Remembering Leonard Linsky

Leonard LinskyThis site has been created for people to write reminiscences and notes about Leonard Linsky.  It is maintained by the Department of Philosophy at the University of Chicago.  To add something, submit a comment (“Leave a Reply”) below, or email your comment to vwallace@uchicago.edu, along with your full name.

 

LLMC posterThe Leonard Linsky Memorial Conference is November 2-3, 2013. Click here for more information.


Linsky at work

 

 

There will be a small memorial gathering honoring Professor Emeritus Leonard Linsky on Saturday, November 10, 2012.
4 pm – 6 pm

Quadrangle Club Library
1155 East 57th Street

http://quadclub.uchicago.edu/

Please contact Ted Cohen with any questions about the memorial.
Ted Cohen <tedcohen@uchicago.edu>

23 Responses to Remembering Leonard Linsky

  1. Philip Gossett says:

    Leonard was always a wonderful friend and colleague. I will miss him very much.
    Philip Gossett

  2. Michael Kremer says:

    I had studied Leonard Linsky’s work in the philosophy of language even as an undergraduate, and when I joined the University I was pleased to discover that he was still an active participant in the life of the Philosophy Department. Leonard was a gracious and generous colleague, even in retirement. I will always remember conversations with him about our mutual areas of interest. I greatly admired the way that he kept his intellectual interests alive and his philosophical mind active. I am grateful that I came to Chicago in time not only to make his acquaintance but to come to know him as a friend. I remember especially his great pride in and affection for his son, Bernard Linsky, who had followed in his footsteps to become a professor of philosophy. He was a lovely man and a great philosopher, and I will miss him.

  3. Gabriel Lear says:

    Leonard was one of the first people I met when I came to the University of Chicago and his warmth and intellectual zest made me feel I had come to the right place. It was always a treat to run into him in the Philosophy Department or around Hyde Park. I will miss him.

  4. Albert Borgmann says:

    I met Leonard in the K-Room at the U. of Illinois. He had no reason to pay attention to me, and yet he was interested and gracious. Of course I got and read his landmark anthology and his piece in particular and learned a lot. God rest his soul.
    Albert

  5. Dan Wack says:

    Leonard was a warm and vibrant presence in the philosophy department throughout my years at Chicago. I have fond memories of many, many conversations with him about philosophy (in particular Wittgenstein) and art and movies. He was always incredibly kind to me, generous with his time, and interested in what I had to say. His work remains important, but mostly I will remember getting to experience first hand his critical intelligence, his generosity of spirit, his good humor, and the warm twinkle in his eye.

  6. Stephen Menn says:

    Leonard was one of my favourite teachers in grad school. I took a seminar on Frege with him my first year (1982-3), and I spent a lot of time talking with him through my seven years in grad school. He was the professor who we saw most in the library, not in his own private study-room but reading the journals in RR4 with the rest of us, or in the coffeeshop on A-level; likewise at the Friday departmental coffee-hours, or at Swift and Nonesuch coffeeshops, often with Joanie. He was always happy to talk with the grad students; he was interested in hearing what we were working on, even if it was something far from his own area, and he also communicated an enormous enthusiasm for what he was thinking about. That was mostly history of early analytic philosophy–Frege, Russell, Carnap, Ramsey, Wittgenstein, especially Russell (I remember him enthusing about “Model T logic”–i.e., logic that was to modern logic as a Model T Ford was to a modern automobile–with its “forests and forests of subscripts!”)–but also more generally reflection on the history of philosophy, and on how we had got to our (then) present situation, which he didn’t think was a good one. That included some older history (I remember he was very interested in Leibniz), but also reminiscences of what had happened in his own lifetime–he would recount his conversations with Carnap (which were always interesting for us), the days of McKeon domination at Chicago, and so on. When the grad students, as something of a joke, tried to ceremonially rename Classics Hall (where the department was at the time) Carnap Hall, Leonard got almost tearful, remembering how nasty the department had been to Carnap in the old days, how good it was to live to see him vindicated–it wasn’t a joke to him, and of course we weren’t making fun of Carnap either, but it didn’t mean anything personal to us, and it did to him. Even though I only had the one course with Leonard, he did a lot to socialize me and my fellow-students into the profession, by being there and a lot of fun to talk to (although some of us had to avoid some political topics with him), by being a link to the past of the discipline and reminding us not to take its present state for granted, and by the enthusiasm he was able to communicate for whatever he was interested in. I hope people keep that collective memory and that enthusiasm alive.

