Robert Solomon Remembered
The sudden death of Bob Solomon on January 2, 2007 was a catastrophic loss to his friends, among whom I was fortunate enough to have been counted, to our profession, and, of course, to his life’s companion. Kathie Higgins, well known to the ASA, much beloved and respected by its members. Our hearts go out to her.
My last memories of Bob, as all my memories of him, are singularly happy ones. He and Kathie, my wife and I, all attended the Ninth East-West Philosophers’ Conference, in Honolulu, in the summer of 2005. My wife and I were new-comers t o this gathering. But Bob and Kathie were regular participants, and among its organizers. Bob took it upon himself to initiate us into the mysteries of this strange and motley gathering. These initiations took place (naturally) in various locations where exotic drinks, all containing alcohol, were liberally provided. Bob had all of his priorities right.
Bob’s major contribution to the practice of philosophy – and major is the proper word for it – was to the philosophical study of the emotions (as all of my readers will know). He was one of the pioneers in this area, as well as the author of one of its now classic studies: Not Passion’s Slave: Emotions and Choice. You will not read any competent philosopher writing on the emotions who does not discuss Bob’s theory of the emotions. It is a permanent part of the enterprise; and no philosopher of art writing on art and the emotions can afford not to know it thoroughly.
Bob had one of the most interesting minds I have ever encountered. Whatever he undertook he put a spin on that was surprising: the kind of insight bound to elicit the question: Why didn’t I think of that? As well, he frequently chose topics to write about that no one but he would have thought philosophically promising; and he would turn them into profound philosophical ruminations. Again: Why didn’t I think of that?
Nothing exemplifies more, for me, this interesting, surprising quality of Bob’s mind more than the book of his that I most recently read: In Defense of Sentimentality. Well, lots of folks might think of writing about sentimentality; many have. But who would think of defending it? Why didn’t I think of that?
And let us not forget yet another of the things that made Bob’s mind so interesting and surprising (and which I loved him for): his deep and abiding affection for The Three Stooges. I shared his affection for those low, disreputable characters, although Bob’s affection for, and understanding of them I am certain were more profound than mine.
Could the Stooges perhaps have been a metaphor for Bob’s work? All us Stooge lovers will know Moe’s classic routine: the tweak of the nose, the finger in the eye, the bop on the noggin. Well, Bob’s work tweaked our received opinions; it bopped our thoughts out of their familiar channels; it opened our philosophical eyes. He waked us from our dogmatic slumbers.
There is a story told – I hope it is true – of Mozart, and one of the mediocre composers of his acquaintance, listening to a new work of Joseph Haydn’s. In response to a somewhat startling, surprising passage in the work, the mediocrity whispered, disparagingly, in Mozart’s ear: “I wouldn’t have done it that way”; to which Mozart is supposed to have replied: “No; nor would I. And do you know why? It is because neither of us is clever enough ever to have thought of it.” That is always my response to Bob’s work. Why didn’t I think of that? Mozart had the right answer.
What a loss to us! What a loss to the profession!