David Hull is dead

Updated to include new links…


My mentor, hero and I hope friend, David Lee Hull died on the morning of 11 August 2010, at the age of 75.

If not for the fact that David marked my masters thesis and remarked that he hoped to see some of it published, I would never have considered myself competent enough to publish, and hence would never have ended up an academic (at the tender age of 48).

David was a remarkable man. Not only did he effectively define professional philosophy of biology as a newly minted doctor of philosophy, he was also actively engaged in gay rights struggles, both in Chicago generally and in professional biology and philosophy. His long time partner Richard Wellman died in the first wave of the AIDS epidemic, and David nursed him while he wrote his magnum opus Science as a Process, on which I had written my masters.saap.jpg

I will have more to say about him when I gather my thoughts.

Late note: Michael Ruse has sent this message around; I hope he won’t mind my posting it here:

He died this morning at nine – I gather peacefully and not in pain. The young men looking after him have truly been secular saints. There will be no funeral but a memorial service sometime in the fall. We are all going to be sad, but let us also be joyful both for a life really well lived and for a release that was truly welcome, not the least by David himself.

The Chicago Sun-Times has a nice obituary here and his university, Northwestern, has one here [h/t Leiter]
New: Grant Yamashita is another new philosopher helped by David. His obit is here.Peter Godfrey Smith has an obit here.

46 thoughts on “David Hull is dead

  1. David was one of the three people I sent my first attempt in phil of biology to–the others were both people in the field whom I’d had some contact with before in other contexts. I was a third year assistant professor mainly working in phil of mind and cog sci at the time, and the paper was on John Dupre’s “promiscuous realism”. Like the others, David wrote back encouragingly and sympathetically. The welcoming response from David, especially since I was a complete stranger to him, marked an important contrast with the fluff and competitiveness of phil of mind at that time, and it made phil of biology a truly attractive option for me to pursue more seriously.
    There are likely many other short anecdotes about David’s kindness and professional integrity, but this small one with a big effect for me is what comes to mind first. He will be missed all round.

  2. Strange, but I had a dream on Friday that David had died. I rejected it as the product of an overanxious and somewhat addled mind. David helped me a great deal in my career, from the time I first met him in 1983. He was generous with his time, but did not suffer fools lightly. I owe him a lot. I didn’t always take his advice, but it was always good advice.

  3. I forgot to mention David Rindos, who I also did not meet, but corresponded with regularly by email. His death was particularly sad.

  4. When you read such good material from someone that resonates with you, you feel like you know someone a bit. I had a few email chats and one phone chat with Dr. Hull. A real scholar and gentleman. Best.

  5. Very sad to hear about this and I’m sorry for your loss. I was introduced to the philosophy of science via his papers during my systematics class as undergrad. It was 1965 papers The effect of essentialism on taxonomy, parts I and II. Never knew beyond his works, but I appreciated his ideas.

  6. Oh, wow. I have that book, and it was quite influential on me and my studies in HPS. Sad to hear of his passing, especially as I’d given the author of this book so little thought beyond what he’d written. Condolences.

  7. I’m so sorry… I didn’t know. Prof. Hull’s work (Science as Process, Science as Selection, papers about species) was a truly invitation (a gate) to HPS. It’s a irreparable loss…

  8. Sorry to hear about David’s death – I corresponded with him alot about species, cladistics, biogeography,etc and he was the external non-New Zealand examiner of my PhD thesis in 1983. I don’t wish to speak ill of the dead but I lost respect for him as a scholar after his “bible” Science as a Process” was published (see my extensive critique of his (mis)history of cladistics/phylogenetic systematics in “Trees of Life” , 1992) and his tissue of lies in the 2008 book “Rebels, Mavericks and Heretics” about panbiogeography and myself only served to reinforce my earlier call.

    1. David’s book always truck me as resembling a traffic accident: everybody saw a different thing. I agree that he was one-sided with his comments on panbiogeography. I’d love to meet you sometime and discuss that. Are you coming to Oz any time soon?

  9. What would be the point of us meeting ? You have suppressed my extensive 1992 critique of Hull’s historiography of cladistics/phylogenetic systematics from your overstuffed bibliography on this blog of works about David Hull, and chosen not to list his 2008 book chapter on Croizat and panbiogeography.Is it because both these pieces expose Hull as an academic charlatan, or is it because listing them won’t help in advancing your career, or is it both ?

    1. I have suppressed nothing. My bibliography is what I have; if I do not have your publications it is because I do not know of them. Send me the details and I will add them.

      Really, you are just as touchy as Croizat was reputed to have been. Is this a pre-requisite for accepting panbiogeography? I am fully sympathetic to those in science who have not gotten a fair hearing for political and personal reasons, but you must not assume that every lack of mention is due to personal or political reasons. While David was a friend, I disagreed with much of what he wrote. My doctoral advisor was Gareth Nelson. I never felt that I had to agree with either of them.