  7. I am sorry to hear this. He was most likable. I audited his class on Analytic when I first went to Chicago. A fine man indeed.

  8. Eric Brown says:

    Leonard was not a young man when I knew him (1988-1997), but he was regularly like a little boy in his level of excitement and enthusiasm for philosophy, and not just this or that corner of philosophy but, so far as I could tell, for all of it. (At coffee hour, at least, we conversed about philosophy from Thales to Derrida. Not quite everything in between. But far from nothing.) There are many things I admired about Leonard, and many things I learned from him. But that broad-minded excitement–that constant sense of engagement–is what I cherish most. May we experience that engagement and pass it on.

  9. Harry Lesser says:

    I remember Leonard from when I was a very junior member of the Department in 1967-9, and I remember particularly how he never grew tired of discussing philosophy. Once, at a time of student sit-ins and protests, some of us were sitting in the office talking. Leonard came in, gave us a sour look, and said “Is this a political meeting?” When I said “No, no, we are talking about Wittgenstein”, an expression of beatific relief spread over his face, that at last we were back to proper issues, and he sat down to join us.

  10. Those years reading the Investigations with Leonard–sentence by sentence, every Friday afternoon, rain or shine, through the summers and the terms alike–were transformative. His love of clarity was infectious.

  11. He spend all his life contemplating over lofty ideas. Those who live a life of contemplation reach the highest stage. In the word of Prophet Muhammad:

    No form of worhisp is higher than contemplation. Prophet Muhammad

  12. Rebecca West says:

    I met Leonard for the first time on the Quads as I was walking with my new colleague in Italian Paolo Cherchi. This was in 1973 when I had just arrived, a very green and very young new instructor in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures. Leonard immediately told me of his great love for Italy, especially for Dante and for Florence, and I felt his warmth and wit flood over me. Years later, Leonard, Bill Tait and Howard Stein (all retired by then) created what they called the “Old Fogies Club,” basically a way for them to get together and have dinner from time to time. They later welcomed some women into the group: Alexandra Bellow, Leonard’s dear friend and companion of the last ten years of his life; Elissa Weaver, a colleague in the Italian section of the Romance Languages and Literatures Department, and myself. We had many wonderful dinners together both in restaurants and at Bill’s home. We also often welcomed the “Old Fogies” to Thanksgiving dinner at Bill’s. I was truly thrilled when Bernie, Leonard’s wonderful son, generously asked Bill and me if we would like to have some of Leonard’s books. I took a very old, great edition of the Divine Comedy, a terrific edition of Pinocchio with illustrations, and some books of commentary on Dante’s poem. I will treasure these books. Thank you, Bernie, for sharing your memories of your father with us and for your loving care of him right up to the end. Thank you too to Bernie’s wife, whom it was a complete pleasure to get to know a bit. I can hear Leonard’s laugh and see his sparkling eyes, and his immense enjoyment of Peking Duck at Jia’s Restaurant where we had several “Old Fogies” dinners. He was a beloved friend and I miss him a very great deal. He made a new young arrival to the University feel very welcome and he made a not so young, almost to retirement age colleague feel the continuing warmth of his life force, his intellect, and his generous heart.

