Jim Edwards (August 10th 1939 – January 4th 2021)

Published: 19 January 2021

It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of our friend and colleague Jim Edwards (August 10th 1939 – January 4th 2021).

Jim Edwards (August 10th 1939 – January 4th 2021).

I first met Jim a few days after coming to Glasgow to take up my position as a Lecturer in Philosophy, in August 1997. He and his wife Marie had arranged a party which was to take place in the private gardens of their flat in Huntly Gardens. Accompanied by our children Thalia and James—fraternal twins, age seven—my wife Patricia and I arrived to find everyone seated on the ground, atop blankets, listening to Nick Zangwill, Philip Percival, Bob Hale or Angus MacKay prating some gossip or philosophy, with Jim making sure no one went thirsty, and Marie effortlessly playing the gracious hostess. James and Thalia spotted Michael Edwards—he was then nine—so off they went. Although this was not to be repeated often—the Glasgow weather, mind—many analogous scenes with somewhat fewer participants recurred in the years after, transferred to Jim and Marie’s splendid flat. Indeed, their generosity, openness and warmth were for me a constant for many subsequent years, as for many others.

Jim began his academic life in Chemistry, but his heart wasn’t in it; I imagine he rather liked the symbolic language, but not the experimental side, the practical side. He married his first wife Joan Davis in 1961, then joined the Army, serving a service commission (rising to the level of lieutenant). While stationed in Germany in the Army, according to a story related by Jim’s brother Robert, Jim got turned on to philosophy by reading, at one go, Teach Yourself Philosophy. Accordingly after the army it was back to University for philosophy; a BA from Bristol and then the B Phil from Oxford in 1969. Joan and Jim split up 1968; they had had a son in 1965, Stuart.

He immediately got a teaching position at the University of Glasgow. I wish I could interrogate him on what life was like for him in the 1970’s in Glasgow—Jim did a fair amount of acting at the time (the aforementioned Robert made a career out of acting; two other brothers are David, Civil Engineer, and Stuart, deceased). But for sure the happy result of the 70’s for Jim was meeting Marie; they married in 1979. Marie was from Portree, Isle of Skye, with an elegant bearing and so on but was serious about her career as a nurse. In 1988 Michael was born.

By 2000 Jim was making a name for himself, publishing articles mostly on Davidson and Tarski, some of them in the highest places, for example the journal Mind. There is absolutely no hint of ego in this work, yet it’s quietly forceful; it is argumentatively clear, technically accomplished, and elegant in its language. In seminars he was a superb performer, able to come up with genuinely interesting and deep questions on almost any philosophical topic. He served as mentor to me, attending parts of my course on Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, reading and commenting on some of my work (especially a paper on Davidson’s view of propositional attitudes, which he subjected to painfully close attention).

Philip Percival, Nick Zangwill and Bob Hale (and Jimmy Lenman) left Glasgow over the years; and others retired in the years since 1997: Pat Shaw, Paul Brownsey, David Campbell, Ephraim Borowski, Robin Downie, Mary Haight, John Porter, Elizabeth Telfer, Dudley Knowles, and Alex Broadie (Jim kept up with some of these at lunches arranged by Paul); figures from before my arrival, that Jim would sometimes speak of, include Eva Schaper, Terry Greenwood, and Flint Schier. I don’t think he was there at the party-in-the-garden, but often present at subsequent events at the Edwards’ was Adam Rieger, who along with Jimmy was hired at the same time as me. Paul can tell tales of acts of supererogatory kindness by Jim (and I could tell tales of like kindness towards myself). Jim could have had another career as a diplomat, so natural was he at smoothing over tensions, at putting one at one’s ease. I think everyone thought of him as the parent in the room, even if they were not appreciably younger than him. But of course he was as much in his element as the next guy, at Stravaigin’s, the Chip, or one of the numerous similar establishments around Byres Road.