      Academics have a range of views, but to be an honest academic is not to assert doctrines nor deny heresies. David honestly believed what he did, and others honestly believed what they did in contradiction. Gary said once that David’s book “got more wrong with each revision”, and I have my suspicions why, but that doesn’t mean David was dishonest, and to make out that claim you had better show evidence of malfeasance.

      In the end each academic must hope and believe as they can, to paraphrase Darwin. And we are all grownups. If we have taken an unpopular viewpoint, then we should hardly be shocked (shocked, I say!) that others do not like our views and work against them. Unlike David, I do not see what I do as part of the scientific enterprise, so I try to be a dispassionate observer where I can.

      My career is unlikely to advance all that much: I got into academe at the ripe age of 50. I follow what interests me. If you don’t want to talk, fine. Conspiracy theorists do not interest me.

  10. Wow ! What a reaction – I never said Hull was dishonest – I said he was an academic charlatan – “charlatan – a person who pretends to knowledge or skill”; “dishonest – not honest; disposed to lie, cheat or steal” – there’s a big difference in meaning between the two words! You implied in your first comment that you disagreed with what Hull said in his 2008 book chapter on Croizat and panbiogeography; but in this 2nd comment this chapter is now one of my publications ! You accuse me of touchiness and conspiracy theory when all I asked was “What would be the point of us meeting ?” I love robust debate, I’ve never said anywhere that I haven’t had a “fair hearing”- in fact such is the tolerance of our times I’m grateful for the many
    opportunities I’ve been granted in art, poetry and science to air my ideas,etc and say in a loud voice what is….Unlike my most famous ancestor Paul Craw, a 15th century BOHEMIAN Hussite preacher who was burnt alive in public in St Andrews, Scotland in 1433 and to shut him up a brass ball was stuffed in his mouth. And in the zone of perdition that was my childhood and youth -top level international diplomatic circles – ugliness and darkness far outweighted privileges. By the age of 15 I’d seen and experienced enough to make the most demented “conspiracy theorists” gag in their craws.
    And I guess the reason you don’t cite DN Stamos 2003 The Species Problem and 2007 Darwin and the Nature of Species in your 2009 Species
    is that he didn’t send you copies ? Am I right? Is that sticking in your craw?
    Guess what John nobody’s sent me copies of their work for years but I’ve read all three species books mentioned above but then I go to the library and ….
    Incidentally I literally walked out of academe 18 years ago…one of the best
    decisions I ever made – my mental and physical health immediately improved, I started to meet more interesting people,….Settle down bro, we’ve just begun to talk.

  11. My dictionary has this definition of “charlatan”: “a person falsely claiming to have a special knowledge or skill; a fraud”. The implication of dishonesty is clear, even in your definition.

    I read Stamos but found nothing useful for my book. When I first read him I had already written my section on Darwin’s view of species (in my PhD), and considered Stamos got it entirely wrong.

    I never said I agreed or disagreed with any specific publication of David’s apart from aspects of Science as a Process, so I don’t know where your accusations are coming from.

    I have no famous relatives, so I guess my experience is irrelevant.

    1. Oh, and Wikipedia’s definition: “A charlatan (also called swindler or mountebank) is a person practicing quackery or some similar confidence trick in order to obtain money, fame or other advantages via some form of pretense or deception.” My emphasis

  12. I apologise – I mistook your initial comment that Hull was one-sided in his remarks about panbiogeography as a reference to his 2008 book chapter when you were referring to his 1988 big book – once again I am truly sorry; I’ll try to lift the level of my discourse in future. I’ll also concede defeat on word definition – you’re a trained philosopher, I’m not.
    The substantive issue is this : (from Ruse’s memoir) A lot of Hull’s “fame” in philosophy of biology is due to his (Hull’s) insistence that it must be based on a first -hand acquaintance of the science and a solid understanding of the science (mixture of paraphrase & quote). Now just about everyone praises Hull for this but in my view he was American-centric in his treatment of the history of systematics and in particular, he “idealised” Gary Nelson and the New York School as some sort of avant-garde when in fact the history of phylogenetic systematics was much more complex, e.g. Fritz Mueller had the basics (three taxon statement, outgroup comparison,etc) as early as 1863 and even published a diagram establishing this beyond dispute in his “For Darwin” book. I’ll post you a reprint on Monday.
    As to Stamos I find his ideas on Darwin sound, and as someone who has actually worked in the taxonomy of the 2 most speciose orders of insects (Coleoptera and Lepidoptera) and described new species of butterflies, moths and weevils in addition to reading alot of the theoretical literature (I was a big fan of Ghiselin/Hull species as individuals at one time) in my view his 2003 The Species Problem book is the best treatment of this issue.
    No disrespect here to your own book which is a major and important work, especially for filling in the huge gap between Aristotle and Ray. In my humble opinion Stamos 2003 and Wilkins 2009 supplement one another, and are the best species books ever written. I just find it strange that you didn’t cite Stamos 2003 and 2007.

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