary. Only after I had begun to think “this guy is a fantastic person” did I learn we had mutual, very beloved friends. What happened. What happened to this beautiful person.Report

Cynthia A Stark
Cynthia A Stark
Reply to  Vanessa Carbonell
9 days ago

Thank you posting that wonderful tribute to Dave. This is unbearably tragic.Report

Pepe Lee Chang
Pepe Lee Chang
Reply to  Cynthia A Stark
8 days ago

😢Report

Richard Zach
9 days ago

I am at a loss for words but I did manage to compile some of my favorite moments of David on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/RrrichardZach/status/1594737698740531200Report

Jim Joyce
9 days ago

I am deeply saddened to hear this terrible news. David was a simply wonderful person. I left every interaction with him happier than I was at the start. — Jim JoyceReport

Merlette Schnell
9 days ago

Heartbreaking. A truly kind and wonderful, brilliant and brilliantly funny man. A good soul who will be missed in this world by so many, and deeply so especially by those who knew him much better than I did. I wasn’t his colleague. I wasn’t his student. I was support staff in the PHIL Department when he came to Calgary. He made me feel I mattered, which is a pretty big gift to give someone. His regular stops at my office for a few moments as he passed by are remembered fondly, as are his occasional comments to me on FB or Twitter since I retired. My condolences to his nearest and dearest. Rest in peace, David. Report

Jordan Toews
8 days ago

My first interactions with Dr. Dick were via zoom classes during COVID. It was immediately apparent that he was sincerely concerned with his students academic, physical, and emotional wellbeing. He went far out of his way to make his class an environment for respect and learning.

He had a tactic of waiting an uncomfortably long time before moving on in class. His idea was that someone will undoubtedly be unable to handle it, and subsequently ask a question. He would just stand there. Curiously surveying the class. Almost grinning. For an eternity.

It often worked. Discussion would break out, and he would continue to show patience. This time, it would be with our questions. Every question was a good question in Dr. Dick’s class.

With his passing, I can’t help but think of those silences. We’re all uncomfortable. We’re all waiting, and wanting for him to speak again.

My most sincere condolences to his wife and those who loved him. It’s a long list I’m sure.Report

Julian Jonker
8 days ago

I first encountered David Dick in person at the Society for Business Ethics meeting in Boston in 2019. He looked dapper in his characteristic black suit and black t-shirt, and in Q&A he traded witticisms effortlessly with the outgoing Society president. He was charming and had an almost daunting social presence. I remember thinking how wonderful it must be to be in this man’s circle.

So I count myself as lucky that Dave and I became friends during the pandemic. We met once a week on zoom to talk about social ontology and the ethics of money, but also life in general. Our meetings were meetings at first, and then an excuse to talk and to laugh. We had call backs that ran for months and in jokes that only an equally close reader of Simmel would ever understand. One of these running jokes was that Dave insisted that I should send him a therapy bill each week, because I always seemed to be trying to trace some view of his about money back to a metaethical commitment he’d defended in his thesis. But really our meetings were therapy for me. During the pandemic, I struggled to stay optimistic about human nature, and to be motivated to continue doing philosophy. I might have given up that struggle if it were not for the kindness and wit and enthusiasm I saw modeled every week by David.

One of the outcomes of our regular meetings was a joint project on social ontology that we were very much still working on at the time of his death. We first presented this work in August this year, at a meeting of the International Social Ontology Society (ISOS) in Vienna. One of Dave’s philosophical virtues was that he focused on articulating ideas in as simple a way as possible. I’d put together a handout that had multiple pages and complicated definitions. He diplomatically returned to me with a single page handout shorn of superfluous detail, setting out just the three main ideas of the piece as clearly as possible. I see this elegance in his published work, as well as his evocative way with words. (To wit: I’m pretty sure I recall him describing the experience of watching Hamilton as “being like a Greek watching a play about the gods, but also like finding out one of the minor X-Men has the most wondrous backstory.”)

Our presentation went well, but the time we spent together exploring Vienna was glorious. Dave confessed that Vienna, or Wien as it’s spelled everywhere in the city, brought an adolescent sense of humor in him. He reveled in the fact that you could buy could sausage from sidewalk vendors after midnight. We went to dinner with others from the conference and I marveled at how selflessly he conducted himself in conversation with others, always focusing attention on them and not himself–though everyone could tell that he was the best storyteller at the table. At a dinner where I had his company all to myself, I heard some of those stories–stories about the father he loved so much; about his experience of Utah’s Mormon community; of getting married at Banff as poor grad students, with the legal minimum number of people and stealing in to the gazebo to avoid paying the fee–each story equally joyous about life.

I remember Dave being very excited about what the year ahead would bring. He wanted to return to ISOS when it met in Stockholm. He was very excited about spending time in ancestral territory in Scotland. He wanted to teach an undergraduate course on philosophical images of heaven. He told me some of his ideas about the latter. He was particularly curious about whether there would be any ethical constraints in a place in which there were apparently no material constraints. He wondered: what he would most like to do in heaven would be to meet Queen, but what if Queen didn’t want to meet him? (Yesterday, his dear friend Tim gave the only appropriate rejoinder: Freddie Mercury would be lucky to hang out with him.)

These plans were put on hold in early October when Dave heard that his mother was ill. Dave had not seen much of her during the pandemic, since he was so cautious about traveling before it was safe for her that he do so. But he immediately left for Utah. I could see the stress in his messages. We were supposed to meet again in New Orleans in early November to present our paper. Dave canceled at the last minute, saying that he was simply too busy. I presented our work on 4 November and texted him to tell him that things had went well, but really because he was so clearly missed by others at the conference. He responded with a text I’ll never forget: “everything is sort of on fire right now,” he said, “and I can’t keep up.” I can actually imagine Dave saying these words, it’s the sort of thing he might say, mirthfully. Yet this also sounded so unlike him. I had a terrible feeling about it that I couldn’t shake for a while. Looking back, it was obviously because I knew that Dave was such a consummate gentleman that he would never have even suggested that there was reason for someone else to worry about him. At the time I suggested some things I might do to help, but kind as ever, Dave declined help: “everything is moving so fast here I probably won’t have time to talk [sic] you up on it but thank you so much.” Perhaps you can imagine how much I regret that I did not do more than sending him a fucking text message. It was the last I spoke to him.

Dave had been due to join Graham Hubbs and myself and some others at a dinner in New Orleans on one of those days. That night we explained that Dave wouldn’t be able to make it, and one of our guests asked about him. I recall Graham saying “Dave is probably the nicest person in philosophy.” Amen. Never a truer word has been said about someone. Our discipline, like other academic disciplines, can feel exclusionary, belittling, exploitative, and pointless. But you’d never feel any of those things around Dave. He was exactly the kind of person we need around here.

When I heard the news on Sunday I refused to believe it. It’s still only dawning on me how much I will miss him. I grieve for his friends and family, his colleagues and students, who will feel his absence even more keenly. The profession has lost out on his genius and warmth. And I grieve for myself because there were so many more things we still had to discuss, and so many more of his stories I wanted to hear.Report

Eric Mathison
3 days ago

I had the pleasure of interviewing David about the philosophy of money in 2017. I used parts of it for a podcast I made at the time, but I’ve just posted the entire interview. It shows his warmth, sense of humour, and the joy he got from talking about philosophy. I’ll miss him.

https://valuejudgments.substack.com/p/the-philosophy-of-money-with-david#detailsReport

Vanessa Wills
Vanessa Wills
Reply to  Eric Mathison
3 days ago

Thank you so much for sharing this extended version with us 💗Report