It was not even two years since Marie died that Jim followed. They had moved out of their long-time, wonderful flat to a modern penthouse apartment in Bearsden; it was a difficult move both to plan and execute as by this time Marie had so tragically suffered for years from dementia and MS, but Jim figured the ease and security of a big new flat, with 360 degree views of Glasgow, the Clyde Estuary and the distant hills, would provide some stimulation as well as comfort. Then with Marie having passed, he could at least look forward to quiet days studying Quantum Physics—a passion that irrupted in later years—listening to his hi-fi, taking visits from his son Michael and his wife, from Patricia and myself along with various others, and once in a while being persuaded to go out for coffee, or even to the pub. Always, even at age eighty plus, he was a boon to humanity: always learning, always giving, and always enjoying.

Gary Kemp; thanks to Michael Edwards, Adam Rieger

Alex Miller writes:

I was very sorry to hear this week of the death of Jim Edwards of the University of Glasgow. Back in the day, honours year undergraduates at Glasgow received a one-on-one supervision weekly with a lecturer, and I was lucky to be assigned Jim in 1985. It was in his small office on the first floor of the west quadrangle in the Gilbert Scott building that I had my first introduction to Tarski, Quine, Davidson, Dummett, Wright and Wittgenstein. I also took Jim’s courses on Wittgenstein’s Tractatus and the Philosophy of Logic in my final year: as well as being a terrific supervisor he was an excellent lecturer.
His lectures were always meticulously prepared, and no matter how difficult the material remarkably lucid and helpful. Later, as a postgraduate I found the series of articles on realism and anti-realism that he published from the early 1990’s onwards to be very stimulating, and long after I left Glasgow he was always kind enough to send me careful and helpful comments on any draft work that I sent him.  
I enjoyed catching up with him on my regular trips home to Glasgow – usually in a pub in the west end or the city (Tennant’s on Byres Road was our usual haunt, though I also have fond memories of sessions with him in The Three Judges, The Aragon, The Horseshoe, The Scotia and venues in Nottingham, Birmingham, Cardiff, Wemyss Bay, St Andrews and Dublin). I saw him last in June 2019, our plans for 2020 having been thwarted – he was nearing 79 then, and for the first time looked seriously frail.
Despite ill health he kept his mind on the ball – the top floor apartment that he and Marie had moved to in Bearsden had panoramic views, and Jim’s table looking down the Clyde estuary was covered in papers with his handwritten solutions to problems in textbooks on special relativity and quantum physics that he was working through for fun. His last (mammoth) published paper was “Logicism and Logical Consequence”, in the festschrift for Crispin Wright that I edited for OUP – I was very glad to hear from him that he received the hard copy of the published book when it came out last year. He’s gone now, but his contribution to my education will remain as long as I work on philosophy.
Paul Brownsey writes:

Two memories of Jim: 

First, the kindness behind an ostensibly formal exterior.  For example, I remember a highly accomplished student of ours who experienced very serious personal difficulties just after finals.  Jim took him in and had him living at his flat until the student achieved some stability.

Second, his meticulous patience and administrative ability.  In 1995, the Department of Philosophy gained the highest rating—Excellent—in the Government’s Teaching Quality Assessment, announced as a complement to the RAE but rather retreated from subsequently.  Jim played a major part in our preparations for that.  All our teaching practices and paperwork had to be in order—Aims and Objectives honed and rehoned, our regulations scrutinised, practices we’d barely reflected on for years rethought and expressed coherently, reports of ‘best practice’ studied and adapted to local use, our procedures for student support and student progression re-examined and systematised, ‘old Spanish customs’ in different classes harmonised (“Why do the appeal procedures for this class differ from those for that class?”)…  Jim chaired a Friday afternoon group of class conveners to carry through this work, and he presided unflappably, courteously, and with a superb eye for relevant detail.  That we achieved the outstanding grade we did owed a great deal to Jim’s patient work.

