Robert Solomon Remembered
Ronnie de Sousa
Robert C. Solomon died on January 2, just after coming off a plane in Zurich. He was not quite 65 years old. His extraordinary vitality, which several of his friends had once again enjoyed at the American Philosophical Association just five days earlier, meant that his death was a great shock even to those who knew that he suffered from a congenital heart malformation and had been told early on that he was unlikely to live long. Thus warned, he packed his life with work and joy as if indeed each day would be his last.
Bob Solomon had been for over three decades based at the University of Texas (after stints at Princeton, Pittsburgh, UCLA), where he was Quincy Lee Centennial Professor of Philosophy and Business. But he seemed to be incessantly travelling. You were likely to find him just about anywhere in the world, giving talks, participating in and often organising seminars, helping younger scholars, teaching and learning from all. He once remarked that he got an invitation every week to some conference on emotions. He can’t have accepted them all, but it seemed that way. And at those conferences he was usually the rightful star. His 1976 book on The Passions was responsible, more than any other, for igniting what became a huge firestorm of philosophical interest in the emotions and their place in art, life, politics and business.
Bob’s first philosophical love was for Sartre and existentialism. This passion never left him, and was for him a very real guide to life as well as the focus of much of his scholarly work. But although the existentialist approach is generally not over-friendly to science, Bob helped to found and was a key participant in the richly interdisciplinary International Society for Research on Emotions (ISRE) through which he, with what began as a very small number of other philosophers, exchanged ideas with psychologists, neuroscientists, anthropologists, sociologists, historians and other emotion researchers. He read widely in all these areas, and assimilated a great diversity of approaches from which he never ceased to learn. He could be sharply critical, but no one minded, because you knew that the criticism was bred in a passionate concern for understanding more than merely from the drive, which he also relished, to win an argument. He was always fun, always stimulating and exciting to talk to. It was also always a very good idea to follow him, in whatever city in America, Australia or Europe you found yourself with him, to the restaurant he chose to dine in.
As a teacher, Bob was something of a legend. One of his former students recalled that in UCLA in the late 60’s the enrolment in an “advanced seminar” he taught swelled to 500 students. He wrote songs, too, and appeared, as himself, but anime, in at least one movie, Richard Linklater’s charmingly philosophical Waking Life.
With all that travel, all that talk, all that eating and drinking, all that teaching, we all wondered: where did Bob find the time to write forty-odd books and four times as many papers? Insomnia helped, and the lifelong conviction that he had so little time. But above all it was his sheer passion for life, for love, and for life and love examined. Memorable, too, was his great love for his wife and collaborator, Kathleen Higgins, which shines forth from his many writings on love in recent decades. And judging by the great outpouring of tributes on the ISRE Listserv and the “guest book” set up by the Austin American Statesman, many feel, as I do, that Bob’s greatest distinction was that he knew how to live, and that he was among the kindest and most generous man we have known.