Rembering Jerry Gaus

26 Aug 2020 12:33 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Remembering Jerry Gaus

We at ANU were saddened to learn of the sudden death of our former
colleague Jerry Gaus, while still in his philosophical prime.  Like so
many of his cohort who began careers in philosophy at RSSS in the
early 1980s – Fred D'Agostino, Peter Forrest, Michael McRobbie, Peter
Menzies, Huw Price – he went on to greatness later and elsewhere.  But
we have always taken pride when hearing, in his distinguished
subsequent work, echoes of the young Jerry who took up his first job
post PhD here at ANU.

Jerry Gaus came to work with Stanley Benn on an internally-funded
interdisciplinary RSSS project on 'The Public and the Private'. The
capstone of that project was a book they coedited, Public and Private
in Social Life (1983), containing chapters by anthropologists,
historians of ideas, lawyers, philosophers and political scientists.
That rampant interdisciplinarity returned to characterize Jerry's late
work, particularly The Tyranny of the Ideal:  Justice in a Diverse
Society (2019) and his sadly now posthumous The Open Society and Its
Complexities (2021). And it lies at the heart of the Department of
Political Economy and Moral Science that he founded at the University
of Arizona in 2018.

In between, Jerry devoted himself largely to the problem of public
justification in liberal societies, an extended enterprise bookended
by Justificatory Liberalism (1996) on one end and The Order of Public
Reason (2010) on the other.  There the influence of his ANU mentor and
collaborator, Stanley Benn, is much in evidence.  Jerry transformed
Stanley's 'Alan and Betty' into his own recurring interlocutors 'Alf
and Betty'. Still, Jerry's conception of practical reason and dialogic
justification is very much continuous with that in Stanley Benn's A
Theory of Freedom (1988), which Jerry saw through press after
Stanley's own premature demise.

Jerry's Pittsburgh PhD was in political science, under John Chapman of
Nomos editorial fame. Jerry said that it was at ANU that 'Stanley
taught me how to be a philosopher'. The preface to Stanley's book
reports that they had a philosophical lunch literally every day
Stanley came into the office. That would have been a bit too much of a
good thing for some. But not for Jerry, whose appetite for philosophy,
once whetted, was insatiable.

We are proud to have played an early role in his career, and we are
proud of all that he accomplished over its course.

Bob Goodin, Geoff Brennan, Philip Pettit, Kim Sterelny

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