This past weekend, Carrie-Ann flew over to Bowling Green State University for the retirement party of Fred D. Miller, Jr., who’s just ended a forty-one year career in the Philosophy Department there. He was also one of the founders of the Social Philosophy & Policy Center at Bowling Green, an editor of its flagship journal Social Philosophy & Policy, and remains a prolific author in his own right. He was also at one time an Advisory Editor to the original IOS, and author of its Foundations Study Guide on Political Philosophy. Fred (along with Bowling Green colleagues and co-editors Jeff Paul and Ellen Frankel Paul) will now become a Research Professor at the Freedom Center at the University of Arizona, run by David Schmidtz.
Fred’s history of achievement in philosophy, and particularly in ancient philosophy, is a matter of public record, and speaks for itself. (His Nature, Justice, and Rights in Aristotle’s Politics is a landmark in Aristotle scholarship.) I wanted to add a more personal expression of gratitude.
I met Fred in the summer of 1991 at Franklin & Marshall College, at the very first IOS Seminar I attended, just out of college (and the second one put on by David Kelley’s IOS organization of those days). Fred ran a seminar on rights there—one of the first graduate seminars I’d ever attended—and spent an enormous amount of one-on-one time with me, discussing my doubtless half-baked just-post-undergraduate ideas on Aristotelian ethics and Lockean politics. Later that summer, on my way to graduate school for the first time, Fred invited me to make a stop in Bowling Green and talk philosophy with him for a few days. It was a gesture of exceptional, memorable generosity from a senior scholar to a brash, callow, and ignorant pre-graduate student with a bad New Jersey accent. I still remember a scene from that visit, walking by abandoned railroad tracks at sunset somewhere in Bowling Green, trying to keep up with his inferences and knowledge, and trying to give some intelligibility to thoughts of my own on the subject. I would, today, probably cringe to hear whatever it is that I said to him, but Fred didn’t cringe. It’s a cliché that patience is a virtue, but pedagogical patience is one virtue that Fred has in superhuman abundance. In an academic world that often prides itself on volume, bombast, and flamboyance, Fred has always insisted on doing things the old fashioned way.
Carrie-Ann was a student of Fred’s for more than a decade, and remains a co-editor on an ongoing book project with him, so she’ll have something of her own to say on the subject. But I owe Fred more than a short blog post can really indicate. Nothing in my undergraduate education as a politics major prepared me to take Aristotle seriously as a precursor to classical liberal thought. Nothing in it prepared me to take Aristotle’s Politics seriously as anything but a text with antiquarian significance, either, much less prepared me to read Ayn Rand as an Aristotelian. Fred was a huge part of the Aristotelian education I’d missed in the Ivy League. How my undergraduate thesis managed to make it into the footnotes of his summa on Aristotle’s Politics, I’ll never know; how he managed to set me up with the IOS co-founder I ended up marrying I don’t know either. But when you owe both your first published citation and meeting your wife (!) to the same man, you owe him more than can be put into words. And so I do. Thanks, Fred.