Barry Stroud, 1935-2019

Tributes paid to a ‘philosopher’s philosopher’ 

September 5, 2019
Barry Stroud
Source: Steven Pyke

A philosopher who made a major contribution to the neglected tradition of scepticism has died.

Barry Stroud was born in Toronto, Canada in 1935. He began working summers as a farmhand from the age of 10 and later got a job stringing and replacing telegraph wire for the Canadian National Railway. In high school he was an exceptionally accomplished athlete and while at the University of Toronto, where he majored in philosophy, he played for the varsity basketball team. He would remain a keen sportsman and outdoorsman for the rest of his life.

After completing his degree in 1958, Professor Stroud secured a Woodrow Wilson fellowship at Harvard University before accepting a position as assistant professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley in 1961. He was promoted to full professor in 1975 and appointed Willis S. and Marion Slusser professor of philosophy in 2007. He was head of department on three separate occasions. Although he retired and became emeritus in 2016, he continued to teach, offer guidance and work on his latest project, an analysis of the nature of perceptual knowledge, until close to his death.

Widely admired by his peers for his work in epistemology and philosophical scepticism, Professor Stroud served as president of the American Philosophical Association from 1995 to 1996. His books include The Quest for Reality (2000) and Engagement and Metaphysical Dissatisfaction (2011) as well as four volumes of collected essays.

Interest in Professor Stroud’s work came from far beyond the US. He spent several sabbaticals at the University of Oxford and another in Venice, a city that became a passion and that he visited numerous times. He also held visiting professorships and gave guest lectures in Greece, Norway, Argentina, Brazil and Mexico, among other countries.

Niko Kolodny, chair of philosophy at Berkeley, described Professor Stroud as “a philosopher’s philosopher”, who had “a profound and far-reaching influence on generations of philosophers – above all, for his view of what philosophy itself was…One might say that, while everyone else was philosophising about consciousness, reality and knowledge, he was philosophising about philosophising itself.”

His PhD student Jason Bridges, now an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago, added that Professor Stroud “single-handedly brought philosophical scepticism – which gives reasons to doubt whether we can know even the most ordinary things about the world around us – back to the centre of philosophical discussion”.

Professor Stroud died of brain cancer on 9 August and is survived by three daughters and two grandchildren.

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