Remembering Richard Gale (1932-2015)

The department is deeply saddened by the passing of Richard Gale, who spent most of his career at the University of Pittsburgh. Here we've collected some stories and remembrances of Richard as teacher, colleague, and friend.


Mitchell Green (from Daily Nous, where comments from other students can be found:

I learned soon after I met Richard Gale that I had to be careful in what compliments I paid him. As a Teaching Assistant for his Introduction to Philosophy class in about 1988 at Pitt, I one day mentioned that I liked the sport coat he was wearing. He immediately took it off and gave it to me over my protestations. After that I started to filter my expressions of admiration, at least of those things he could give away. Fortunately, there was much else to appreciate in Richard even beyond his unreflective generosity.

Richard M. Gale was born in Brooklyn in 1932 to Moe and Gertrude Gale. His father was in the music business and Richard spent much of his youth hanging around with jazz musicians who would become legendary, such as Ella Fitzgerald, Chick Webb, and Van Alexander. (Some of this history is captured in the movie, The Savoy King, which includes interviews with Richard.) Richard received a Bachelor in Music from Ohio Wesleyan in 1954, after which he served as lieutenant for two years in the U.S. Air Force. He then enrolled at NYU to study Philosophy, receiving his MA in 1958 in and his Ph.D. in 1961. In 1959 he married Maya Mori, and the couple had three children in the early Sixties. Richard took his first full-time teaching position at Vassar in 1961, but he was recruited to the then-expanding philosophy department at Pittsburgh in 1964. He was promoted to Associate Professor there in 1967 and to full professor in 1971. Richard remained on the faculty at Pitt until his retirement in 2003. Subsequently, Richard and Maya moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, where the two could be closer to their grandchildren. Over the last decade Richard also taught part-time at the University of Tennessee.

In the first two decades of his career, Richard’s research was focused on metaphysics, with emphasis on the philosophy of time.  Among his books during that period are the anthology, The Philosophy of Time (1967), for which he wrote five ten-page section introductions; The Language of Time (1968), and Negation and Non-Being (1976). In later years his energies turned to the philosophy of religion and pragmatism. In 1991 he published On the Nature and Existence of God, and in 2007 published both God and Metaphysics, and On the Philosophy of Religion. He also co-edited, with A. Pruss, The Existence of God in 2003, and edited The Blackwell Companion to Metaphysics in 2002. In pragmatism, his focus was on the exegesis of William James and John Dewey, publishing The Divided Self of William James (1999), The Philosophy of William James: an Introduction (2004), and John Deweys Quest for Unity: The Journey of a Promethean Mystic (2008). Of the over 100 articles that he published, some of the better-remembered are ‘Propositions, Judgments, Sentences and Statements,’ (in the P. Edwards 1967 Encyclopedia of Philosophy), ‘The Fictive Use of Language’ (Philosophy, 1971), and ‘William James and the Wilfullness of Belief,’ (Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 1999). Richard told me that he took pride in being one of the few philosophers of religion who did not have a theistic agenda to push. He also felt that he raised the level of analytical rigor in research on pragmatism.

Richard was so enthusiastic about philosophical discussion that the only way to end one with him was to have or fake an emergency. Like his Pitt colleagues Joe Camp and Nuel Belnap, Richard was also extraordinarily generous with his comments on student writing. From Richard, those comments were also very blunt, and we needed to learn to check our egos at the door before hearing them. Richard was unstinting, for instance in his criticism of my tendency as a grad student to hide behind prolix language. My gratitude to him for making me see how to do better continues to this day. Richard also took pleasure in injecting a Lenny Bruce idiom and sensibility into a sometimes-precious philosophical culture. Most important, Richard showed by example how to do philosophy in a way both exacting and exhilarating, without in the process taking oneself too seriously.

Richard and Maya were thoroughly devoted to each other for five decades, and made a gracious and exuberant couple. He once remarked, “Maya’s a deeper person than I am, and I’m better at counterexamples than she is. So things balance out.” The couple are survived by their three children Andy Gale, Larry Gale, and Julia Mullaney.

Mitchell Green
Professor, University of Connecticut 


Robert Brandom:

Richard Gale chaired the search committee that hired me (before I had finished my degree at Princeton) in 1976, and took an avuncular interest in me ever after.  We were colleagues for 27 years.  Richard was the warmest, kindest, most generous human being one could ever hope to know—the heart of a department that was otherwise in danger of being all head.  In the years before I came to Pitt, he was at the center of the group of philosophy faculty (notably including the Baiers) who jointly bought a cabin with a few acres of forest in Somerset County (near Fallingwater), where memorable recreational weekends were frequently enjoyed.  He was a famous friend and mentor to countless graduate students, engaging at once with their personal travails and professional challenges. 

