John Gardner at Home

Memories from Alexandra Whelan

Dear John

I was so sorry to learn that you are unwell.

I have been thinking a lot about my time in Oxford. And I wanted to thank you for being such a wonderful teacher. I can still remember coming to my first Phil Founds class – I had come over to Oxford to do some philosophy, but without much clue if I could do it or what it would entail. The first class - with you and James Edwards on intention or something like that - was completely overwhelming. I remember thinking I had no idea what was going on, everyone seemed brilliant (or at least to know what we were talking about…), and also that this was precisely why I had come here. A year passed and you took me on as your student. (I was thrilled!) I loved my MPhil year and all our discussions – I would arrive ready to discuss one thing, clutching my most recent paper in hand, and we would bounce from topic to topic, while you pulled random books off the shelf for me to read. We covered relationships, roles, obligations, trust, loyalty, friendship, representation, the role of the law, the rule of law, reasons, justifications – a lifetime of topics. I felt a whole world open up – where a group of people could sit for hours and discuss what an apology is, what an emotion is, the difference between being justified and justifiable! I remember too your classes on political philosophy with Tony Honore at All Souls. You and Tony discussing Rawls and Berlin - Tony interjecting with his personal memories of Berlin! - and then you'd turn to us and we'd attempt some kind of cogent contribution. I would spill out of class with other students and wind up in the pub going over and over these new ideas (Les Green once said we really needed to get a life; but you said that’s what you’d spent your BCL doing too…). I suppose what I really want to say is that you completely changed how I think and write, and I’m incredibly grateful for that.

I then faced the difficult decision of whether to go to the bar or do the DPhil. I can still remember sitting in your room agonising over it. You gave me lots of good advice and unusually (at least in my experience), although I was facing much the same choice as you had once made, you didn’t simply tell me to do what you had done. Instead, you said that there were many ways to live a good life. And that the choice itself comes to change you, as you develop the skills and interests for the path you have picked.

If you are up to seeing visitors, I would love to see you. But, of course, I completely understand if that’s not possible.

I hope you are enjoying time with your family and friends, and that you are writing and reading and cooking and chatting about the world in the sunshine.