Obituary: Patrick Gardiner

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The Independent Online
Patrick Gardiner, a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, for over 30 years, was a philosopher whose wide general culture and love of the arts informed everything he wrote.

He was especially interested in, and knowledgeable about painting. He himself painted, and was proud of the fact that his daughter Vanessa became a successful painter, but he also had a deep appreciation of literature and music. His writings are accessible to the general reader, and his choice of subjects, being unaffected by contemporary fashion in philosophy, reflected only his personal interests. He was the least competitive of men.

One of his interests was history, which he had read as an undergraduate at Christ Church, Oxford, before embarking on philosophy. His first book is entitled The Nature of Historical Explanation (1961). His reasoned rejection of extremist, monistic theories of history is a pleasure to read, and demonstrates his moderation, clarity, and his ability to write elegantly.

His book on Schopenhauer (1963) did a good deal to rehabilitate this neglected philosopher, and remains an indispensable critical guide to his thought. It may have been Schopenhauer's intense interest in the arts which led Gardiner to make him an object of study. He provides a masterly appreciation of Schopenhauer's contribution to philosophy while retaining a critical stance. Discipleship was never a feature of Gardiner's personality.

Kierkegaard (1988) is again devoted to a philosopher who, although considered one of the founders of existentialism, is somewhat outside the mainstream of Western philosophical thought. In addition, Gardiner edited two anthologies: Theories of History (1959), and Nineteenth Century Philosophy (1969).

He came from a family which was deeply concerned with the arts. He was educated at Westminster School, where he was a contemporary of the philosophers David Pears and Richard Wollheim, and also of Hugh Lloyd-Jones, who became Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford.

Gardiner served for three years in Italy and North Africa during the Second World War and, in 1949, became a lecturer in philosophy at Wadham College, Oxford. In 1952, he became a Fellow of St Antony's; and then transferred to Magdalen in 1958, where he was a notably sensitive teacher. He was made an Emeritus Fellow of Magdalen upon his retirement in 1989.

Those lucky enough to know Gardiner will sorely miss him. He was a wonderfully generous host and an accomplished raconteur, and displayed an ironic sense of humour. He was modest and self-deprecating, and extremely sensitive to the feelings of others. When I had occasion to consult him about a book I was writing in which Schopenhauer figured, he pointed out my errors in the most tactful way possible, so that I came away enriched with new insights rather than feeling stupid. He was one of those rare people whom one can genuinely call good.

When my wife and I moved to Oxford in 1974, Patrick and Susan Gardiner quickly became, and remained, two of our closest friends. Their beautiful house in Wytham, with its lovely garden, became one of the places in Oxford we most enjoyed visiting. Many others felt likewise. No couple could have had a wider circle of devoted friends.

Patrick Lancaster Gardiner, philosopher: born 17 March 1922; Tutor in Philosophy, Magdalen College, Oxford 1958-89, Fellow 1958-89 (Emeritus); FBA 1985; married 1955 Susan Booth (two daughters); died Oxford 24 June 1997.