  13. Denis McManus says:

    I met Leanard when I visited the University of Chicago in the autumn of 1999. Everyone knows his philosophical talents; but I also really appreciated the friendly welcome he gave me and the fun that he brought to all of our conversations.
    God rest his soul.

  14. Tyler Burge says:

    I did not see Leonard often or know him as well as I would have liked. I found him, however, to be a consistently and genuinely positive man. He was enthusiastic about what he did, conveyed that enthusiasm to others, and saw things in others to be enthusiastic about. He conveyed a human warmth often missing in intellectual exchanges in our subject. He knew well what he knew, and was curious and open about what he did not know–always approaching intellectual matters with a clear and open mind. He was a force for good in philosophy–both as a theoretical pursuit and as a human enterprise.

  15. Eric Schliesser says:

    When I arrived at The University of Chicago (1995), Leonard Linsky’s weekly, Friday afternoon reading group on the Investigations was already years old. It was timed not to interfere with departmental colloquia, or the departmental coffee hour. Even though Leonard had officially retired, it attracted the best and brightest graduate students who would talk about it for days after. I had not yet acquired a taste for close reading, and the devotional quality to the reading group put me off. This did not stop me from being fascinating by Leonard–there was a dogged rumor on campus that one of the characters in Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying was loosely based on him.

    Leonard and I got to know each other by hanging in Classics cafe, which — absent graduate student offices — was my office. When I first met Leonard he was except for great pride in his son, Bernard, perhaps, disenchanted with philosophy, even its twentieth century history. In fact, I got the sense that the Wittgenstein reading group was a kind of lifeline to a lost world, once intimately familiar to him. It might have had something to do with the fact that his wife, Joanne, required increasing amount of health care. It didn’t stop him from talking, and he was a source of endless, fascinating anecdotes about the department and the giants of analytical philosophy from earlier generations. I seem to recall learning from him during this period that he spent part of his youth in the desert for health reasons. He also had plenty to say on art and literature, including his share of novelists he had known (but no mention of Jong).

    One day, he waived a book excitedly at me and started arguing passionately with me about an (to me) obscure passage in (I think) Gödel. After a while of back and forth, he said he had rediscovered his philosophical interests. After that he would corner me whenever he saw me, including the Bonjour Bakery practically each morning after I walked my dog. (As the reminiscences reported here reveal, Leonard was  a vibrant presence for lots of people.) Philosophy was the oxygen of his life, even though it was not his whole life. Sometimes he would drop hints about dabbling on the stock market, and once he learned that I was writing on Adam Smith’s economics he assumed (wrongly) that we shared some political views.

    I have never met a very succesful, professional philosopher before or since who seemed so excited about talking about other people’s philosophies. (I never heard him even mention his own work on referring or oblique contexts.) This does not mean he found much merit in all other philosophers. I remember with bemused horror that one day he found my dog and me reading Hume outside at the Bonjour. He sat down, picked up the Treatise, and started reading the first full paragraph with a clear voice. When he was done, he laughed and just said, “this is crazy.”

    Like many folk at Chicago, Leonard welcomed the influx of appointments of people sympathetic to Wittgensteinian philosophy. But as the old core of the Wittgenstein group left after graduation, this growth was transforming his reading group into a more formal academic workshop with invited speakers. Much to my surprise he shared dissatisfaction with the state of affairs. I pounced on the opportunity, and proposed a Summer reading group on Carnap’s Meaning and Necessity. Leonard took his duties very seriously and prepared extensive notes before each session. We ended up discussing quite a bit of Russell & Whitehead  as well as a surprising amount of C.I. Lewis alongside Carnap. It was undoubtedly among the intellectual highlights of my graduate career. Along the way he taught us that to understand the reception of analytical philosophy Stateside we had to read Alonzo Church’s reviews and notes. (Surprisingly enough despite the fact that he did his PhD at Berkeley, Tarski did not figure much in his stories.)

