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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

In Memoriam: Two Catholic Philosophers

On December 27th, the world of philosophy lost one of its most brilliant and eminent figures---Michael Dummett, Wykeham Professor of Logic at Oxford University.  I got to know Professor Dummett and his wife Ann in the early 1980s when I was a lecturer in Jurisprudence in New College, to which the Wykeham chair was attached.  He was a friendly, jovial man, with an impressive mane of white hair and a roar of a laugh.  He originally made his reputation as an interpreter of Frege, and went on to make important contributions in the fields of logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of language, and metaphysics.  He was also an expert on the theory of voting and (of all things) tarot.

Michael was a faithful Catholic, having converted to the faith at age 19 before beginning his undergraduate studies at Oxford.  He had a special devotion to the Eucharist, of which he wrote a famous defense ("The Intelligibility of Eucharistic Doctrine" in William J. Abraham and Steven W. Holzer, eds., The Rationality of Religious Belief: Essays in Honour of Basil Mitchell, Clarendon Press, 1987).  He and Ann were tireless campaigners against every form of racism, and they were among the few pro-life leftists in Britain. (Pro-lifers are hardly in abundance even among political conservatives in Britain.)  He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1999.

But there is more sad news.  Only days after Professor Dummett's death, we lost another outstanding Catholic philosopher and I lost another friend:  Alfonso Gomez-Lobo of Georgetown University.  Professor Gomez-Lobo, who was born in Chile, was also an interpreter (and translator) of Frege, though his most important scholarly contributions were in ethics and on the thought of ancient philosophers, especially the Greeks. He was the Ryan Family Professor of Metaphysics and Moral Philosophy at Georgetown.

Alfonso and I became close friends when we served together on the President's Council on Bioethics, under the chairmanship of the great Leon Kass, beginning in 2002.  He was a wonderfully kind man and a guilelessly charming one.  He was admired and respected even by those members of the Council who did not share his perspective or views on the ethics of human embryonic stem-cell research and "therapeutic" cloning.  (Alfonso and I were co-authors of an addendum to the Council's report Human Cloning and Human Dignity, available here: http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5550&printer_friendly=1.)  He was a member of the Pontifical Academy of Life.

Requiem Aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetuae luceat eis. Requiescant in pace.

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