Jonathan Bennett (1930-2024), Michael Tanner (1934-2024)

The deaths have been announced of two Cambridge philosophers.

Jonathan Bennett was here from 1956–1968, and I was and remain a huge admirer. His early little book Rationality is a masterpiece, and for a good few years I was much intrigued by his defence of a Gricean programme in the philosophy of language which comes to fruition in his Linguistic Behaviour. And when it came to my retirement and I had to radically downsize my ludicrously big library, one of the few history of philosophy books that I couldn’t bear to let go was his Kant’s Analytic which still strikes me as the very paradigm of how to make the Great Dead Philosophers live as exciting interlocutors with something to say which is still worth grappling with. His energetic, direct, straight-talking style as a philosopher I found inspirational over the years.

Bennett was a prolific publisher, not so Michael Tanner, who spent his whole career in Cambridge, first as an undergraduate and then from 1961 until his retirement in 2002 as a lecturer. But he had a great cultural influence on many students over the years, in the way that dons of a different era could do. His Wagner evenings were legendary (and his eventual short book Wagner is a terrific read, even for those of us who never quite caught the bug). And he became a wonderful reviewer of CDs for the BBC Music Magazine, and of opera for the Spectator. He was passionately engaged, opinionated, insightful because — as a loyal Leavisite — he thought such things really mattered to life. (For some reminiscences, see the comments on Brian Leiter’s blog here.)

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