Incidentally, Jim and I were simultaneously at the same school, Worcester Royal Grammar School, though he was a year or two above me and we didn’t know each other then.  Somewhere I have one of those very long you-need-to-unroll-it school photos from the 1950s on which it is possible to find both me and Jim amid 600 other boys.

Nick Zangwill writes:

I became close with Jim as soon as I moved to Glasgow University for my first permanent post in 1992. We fell on each other intellectually and we enjoyed talking philosophy and much else, with much banterous fun. Jim was a huge help to me, at a time when I was moving in my philosophical interests by commenting critically on my work. I learned much from his judicious insights and arguments. Jim was always good value to talk to about philosophy, always seeing where you were coming from, offering technical points that clarified matters, with a sense of the bigger picture. Although we were both interested in issues in and around realism, in the end, I was more metaphysically inclined than he was, while he had more of a philosophy of language inclination than I did. I would poke fun of the urge to semantic ascent, saying: “Whatever goes up must come down!”; he, in turn, would tease me about this until it became a drinking refrain. We thought in similar ways while enjoying some differences in outlook. I was the seminar organizer for many years, and in the Q&A sessions of these seminars Jim and I would often work together, rather like tag-team wrestling, with one of us taking on the other’s point and developing it, and then handing the point back to the other who would pursue it. Jim and I ran a conference together in 1995 (my first) called ‘Norms and Reasoning’, the excuse being one hundred years since Lewis Carroll’s “What the Tortoise Said to Achilles”. (Speakers were Gilbert Harman, Alvin Goldman, Stephen Stich and many others.) This was a pleasure to do together; but Jim handled the money side of things, which was a good thing given his methodical well-organized mind. We also thought in similar ways about the future shape of the department. After Bob Hale took a chair in the department in 1995, a series of talented younger philosophers were hired, and there was much optimism and intellectual energy in Glasgow until around 2001 when the department somehow ran afoul of the arts faculty administration (the department has since revived I am glad to say). Gary Kemp mentioned the parties in Huntly gardens; I remember most vividly and fondly many evenings sitting on the floor with Jim and his wife Marie drinking red wine, listening to Leonard Cohen, and talking about, well, everything. What a lovely warm hospitable life-loving couple! I would throw large parties in my flat for colleagues and students in philosophy, as well as some rather wickedly interesting colleagues from the English department. Everyone enjoyed these times, and Jim and Marie were at the centre of these events with their wonderful sense of style, good humour and open friendliness. Those were more bohemian days than are now thought appropriate in today’s more moralizing climate. Along with some others I left Glasgow University soon after 2001, but I stayed in constant contact with Jim. Indeed, I talked to him on the phone one week before he died. After talking about our lives, friends and philosophy, I had to cut the call short because of my young child’s demands; but I worked out later that he must have been talking from hospital, which he had omitted to mention. I will miss Jim very much: friend and philosopher.

Graeme Forbes writes:

Jim Edwards was my tutor in my Senior Honors year, ’73-’74, in the Department of Logic. Those were the days of two departments at Glasgow, and I was more a creature of logic than moral philosophy. I’d taken a course from Jim the previous year and learned a lot, so I was very pleased that he agreed to be my tutor for my last year.

Jim was an expert on Russell’s Theory of Descriptions, and immediately set about improving my wobbly understanding of it. This proved tremendously serendipitous, since I sat the exam for Glasgow’s Snell Exhibition to Balliol in October or November, and there at the top of the page was a question about the Theory of Descriptions. When it got to the interview stage of the competition, the Balliol philosopher who had set the questions, Joseph Raz, even congratulated me on my answer. I may have muttered something about the quality of tutoring I’d received, but in situations like that you take the plaudits you can get. I hope I did more than just parrot Jim’s views, but either way my answer got me to Balliol.

