Professor Peter Menzies

15 Feb 2015 9:20 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
Australasian philosophers will be sad to learn of the passing of Peter Menzies (Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, Macquarie University), who died on Friday 6 February, after a long illness. He is survived by his partner, Catriona Mackenzie (Professor of Philosophy, Macquarie University), and their extended family.

Peter studied Philosophy at ANU, graduating with the University Medal in 1975. He went on to an MPhil at St Andrews, writing on Michael Dummett's views on Realism, and to a PhD at Stanford, where he worked with Nancy Cartwright on Newcomb Problems and Causal Decision Theory.

Returning to Australia in 1983, Peter held a Tutorship and then an ARC Research Fellowship at the Department of Traditional & Modern Philosophy, University of Sydney, from 1984 to 1988. He then moved to ANU as a Research Fellow in the Philosophy Program, RSSS, where he remained until taking up a Lectureship at Macquarie University in 1995. He was promoted to a Personal Chair in 2005, becoming an Emeritus Professor on his retirement in 2013. He was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities in 2007, and was President of the Australasian Association of Philosophy in 2008–2009.

Peter will be remembered by friends, students and colleagues as one of the most lucid and generous voices in Australasian philosophy, and by philosophers worldwide as one of the most astute metaphysicians of his generation. He was particularly well known for many influential papers on causation. At the beginning of a famous paper in Mind in 1994, for example, David Lewis singles out "especially the problem presented in Menzies (1989)" as the source of, as he puts it, "the unfinished business with causation." Most would agree that some of the business remains unfinished, twenty years later; but that the field is greatly indebted to Peter for much of the progress that has been made in the past three decades. A fine philosopher, colleague, teacher, and friend, he will be sadly missed.

**The AAP hopes that this page can be used to collate and share thoughts about Professor Peter Menzies. If you leave a post, make sure you add your name at the end, and your email, if you wish.


  • 15 Feb 2015 9:35 PM | Anonymous member
    In 1992 I came to the ANU, having just finished my undergraduate studies at Monash. It was there I met Peter. Peter took an interest in my work and spent many hours over lunch and coffees discussing it with me. I know I was not the only student Peter generously took the time to mentor and encourage. Peter was such a lovely man and such a wonderful philosopher. I am so saddened by his passing. Stuart Brock
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  • 15 Feb 2015 11:16 PM | KNM
    Unfortunately, I only ever took one unit with Peter, in 2007. He was an extremely lucid lecturer with an encyclopedic knowledge, who would always convey an infectious enthusiasm for the material. At the time I was struggling with an unmanageable workload and I will not forget his willingness to support me wherever he could. In spite of our differing theoretical opinion and background, he remained incredibly generous and encouraging in his feedback. A true gentleman all round. Thank you, Peter.

    Karl N. Moll.
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  • 16 Feb 2015 5:58 AM | Steffi Lewis
    This is sad news. He was a friend, and was somebody I was always glad to see. May he rest in peace.
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  • 16 Feb 2015 6:39 AM | Al Wilson
    A delightful man whose modesty belied his remarkable and important work. He will be much missed.
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  • 16 Feb 2015 7:15 AM | Ole Koksvik
    Peter was always friendly and encouraging and kind to me.
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  • 16 Feb 2015 8:18 AM | Anonymous
    I remember very few things about a talk I gave at Macquarie 15 years ago now, except Peter's kind face and his warmth afterwards as we discussed points of disagreement. Very few philosophers ever mature to such an extent.
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  • 16 Feb 2015 1:05 PM | Allan McCay
    I did a law PhD with a significant philosophical aspect. Peter made time to give me some valuable advice. I was very grateful to him for this and over the years we would bump into each other from time to time and chat. I liked him a lot and I am sorry to hear of his passing.
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  • 16 Feb 2015 3:40 PM | Denis Robinson
    I never got to know Peter very well, but I was always specially glad to see him at conferences and seminars. This was, of course, in part due to looking forward to his high-value philosophical contributions: but the icing on that cake was his unfailing warmth and generosity of personality, and his cheerful greetings. I'm very sad that he's gone.

