Ellery Eells

Over at Crooked Timber, Harry Brighouse reports the sad news that his colleague Ellery Eells has died. As Harry says, Eells’ combination of technical ability and philosophical insight was rare and valuable. I never met him, but both Harry and Larry Shapiro report he was also a wonderful person and colleague as well.

UPDATE: In comments Branden Fitelson, who was a student of Eells, has some memories of what Eells was like as a teacher and supervisor.

2 Replies to “Ellery Eells”

  1. Ellery was a gentleman and a scholar. He was also one of my most cherished mentors. I took my first course with Ellery in 1991. It was on confirmation theory. I’m still working on that topic today, some 15 years on. That’s no coincidence. He was pure gold. I often say to myself when preparing a lecture: “How would Ellery explain this? There must be an easier and simpler way.” I’ll never forget his uncanny ability to explain even the subtlest of concepts in the most simple and transparent ways. He made his students believe that they could understand anything (and with ease). Moreover, he never (not once in the time that I knew him) spoke in a disparaging way about the views of another philosopher. On the contrary, he spent almost all of his time in seminars reconstructing the views of others in the most charitable possible ways. Sometimes I wish he talked more about his own views. In this sense, his influence on his students and colleagues was profound, despite his unassuming and modest character. I think Alan H├íjek summed things up beautifully in a recent email message. I hope Alan doesn’t mind me including the following quotation here:

    “When David Lewis died, I found some comfort in the fact that his work lives on. The same will be true of Ellery. He was a model in this respect, too, as you know. Again, his writings were right to the point – not showy or overblown, just insightful and crystal clear. My only criticism of him, if that’s the right word, was that he seemed too modest to me. I wonder if he realized how good he was. One rarely encounters that kind of purity of intellect and character. It’s something for us to aspire to.”

    I am organizing a memorial session for Ellery at the Pacific APA. I hope many people will be there to honor his memory.

    Rest in peace, Ellery.

  2. I was also a student of Ellery’s, as an undergraduate at Wisconsin in the early 1990’s. He remains a major influence on my own approach to teaching, and I suspect I would not have pursued a career in philosophy if it were not for Ellery. Working through Enderton’s ‘Mathematical introduction to logic’ would have been much more difficult if it were not for Ellery’s lucid explanations, his patience, and his candor. I’ll never forget what he told me when I asked him, with some amount of frustration, how he ever learned metalogic: “To tell you the truth, I never really learned it until I had to teach it.” As an undergraduate, his modesty had a profound impact on me. I am very saddend by the news of his passing, and I know I speak for other former undergraduate students when I say that he will be missed.

Leave a Reply