David Gauthier (1932–2023)


David Gauthier, professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh, has died.

[David Gauthier, earlier and later. If you know the specific dates, please send them in.]

Professor Gauthier was well-known for his contractarian theory of morality, set forth in his 1986 book, Morals By Agreement (Oxford University Press). He also worked on the political philosophy of Hobbes and Rousseau, authoring books on each. Several volumes of his collected essays have been published, as well. You can learn more about his writings here and here.

Professor Gauthier joined the department of philosophy at Pittsburgh in 1980. During the 22 years prior to that, he was a member of the department of philosophy at the University of Toronto. He has held visiting positions at the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of California, Berkeley, Princeton, the University of California, Irvine, and the University of Waterloo. He earned his B.Phil and D.Phil at the University of Oxford, a master’s degree at Harvard University, and his undergraduate degree at Toronto.

According to the University of Pittsburgh, in his younger days he once ran (unsuccessfully) for the Canadian House of Commons, and was an occasional newspaper columnist and writer on public affairs. An asteroid is named for him.

He died on Thursday, November 9th, 2023.

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George Yancy
5 months ago

When I was an undergraduate philosophy major at the University of Pittsburgh, I recall seeing Professor Gauthier quite frequently. Unfortunately, I never took a course with him. He will be missed as an important voice in the field of philosophy.

G. Yancy  

Bill Kennedy IV
Bill Kennedy IV
5 months ago

I never met him but my ethics professor, Christian Coons, mentioned him during our Ethical Theory class back in 2015. Hopefully undergrads will continue to learn from his work.

Kaila Draper
Kaila Draper
5 months ago

I had two courses from David when he visited UCI, one that was team-taught by him and Greg Kavka. I still have a vivid memory of those two debating the toxin puzzle. Gauthier’s moral theory depended on moving from the rationality of forming certain sorts of intentions to the rationality of fulfilling those intentions, and Kavka’s work on nuclear deterrence depended on establishing the opposing view that fulfilling the relevant sort of intention can be irrational even if forming the intention is rational. It was a great debate and a great class.

Chrisoula Andreou
Chrisoula Andreou
5 months ago

I was one of David’s last students at the University of Pittsburgh.  Working with him was a great experience for me and an amazing privilege. He was extremely generous with his time and provided me with a steady stream of insightful and constructive feedback. When I temporarily had to move back to Canada while working on my PhD, David would graciously cut into his travel time to meet with me about my dissertation during his fairly regular visits to Toronto.  When I finished my PhD, I was a bit hesitant to ask him if he would be going to the graduation ceremony. It was normally a huge, impersonal event and my sense was that PhD students rarely attended. But my parents were so dead set on driving the ten+ hours from Montreal to Pittsburgh for the event, I felt like I might as well ask. David not only attended, but had my family over to his place for a small reception after the graduation. It was a perfect celebration and, knowing about his upcoming retirement made it all the more special. At the University of Utah, where I am now, I routinely teach his work in my classes on practical reason and doing so has helped me gain a deeper understanding of some of the motivations for the most revisionary aspects of his work.  I am so grateful for the time I got to spend with this amazing philosopher and mentor. 

Jane Taylor
Jane Taylor
4 months ago

David Gauthier was married to Joan, my late husband’s cousin. David and Joan were most generous hosts to all. He was a man of many interests, and, obviously, a distinguished academic. He battled advancing Parkinson’s disease for a number of years, but never gave up the pursuit of his academic interests and, with help, was able to publish his last book in 2022 when he was resident in a long-term care facility.
I cannot speak to his academics, but I know that he was a loving and caring father and husband.