Gareth B. Matthews (1929-2011)
April 19, 2011 — 12:38

Author: Ed Weirenga  Category: Uncategorized  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 5

Gary Matthews was a brilliant man, but, more importantly, he was kind and wise and had serious moral commitments. I met him in the fall of 1971, when I arrived at University of Massachusetts at Amherst as a graduate student. Gary had moved to UMass from Minnesota a year or two earlier. His philosophical interests were extensive, ranging from Plato and Aristotle, to Augustine, to the medievals, to Descartes, to Gilbert Ryle. Gary made major contributions to the literature on all of these figures and on the philosophical issues they addressed. He practically invented the topic of the philosophy of children. The most recent paper of his that I have seen is “Augustine and Ibn Sina on Souls in the Afterlife,” a paper he wrote with the intention of presenting it at an international conference in Iran this spring. Sadly, his illness prevented him from attending the conference. This paper, like many before it, draws out interesting and insightful comparisons between philosophers, all the while keeping a focus on the important philosophical issues at stake.
While I was at UMass, I took courses from Gary on Plato and on action theory. (I’m pretty sure that was the subject of the second course–I have a more vivid recollection of an anecdote he told about a rabbi and his wife on the subject of sympathetic understanding of incompatible positions than I do about the topics of the course.) Gary also graciously consented to serve as the director of my dissertation, on the metaphysics of events; that he agreed to do so gives further evidence of the range of his interests. Perhaps the most distinctive feature of Gary’s role at UMass in those days was his participation in colloquia. When there was a visiting speaker, Gary usually sat near the front of the room, and he always asked the first question. The question was always insightful, and one could learn from it. I never understood, however, how, in a room full of young hot shots, all of them intently trying to construct counterexamples to something the speaker said, Gary always managed to get his question out first. The only exception was the day Richard Cartwright read his paper, “Scattered Objects.” Gary didn’t have a question. But no one else did, either; so the colloquium adjourned with absolutely no discussion of the paper.