John Gardner at Home

Memories from Peter Chau

Dear John,

I have just learnt from Jenny (through Michelle and Francois) that your cancer has, unfortunately, not been eliminated by the surgery yet. I wish you and your family all the best and hope you will respond well to any further treatments.

I was told that you would welcome keeping in touch via email. I want to take this opportunity to thank you for being a great teacher and mentor and tell you how I have always remembered you.

The first set of seminars I took in Oxford, after arriving in 2006, was “Law and the State”, convened by Tony Honoré and you in the All Souls Wharton Room. The environment was quite intimidating for me at the beginning (natural emotion for a student stepping into All Souls for the first time and taking classes from two of the jurisprudence giants, I suppose), but the initial nervousness soon went away thanks to your cheerful and down-to-earth presence. I remember how you combined humour and academic seriousness in those seminars: the discussions were vibrant, yet there were often outbursts of laughter due to your jokes. I also remember vividly the generosity you showed, not only to the arguments in the classics that we discussed, but also to the students. Everyone’s contributions were genuinely welcomed... (This feeling is widely shared. My friends who attended the seminars with me, including my current colleague Cora Chan, reported exactly the same feeling.)

Working on a DPhil with you at Oxford was a wonderful experience. We all know that not all great academics are good supervisors as some of them forget that (at least some) graduate students are, to an extent, clumsy beginners. By contrast, I could not hope for a better supervisor ... I am very grateful for the efforts you made to make sense and bring the best out of my drafts – I really appreciate that. And you were so kind to me during the supervision sessions. While my drafts were not always up to standard, I always left your Logic Lane room excited due to new ideas for improving my draft, rather than feeling that my draft was trashed. It also amazes me that you were always able to link the specific topics I wrote about to some broader philosophical issues that bear on them in a subtle manner. The meetings with you not only contributed towards my DPhil. More importantly, they taught me some very important general lessons on how to do philosophy, like the importance of taking a step back and understanding the broad subject landscape so as to appreciate the motivation and attraction of your opponent’s position.

I am also most grateful for your practical help and advice on publishing and job applications. I was very much in panic during job season and applied for many more posts than I could reasonably impose on my letter writers. Thank you very much for your willingness to bear with me and for sending so many letters on my behalf.

And I must thank you for being so kind and generous to me even after I left Oxford… Even after my graduation, you have always provided wise and prompt advice whenever I contacted you, no matter how silly and trivial my worries were. I do not know what I can do to thank you for all these. But I hope you will know that I regard you as a role model and I will try my best to be a kind, understanding, and supportive mentor to my junior colleagues and students, just as you have been for me.

Besides our personal interaction, your writings, of course, have been a constant source of inspiration for me and so many others. “The Gist of Excuses” is one of my favourite papers which I often recommend to my students. Upon reading the thought-provoking essays in Offences and Defences in 2008, I realized that criminal law theory can be so interesting, which partly explains why I moved into criminal law theory for my DPhil... Reading your “What is Tort Law For: the Place of Corrective Justice” is the main reason why I decided to start working on philosophy of tort law two years ago. I am, in fact, finalizing a paper on the continuity thesis. I do not think it is appropriate to burden you with the paper in the circumstances, but I want to let you know that your work provided the inspiration for my paper and my paper would not have existed without your important and innovative work.

I can go on and on, but I know this email is too long already. I do hope to express my gratitude in person some time. I am wondering if you might be available for visit sometime in late May or June? I am not teaching this term so my schedule is very flexible. But please do not feel obliged in any sense to say yes – I perfectly understand that you may want to spend more time with your family or have more rest. These must be tough and busy times for you. We can always meet sometime later if you wish.

Take care, and my best wishes are always with you and your family.

With love,