In Memoriam, J. T. Fraser

Two days ago one of the great human beings of our time died quietly in Westport, Connecticut. For those who did not have the pleasure and the privilege of knowing Julius Fraser, perhaps you might imagine a sort of combination of Einstein, Yoda, Gandalf, Dr. Johnson, Socrates, the Old Testament God, and Groucho Marx. For me as for many others he came as close to being a guru or roshi as anyone can in this skeptical age.

I believe him to have been the most important philosopher of the last hundred years. He enormously expanded the grasp and writ of philosophy so as to incorporate science with philosophy, for the first time since the often disastrous attempts to do so in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and to grow a live discipline of the humanities upon that newly fertile ground. He was as important an original scientist as scientist as he was a universal thinker. He was a prose stylist of great force and clarity in a language that was not his first, nor even, I believe, his second.

Beyond his astonishing learning in a whole range of disciplines, his almost impossibly ingenious gift for argument, his visionary imagination and his practical understanding of how things work, he possessed many characteristics not always found in great thinkers. He had a huge heart, an effective and genial sociability, a puckish charm (that saved his life many times as a young man hunted as a homeless fugitive through war-torn Europe) and a delightful sunny sense of humor that was not above deserved satire nor beneath tragic irony. He experienced at first hand the worst things that human civilization has ever done and never gave up hope and humanity.

Though his life was long, rich, and fully achieved, and he died surrounded by people who love him, most especially his dear wife Jane, we mourn him, not for his loss but for ours. The more reason to carry on his ideas and especially his spirit in our work.