Robert M. Adams (1937-2024)


Robert M. Adams, Professor Emeritus of philosophy at Yale University and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and Distinguished Research Professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, has died.

Professor Adams was very well-known for his work in philosophy of religion, ethics, metaphysics, and the history of modern philosophy.

He is the author of What is, and What is in Itself: A Systematic Ontology (2022), A Theory of Virtue: Excellence in Being for the Good (2006), Finite and Infinite Goods: A Framework for Ethics (1999), Leibniz: Determinist, Theist, Idealist (1994), and The Virtue of Faith and Other Essays in Philosophical Theology (1987), among many works, including over 100 articles. You can learn more about his writings here

Professor Adams joined the Department of Philosophy at UNC Chapel Hill in 2009. He had retired from Yale in 2004 after eleven years there, and in the intervening years held positions at Oxford University. Prior to joining Yale, he spent over two decades at UCLA. Before that, he was a lecturer and assistant professor at the University of Michigan. He earned his MA and PhD in philosophy at Cornell, a BD from Princeton Theological Seminary, a BA and MA from Oxford University, and an AB from Princeton University.

Over his career he was the recipient of many honors, including being elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the British Academy.

His wife, philosopher Marilyn McCord Adams, died in 2017.

 

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Scott Ragland
Scott Ragland
1 month ago

Bob Adams was a good man in the deepest sense, with a zest for life, passion for ideas, and a deep commitment to treating his students and colleagues fairly. I am very grateful for the way he directed my dissertation. He never imposed his own ideas on me, but rather helped me sharpen my own. He was consistently encouraging (though helpfully critical) in his feedback, and very, very generous with his time. During that period he was the department chair at Yale and was guiding the department through a crucial rebuilding phase. Having now been a chair myself, I marvel at how much time and care he took with me and his other PhD students.

Dean Zimmerman
Dean Zimmerman
1 month ago

Bob was remarkable for his combination of analytic insight and deep historical understanding. He was also a kind and generous teacher and mentor. His last teaching post was as Distinguished Research Professor (along with Marilyn) for three years at Rutgers, associated with the Rutgers Center for Philosophy of Religion (which Bob and Marilyn helped to inaugurate). Bob taught a seminar every year, so I was fortunate to take (or at least attend) five of his graduate classes — two in the 1980s, and three just about thirty years later. He treated the greenest beginning grad student with the same seriousness and respect he showed to Leibniz, Kant, or Schleiermacher. But his seriousness about philosophy couldn’t stop his cheerfulness from breaking through. He will be sorely missed by several generations of students.

Mirian Ngozi Alike,PhD.
1 month ago

So sad to hear the death of Prof Adams when we are still mourning the demise of African Great Philosopher, Prof Paulin Hountondji..They are remembered by their footsteps,works and lives they touched.

Sydney Penner
Sydney Penner
1 month ago

I encountered Finite and Infinite Goods early in my undergraduate years, and immediately judged Bob’s writing as a model of reflective, rigorous, rich philosophical writing, a judgement I have seen no occasion to revise. In fact, Bob was part of the reason I decided to transfer to Yale as an undergraduate, though it then turned out that he was leaving for Oxford at the same time. Some years later when I was visiting Oxford as a graduate student for a term and discovered that he was teaching a seminar on sexual ethics, I knew I had to sit in on it, even though the subject had little connection to the areas I was working on. It was a good decision, as the seminar ranged over considerably more ground than I had anticipated and I learned a great deal. I especially enjoyed listening to some of the exchanges between Bob and Rae Langton, who also sat in at least some of the time.

I said very little in the seminar, since the subject was so far removed from areas where I felt more mastery. I was, however, a pretty avid birdwatcher and knew that Bob shared that interest, so I approached him after one of the seminars, introduced myself, and asked if he had any recommendations for places around Oxford that were good for birdwatching. His eyes lit up, and we ended up standing on the steps of 10 Merton Street for half an hour as he told me about all the different birdwatching sites around Oxford and what birds I might be able to see at each one. I cherish the memory.

Jim Stone
Jim Stone
1 month ago

Studied with him at UNC. He had a deeply insightful analytic mind wedded to a Christian heart. In several cases he reached into conservative Christianity to find a solution. ‘Must God Create The Best?’ ‘Saints’….. moving, brilliant work that certainly enriched my life. I once told him so. He was embarrassed. If there is a heaven, he and Marilyn are in it

Jason D'Cruz
1 month ago

I had the good fortune of taking Professor Adams’ graduate seminar in ontology while an undergraduate at Yale. Among other things, we worked through Oliver and Mellor’s anthology, “Properties”. Prof Adams made the topic strangely fascinating.

Prof Adams always found the most direct route to the heart of a philosophical problem. He had an intellectual honesty that you could trust. His sharpness was paired with open-mindedness, humility, and generosity. When I returned to campus long after graduation to talk with Prof Adams about applying to grad school, he invited me to coffee at Atticus Books and gave me the encouragement and confidence I badly needed. (He also volunteered to write a letter of recommendation). I am profoundly grateful to him as a mentor and as a model of philosophical curiosity, acumen, and rigor. All of his work – from Leibniz to religious ethics to moral psychology – is simply top notch.