The death of Peter Goldie in 2011 was marked with great sadness by his many friends in the fields of philosophy and business, his two career worlds, as well as by his wife Sophie and sons Alexander and William. Whether it was working in high finance or deep in thought, Peter’s humour, generosity and intelligence drew people from all walks of life to him.
But it as is a group that has particular reason to be appreciative of Peter and his unique set of attributes that we (a representative sample of his recent graduate students) wanted to share our experiences of Peter as a teacher, mentor and friend. The region within the strange world of academia occupied by British analytic philosophy is remarkably peculiar; for many students it is difficult to navigate its waters alone. Peter was a beacon of kindness and sensitivity who guided his students through difficult terrain.
The ideal supervisor is a source of support who is perceptive of the anxieties that inevitably accompany a project as vast and daunting as a PhD; he is encouraging and builds one’s confidence in one’s philosophical credentials, whilst being sufficiently critical or, at any rate, creating impetus for one to explore and learn to approach things in ways that go beyond familiar territory. In Germany, students capture this ideal with the term Doktorvater, doctor-father. Peter was a doctor-father, if there ever was one. He inspired, challenged, supported, criticised, guided, motivated… and he really, really took care of us. One was always sure to come out of that sunlit office, to get up from that comfortable armchair where he made us sit, with new challenges and new energy.
One of the most salient features of Peter’s supervision was his capacity to make his students feel confident about their abilities. While Peter’s encouragement was often direct and explicit it was also intimately involved with the way in which he approached the supervisor-supervisee relationship more generally. Most noteworthy was Peter’s particular ability to make one feel worthy of his undivided attention and respect – not just qua graduate student, but as an individual with particular concerns, interests (and insecurities) and as bearing a particular relationship with him that is characterised by its own shared experiences and history.
While Peter’s criticisms and his advice to abandon ideas or explore new ones were perhaps never articulated as emphatically as his positive feedback, his supervision also contributed significantly to making clear how much intellectual labour and willingness to look beyond what seems already familiar doing a PhD involves. Ultimately, this was a result of Peter’s own philosophical outlook and his unrelenting questioning of the desire to “theorize” at the expense of losing sight of many interesting nuances of rich experience. Peter brought a glimpse of a different world to Philosophy at Manchester. He was very much South to our North, Real World to our academe. And although this may be surprising given his background in business, he brought humanity to our work. He was a clear thinker with not only an eye for detail, but also an eye for what actually matters. These elements – generosity, sensitivity, intellectual curiosity and a relish for all the pleasures and oddities life could bring – that came through again and again when gathering and sharing our recollections of Peter. It struck us as fitting, considering that he did so much work on the deep connections between emotions, memory and narrative, to end our tribute to him with some personal memories of our own:-
“The first supervision meeting I had with him was an introductory one, where I was only supposed to explain my research to date, and we were to set up a work plan for my visit. He suggested that, instead of having the meeting in his office, we go to the café-bookshop across the road. He of course paid for my coffee, asking if I would let him do it in the exquisitely polite manner he always used in these situations to make it very clear that he would not take a ‘no’ for an answer. At the end of the meeting he asked how I was settling down in Manchester and what I thought about the city. By that time, given how much we both liked thinking philosophically through and about literature, we had already talked a bit about our literary interests. When I told him I liked the city and found it historically fascinating, as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, he immediately asked whether I had read Elizabeth Gaskell. Yes, I had, North and South, and liked it very much. What about Mary Barton? We were then walking out of the place, through the bookshop. No, not Mary Barton. At which point he picked up the novel from one of the showcases—a Penguin classics edition that was on display—and announced that he was going to give it to me as a gift. As he predicted, I immensely enjoyed the novel. In a way he could not have predicted, I treasure that book.”
“I greatly admired the way he didn’t suffer fools, and was always slightly bemused that he made the time for me – which he consistently did, with comprehensive and encouraging feedback on my work. To this day I see my PhD as a collaborative piece of work: without his conceptual ruthlessness it would have been a very different thesis. His breadth of knowledge and encyclopaedic memory cannot go without mention. I don’t know if others feel the same, but my writing will always bear the hallmark of Peter’s training – not just in what to write, but how to write, and how to discipline oneself to actually get it written. On a very different note, he was a generous, kind and entertaining host – the dangerous sort who refills your glass without you quite registering he’s done it…” “I am very grateful to Peter for the impact his many illuminating appeals to lived experience, its richness and, most importantly, its philosophical import have had on the overall direction of my PhD studies. The fact that it was someone as charismatic and “life-dedicated” (lebenszugewandt) as Peter who emphasized its philosophical significance may itself have little philosophical bearing, strictly speaking, but it clearly adds to my appreciation of him both as a person and as a teacher.” “I have rarely met someone who managed convey this impression of one’s being important to him and taken seriously in as effortless and natural a way as Peter. Little gestures, such as writing an email to me to thank me for having attended a conference at which he spoke, certainly contributed as much to this impression as the kind, friendly and interested manner in which he treated me during our supervisory meetings.”
“Peter meant such a great deal to me. As a supervisor, he showed limitless patience, kindness and encouragement. But he also went way beyond what is expected of a supervisor, treating all of us, his PhD students, like a big extended family, welcoming us into his home, his wife Sophie treating us to her delicious culinary creations. Peter made us all feel special. He is sorely missed.”
“It is very true that Peter didn’t suffer fools gladly, but nor did he make fools feel like fools – a virtue that is most salient when exhibited by an academic. Peter’s deeply-rooted intelligence, charisma, and exquisite gentlemanly qualities enabled his interactions with us all to be motivated by genuine regard for our intellectual, and other, wellbeing. The friends of his I have had the honour and pleasure to meet are a testament to the great, and rare, man he was: a tremendously fun embodiment of the Aristotelian good life. And, in line with the ancient tradition of our discipline, he has left a holistic legacy, inspiring us to strive for the same.”
Peter’s own personal narrative might have found its close but his memory and influence will be an integral part of our narratives, professionally and personally, for as long as we continue to construct them.
To read Elisabeth Schellekens’ tribute to Peter Goldie go to aesthetics-online.org
A podcast of the memorial conference for The Mess Inside is available at www.philosophy.sas.ac.uk