Thursday, February 1, 2007

Robert Solomon

Philosopher Robert Solomon passed away unexpectedly on January 2nd. He was a long-time professor of philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin, and the author of many books. He was best known for his work on the emotions that was of interest to virtue theorists, cognitive scientists, and others. He was also a noted scholar of existentialism including Nietzsche and Sartre, and was also the author of a number of teaching textbooks and had a lifelong interest in the pedagogy of philosophy. I was acquainted with Prof. Solomon briefly during the late eighties and early nineties through his visits to the University of Colorado at Boulder, where I was a graduate student at the time. Prof. Solomon's long relationship with the Boulder department had its roots in the sixties and seventies when Boulder was known as a center for phenomenological studies (in my time the department was moving in other directions, but I was fortunate enough to attend Hazel Barnes's valedictory seminars on the Early and Late Sartre my first year and took a number of courses with Forrest Williams). Prof. Solomon was of that populist American school of professors who take a sympathetic interest in naive undergraduates and have a more critical manner with probably-pretentious graduate students. He was a bohemian figure, a contrarian who always wanted to challenge the received view of things. This semester, by chance, I am using A Short History of Philosophy, Oxford Univ. Press, 1996, cowritten by him with Kathleen Higgins. It includes generous coverage of Indian, Chinese and other traditions and much provocative treatment of philosophical chestnuts: the authors challenge the notion that the Presocratics are best understood as "the origins of natural science," or that Early Modern philosophy is a contrast between the "Empiricists" and the "Rationalists," for example. There is a refusal to separate philosophy from art or from religion, and an insistence on some political awareness of the context of canonical writers. Robert Solomon was an energetic and humane philosopher.

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