Remembering Jerry Gaus

Remembering Jerry Gaus
Monday 24 August 2020

We at ANU were saddened to learn of the sudden death of our former colleague Jerry Gaus, while still in his philosophical prime.  Like so many of his cohort who began careers in philosophy at RSSS in the early 1980s – Fred D'Agostino, Peter Forrest, Michael McRobbie, Peter Menzies, Huw Price – he went on to greatness later and elsewhere.  But we have always taken pride when hearing, in his distinguished subsequent work, echoes of the young Jerry who took up his first job post PhD here at ANU. 


Jerry Gaus came to work with Stanley Benn on an internally-funded interdisciplinary RSSS project on 'The Public and the Private'. The capstone of that project was a book they coedited, Public and Private in Social Life (1983), containing chapters by anthropologists, historians of ideas, lawyers, philosophers and political scientists.  That rampant interdisciplinarity returned to characterize Jerry's late work, particularly The Tyranny of the Ideal:  Justice in a Diverse Society (2019) and his sadly now posthumous The Open Society and Its Complexities (2021). And it lies at the heart of the Department of Political Economy and Moral Science that he founded at the University of Arizona in 2018.


In between, Jerry devoted himself largely to the problem of public justification in liberal societies, an extended enterprise bookended by Justificatory Liberalism (1996) on one end and The Order of Public Reason (2010) on the other.  There the influence of his ANU mentor and collaborator, Stanley Benn, is much in evidence.  Jerry transformed Stanley's 'Alan and Betty' into his own recurring interlocutors 'Alf and Betty'. Still, Jerry's conception of practical reason and dialogic justification is very much continuous with that in Stanley Benn's A Theory of Freedom (1988), which Jerry saw through press after Stanley's own premature demise.


Jerry's Pittsburgh PhD was in political science, under John Chapman of Nomos editorial fame. Jerry said that it was at ANU that 'Stanley taught me how to be a philosopher'. The preface to Stanley's book reports that they had a philosophical lunch literally every day Stanley came into the office. That would have been a bit too much of a good thing for some. But not for Jerry, whose appetite for philosophy, once whetted, was insatiable.


We are proud to have played an early role in his career, and we are proud of all that he accomplished over its course.


Jerry is survived by his wife of 46 years, Andrea, and his daughter Kelly, an MIT doctoral student in Philosophy.


Bob Goodin, Geoff Brennan, Philip Pettit, Kim Sterelny



Updated:  24 August 2020/Responsible Officer:  Head of School/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications