- A Memorial and Autobiographical Account of Thomas O. Buford
thomas o. buford (1932–2018) was the founder of the journal that evolved into The Pluralist. It was one of many things he “started.” Tom was a great starter of things, but also a strong continuer. This journal began as The Personalist Forum in 1984, with the first issue appearing in 1985. The reason Tom started the journal was that the two principal organs of personalist philosophy in the United States had ceased to recognize the relationship to personalism, which had provided their missions. These were The Personalist, started by Borden Parker Bowne’s student Ralph Tyler Flewelling at the University of Southern California in 1920, and The Philosophical Forum, started at Boston University in 1943. The former was renamed Pacific Philosophical Quarterly after 1974, and the latter left BU for Baruch College of City University of New York when Marx Wartofsky moved, but both had ceased any serious relation to philosophical personalism for some years prior. Tom took the new journal’s name from combining these two titles. Initially printed and distributed by Tom’s own efforts, The Personalist Forum was then published by Mercer University Press from 1986 until 1997. After 1997, the journal passed to the present writer and became The Pluralist in 2006.
At the same time that he started this journal, Tom, with help from Charles Conti and a few others, also began to build a semi-annual international conference, The International Conference on Persons (ICP). The selected proceedings of that conference also appeared in Tom’s journal. Other issues of the journal were devoted to the philosophical treatment of various special topics: mind, environment, education, law, Vico and Nietzsche, the work of Peter Bertocci (Tom’s mentor), and others. Over the course of a decade or so, Tom searched out and gathered a community of scholars from numerous [End Page 99] countries who were still working in personalist modes and manners. There were a number of graduates of Boston University and still a few professors, John Lavely, Walter Muelder, and Erazim Kohák, were teaching at BU, and Joe Barnhart, Richard Mullins, Leroy Rouner, Rufus Burrow, Jr., and John Howie were among the BU graduates teaching around the country. The rise of Karol Wojtyła to the papacy, who was an explicit philosophical personalist, made a very great difference to the momentum of the international goals Tom set, and an alliance formed among the Protestant and Catholic personalists, especially Protestants in the United States and Catholics in Europe. Yet there were some Catholics in the United States who contributed a great deal to the effort, especially John Crosby, Patricia Sayre, and Norris Clarke. The building of the International Conference on Persons was undeniably a success.
The ICP meetings alternated between cities in the United States, such as Santa Fe, Boston, Memphis, Provo, and South Bend, and European cities such as Prague, Oxford, Warsaw, Nottingham, Lund (Sweden), Gaming (Austria), and Cosenza (Italy). The 2019 meeting (the 15th) will be in Israel in Galilee. Typical meetings attract sixty to one hundred scholars from all around the world, and selected proceedings are generally published either as independent volumes or in this journal (both before and after it became The Pluralist). In more recent years, Tom established good relations between the ICP and the British Polanyi Society and its journal Appraisal, and with the Polish journal Personalism: Science, Philosophy, Theology (published both in Polish and in English). Edited collections from Rodopi and Vernon Press have appeared in book form, documenting some of what happens at these meetings. Thus, Tom transformed the scattered international community of personalist philosophers into a community with real connections and goals, and the wide publication of personalist philosophy was secured by Tom’s efforts.
After beginning these important projects and recruiting people to help perpetuate them, Tom turned to the problem of the serious development of the personalist viewpoint itself. He recruited a handful of philosophers and theologians who wanted to develop original personalist philosophies and to do what could be done in working out the central ideas associated historically with personalism. This became the Biennial Summer Seminar on Personalist Philosophy, which meets...