A New Yorker to the core, his attitude was refreshingly, sometimes gob-smackingly iconoclastic—particularly vis-à-vis the pretensions of the prevailing academic culture.  He was viscerally antagonistic to every sort of cant and professionally dismissive hauteur.  Himself an analytic philosopher of the old school, quick with and proud of a suggestive counterexample, he once launched at an APA meeting launching into a derisive diatribe denouncing as a “pointless, bullshit counterexample” the claim by a dismissive elder to have refuted a younger speaker’s contention that Descartes’ identification of extension as at least a necessary condition of spatio-temporal existence still held up pretty well by proferring the sentence “I leaned in, hoping to kiss Mary, but her lips were not extended.” 

Richard’s first real job, which he enjoyed immensely, had been in the music business, traveling around the country offering incentives and emoluments to local DJs to give airtime to his company’s records.  He claims that he went into philosophy as a fallback, having been put out of business by the “payola” scandal of the early ‘60s, because what people were scandalized about was basically his whole job.

Richard was a forceful, energetic, sometimes immediately overwhelming personality, whose profanity contrasted strikingly with the staid, Ivy League manners that prevailed in the philosophical academy of his day.  I was apprenticed to him administratively when the Pitt department realized that the advent of a really competitive job market in the late ‘70s required them to take a more systematic attitude toward placement than they had in the past.  He threw himself into the task with characteristic fervor.  “I can sell graduate students—whether they’re virgins or retreads,” he said.  He immediately instituted the then-legendary boozy late-night Pitt parties at the Eastern APA, to which were invited all faculty from hiring departments.  New York hotels insisted that all such “hospitality suites” buy all their liquor from them, or pay punitive “corkage fees.”  Richard relished the challenge, repackaging cases of hooch into empty suitcases and bribing bellhops when necessary.  He had memorized all the job-descriptions so he could pitch people individually, and offered to show me how to approach people.  His first victim, identified by her APA badge, was a Sister Mary something from a tiny Catholic women’s college.  He walked up to the elderly nun, who was wearing a full habit, rimless spectacles, and a forbidding expression, and said [Dialog repeated verbatim for purely historical archival purposes:] “Hiya sister! What do you do with a giraffe with three balls on him?”  She replied “I’m sure I don’t know.” Richard:  “Walk him, and pitch to the hippo.”  While I was waiting for the heavens to descend in wrath, she waited two beats, slapped him on the back, and said “How did you know I’m a baseball fan?”  They were immediately the best of friends.  Ten minutes later he had secured an interview for one of our students.  It was not the sort of performance any of the rest of us could have emulated.

He was a theatrical lecturer, whose lively, engaging, enthusiastic, and wholly unpretentious manner endeared him to generations of undergraduates.  He in turn was clearly energized and fulfilled by these interactions.  As the social and emotional center of the philosophy department, Richard was a uniquely colorful and beloved figure.  We will all miss this unforgettable man. 


Jennifer Whiting: 

I joined the Pitt department ten years after Bob Brandom.  Richard did not chair the committee that hired me, but he – together with Maya – took the lead in making me feel at home.  I suspect he did much the same for John McDowell, who arrived the same year, having previously enjoyed the Gale’s legendary hospitality during a weekend visit early in the department’s courtship with him; for Tom and I soon had season tickets to the Jazz series at Manchester Craftsman’s Guild and were enjoying pre-concert dinners with the Gales and the McDowells.

It might surprise some who know me that I was so tight with an exhibitionist who is now fondly remembered by male graduate students for his “off-color” (to put it mildly) jokes.  (What’s up with that, guys?)  But the late Tamara Horowitz, who routinely taught feminist philosophy, was also close to Richard – not, I am sure, because of these jokes but in spite of them.  The goodness of Richard’s heart was so manifest that it was impossible not to forgive him some things.  

Tamara and I would often arrive in the department to discover jazz and blues tapes in our boxes – presents from Richard who was, as he himself volunteered, “cheap”.  Since he was copying his own tapes, on which he made use of both tracks, I could play his tapes only through one speaker at a time – unless I wanted to listen simultaneously, say, to Bessie Smith’s “Slow and Easy Man” and Maria Callas’ “Tosca”.  (Opera was another of Richard’s loves: it suited his melodramatic personality).  I was so attached to one of the tapes Richard gave me – Earl Hines playing Cole Porter – that years later when my car died, I made the wreckers get the electric system going again just long enough to retrieve the cassette from the tape deck. 

