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  • Richard A. "Red" Watson, 1930–2019
  • Steven Nadler

On September 18, 2019, the Cartesian scholar Richard A. Watson, known to his family, friends, and colleagues as "Red," passed away at the age of 88.


watson was born in 1930 in new market, Iowa, where he met his wife Patty Jo in middle school. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of Iowa, studying under Richard H. Popkin. After a brief stint teaching at the University of Michigan, Watson spent most of his career at Washington University in St. Louis, where Popkin also joined the faculty. Upon his retirement, Red moved to Missoula, Montana, but the final years of his life were spent in Arlington, Massachusetts.

Red was a generation's leader in scholarship on early modern philosophy. He was among the first of Anglo-American philosophers to closely study texts by historical figures known at the time as "minor" French Cartesians and anti-Cartesians (such as Nicolas Malebranche, Simon Foucher, Antoine Arnauld, Pierre-Sylvain Régis, Jacques Rohault, Louis de la Forge, and Antoine Le Grand, among others). His Ph.D. dissertation, a groundbreaking study of the debate between Malebranche and Foucher and its ramifications for the development of later Cartesianism and its critics, was published as the book The Downfall of Cartesianism, 1673–1712: A Study of Epistemological Issues in Late 17th Century Cartesianism (1966). This was followed by numerous studies of Descartes and Cartesian philosophy, both its proponents and its opponents. His life-long work on Descartes's biography culminated in the book Cogito Ergo Sum: The Life of René Descartes (2002).

Watson was a frequent contributor to the Journal of the History of Philosophy and a long-time member of its Board of Directors. An article drawn from his Ph.D. dissertation appeared in the first volume (1963), when he was still a graduate student; he joined the Board that year and remained on it until 2003. Red also served as JHP co-editor, with Richard Popkin, in 1983. Over the years, he stimulated vigorous debate with essays in the JHP "Notes and Discussion" section and other venues addressing the methods and aims of the historiography of philosophy.

In addition to his career as a philosopher, Watson was a world-famous spelunker. He was instrumental in transforming the "sport" of cave exploration into a recognized field of archaeology and geological science, and for over fifty years, as a member of the Cave Research Foundation, he explored Kentucky's Mammoth Cave system, which is the longest cave in the world. His book, The Longest Cave, written with Roger W. Brucker, details some of these adventures. Along with his [End Page vii] academic and caving work, he also wrote novels, including Niagara, a fictional account of the first person to ever cross the Falls on a wire and the first woman to go over the Falls in a barrel.

Red was a remarkable man: beloved by his students (of which I was one) for his enthusiasm and energy in the classroom, generous to his colleagues and friends, and an inspiration to many. [End Page viii]

Steven Nadler
University of Wisconsin, Madison
President of the Board of Directors of the Journal of the History of Philosophy, Inc.

richarda. watson: bibliographia cartesiana

This is a partial bibliography of Watson's publications on Descartes and Cartesianism. It does not include some short, occasional pieces and numerous reviews of books on early modern philosophy.

"Berkeley in a Cartesian Context." Revue Internationale de Philosophie 65 (1963): 381–94.
"The Breakdown of Cartesian Metaphysics." Journal of the History of Philosophy 1 (1963): 177–97.
"A Note on the Probabilistic Physics of Régis." Archives internationales d'histoire des sciences 66 (1964): 33–36.
The Downfall of Cartesianism. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1966.
"Jacques Rohault." In Encyclopedia of Philosophy, vol. 7, edited by Paul Edwards, 204. New York: MacMillan, 1967.
"Pierre-Sylvain Régis." In Encyclopedia of Philosophy, vol. 7, edited by Paul Edwards, 101–2. New York: MacMillan, 1967.
"Simon Foucher." In Encyclopedia of Philosophy, vol 3, edited by Paul Edwards, 213–14. New York: MacMillan...


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