    Leonard was much beloved in the department. Sometimes such statements are hard to believe and even worse to prove. Yet here goes: nobody objected and many embraced with enthusiasm, Martin Lin’s proposal to put together a (a surprisingly succesful and enduring) Intramural philosophy department basketball team, the Leonard Linsky’s All Stars.

  16. Bernard Linsky says:

    Thank you for the kind messages on this memorial page. I was able to be with my father for several weeks earlier this summer, and was back in Chicago for his final illness. You knew Leonard Linsky as a philosopher and as a colleague as well as being my father, and that’s how I knew him as well. Although he was in declining health for the last years, and losing interest in Philosophy as his daily life became more of an effort, we still would discuss my work, and he always had very acute and helpful comments. He was not able to read well enough to work through the new translation of the Philosophical Investigations on his own, so I would read selected paragraphs to him, and he would instantly know what changes had been made. We also discussed some notes made by Henry Sheffer on Bertrand Russell’s Cambridge lectures on logic from 1910, and on hearing one comment by Sheffer he bellowed “That’s nonsense”, and repeated his charge after I had tried to make out a charitable reading. He was right, someone had made a mistake. I envied the generations of students who attended his seminars and the Wittgenstein reading group. I will miss him both as my father, and as a teacher.

  17. Walter E. Kaegi says:

    I have known Leonard since 1967. I enjoyed our many chats and debates at the Quadrangle Club Roundtable. I miss him and shall always remember for his good sense and wit.

  18. Valerie Wallace says:

    There will be a small memorial honoring Professor Emeritus Leonard Linsky on Saturday, November 10
    4 pm – 6 pm

    Quadrangle Club Library
    1155 East 57th Street
    http://quadclub.uchicago.edu/

    Please contact Ted Cohen with any questions about the memorial.
    Ted Cohen

  19. Irl Barefield says:

    I can’t depart with a single word of Stephen’s memories of that good man and extraordinary mentor. I’m happy to know that the Investigations reading group, begun our first semester at Chicago and which you with a new and continuing interest after a degree in mathematics from Hopkins were a part of, I think.. And Leonard
    had so many perfectly delivered observations about life in general that he could not possibly have known how timely for anyone never to have recognized their depth – advancing the kind of personal “aha moments” that advance personal maturity by years. One I remember vividly after running into him once outside the Swift Salvation div school coffee shop. Leonard remarked upon how in so many regards others know us better than, also in an almost misty- eyed way, how in many ways others know us in some regards so much better than oneself until “all of those scales fall down from your eyes”.

    I only spoke to him a couple Of times after leaving Chicago, but he was still in enthusiastically curious good health. I’ve missed him since I left.

    How are you Stephen? Dan G. Has my contact info.

  20. Alexandra Bellow says:

    I met Leonard Linsky ten years ago at a party given by our mutual friends, the Sterns, Richard and Alane, and was instantly captivated by the effervescence of his spirit, his zest for life, his vitality. He was about to turn eighty and he was riding a bicycle everywhere in Hyde Park, he was still swimming in the lake, at The Point, he was still travelling to Europe. Leonard became my companion and my friend, my mentor and my adviser. I quickly realized that Leonard did not do anything by halves. His passion for philosophy and his pride in his beloved philosopher-son Bernard were irrepressible. So was his life-long love affair with Italy. He was an incomparable guide to all things Italian, ranging from Florence and Italian Rennaissance Art, to Borsalino hats, to Via Veneto and Federico Fellini movies.
    Leonard was at the Ludwig Wittgenstein “phase” of his academic career when we met and he often regaled me with fantastic Wittgenstein stories over a fine Italian dinner and his favorite glass of Chianti Classico. But perhaps the greatest gift that Leonard offered me was that of reading Plato (The Dialogues) together. Despite my sophisticated training as a mathematician, and my admiration for Plato the mathematician, I was painfully ignorant of Plato’s philosophy;

  21. Alexandra Bellow says:

    this had been a “taboo” subject in the totalitarian state where I grew up (Romania).
    Leonard proceeded to remedy that.

