Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Rush Rhees

Blackwell has recently published the second edition of Rush Rhees' Wittgenstein and the Possibility of Discourse. Glancing at it today I was struck by the biographical chapters: one, Rhees' on Wittgenstein; the second, D.Z. Phillips' biographical sketch of Rhees himself.

Rhees had a Rochester connection: his father (also Rush Rhees) was President of the
University of Rochester. In his biographical sketch, Phillips describes the young Rush Rhees' decision to leave the University of Rochester after two years to study in Edinburgh. (Rhees had gotten himself banned from a philosophy professor's class for being too argumentative. The spat made the front page of the New York Times.)

The main library at the University of Rochester is named after the elder Rush Rhees. It dominates the campus and is one of the most recognizable features of the Rochester skyline.

It's interesting, finally, to read about Rhees' difficulty finding a permanent position. His situation is not unlike Alfred Tarski, who was also in his early 40s before having a permanent appointment. But while Tarski was the victim of anti-semitism, Rhees seemed to have been overly modest, and perhaps pathologically insecure, about his abilities. Or maybe he was more interested in teaching than in publication. In any case, it wasn't until 1946 (age 41) that he landed at Swansea, and he never took a promotion during the 20 years he subsequently taught there. Strikingly, Rhees seems to have worked in factories and as a welder in between some of his temporary appointments. I'm sure this endeared him to Wittgenstein.


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