Gary Matthews was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on July 8, 1929. He died in Boston, Massachusetts, of colon cancer, on April 17, 2011. He is survived by his wife, Mary, two daughters and one son, and seven grandchildren.
Gary received his A.B. from Franklin College in Indiana in 1951, and an M.A. from Harvard in 1952. He studied at Tübingen in the summer of 1952, and at the Free University of Berlin during the academic year 1952-53, where he witnessed the June 1953 uprising in East Berlin. After more than three years of service in the navy, he received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1961. He served as Assistant Professor at the University of Virginia from 1960-61, and at the University of Minnesota as Assistant and then Associate Professor from 1961 to 1969. In 1967-68, he held the George Sanatayana Fellowship in Philosophy at Harvard. In 1969, he came to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst as Professor, and he has been a treasured member of the faculty here ever since. He held visiting positions at Amherst College, Brown University, Mt. Holyoke College, Smith College, Tufts University, and the Harvard Summer School. He was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and directed four summer seminars for the National Endowment for the Humanities; he also received Fellowships from the NEH on two separate occasions. He received honorary doctorates from Franklin College and the University of Hamburg. He has given talks on the BBC, and lectured all over the world.
Gary’s early work focused on topics in ancient and medieval philosophy, and the philosophy of religion. He published frequently in the Journal of Philosophy, The Philosophical Review, and The American Philosophical Quarterly. From the very beginning, Gary showed a mastery of an extraordinary range of philosophical texts, making contributions to work on Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, and Ockham, but he also contributed to discussion of issues in philosophy of mind and psychology with work on G.E. Moore, Norman Malcolm, and a variety of papers on perception and dreaming. Gary’s work always displayed a scholar’s detailed knowledge of the text, but also a deep engagement with philosophical issues. He had a life-long interest in the ontological argument, from his first paper in the Philosophical Review (“On Conceivability in Anselm and Malcolm,” 1961) to his most recent work, co-authored with Lynne Rudder Baker (“The Ontological Argument Simplified,” Analysis, 2010; and “Anselm’s Argument Reconsidered,” Review of Metaphysics, 2010.) He was the author of Thought’s Ego in Augustine and Descartes (Cornell, 1992), Socratic Perplexity and the Nature of Philosophy (Oxford, 1999), Augustine (Blackwell, 2005), and more than one hundred papers. He served as editor and translator (with Marc Cohen) of Ammonius’s Commentary on Aristotle’s Categories (Cornell, 1992); and editor of The Augustinian Tradition (California, 1998), and Augustine: On the Trinity—Books 8-15 (Cambridge, 2002). At the time of his death, he was working on a book on philosophical method and the nature of dialectic.
Gary was a pioneer in thinking, writing, and teaching about philosophy and children. His three books in this area, all published with Harvard--Philosophy and the Young Child (1980), Dialogues with Children (1984), and The Philosophy of Childhood (1994)-- have been translated into a dozen languages, including Chinese, Japanese, and Indonesian, as well as various European languages. He conducted philosophy discussions with elementary-school children in Austria, Australia, China, Israel, Germany, Japan, Norway, and Scotland, as well as in various schools in the U.S. His work in this area has transformed our understanding of the sophistication of young children. The elementary school curriculum throughout Germany was influenced by Gary’s work.
Gary’s scholarly work alone would have made him an extraordinarily valued colleague, but this work shows only a small portion of what Gary contributed. Gary was an inspiring teacher at all levels. He won the College’s Outstanding Teaching Award, and he supervised countless undergraduate honors theses and courses of independent study on an extraordinarily wide range of topics. He was an undergraduate advisor for the Philosophy Department, a position which he maintained long after his official retirement. Gary supervised a very large number of Ph.D. dissertations, and served on an immense number of Ph.D. committees. His students found him to be a patient and constructive critic, someone who was always available. Indeed, until the time of his death, Gary was always in his office six days a week. His retirement did not slow him down. He continued to bicycle five miles to work every day, and to teach every semester. He was supervising undergraduate work and Ph.D. students to the very end. His scholarly work, and his lecturing around the United States and around the world, continued unabated. Students were often surprised to learn that, at least officially, Gary had retired. It made no difference to anything he did. Just this past December, he played an active role on a Search Committee for an appointment in ancient philosophy, not only joining us for interviews at the APA, but providing the kind of careful reading of candidates’ work that can make such interviews a valuable experience for everyone involved.
Gary was always the first questioner at Department colloquia, setting the tone for both constructive criticism and engagement with the most important philosophical issues. His gentle presence in the Department made it a better place. He was someone whom everyone valued and respected, whether it was on scholarly matters or issues of the day to day running of the Department. We will miss him tremendously, as will his friends and colleagues throughout the world.