In Memoriam: David Bostock

The Faculty is saddened to record the death of David Bostock on 29th October 2019.

David was born in 1936, and after National Service he went to St John’s College, Oxford, where he read Greats and studied under Paul Grice. His first academic appointment was at Canberra. He said that provided an excellent start to teaching philosophy, because so much had to be done in so very short a time. It helped him to think and argue clearly and efficiently.

He came back to Oxford in 1968, to become a Fellow and Tutor at Merton. He retired in 2004, having written on numerous philosophical subjects, and he continued to write until quite close to his death. He wrote books on logic, mathematics, and the relation between them; on Russell, Plato and Aristotle. He wrote articles on these subjects and on a variety of others too. His philosophical breadth was great, and his work was always characterized by clarity and precision. It was presented in a way that compelled the reader’s interest - very often the reader’s consent as well. His lectures and tutorials had the same character. Students found him demanding, but also effective in arousing their interest: he was good at presenting difficult issues in the right way for the particular audience. Colleagues found him an excellent person with whom to discuss philosophical issues of any kind. Again and again, he would resolve a complicated issue in a manner that was both clear and compelling.

He had a great many other interests outside academic life. These included sailing, hill-walking, theatre and opera, interests he shared with his first wife Jenny. Their two children, Tim and Penny, have inherited many of their parents’ qualities. Jenny’s death from breast cancer in 1996 was almost certainly the worst thing in David’s life. But he married again, and had many happy years with his second wife Rosanne. Latterly she looked after him increasingly, as he suffered a wasting illness. But he continued to think about philosophical issues until perhaps a year before he died. Then he decided that he had not read enough literature, and undertook a programme of reading all the books on his bookshelves; in the order in which they happened to have been placed.

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