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Remembering Peter Hare (1935-2008)

John Corcoran, Alexander Razin and Tim Madigan pay tribute to their friend.

Although Peter and I had a frequent email correspondence up until a week or so before he died, our last face-to-face meeting took place almost two months earlier, in Buffalo, on November 12, 2007. It was the last of several raucous evenings the two of us shared over the more than 35 years of our friendship. The evening started with the two of us having drinks in my dimly-lit second floor study looking westward over a lovely Buffalo snowscape as the sunset faded. There he gave me his latest insights into one of Gertrude Stein’s poems, which he saw as extolling the aesthetics of symbolic logic. As I had done more than once before, I urged him to get it into print before he got scooped.

When the sky had lost its color, we went out into the windy, freezing night for dinner at a nearby Thai restaurant. We discussed his recent trip to Romania, and his plans for future travel. We also discussed his love of sculpture, his education, his father, department news, my logic course, and the Buffalo Logic Colloquium, which had been dear to him for many years. I don’t ever remember him in a better mood or in a better state of health. Many years ago he told me in casual conversation that there was a history of heart problems in his family, and that he did not expect to live past 60. He made it to 72.

I started teaching at Buffalo in Fall 1970 and I got to know Peter during that year. He looked the part of the established East-coast academic: tweed sport coat, button-down shirt, bow tie and the long sideburns known as mutton chops. My winter hat was a wool US Navy watch cap that Peter found amusing. He often referred to it as a toque, using a word I had never before heard in that sense. He was the post-preppie, I the post-hippy.

In the 25 years before his retirement Peter attended many meetings of the Buffalo Logic Colloquium, and the always-lively, sometimes rowdy beer-fueled dinners held afterward in a working-class restaurant near campus, where the tradition was for the faculty members to divide the modest bill equally and for the graduate students to pay nothing. Peter never missed an opportunity to make the Department feel good about itself. When he bragged, it was about the achievements of his colleagues and students. In 1994 there had been a reference in the Journal of Symbolic Logic to ‘the Buffalo School of Logic’. Peter was so thrilled that his Department was getting some recognition that he had hundreds of pins made. It was a three-inch white circle with The Buffalo School of Logic inscribed with blue italic script lettering. He got everyone he saw to wear one. I still have mine.

Like me, Peter was a devoted feminist, civil rights advocate, civil liberties advocate, peace activist, environmentalist and philosophical pluralist. He was deeply offended by partiality, bigotry, old-boyism, and injustice, even though he was born into a once-wealthy, accomplished Protestant New York family with a distinguished history tracing back beyond the Revolutionary War. Peter’s family history included some graduates of the US Military Academy at West Point. He went to boarding schools, to an exclusive prep school, and to an Ivy League college and graduate school. Peter went to Groton and Yale on scholarships, and on fellowships at Columbia. He had almost no financial help from his family during those years. It was an embarrassment to him to be on financial aid. Peter worked jobs at all these places to pay for room and board.

I have been clear about my debt of friendship to Peter for years, and I am glad to say that I expressed my gratitude many times while he was alive. I owe him more than I can say. I will miss his enthusiastic and imaginative support. I will miss the attention he paid to my ideas, his thoughtful and objective criticisms and his enthusiastic encouragement. I will miss his warm friendship. Most of all, I will miss our times together. He was fun to be around. When Peter was present there was never a lull in conversation. He was the best conversationalist I ever knew: always intense, always focused, but always respectful and polite. And in all of our exchanges, although sharp differences came to light, no sharp word ever passed between us – that wasn’t Peter’s way. Consequently, I was always on my best dialectical behavior with Peter. He had a beneficial effect on everyone he conversed with.

© Prof. John Corcoran 2008

John Corcoran is a Professor in the Philosophy Department of the University of Buffalo.

Peter Hare was a brilliant philosopher and a talented organizer. He showed an astonishing amount of energy in developing modern philosophy, discussing philosophical problems, and supporting talented young philosophers.

Peter probably understood as no one else the public role that philosophy and philosophers must play in contemporary human development. Even during the Soviet period, when international communication with the Russian intelligentsia was very limited, Peter was often here in Russia. He also invited Russian scientists to the United States. He did a fruitful job in promoting the discourse between our countries.

I met Peter in 1992 after he gave a brilliant presentation on the topic of euthanasia to the Philosophy Department of Moscow State University. After that, he invited me to the United States to present a short series of lectures about Ethics and Social Philosophy in Russia. This was a very important event in my personal philosophical growth, so I am very grateful to him for that invitation. After that visit our contact was constant. Professor Hare visited Russia many times, giving lectures about American Pragmatism and discussions on Contemporary Humanism, among other topics. I should also mention a special meeting and reception he organized during the XIXth World Philosophy Congress in Moscow in 1993, in honor of Russian professor Uriy Melvil, who was a pioneer in American Philosophy studies in Russia.

All my colleagues and I are very grateful to Peter Hare for his international activity in philosophy. He will live in our memory forever.

© Prof. Alexander V. Razin 2008

Alexander Razin is Professor of Ethics at Moscow State University and a contributing editor of Philosophy Now.

Like his many other colleagues and friends, I was shocked to learn of the death of Peter Hare on January 3, 2008. He had attended the American Philosophical Association meeting in Baltimore just a few days before, and seemed to be in robust health. Indeed, his vitality was his most evident characteristic. None of us imagined that he would not be around to talk with for many more years to come.

