Vale Emeritus Professor Robert Nola (1940-2022)

15 Nov 2022 2:16 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

The AAP regrets to announce the death of Robert Nola at age 82 on Sunday 23 October 2022. One of the longest-serving members of the Philosophy Department of the University of Auckland, his influence on the Department, and, equally, outside of the Department through his many contacts in the Faculty of Science, was immense. Robert was a fierce advocate of standards in the teaching of Philosophy, as well as in science. Philosophically, he was perhaps best known for his defence of scientific realism and the importance of scientific method, his strong advocacy of the idea of analytic rigor and its importance to philosophical method, and his impatience with opposing ideas and trends, including much of continental philosophy (he liked to cite Frege as one of the few exceptions) and religion.

Robert was born in Auckland, New Zealand, 25 June 1940, his father a Croatian fisherman who emigrated to New Zealand. Robert was the first in his New Zealand family to go to University, and after completing an undergraduate science degree at what was then the University of New Zealand he obtained a Master of Science in Mathematics, and a Master of Arts in Philosophy, both from the University of Auckland. He completed his PhD at the Australian National University with a thesis on Theoretical change in the physical sciences: a study of theory reduction and theory replacement in science, under the supervision of John Passmore. Robert subsequently joined the Auckland Department as a lecturer in 1969 and retired an emeritus professor in 2016. Robert married Jan Crosthwaite, also a member of the Philosophy Department, in 1987.

During his long career Robert provided invaluable service to the university community, among his many other roles serving as chairman of the Board of the University of Auckland Press and as chair of the Sir Douglas Robb Lecture Committee. The latter role allowed him to play out his deep commitment to the intellectual importance of the sciences and their links to other fields of enquiry. He was instrumental in bringing a number of notable scientists and science commentators to deliver lectures at the university, including Richard Feynman, Stephen Jay Gould, and Richard Dawkins. His commitment to the intellectual importance of science also led him to introduce a successful interdisciplinary undergraduate programme in the history and philosophy of science and technology, which he convened for many years. 

Robert had research contacts with many philosophers and historians of science around the world, and was an academic visitor, in some cases multiple times, at institutions like the Centre for Philosophy of Science in Pittsburgh, the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge, and the Department of Philosophy at Boğaziçi University, Instanbul (the home department of Gürol Irzik with whom he had a very productive research collaboration). Although Robert’s primary research focus and teaching were in philosophy of science, he had wide interests in philosophy more generally, particularly in metaphysics and epistemology, as well as in science education. He authored about 80 journal articles and book chapters, and was the author of Rescuing Reason: A Critique of Anti-Rationalist Views of Science and Knowledge (Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Springer 2003) and, with Gürol Irzik, of Philosophy, Science, Education and Culture (Dordrecht, Springer, 2005). He was also the co-author, with Howard Sankey, of Theories of Scientific Method (Acumen Press, 2007), and the co-editor, with David Braddon-Mitchell, of Naturalism and Analysis (MIT Press, 2009). 

Robert’s insistence on the unique and universal rationality of science and its methods sometimes put him at odds with academic trends. For example, he pushed hard for what he saw as a more nuanced account of what indigenous knowledge could offer science than the account found in certain alternative models of science and knowledge popular in the academy. His stance attracted considerable criticism, but for many others it was testimony to a deep intellectual courage and integrity. He continues to be admired by many for the unusual breadth of his academic interests, uncommon in contemporary universities, and for the sheer doggedness he displayed in the pursuit of the ideals of rationality, knowledge and truth. He will be greatly missed by his family, and his numerous friends, collaborators and students.

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ACN 152 892 272 ABN 29 152 892 272
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