The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Ed Gettier: Remembrance, by Phil Bricker

By Phil Bricker

I met Ed when I came to UMass to give a job talk in 1989. Ed was in charge of shepherding me around before the talk, and he took me to the Black Sheep in Amherst for coffee. He was friendly and open, talking feely about the philosophy department and even the politics behind the job I was applying for. And then we talked about David Lewis, whose work Ed greatly admired. By this point, I knew I had an ally in my pursuit of this job. The bond we developed that day extended throughout my time at UMass.

When I arrived at UMass in 1990, there was a strong crop of graduate students, and I worked with Ed on a number of dissertations over the next few years, some that I chaired such as Ted Sider, Cranston Paull, and David Denby, some that Ed chaired such as Geoff Goddu and Neil Feit. We spent lots of time together at the Newman Center where Ed ate at least one and usually two meals a day. (And if I recall, he almost always ordered eggs.) In talking about issues raised by these students’ work, I quickly came to appreciate his sharp and probing mind.

But in those early days, I probably spent the most time with Ed on the badminton court, where Ed ruled the roost. Ed was a proselytizer for the sport, encouraging new grad students and faculty to give badminton a try. Now, I was an avid runner and pretty good at tennis and squash, so I figured I’d need to go easy on the old guy. Well, he crushed me by accurately placing his shots and running me around the court. And even after five years of improving at the game, I continued to be beat by this man twenty-five years my senior. My only recourse was to wait until summer when I could get him on a tennis court and turn the tables. Ed had a love for badminton, and was still a strong player well into his 70s.

The other place I would often see Ed was in my graduate seminars. He would always ask if it was OK for him to sit in, and he would always promise not to speak. And I would always respond: “Of course you can sit in, but please don’t hesitate to speak up; I want to hear what you think.” He didn’t speak often, but when he did, often just to raise a question or point out a problem with some argument, it was always appreciated. Unlike most of us, he only spoke when he really had something to say.

After Ed retired he continued to sit in on graduate seminars. I know in addition to mine, he sometimes sat in on seminars taught by Hilary Kornblith and Chris Meacham (and I think Jonathan Schaffer and Brad Skow when they were here). I remember once asking Ed what seminars he was taking, and after he listed three I replied: “You’re taking more courses than some of our grad students.” He loved having the time to be a student again. I’ve always thought that a good way to tell whether philosophy is really in your blood is to see what you do after you retire. By that measure, Ed’s love of philosophy was genuine. Even greater, I suspect, than his love of badminton.