College Mourns Loss of Emeritus Philosopher
July 7, 2011 By Diane Johnson
Emeritus professor Richard Bruce
White, who passed away in late
June, taught everything from
20th-century to ancient philosophy
in his 32 years at Centre.
Richard Bruce White, Centre professor emeritus of philosophy, died Tuesday, June 28. He was 75.
White joined the Centre faculty in 1967. Though trained as a logician, he taught everything from 20th-century to ancient philosophy in his 32 years at Centre; he also taught in the humanities program, which tapped into his enjoyment of literature. He was particularly interested in the 19th-century American philosopher Charles Peirce, who co-founded pragmatism. White studied mathematical logic and 20th-century analytic philosophy as well. His writings in symbolic logic have been published internationally.
A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Yale University, White did graduate work at Stanford University. In an interview at the time of his retirement in 1999, he recalled that while growing up in Texas he originally thought he would be an English professor like his father. But at Yale he discovered philosophy, specifically logic.
“Logic has a very strong aesthetic appeal to me,” he said. “Especially since the systems of logic I’m interested in—so-called ‘non-classical logic’—don’t have much practical application.”
He also appreciated logic’s challenge.
“I like the feeling when you prove a theorem that nobody’s ever proved before,” he said, “the so-called aha! effect.”
The opportunity to see students progress during their years at the College is “one thing that has pleased me very much about teaching here,” he said once in looking back on his long teaching career.
“I’ve always enjoyed teaching first-term freshmen. They’re so innocent and conscientious,” he said. “But it’s really nice to follow the career of a student—as you can do here—from freshman year to senior year, and notice how much their writing and their thinking have improved.”
He studied engineering as a Navy officer after his Yale studies, and he enjoyed tinkering with mechanical things all his life. He was also a talented woodworker, in whose hands “wood took on a new life as art,” as a friend and former colleague said at his memorial service, held July 6 at Centre.
He is survived by his wife, Roberta White, Luellen Professor Emerita of English, of Danville; and his nephew and wife, Steven and Kim White of Mansfield, Texas, and their son, Trevor, also of Mansfield.
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Founded in 1819, Centre College is ranked among the U.S. News top 50 national liberal arts colleges. Forbes magazine ranks Centre 24th among all the nation's colleges and universities and has named Centre No. 1 among all institutions of higher education in the South for two years in a row. Centre alumni, known for their nation-leading loyalty in annual financial support, include two U.S. vice presidents and two Supreme Court justices. For more, click here.