Hughes Professor of Philosophy Emeritus Graham Nerlich
It is with great sadness that we report the passing of our friend and former colleague, Hughes Professor of Philosophy Emeritus Graham Nerlich.
Graham Nerlich (1929–2022) took his first degrees at Adelaide (BA 1954, MA 1955), before heading to Oxford, where he took the BPhil (1958) under the supervision of JL Austin. He was lecturer at Leicester before taking up a position at Sydney in 1961, where he was promoted to full professor in 1972. He returned to Adelaide in 1974, succeeding his former teacher Jack Smart as the Hughes Professor, a position he held until his retirement in 1994. Among his many honours, he was elected Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, 1978.
Graham’s research and publication in his two decades in the Hughes Chair was divided mainly between studies in the ontology of space, time and spacetime and ethics. In the former and larger output he defended realism toward spacetime and especially a unique role for it in ontology as providing geometrical, non-causal explanation in General Relativity. Geometric non-causal explanation was also argued to figure in the explanation of incongruent counterparts and the failure of similarity geometry in non-Euclidean space. His interest in the philosophy of physics had been stimulated early by Smart, and he enjoyed good relations with the physics department. In ethics, Graham pursued a form of naturalism that sees the development of ethical and broadly cultural practices arising, analogously to the universal yet diverse flourishing of languages, in the natural life of human populations.
After his retirement, Graham remained active in the department and in philosophical research, publishing until well into his eighties and continuing his long running discussion group in philosophy of physics until quite recently.
Graham died in hospital on Thursday 31 March with his wife Margaret at his side. He never recovered consciousness after suffering a stroke at home the night before.