Gary Varner (1957-2023)


Gary Varner, professor emeritus of philosophy at Texas A&M University, has died.

Professor Varner was known for his work on environmental and animal ethics, as well as of R. M. Hare’s two-level utilitarianism. His research includes numerous articles and three books: Defending Biodiversity: Environmental Science and Ethics with Jonathan Newman and Stefan Linquist (Cambridge, 2017); Personhood, Ethics, and Animal Cognition: Situating Animals in the Two-Level Utilitarianism of R.M. Hare (Oxford, 2012); and In Nature’s Interests? Interests, Animal Rights and Environmental Ethics (Oxford, 1998). You can learn more about his work here.

Professor Varner joined the philosophy faculty at Texas A&M in 1990, and held visiting positions at Iowa State and Washington University in St. Louis. He earned his PhD from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, his MA from the University of Georgia, and his BA from Arizona State University.

He died on June 28th, 2023, after having suffered with cancer. A colleague writes, “In accordance with his wishes, while no funeral or formal memorial service will be held, an informal celebration of Dr. Varner’s life is tentatively planned for the Fall. If you would like to attend this event, please let Clare Palmer ([email protected]) know.”

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John Tilley
1 year ago

This really hurts. We’ve lost a fine person. I have many memories of Gary that I’ll treasure. Some of them are humorous. To give just one example, when anglers at Lake Mendota would throw carp up on the bank (on the grounds that they’re “rough fish” that shouldn’t be returned to the water), Gary (appalled by this behavior) would sometimes sneak up behind them and throw the carp back into the lake. In at least one instance this nearly led to a fistfight! But my most recent memory of Gary concerns his attitude toward his cancer. Predictably, he was very stoic, very uncomplaining — wanting to talk not of his illness but of old times in Georgia and Wisconsin. His attitude was just one of many things about him to admire.

Python
Python
Reply to  John Tilley
1 year ago

a great person…so kind and good to the world’s creatures. what a loss

Rachel Allan Williams
Reply to  John Tilley
1 year ago

Have no knowledge of this person but this story touches me hugely and I am grateful for his life.
Rachel Allan Williams
South Louisiana, where we appreciate & respect our water creatures God given
place on this earth.

Tmm311
Tmm311
Reply to  John Tilley
1 year ago

You are supposed to throw carp on the bank. Look it up in the DNR manual.

Asdf
Asdf
Reply to  Tmm311
1 year ago

Depends on the species of carp.

Alec Strickler
1 year ago

R.I.P. good sir. Thank you for your needed contributions to the animal ethics and welfare of nature fields 🙏. You may be gone, but your legacy and the others you have touched with your big heart and brain will be carried on by the others. Rest in peace, it is well earned. My condolences to his family, friends, and just anyone else who was touched by this man’s light.

Ben Griffin.
Ben Griffin.
Reply to  Alec Strickler
1 year ago

Wow, this man touched a lot of people. I feel like I know him by reading these touching stories. Why do all the good ones leave this earth so young. God bless you Gary. Youve touched folks that don’t really know you. Thanks for sharing your stories of a great man

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
1 year ago

I’m sad to read this. Gary was the director of admissions for M.A. students while I was at A&M, and he was a warm and inviting member of the faculty. He also held a discussion group at his house while he was working on Personhood, Ethics, and Animal Cognition. It was a collegial and intellectually stimulating experience, and a highlight of my time at A&M. I visiting College Station a couple years ago and stopped by Gary’s office for a brief chat. He was as friendly and engaging as ever. He will be missed.

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
1 year ago

A huge loss for the world, he will be missed. He was a great mind, traveler, and advocate for the natural world. His work is underrated; I hope readers do themselves a favor and dive into some of it.

Russell Smith
1 year ago

I’ve known Gary since high school, he was my oldest friend. From his teen years on he always wrestled with the big questions and lead an examined life. A kind heart and a rigorous intellect don’t always come in the same package, but they sure did for Gary.

Liz
Liz
1 year ago

Sounds like he was a fine human being (one of God’s best) …. The story about the fist fight made my day. 😁👍 Prayers and blessings to his family.

Don
Don
1 year ago

Ironic to me that the ethical treatment of animals was a high priority of his, yet Texas A&M is known to be of the worst schools when it comes to their animal experimentation labs and their cruelty…

Angie Simmons
1 year ago

Sounds like he was a great philosopher!! This really touched my heart. I am always asking those questions that shouldn’t be asked. As well as ,having a kind heart and rigorous intellect, just like him. I hope a lot of colleagues and students admired him. May God Bless him. RIP Dr. Varner. 🙏

Silina
1 year ago

I do not know this man. But I still wish my condolences. He meant something special to someone special and that needs to be recognized, and I’m here to pay my respects. Rest In peace.

Sheryl S. Richardson,Topeka, Kansas
1 year ago

It is a sad day to lose someone of Mr. Varners stature. He will be missed by many I’m sure. My sincerest condolences.

Jonathan Spelman
1 year ago

I’m saddened to hear this. I’ve used his chapter “Biocentric Individualism” from Environmental Ethics: What Really Matters, What Really Works (2nd ed.) in my environmental ethics course for years.

Dale Jamieson
11 months ago

In Nature’s Interests remains a landmark in environmental philosophy. As long as people try to make sense of the ethics of our relations to the natural world this book will live, and Gary’s voice as well.

Thomas F
11 months ago

As a student of Dr. Varner’s in the late 1990s, Dr. Varner had a profound effect on me. I’m exceptionally saddened to hear of his passing.

Bill Kennedy IV
Bill Kennedy IV
11 months ago

I never met the guy but his two level utilitarianism is what I based my undergraduate thesis on. He was an analytic among analytics.

PQueen
PQueen
8 months ago

We have lost great and insightful environmental philosopher and Earth citizen. Find his many inspired works here: https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=MmZIEbEAAAAJ&hl=en