Richard Eric Sharvy

Richard Sharvy died of cancer in Eugene, Oregon on July 1, 1988. He died the way he lived: with wit, integrity, and clarity of mind. He is survived by his son, Benjamin, his mother, Ruth, and his sister Rayna.

Sharvy published approximately thirty articles on various topics in metaphysics, philosophy of language, philosophy of logic, and history of philosophy. These articles appeared in the best journals of our profession. Despite these accomplishments, he never held a tenured position in a university.

Sharvy was born in Aurora, Illinois, the son of the late philosopher, Robert Sharvy, who taught at Lake Forest College. In 1964 Sharvy received his B.A. from Reed College, writing a senior thesis on "Reflexive Paradoxes and the Ramified Theory of Types." As an undergraduate he published his first two articles, both on fatalism, one appearing in Analysis and the other in the Journal of Philosophy. Sharvy went on to Wayne State University in Detroit, where he received his Ph.D. in 1969 for a thesis entitled Things. In later years Sharvy spoke fondly of this period of his life. He loved the diversity and intensity of Detroit in the 1960's; and the Wayne State Philosophy Department, with its vigorous spirit of philosophical inquiry, remained his model of what all departments should strive to become. During this period Sharvy was indicted for refusing induction into the armed forces. Like many of his contemporaries he opposed the draft and the war in Viet Nam. Unlike many of his contemporaries he acted on his opposition.

Sharvy taught at a number of institutions including Swarthmore College, Wayne State University, the University of Auckland in New Zealand, the University of California at Irvine, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University, and the University of Miami. He was also a volunteer teacher at the Oregon State Penitentiary. He enjoyed teaching Plato to convicted felons, and often commented that his inmate-students were more serious and committed than university undergraduates.

Sharvy's philosophical work speaks for itself. Each of his papers is a carefully polished gem that repays careful study. The papers that have thus far been most influential include "Things" (The Monist, 1969), "Why a Class Can't Change Its Members" (NOUS, 1968), "A More General Theory of Definite Descriptions" (Philosophical Review, 1980), "Euthyphro 9d-11b: Analysis and Definition in Plato and Others" (NOUS, 1969), "Aristotle on Mixtures" (Journal of Philosophy, 1983), and his unpublished, underground classic, "Who's to Say What's Right or Wrong? People with Ph.D.'s in Philosophy That's Who."

In addition to being a philosopher Sharvy was also a linguist, logician, musician, politician, journalist, novelist, and debater. He had working knowledge of Greek, Latin, French, Italian, German, Russian, Mandarin Chinese, Creole. He loved language, and would spend hours studying etymology. He also had a fine mathematical mind that he applied to logic, financial markets, computer programming, and music. He played several instruments including guitar, banjo, and piano. At parties he would sing folk songs from memory in a number of languages. He also delighted in writing philosophical songs with such titles as "Will the Vienna Circle Be Unbroken?", "The Talking Axiom of Choice Blues," and "I Dreamed I Saw Descartes Last Night (Alive As You Or Me)." Sharvy lamented the fact that most of us "consume" music rather than making our own.

Above all, Sharvy was an American-style rugged individualist. For years he was a member of the National Rifle Association although he didn't own a gun. He was a passionate public advocate of the legalization of drugs, though he himself rarely indulged. He published articles in newspapers and magazines (including Playboy) on subjects such as crime, welfare, preservation of the Oregon forests, and the debasement of the university by big-time sports. In the last months of his life he wrote a semi-autobiographical novel, The Life and Times of Tracy Trash. In 1986 he ran for the Oregon State House of Representatives on the Libertarian ticket.

Sharvy relished the role of public gadfly. He would not tolerate hypocrisy, incompetence, or stupidity, whether in a friend, colleague, university president, judge, or legislator. His popular writings, public debates, television and radio appearances are legendary for their scathing sarcasm and wit. Yet sharvy was never loud or crude. He was soft-spoken, and generally slow and deliberate in response. He regarded day-to-day living as the ultimate are form. Almost everything he did was carefully measured for its intelligence, skill, efficiency, humor, and grace. He was his own best audience, viewing his own life with ironic detachment.

Even in his last days these qualities were apparent. With full white beard, dark sunglasses, and colorful clothes, he drove around Eugene in a 1977 bronze Cadillac, displaying a "Subvert the Dominant Paradigm" bumpersticker, sunroof open, with Janis Joplin's Cheap Thrills on the tape deck. He would have found this obituary dull, pedantic, and overly serious. He wanted to be remembered with these words: "He made outrageous conclusions reasonable, he mocked the gods, and he corrupted the youth."

Dale Jamieson, University of Colorado, Boulder
Reed Richter, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Memorial Minutes. APA Proceedings, Vol. 61, pp.315-16.