Len O’Neill, a member of the Melbourne University Philosophy Department (as it then was) from 1966 to 1996, died on February the 18th this year.
Len completed his undergraduate and masters degrees at Melbourne University, before gaining a doctorate at Cambridge in the mid-1960s. He returned to Australia to take up a lectureship at Melbourne University, where he remained for his entire professional life. His masters and doctoral work was in philosophy of logic and epistemology. While these interests persisted throughout his career, and were the subject matter of his publications, he also worked extensively in the theory of punishment, and the philosophies of Buddhism, and anarchism. He completed a second PhD, and during his retirement was well into a third, left uncompleted at the time of his death.
Len particularly admired Douglas Gasking, one of his teachers and his MA supervisor at Melbourne, and attempted – with considerable success – to emulate the clarity and rigour with which Gasking approached philosophical issues. He initiated and co-edited the posthumous publication of a collection of Gasking’s papers (Language, Logic and Causation: Philosophical Writings of Douglas Gasking, M.U.P. 1996). Following Gasking’s physical incapacitation by a stroke, Len visited him regularly, and they engaged in continuing philosophical discussion, especially on the work of Charles Sanders Peirce, a philosopher they both held in very high esteem. Len’s regard for Gasking was further demonstrated by his organising, in 2011, a celebration of the centenary of Gasking’s birth. This was attended by a large number of people who shared Len’s admiration and affection for their former teacher and colleague.
Len drew a similar admiration and friendship from very many students over the years. They enjoyed the quality of his lectures, but also liked Len for his patience and generosity, to say nothing of their delight in his unconventional style and non-conformist behaviour. No one else in the Arts Faculty dressed, or wore a hat, with quite the elegance Len managed. Few rode such a frighteningly potent BMW motorcycle. Few furnished their room in the Old Arts Building as elaborately.
Len will be missed by all who knew him. He is survived by his wife, Jacqui, who he married in 1965, and by his son, Lawrence.