But it wasn’t just the shared love of jazz that made Richard’s company so welcome to me – nor, I suspect, to Tamara.  Richard took an educated interest in my work and demonstrated his respect for me as a philosopher in a way that none of my other colleagues did.  Early in my time at Pitt, after telling me bluntly everything he thought was wrong with my latest article, he concluded by saying that it was a wonderful paper and that he wished that he himself had written it.  And he demonstrated his sincerity by later inviting me to contribute a paper on the same topic to a volume he was editing.  

Such effusiveness is rare among philosophers, but it was the corollary of Richard’s mammoth generosity, in which I include not just his willingness to part with material goods but even more importantly his willingness to let those in whom he took an interest – parental, avuncular, supervisory, whatever – go their own ways.  I saw this clearly in the case of a graduate student who was working with him at a time when changes in philosophical fashion had left Richard with very few graduate students.  (His undergraduate lectures remained popular, in part, no doubt, because of his gift for the memorable image: when the question of prayer came up in philosophy of religion, he said “it’s like the kid steering in the back seat: it’s just not connected to the mechanism”.)  When the graduate student in question worked up the courage to tell Richard that he did not want to continue with the topic that Richard had essentially hand-picked for him, but wanted instead to work with Tamara on a topic in feminist philosophy, Richard showed immediately that he was one-hundred percent behind the student, and that he would help in any way he could, including remaining on the committee if – but only if – that was what the student wanted.  

I am sure that this ability to let others go their own ways explains the remarkably free and easy way in which we saw Richard and Maya’s grown children interacting with them on the many occasions when we dined together.  It was also a joy to see Richard and Maya together, especially the extent to which Richard appreciated Maya’s feisty spirit.  Only someone as strong as he himself was could have survived 50 plus years with him.  She knew when to laugh and when to put her foot down.  I remember her laughing as she told me how he had allowed the boys to ride their motorbikes through the house.  But I routinely observed that he was on his best behavior when she was around. 

Tom and I once spent a wonderful week at their home, built largely by Richard, in Georgian Bay, Ontario.  He was very handy, and coached us through buying our first home.  His advice was to get to know the market and then to act fast when something good came up.  When a house we were due to see had already sold and we were instead shown something not yet officially on the market, we called Richard: he was there an hour later to inspect it and we made our offer that night.   A year later, Richard and Maya attended our wedding: they were among a mere handful of non-immediate family members we chose to invite.

Richard and Maya had already spent a weekend at my parents’ house when they joined us to see Ella Fitzgerald perform at Franklin and Marshall.  (Richard’s father had managed her during the period when “A Tisket, a Tasket” made her an overnight sensation.)  Preparations for the visit led to a remark by David Gauthier that has for years provided me with an effective way of teaching the use-mention distinction even to low-level philosophy students.  I was giving Richard directions to my parents’ house, and he was going on about how he knew they were both preachers and all that, and promising to be on his best behavior – he wouldn’t use ‘mother#%@#%’ or anything like that – at which point David, without missing a beat, interrupted to ask him if he would also promise me not to mention it. 

We had a thoroughly decent visit with my parents, who were in turn hosted by Richard and Maya when they, together with Tom’s parents, visited Pittsburgh the following Thanksgiving.  This was partly because Notre Dame was playing that weekend, and Richard and Maya, knowing we did not have a TV, always invited us over for any important game; if our coming meant they had to invite our parents and siblings too, that was no problem.  My sister Emily got to know them a bit, and she sent me, upon hearing of Richard’s death, the perfect poem for the occasion, with which I’ll end. 

But first, one last story about Richard’s ability to put the interests of others ahead of his own.   When, back in 1997, Tom and I were both offered jobs at Cornell, Richard was the colleague I was most reluctant to tell.  This was during the period when changes in philosophical fashion had cut into his graduate enrollments, so he was extremely excited about the seminar that he and I were scheduled to team-teach the following year.  But he was himself: congratulating me, and saying that it was obviously the best thing for Tom and me, that we should go for it, he wished us well.  Little did I suspect that I would one day be the prodigal daughter (I am sure Richard would have loved the Michelle Shocked song) back at Pitt, occupying his former office.  This is a mixed blessing.  While it gives me daily occasion to remember the fun I had during my countless visits there – on my first, when Pitt was still in recruiting mode, he offered me a drink from the little fridge under his desk and proudly showed me an 8 x 10 of his beloved Maya – it also reminds me how much we have all lost in losing him (and, of course, in having lost Maya).  

Request by Lawrence Raab