Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Homage to Ian Mueller

I was in the Chicago philosophy graduate program during the 1990s. My
primary field of study was philosophy of physics, but I spent a good
third of my time on ancient Greek philosophy as well, most of it with
Ian. I adored Ian, both personally and professionally. I feel
privileged to have been his student, and even more to have known him
as a person. I find as I make my way through the world of academic
philosophy that by and large the people who know Ian---and when
someone in the field knows Ian, they invariably revere him---are those
people who themselves do the finest work.

Ian was a philosopher's philosopher---a true scholar and open-minded
thinker who never let his astonishing carefulness and thoroughness
degenerate into pedantry. He was the only person I know who could
make the commentaries and the apparatuses fun. (Indeed, this is the
thanks I gave him in the "Acknowledgments" section of my doctoral
dissertation, the second person I thanked there: "It is a pleasure to
acknowledge and thank the following people.... Ian Mueller---for
exemplifying the spirit of careful scholarship, and for making me
realize that sometimes (not often, but sometimes) studying the
secondary literature can be almost as rewarding as reading the
original text.")

This is one of my fondest memories of Ian. We were in the weekly
group he used to lead on Aristotle's *Metaphysics*, going through a
particularly difficult passage in Book Lambda, as always going through
the text line by line, word by word (while always keeping an eye
firmly fixed on the bigger picture). At one point, I recalled that
Ross, in the commentary to his edition of the Greek, had an
interesting take on a disputed reading, so I offered my recollected
gloss on it. Ian looked puzzled, and said surely that was not right,
that was not what Ross had said. I guess I was feeling cocky, because
normally I would have deferred to Ian's mastery of the apparatus, but
on that occasion I was sure I was right and said so. Like dueling
gunslingers, Ian and I simultaneously and gleefully (albeit, Ian in
his understated way) reached for our copies of Ross and scrambled to
beat each other to the relevant part of the commentary. At about the
same moment, again, we each declared ourselves to be right. And
looked at each other puzzled, because we could not both be right.
After a moment's confusion, we worked out that I had the second
edition of Ross and Ian had the first. I figured that was the end of
the matter, but Ian asked to see my copy. Lovingly he lay the two
editions side by side and perused them in turn for several moments,
working out the details and subtleties of Ross's apparent change of
heart, clearly trying to figure out not only the substance but the
reasons behind it. Finally, dreamily, he looked up, eyes on the
Platonic Heaven, and said softly, "God help me, I love this stuff."

I tried to tell Ian several times how much he meant to me, how much he
had contributed to my intellectual development---how much of my
teaching and research, even to this day, even on topics not related to
ancient philosophy, is still done with him consciously in my mind as a
paragon. He always brushed it aside with a shy modesty that was
humbling to me. I know full well that I am far from the only one of
Ian's ex-students to feel this way.

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