    What a glorious ride that was and what a thrill, to read Plato with a philosopher of Leonard’s caliber! We had our Plato Seminar on Sunday afternoon. Always on Sunday. This was the high point of the week. In the last few years, when Leonard’s health was declining and his eyesight was fading, it was I who was doing the line by line reading: Leonard insisted, undaunted, on going ahead with our Sunday afternoon tradition practically til the end. We had almost finished the Plato Dialogues when Leonard died… and I still have not learned, dear Plato, how to give up to death a cherished philosopher-friend like Leonard…

  22. Bill Tait says:

    At Leonard’s retirement banquet, Steve Gerrard told the story of his first encounter with Leonard. I have Steve’s permission to retell it now: he had just started graduate school and had enrolled in a course of Leonard’s. Leonard began the course by asking who had read Frege’s
    FOUNDATIONS OF ARITHMETIC. Steve was embarrassed to find that he was the only one without his hand up. Embarrassment turned to something like terror when Leonard marched up to him, staring at him, jut-jawed and myopic —Leonard liked to get up close. Poor Steve thought he was about to get dismissed from the course, if not from the graduate program entirely! Then Leonard smiled at him and said “How I ENVY you!”

    I first met Leonard at the Spring 1965 meeting of the APA Central Division at the old Edgewater Beach Hotel along Sheridan Road. (It closed down two years later.) I had just agreed to join Ruth Marcus’s new department at UIC—the `Circle,’ it was called—and Leonard was visiting at the University of Chicago. It was a memorable occasion for me: I met a number of my new colleagues at Circle for the first time, I had the pleasure of commenting on a weak paper by someone I utterly despised, and I met two people who became my friends, Paul Ziff and Leonard. Leonard and I became friends immediately; on my part, who could have resisted? In truth, I wasn’t much interested in the history of analytic philosophy or the philosophy of language at that point, but there were topics in the intersection of our interests: I recall discussions of Russell’s PRINCIPLES OF MATHEMATICS and of course of Frege’s aforementioned FOUNDATIONS OF ARITHMETIC. (Yes: I could have raised my hand!)

    Sometime later, in 1970 I think, after Leonard had joined the UofC department—he might even have been chair by then (he was two years later at least)—he had a rather decisive influence on the course of my thinking about philosophy of mathematics. I was invited to give a colloquium talk to the UofC department. (In those days, there were not so many vice-presidents, etc., of the university whose mouths had to be fed, and there was money for outside colloquium speakers.) My main project at the time was part of a program to give some kind of ‘constructive’ content to ordinary (non-constructive) mathematics (in which one can prove the existence of objects with some property without providing a means of constructing one)—a project that from that day to this, has, beyond a certain level, proved intractable—at least in the form originally intended. Part of my talk was a bit technical, but part was about the idea of constructive reasoning itself. In the talk, I was following the lead of L.E.J. Brouwer, one of the founders of modern constructive mathematics, who wanted to understand constructive reasoning as a following out of one’s own intentions: very roughly put, it is MY intention to add numbers that gives meaning to the notion of addition and so determines the correctness or otherwise of my computations. Brouwer’s own discussions of this were far from clear and I recall that in the lecture I considered founding Brouwer’s idea on Husserl’s notion of an intentional meaning-giving act. I don’t believe that Leonard took part in the subsequent discussion in the lecture hall—it was Classics 10. But afterwards, we were sitting alone in the Ascombe Lounge—I mean the original one in Classics, the one that that Elizabeth Anscombe had liberated for the department—, and he asked me whether I thought that Wittgenstein’s discussion of rule-following was a challenge to the ideas of Brouwer and indeed Husserl.

