Friday, March 07, 2014

Andre Gombay

I see from NewAPPS that Andre Gombay has died. This is very sad news. Gombay was an excellent Descartes scholar and one of the most genial people I have ever met. One of my favorite memories of Toronto was an occasion when, at a dinner for a job candidate, we (somehow) got on the subject of the surprising paucity of pirates in French literature, and discussed The Count of Monte Cristo (which has bandits and buried treasure, but no pirates) for a while. He also, at my dissertation defense, managed to catch the fact that in three very disparate parts of my thesis I had translated the same passage from Malebranche in slightly different ways. (I had apparently translated it from scratch three different times. But -- and this was big for me -- he would equally have caught any significant translation error, since he knew more about seventeenth century French than I will ever know, and I seem to have passed on that ground, at least.)

I remember once, also, talking to him about the job market, and he remarked that it had been very different in his day. When he had graduated (from Oxford, I think), he had gone off to Africa -- Uganda, I think, although I might be misremembering -- through a program for helping Commonwealth universities, and then come at some point to Toronto. He had never even had to do a formal interview.

There's a good picture of him here from 2011.

His approach to Descartes was always extraordinarily admirable, straightforward yet avoiding all narrowness or parochialism. He did a lot of work looking into possible sources for the image of the evil genie -- or evil genius, as we usually call it -- in Descartes's Meditations. One of his interesting arguments is that you can see a symptom of the beginning of a new approach to creative works in the argument for God's existence in Descartes's Third Meditation; he suggested that our view of plagiarism is shaped by the fact that we essentially accept something like the basic principle of Descartes's argument, and that this isn't an accident. His philosophical interests extended far beyond Descartes, though -- he wrote a number of papers on various analytical issues, especially in Ethics, and was an expert on Nietzsche as well. And everything he did, he did with insight and a light touch. He was irreplaceable.

ADDED LATER: The Star obituary for him.

1 comment:

  1. This is very heartwarming and, as a former student, I can do remember these wonderful traits. I took notes word- for- word in all his lectures and they are deeply treasured.


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