5 thoughts on “Gilbert Harman

  1. Alan Hajek

    I greatly admired Gil as a philosopher and as a person. He had tremendous range. When I was a graduate student at Princeton, there was a list of all of the philosophy professors and the areas in which they were willing to supervise undergraduate theses. Gil was willing to supervise a thesis in ANY area. He had a wonderful sense of humour, and he did not take himself too seriously, despite the enduring impact of his work and his huge influence on his students.

  2. Errol Lord

    Gil was the author of the most exciting email I’ve ever received. This was the acceptance notification to Princeton, which he wrote in his capacity as Director of Graduate Studies. It was characteristically short and to the point. Whether he liked it or not, he was also at all of my other major Princeton milestones. He was one of the examiners of my Generals exam (the bridge requirement between coursework and the dissertation) and he was one of the readers of my dissertation. In my experience he could be a somewhat terrifying interlocutor because he would watch you intently with a sort of bemused grin on his face. Fortunately he always indicated his support somehow, especially after the discussion wound down. He loved arguments but never took himself or whatever discussion he was engaged in too seriously.

    Gil amusingly complained about the word count of my dissertation upon submission. This led to a sincere debate about the best method to count words in a pdf document. I managed to convince him it was not in fact significantly longer than 100,000 words. He sent in an amended report with considerable irony. This was more than made up for by perhaps the best compliment I have ever received about my work, given the source: “The dissertation is chock full of interesting arguments.”

    RIP Gil. You’ll be greatly missed.

  3. Terry Wintroub '69

    Freshman year, I think, Gil led the class section I was assigned to in Carl Hempel’s Philosophy 101, I think. I didn’t like him because he seemed to spend all the class time interacting with a guy in the front row. You know the type.

    I had Gil for two more classes — Epistemology, I think, and a seminar on Skepticism. I had one memorable interaction with him in the seminar. I was confused about the pronunciation of Bishop Berkeley’s name. “Professor Harman, is it ‘berkly’ or ‘barkly’?” “Well”, he said, “in England it’s barkly and in the US it’s berkly.” “Well”, I said, “if you don’t want to sound like a dum-dum, do you say berkly or barkly?” “First off, you don’t say ‘dum-dum’.”

    When I applied to the U of Chicago MBA program years later, I needed a faculty recommendation. He was the only faculty member I figured had even a remote chance of remembering who I even was. I recited our exchange. HE REMEMBERED ME. And wrote what must have been a helpful rec since I was admitted.

    Of my four years (1988-1992) working in the Annual Giving office, one of my greatest regrets is that I never had the courage to get in contact with him. I just felt too much of an underachiever.

  4. Barham Ray'03

    Professor Harman was the most mithridatic teacher I’ve ever known. As my JP advisor, he believed in me more than I did myself, and he encouraged me into some of the deepest, darkest waters in the study of consciousness. He never, ever let his views or your fear get in the way of curiosity, and he treated students as fellow wonderers trying to understand nature’s mysteries all while upholding rigor. The effect was intoxicating. Before you knew it you had gone far further, far faster than imagined and were discovering within yourself new capabilities, most importantly self-reliance as a researcher and thinker under maximal confusion and complexity. He brought out the best in you. Years after his guidance in the midst of an unexpected crisis, I found myself with zero medical training in the UCLA Biomedical Library finally getting a hold on problems with which no one had been able to help me. Gil Harman helped me. He had taught me to read and reason far outside my comfort zone, and he saved my health and sanity from untold pain. Since then, I think of him often under conditions of professional or personal adversity to try to emulate his standards of rapid, openminded, deep research from multiple perspectives.

  5. Margaret Gilbert

    I have just heard, with great sadness, of Gil’s passing last November. I was associated with the Princeton department for many years in various capacities, beginning in the mid-1970s, and Gil was throughout a very positive presence. I have just been writing my forthcoming Dewey Lecture for the American Philosophical Association Pacific Division, where I express my gratitude to Gil for some crucial encouragement he gave me as I was—as I hoped—completing my long book On Social Facts (1989). My condolences to Lucy, Elizabeth, and Olivia and their families, and all of those he has helped with his good humor and good sense over so many years.

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