In Memoriam: John Lucas

It is with great sadness that the Faculty records the death of John Lucas, on April 5th.

Born 18 June 1929, he was Emeritus Fellow of Merton College, after his retirement in 1996, and Fellow of the British Academy, from election in 1988. John Lucas went up to Balliol from Winchester in 1947, where he took Mathematics as his First Public Examination, then sat Greats in 1951, with 1st Class Honours. R.M. Hare was his Philosophy tutor, and Bernard Williams his tutorial partner. He was Harmsworth Senior Scholar at Merton 1951-53, during which time he won the John Locke Prize, followed by three years as a JRF at Merton. He was then away from Oxford for four years, in Cambridge, Princeton, and Leeds. He returned to Merton in 1960 as Fellow and Tutor in Philosophy, positions he held for 36 years, until mandatory retirement at the age of 67.

John Lucas was a philosophical polymath, whose interests ranged over ancient philosophy, epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, political and legal theory, and the philosophies of mind, religion, economics, mathematics, and physics. He is most famous for claiming, on the basis of Gödel’s incompleteness theorems, that the human mind exceeds the capacities of any Turing machine, and so cannot be characterized by a Turing machine. Such considerations were further developed by Roger Penrose, and are now generally referred to as the Lucas-Penrose argument. John Lucas’s prolific publications cover the whole spectrum of his diverse philosophical interests, and include 19 books, of which he was sole author of 14.

John Lucas was the quintessential Oxford don, endearingly eccentric, much loved as a highly effective College tutor, and a brilliant lecturer for the University. His keen interest in wider university affairs led him to become a regular contributor to the Oxford Magazine; his views, often provocative and always thoughtful and witty, delighted and influenced many readers for over a quarter of a century. He was a keen supporter of the creation of the Joint Honour Schools of Mathematics and Philosophy and Physics and Philosophy, and played a significant role in getting them up and running in their early days, and did much to keep them going in later years.