Getting into an Oxford college was one thing, getting into a specific graduate program was a quite different thing. I applied to the Subfaculty of Philosophy to do a B. Phil, this still being the era, though only just, when a B.Phil. was regarded in the UK, and the Commonwealth but for Canada, as an entirely sufficient qualification for a philosophy job. Jim promised me a strong reference, but that still left the small matter of the writing sample to deal with. The topic I chose was, of course, Russell’s Theory of Descriptions (at this point I should enter a thank-you to Russell for coming up with his Theory). But I approached it in a slightly different way, and thought I’d better ask Jim to take a look at my first draft. I was very glad I’d done so when it came back with a lot of red ink on it. But after a rewrite, or retype if I owned a typewriter then, Jim pronounced the paper “much improved”, which I chose not to interpret as faint praise, and sent the thing off. Someone must have liked it, since I was admitted.

When I told Jim about this, he advised me not to wait for the bureaucracy to assign me a B. Phil supervisor, but to arrange for an appropriate person directly, and, he added, J. L. Mackie would be an appropriate person. So it was that a few weeks later, a slightly startled Mackie found his office door being pounded by an appointmentless pushy Glaswegian. But he didn’t seem to mind, and over the next two years proved to be an excellent supervisor. My year with Jim as tutor and those two with Mackie gave me an excellent foundation in metaphysics when I moved into the D. Phil. program, where I wrote a thesis that subsequently became The Metaphysics of Modality.

I have always had a strong sense of gratitude to Jim for the pivotal role he played at the start of the process of my finding gainful employment in Philosophy, and it is with great sadness that I learn of his death.

Pat Shaw writes:

My wife and I saw Jim onstage once, back in the 1970s and we both thought he was outstanding. The venue was a converted church in Ingram Street and the theatre group was connected with Strathclyde University (we think). The play was not altogether easy to follow, moving between the Cuban revolution and the William Wallace story. Jim was playing Edward 1st, portraying him as ice-cold, calculating and sinister. His performance gripped us from start to finish.

Costas Athanasopoulos writes:

First time I met Jim was in his office in autumn 1992. I had just come over from St Andrews and I was eager to get started in my grand scheme of doing work in Philosophy of Mind and Philosophy of Language starting from the Ancient Greeks and finishing with Sartre and Wittgenstein (newly found love through the lectures of Leslie Stevenson, Bob Hale and brief comments of Crispin Wright at Senior Seminars at St Andrews). I had already chosen to have a supervisor for my PhD (Mary Haight, whose book on Self Deception fascinated me), but she suggested I should go and have a chat with the two members of the Department who were specialists in Wittgenstein at that time (Jim Edwards and John Porter).

When I met Jim I was greatly impressed through the contradictions I saw: his room was comparatively tidy (big change from all other teacher's rooms I had seen before in my student life), his appearance was very well looked after, he had a poster from the Chinese Communist Party at his wall and he had an earring stub. All of these with an academic teacher who was a specialist on Logic, Analytic Philosophy of Mind and Language! For me at that time, all these together did not make any sense! My previous experience with academic teachers who were Marxists was with people with hairy faces and scruffy appearance and always dirty coffee mugs; with untidy rooms and heavy scent of smoking pipes and roll ups...

I had a quick chat with him and I was immediately fascinated with his accent (clear London English or as close to this as I could get in a city and Uni with accents that had all the varieties of impenetrable Scottish accents -remember, John Divers, who at that time was a student of Jim, was still at the Department teaching part-time Philosophy of Mind and finishing his PhD). Pretty soon I became Jim’s shadow: I attended almost everything he taught at the Department and had long chats with him after his classes about the things he was teaching us.

I fondly remember from his teaching a couple of things that show his character as a teacher. In one of these situations, after his lecture on Philosophy of Logic I asked him why he was using double negatives in a couple of examples he gave us. He was puzzled: I explained that a double negative should be avoided, because he was teaching us at the time about Frege, Russell and Wittgenstein and they emphasize that we should be as logical as possible in our use of language; a double negative sometimes is making a positive and sometimes is not, producing unnecessary vagueness, so what was he trying to do with us? Play games? He thought a little and laughed then agreed with me. In the next few lessons, I kept seeing him looking at me and crossing out and correcting with his pen on his big black notebooks (that he was using for his lectures) analysis of examples and discussions of theories...

In another, he was teaching me and a Spanish student an advanced postgraduate seminar on Philosophies of Language and we happened to be studying Quine for a while. I had to present a paper on Quine, in which I tried to tear into pieces his main arguments. I entitled it "Quine’s Web in the spirit of Grandma's soup" and Jim allowed me to read it and develop my arguments and then asked me why did I have this title in my work. When I explained my repressed (almost Freudian) dislike about Quine's ideas (whose books I considered a fascist attack on Plato -at that time I was influenced by P. Feyerabend) he kept on laughing for 5 min to the astonishment of both me and his Spanish student... (in general he did not show strong emotions in his professional life).

There were many other fond memories from my time as his student, but I also would like to discuss some fond memories I had with him as Course Convener and me as a

Graduate Teaching Assistant. One of my fondest memories in this role was debating with him his philosophical arguments against Aristotelian and Medieval metaphysics. Back at that time, the Department was very strong in a variety of philosophical traditions, epochs and schools (something that made the Department of Philosophy at Glasgow in the 1990’s so attractive to me). So, we had Chris Martin and Alexander Broadie teaching Medieval Aristotelianism (with Chris teaching Aquinas and Alex teaching Duns Scotus) and Scott Meikle teaching Aristotle and Marxism. Coupled with Richard Stalley’s teaching of Plato, back then the Department was strong in Ancient and Medieval Philosophy. Well, Jim enjoyed talking with Chris about Aristotle and, as it was his habit, he made many witty remarks against Aristotle, culminating in an in-house publication (small pamphlet) that they were teaching first years (I was a Tutor in this course). Being faithful to the Greeks, I felt it was my duty to defend Aristotle and the long disputes between Chris and Jim became long disputes between Jim and myself; I kept arguing with him and kept finding arguments to defend Aristotle against Jim's witticisms. He kept citing contemporary analytic sources and I kept reading them finding new arguments to discuss with him (sometimes seeking advice from Chris who kept directing me to Anscombe, Geach and Kenny; it was during this time that I became engulfed in Soul Kripke and Peter Boghossian, Crispin Wright, Barry Stroud, Baker and Hacker). The benefit for me was tremendous. The onus on poor Jim considerable. In all this time, he kept his humour, his reserved and polite manners and excellent posture (these were some of his qualities that fascinated me most).

I will not refer to his hospitality and cordial manner with which he and his wife and his son always accepted me in their house at Huntly Gardens and the new place he had at the outskirts of the city. Gary has mentioned all these.

What I would like to mention though is his open-mindedness when it came to my religious views. I knew that he was an atheist (a "seriously lapsed Roman Catholic" as he liked putting it). I also knew that I should not start discussing about the existence of God with him (we did this only once and decided that we would not agree). What impressed me however, was that our serious disagreement about this never changed his attitudes towards me and always was respectful to my fasts and other issues with food and drink during religious fasting days. When I asked him to accompany me in one of my visits to Mt Athos in 2015, I was surprised that he accepted. He came with his brother and we visited Mt Athos together two times in total. I remember his routine while at Mt Athos: he woke up early in the morning (services there start from around 5 am) and he stood at the long services with a diligence and respect that many Orthodox faithful (who were at the Monastery of Vatopaidi with us at the time) did not have the courage to do. This amazed me: how is it that an atheist is doing this? Surely, Jim's thinking and psyche was more complex than what it appeared to me…

In all accounts I will treasure my friendship with Jim and I will keep all my memories of him fondly in my heart. I know that his loss is a big loss for his family and many friends. I will always consider myself fortunate for the time we spent together.

First published: 19 January 2021