    Denis Robinson
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  • 16 Feb 2015 5:29 PM | David Braddon-Mitchell
    I've know Peter since I was a graduate student; I cannot think of anyone who has been more consistently decent, polite, considerate and always wanting to the think the best of everyone. All this and a marvellous philosopher. May he rest in peace.
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  • 16 Feb 2015 7:49 PM | Lise Marie Andersen
    I was one of the last PhD-students supervised by Peter before his early retirement. As a supervisor he was patient, warm and extremely generous with his time and knowledge. As a philosopher he was an inspiration. I especially found his way of engaging in post-talk discussions inspiring. Instead of becoming defensive, he had a way of carefully and gently laying out his arguments, not giving in, but at the same time being attentive to criticisms and arguments from others – always keeping the focus on getting to the core of the philosophical problem. To me, this is what characterizes a great philosopher.
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  • 16 Feb 2015 9:18 PM | Neil McDonnell
    In 2012 I packed up with my young family (my daughter just 8 weeks old) to spend a year in Australia supervised by Peter. This was a huge undertaking but Peter's stature and reputation suggested that it would be worth the effort.

    It was. He was an exceptional supervisor, generous and patient but robust and challenging too. I was defending a view very much contrary to Peter's own, and about which he knew a great deal more than I, but he was always encouraging and supportive of my project. My thesis was vastly better for his input and I suspect I am a considerably better philosopher for having had his tutelage.

    More personally, Peter took me under his wing. He helped me understand the idiosyncrasies of life in Australia and made the family and I feel extremely welcome. He introduced me to dozens of people at the AAP, several of whom I now consider friends, and he encouraged a formative visiting stint at ANU. Upon his untimely retirement, he arranged workshops for his remaining students so that we might meet and receive feedback from some more senior philosophers in our field.

    A most gentle and kind man, and a stand-out philosopher of causation and science. He will be sorely missed.
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  • 17 Feb 2015 12:11 AM | Philip Goff
    I met Peter a couple of times during my post doc in Australia. I was very drawn to him as a person: warm, down to earth, and with a great sense of irony. I was saddened to hear of his death. Philip Goff
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  • 17 Feb 2015 10:58 AM | Koji Tanaka
    I said as I was leaving Macquarie that Peter was my role model. He still is my role model. Very articulate and rigorous, and fun and humble. He was very good at letting his work speak for him. He was kind and generous. I can still hear his infectious laugh.

    Peter used to write letters of recommendation for me which got me a job in Auckland. I am very grateful for his support and feel very lucky to have known him.

    He profoundly changed the ways I see and do things. I miss him very much, but, more importantly, I feel very privileged to have been his colleague.

    I was lucky to attend his funeral which was designed by Peter himself. It was very beautiful. I found it harder to say final goodbye than I expected. It must be much harder for Catriona, his kids and his extended family. My warm thoughts go out to them.
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  • 17 Feb 2015 11:58 AM | Mark Walker
    I believe I was Peter’s first PhD student. He was a great teacher and mentor. I was a difficult student—even by PhD student standards. Peter dissuaded me from dropping out at the nadir of my doctoral studies. It is no exaggeration to say that I would not be who I am, and where I am, without Peter. I published a book a couple of years ago and here is what I said about Peter:

    “Long before I turned to normative issues, I had two wonderful PhD supervisors at the Australian National University. Huw Price provided some wonderful mentoring when I first arrived. Price eventually took a job in Sydney citing the experience as my supervisor as his reason for leaving. Peter Menzies was next on the chopping block. Although they worked with me on metaphysical and epistemological issues, Huw and Peter left an indelible mark on how I think about and write philosophy. I am very grateful for their guidance and patience. Any errors in this manuscript are directly attributable to their mentoring and they should be blamed equally.”
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  • 17 Feb 2015 2:54 PM | David Macarthur
    Peter was a friend, and a great inspiration to me personally – and not only for his philosophical acumen and infectious love of the subject. He was quite simply the most affable person I ever met in philosophy and the impression he left with me from my undergraduate days (when he was my tutor at Sydney University) had a profound effect on my later decision to leave the world of medicine for that of philosophy. I loved the way he laughed at the irony and paradox of things without running others down. He was a gentle soul who I will always remember with great affection and warmth.
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  • 18 Feb 2015 1:53 AM | Cathy Legg
    I'm really sad to learn of Peter's death.

    When I began my PhD at ANU, Peter supervised me for about year before moving to Macquarie. He shared a great deal of his own work with me, sometimes gifting me offprints. His work was complex and significant and one always knew where one stood with him in discussion.

    I returned from Sydney to Canberra in 1998 to complete my PhD and at that time Peter became my landlord! He generously allowed me to live in his parents' home for reduced rent while he visited every second weekend to see his kids. At that somewhat lonely stage of final writing I welcomed the family atmosphere, and I got to see firsthand how deeply Peter loved his kids. Such a kind and sensitive man - he is a great loss to Australian philosophy.
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  • 18 Feb 2015 4:26 PM | Alex Miller
    I first met Peter back in 1993 while I was on a 6 month visit to ANU - one of first memories of Canberra was a big Sunday lunch party at his house. I also recall the generous amount of time he would give to discussing my thesis work. I was very fortunate indeed to have Peter as a colleague at Macquarie University when I taught there for 3 years - I learned a lot from him not only philosophically but also by the light-hearted and convivial way he approached being HoD. I'm very sorry to hear of his death. I was really glad to catch up with him when I gave a talk at Macquarie in November 2013 and to have a beer with him a month later at the NZAP in Auckland. Despite his illness he struck me as happy and in good spirits. That's how I'll remember him.
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  • 21 Feb 2015 6:14 PM | Stewart Candlish
    I didn't know Peter at all well until after I became Editor of the AJP, after which of course (because of his position on the Journal's Editorial Board) I had extensive professional dealings with him as well as the usual intermittent social encounters. I had always liked him a lot, having taken to him as soon as I first met him many years ago, and had a long-standing respect for his work, but I was immensely admiring of the way he handled his responsibilities as a Board member. Throughout my tenure, he was never reluctant, even after his illness began, and despite my instructions to put his health first, to take on the sometimes very demanding tasks I asked him to do, and his reports to me were consistently thorough, timely, careful, and accurate. He always managed to achieve that rare combination of gentle sympathy and critical detachment in his polite but firm assessment of both authors' manuscripts and (sometimes suspect) referees' reports, that combination which makes someone an ideal member of an editorial team. Decisions based on his advice were (to my recollection) never questioned by the authors concerned.
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  • 22 Feb 2015 2:04 AM | Prof David Stuckey
    I do not know Peter from a professional point of view, but very happy to have shared a house with him at Stanford for a few years-being both Australians led up to have a culture in common. We then stayed in touch over the years (he in Oz and me in London), and I enjoyed his intellect and whimsical sense of humour. It was a real shock to learn through a friend and housemate that he had died. What a sad thing to happen to someone so young and full of life still. My thought go out to Catriona and his kids in this difficult time.
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  • 25 Feb 2015 7:58 AM | cheshire calhoun
    I am truly saddened to lose Peter's presence. I've visited Catriona and Peter a number of times over the years. Two events were especially memorable. The first was an hilarious, madcap dash through Sydney streets to make a Cirque du Soleil performance after we had to abandon our taxi that had become mired in traffic. The second was last October when I was struck by the remarkable calm and appreciative presence in the moment that Peter seemed to have achieved despite, or perhaps because of, his illness. I am so very sorry that that was the last visit, although grateful to have had it. He was a truly lovely person.
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