Peter was Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the State University of Buffalo, where he taught from 1962 until 2001. A graduate of Yale and Columbia, where he received his PhD, he was firmly in the naturalistic tradition of John Dewey. He was a long-time chair of the Philosophy Department at Buffalo, where he was able to get along with colleagues from a wide variety of traditions, thanks to his good humor, diplomatic skills and genuine interest in their efforts. There was seldom a paper delivered by a graduate student, faculty member or visiting scholar that Peter did not attend, and his comments afterwards were always helpful and to-the-point rather than dismissive or perfunctory.

I first met Peter in 1983 when I was an undergraduate at the State University of New York at Buffalo, still wondering what philosophy was all about, and whether or not I should major in it. As the chair of the department, Peter was not only willing to take the time to talk with me, he also encouraged me in my own rather unorthodox approach to wisdom-gathering. For instance, he ‘commissioned’ me to unveil a one-act play entitled Zarathustra Rides Again at a conference he organized in 1988 on ‘Doing Philosophy Historically’. I had the wonderful experience of having a noted German philosopher tell me afterwards that he would never think of Nietzsche the same way again! In hindsight I’m not sure if that was a compliment or not, but it was certainly a fun experience – I portrayed Nietzsche as a Clark Kent figure who, when driven to distraction by his sister’s pestering, becomes a true Superman, with a ‘Z’ on his chest for ‘Zarathustra.’ Two other philosophers walked out in disgust, but Peter told me not to take that to heart – Nietzsche would have wanted it that way!

Peter also asked me to write a short play entitled An Evening With William James, which was performed at a meeting of the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy. I don’t know if it advanced American Philosophy, but I was able to perform in front of philosophers from dozens of countries, all of which Peter had visited at some time in his peripatetic career. It was a wonderful learning experience for me to write the play, and it was all due to Peter’s suggestion.

In addition, I had the honor of being a teaching assistant for Peter’s ‘Introduction to Philosophy’ course during my first year as a graduate student. He gave me the chance to teach my first class of students, and helped make it a less nerve-wracking experience than it might otherwise have been. My emotions overwhelmed me, but Peter was there to help steady my nerves. He also played a pivotal role in my career choices, suggesting that I consider working with Paul Kurtz in his efforts to promote philosophy in the public arena through working for Free Inquiry magazine and the Center for Inquiry. Later, Peter and I talked about the possibility of starting a publication which would attempt to make philosophy accessible to non-academics. After he met Rick Lewis at an American Philosophical Association conference, Peter told me there was no need to found such a magazine, as it already existed – namely, Philosophy Now. He became a strong supporter of the magazine and encouraged me to write for it. So in a sense Peter Hare is the godfather of my ‘Food for Thought’ column [see this issue, among others].

Finally and most importantly for me, Peter was my long-suffering dissertation advisor. He introduced me to the writings of W.K. Clifford (1845-1879), and wisely suggested that I write my dissertation on Clifford’s essay ‘The Ethics of Belief.’ I had first thought about writing on James’s ‘The Will to Believe’, which was in part a response to Clifford’s essay. But Peter astutely pointed out that the literature on James was overwhelming, whereas there had yet to be a monograph written on Clifford – and, more importantly, as the mathematician Clifford only lived to the age of 33 and didn’t write much in the realm of philosophy, I would be able to master his work in this area in a timely fashion. This was an example of pragmatism in action. I will forever be in Peter’s debt for his patience, good will and excellent advice.

It was Peter who first told me about Charles Peirce’s concept of a ‘community of inquirers’, united in their mutual search for truth, and showing respect for each others’ differing perspectives rather than attempting to shut off discussion by cutting or derogatory remarks (as so often happens in the academic world). With his rare ability to get along with people from all areas of philosophy, Peter demonstrated that this concept was – in James’ terms – a live, genuine and momentous option.

Peter Hare was a true gentleman, and in his life and work he demonstrated the best that the profession of philosophy is capable of achieving. His many students and friends are living proof of his continuing influence, and I am glad to be a member of this special group. He shall not be forgotten.

© Dr Timothy J. Madigan 2008

Tim Madigan is a US Editor of Philosophy Now.

Peter H. Hare

Peter H. Hare, Philosopher and Educator, Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at SUNY at Buffalo, died peacefully in his sleep in the early morning hours of Thursday, January 3, 2008 at his home in Guilford, CT.

At the age of 36 Dr Hare was appointed Full Professor and Chair of the Philosophy Department of the State University of New York at Buffalo. His experience working with a ‘multicultural’ group of Marxists, logicians, linguists and Americanists inspired him to bring many disparate strands of 20th Century thought together in a unified modern philosophy department. Among other posts, he served as President of the New York State Philosophy Association, the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy, the Charles Sanders Peirce Society, and the William James Society. Since the early 1970s he was co-editor of the Transactions of the C. S. Peirce Society: A Quarterly Journal in American Philosophy. He was editor or co-editor of numerous collections, and the author of more than one hundred articles in scholarly journals, and in Philosophy Now. He was also the recipient of numerous awards and honors for distinguished contributions to the understanding and development of the American philosophical tradition. As an educator, editor and committee participant he never ceased integrating philosophy, literature, poetry and art.

Peter Hare left an indelible impact upon American philosophy, helping to draw the works of Peirce, Whitehead, Mead, James and Dewey to international attention.

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