In Celebration and Memoriam of Dr. Jerry Gaus

We were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of esteemed faculty partner, Dr. Jerry Gaus last week. Dr. Gaus was a distinguished political philosopher and a valued member of the IHS scholarly community. He served as a mentor to several IHS staff, including Shane Courtland, Managing Director of Academic Relations.

To celebrate Dr. Gaus’s life, we asked Shane to share some thoughts on his former mentor and the pivotal role he played not only in his life, but the lives of so many young scholars.

Thoughts on Dr. Jerry Gaus from Shane Courtland:

GiantI met Jerry at the University of Minnesota, Duluth (UMD) when I was an undergraduate. I could immediately tell there was something special about him. In philosophy, if you are in the right circles, you will interact with great interlocutors. You will be pushed to reexamine your presuppositions and you will often be surprised by what you had failed to consider.

Jerry wasn’t just a good interlocutor, he was sui generis.

He had an uncanny knack for finding the stress points in another’s argument.

And, it wasn’t just minor points that he would make tumble, he would consistently dismantle another’s core thesis. After witnessing Jerry’s abilities in such exchanges — in philosophy classes, department colloquiums, academic conferences, and the like —  I, like so many others, was easily pulled into his orbit.

When he left UMD for Tulane University, I followed him. While in grad school, I was better able to observe his abilities as a teacher and a mentor. Anyone can look at Jerry’s CV and see that he was insanely productive – a giant in the profession, but what that document can’t tell you is how much he was invested in his students.

The first paper I ever published on Thomas Hobbes came from one of Jerry’s graduate seminars. I was a first-year grad student. I still remember getting that paperback from Jerry, there were so many comments that the red ink made the white pages turn pink. After seeing that tsunami of red comments, all I could do was stutter and say, “What do you want me to do with this?” His response was simple, “fix it.”

The paper would go through many iterations (draft, flood of Jerry comments, subsequent draft, subsequent flood of comments, and so on). The process was painful. Jerry would often tell me, “The only true trial is a trial by fire.” He put me through many trials, but it was always with a purpose. And, I always felt that it resulted in my improvement.

Only after I left grad school did I begin to realize all that Jerry had given me. The profession pulls you in many conflicting ways. Being research active, especially at the level Jerry maintained, is incredibly difficult. But, to maintain that level of production, and all the while remain dedicated to one’s students seems impossible.

Yet, as many can attest, Jerry squared that circle. And, for all that he has given me, I know he has given others more. The amount of time and work that would have required boggles my mind. In fact, I remember that others would lament that they were not working as hard as Jerry.  Jokingly, I would say, “That is okay. He is not human, so it is apples to oranges.” 

Dr. Gerald GausBut, the fact that he was human and doing the impossible is what makes him all the more amazing. As anyone who has read his works or has seen him in action can attest, he was a first-class mind. There is no doubt of his genius. But what will stick with me the most, is his dedication to teaching and mentoring.

As I imagine it is true for his other students, his voice is still in my head. Even when he is not present, I still experience him pushing me to be better. This is my point. His impact upon the world should be measured with people, not just arguments.  He was a giant that dedicated himself to making other giants. I still don’t know how he did it; Jerry will always be amazing.

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