Saturday, 6 October 2012

J.J.C. "Jack" Smart - R.I.P.

I just learned via various sources on Facebook and Twitter that the Australian philosopher J.J.C. a.k.a. Jack Smart passed away today at the age of 92. The very fact that this sad news is immediately echoing around the world tells you something about his stature, and a further glimpse of this can be caught by visiting his webpage at Monash University, which besides his distinguished carreer reveals that he was busy publishing high quality papers as late as at the age of 86.

His most well-known philosophical achievements were his championship of physicalism in the philosophy of mind (sometimes known as the identity theory) and of utilitarianism in ethics. The significance of the former work, Smart has described best himself here. My own contact with his work mainly connected to the latter. As so many others in my own and several subsequent generations of philosophy students, I was introduced both to advanced normative ethical theory, to sophisticated utilitarianism and to the art of debating the most heated and basic ethical issues without any loss of civility or philosophical depth through Smart's and Bernard William's little pro & con gem, Utilitarianism: For and Against.

I met Jack Smart only once, when he was visiting Stockholm University some time in the late 1980's or early 1990's and I remember how impressed I was by his kind gentleness that in no way cut down any of the stark clarity I had met in his writing. No less impressive, of course, since he was already then far from young. More information about his life and philosophy can be found here.