    Incidentally, this was typical of Leonard: no loud confrontation either in the discussion period or in our private discussion: only a quite question. In this respect I have to say that our discussions in general were, alas, far from symmetric! I have heard some teachers compared to Socrates, because of their give-and-take method of teaching, but of whom I have felt that the `give’ part was too brutal to be called Socratic. I would say, on the other hand, that Socrates was often a bit too brutal to be compared favorably with Leonard. Leonard was capable of strange outbursts of anger; but never, as far as I know, in connection with philosophy: ideas excited him, but they also seemed to make him gentle—and happy.

    Anyway, I spent parts of the next several years, off and on, explaining to myself, to Leonard, to audiences, to whomever I could force to listen, why Wittgenstein was absolutely wrong—until some time around 1980, when I realized that, however irritating he was, he was right and did indeed undermine the notion of a meaning-giving act, but that most of his commentators, the ones whose reading I had been accepting, simply didn’t understand what he was saying. The consequence was to set my thinking about philosophy of mathematics on an entirely different course: this the result largely of Leonard’s quiet question some decade before.

    Leonard retired in 1992 and I in 1996. We didn’t see a lot of one another after that until Howard retired in 2000. Howard had/has hermetic tendencies and we worried that he would dig in and we would never see him again. So we decided, the three of us, to meet regularly for Old Fogies Dinners. There was no formal organization, although I vaguely recall declaring myself president at one time, and Leonard established our motto:

    FORGOTTEN, but not GONE!

    (I was going to have T-shirts made, but never got around to it.) The dinners went well for a while. We quickly realized that politics was not a very good dinner-table topic: blood-pressure tended to get high; but, for a time, we had good discussions of philosophy and other worthy topics such as the deficiencies of our various mutual acquaintances. But after awhile, these became, if not exhausted, certainly repetitive, and our dinner conversations lapsed into discussions of our current states of health—Leonard called them our “organs recitals”. I think OFDs were in danger of extinction. But resuscitation was at hand: Rebecca and then Alexandra started attending them, and we were off and running. More recently Elissa has joined us. I was amazed at how charming and courtly my fellow old fogies could be! In these last few years we’ve met less often, perhaps no more than a half-dozen times a year; but I think the dinners have been for us all, certainly for me, an important ingredient in our lives.

    With Leonard gone, I expect we will continue to meet and maybe even welcome new Old Fogies (so to speak). The supply of candidates is, alas, a highly renewable resource. But all the same, Leonard is wrong: he won’t be forgotten.

  23. William Deuschle says:

    What was philosophically distinctive about Dr. Linsky? Anyone who knew him and was interested in philosophy would not doubt that this question had a positive answer.
    When I was a philosophy graduate student almost forty years ago, Dr. Linsky expressed a concern that his books might only reside in used book stores in the future. Even if his concern was justified, it is beside the point that I am trying to clarify: Dr. Linsky was a paradigmatic philosopher—if asked what Socrates was like, I could appropriately point to him.
    But why was that the case? I think that it was due to two of his characteristics:
    First, as his concern itself illustrates, Dr. Linsky was a philosopher without intellectual subterfuge who continued his investigations with little regard for whether his conclusions would be disconcerting. He displayed an obsessive philosophical integrity.
    Second, his philosophical thinking had the form of a monolithic iceberg: its exposed top, his published writing predominantly in the philosophy of language, was based on an impressive submerged foundation, the deep philosophical problems that guided his thought: forty years ago he was focused on whether the analytic/synthetic distinction was philosophically significant; in a discussion five years ago after his “retirement” he was focused on the philosophical significance of Godel’s incompleteness theorem. Perhaps his concern regarding the future value of his work merely reflected the gap between the specific philosophical problems for which he was able to provide solutions and these deep, general philosophical problems that primarily motivated him, but that have never received complete solutions by any philosopher.
    Such paradigms are especially important in our current era of hyper-professionalized philosophy, where it may seem that much work produced within the philosophical guild corresponds to iceberg tops without submerged foundations.

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