In Memoriam: Professor Tristram Engelhardt
Department of Philosophy
Professor Engelhardt was a valued member of the Rice Philosophy Department faculty for thirty-five years. He also served on the faculty of Baylor College of Medicine.
Professor Engelhardt was a remarkable scholar and journal editor, and a devoted mentor to generations of doctoral students and fellow scholars. He will be sorely missed.
Please leave your tributes to Professor Engelhardt by choosing the tribute button on the left-side menu. You may also see his obituary on the Rice University Department of Philosophy page by choosing obituary on the left-side menu.
I cannot fail to give a one-sided portrait of the man here, but I hope this memorial serves like a stone in a mosaic, such that, alongside all these other remembrances, it helps a picture of the whole to shine through.
Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School
During the academic year 1991-92, I was a clinical Critical Care Medicine fellow at Baylor College of Medicine. During the four months I spent at the Methodist Hospital MICU, Dr Englehardt would conduct Clinical Ethics Rounds. He was insightful, inquisitive and intellectually honest. I remember presenting a particularly sad and challenging case of a bedbound patient with severe cerebral palsy, non-communicative, who had had a relentless series of hospital ICU admissions for recurrent infections, and Dr. Englehardt saying "these are the ones that really make me sweat!" It was a great comfort to me to know that so erudite a thinker and ethicist could struggle with the same emotional conflicts and ambiguities that I was encountering as a nascent physician and intensivist.
Medical College of Wisconsin
Without Tris bioethics would not be the same. His contribution to the field has been extraordinary not only in creating spaces for people to disagree intellectually but also for his scholarship and dedication to his students. I will always be in his debt for his mentorship and the influence of his work in my wrestling with the philosophical, moral, and political predicament of Western culture. Bioethics has lost one of its greatest minds but his intellectual legacy will continue to impact students and scholars. He was one of a kind and he will be missed.
University of Washington
Tris insisted on speaking to me in Latin. We may have missed some subtle bioethical points as we argued our way through those early conundrums but I am sure that I was always right! What a dear, eccentric friend he was.
M.J. Conaway, Ph.D., D.Be.
Loyola University Chicago and The University of Iowa
I never had the good fortune to interact with Dr. Engelhardt directly. However, his work has profoundly influenced my own scholarship. Although I strongly suspect that Dr. Engelhardt and I would disagree on many things, I would have enjoyed intellectually sparring with him. Most importantly, from my own studies, I have come to the conclusion that the methodology of Dr. Engelhardt really is the way it ought to be for Bioethics. Elder colleagues of mine send their condolences as well.
Professor of Bioethics, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine
My first exposure to bioethics was when I took a couple of courses from Dr. Engelhardt in the mid-80s as an undergraduate at Rice. At a university with many brilliantly eccentric professors, Dr. Engelhardt stood out. Usually wearing cowboy boots, he was colorful in his personality and in his speech. He called everyone by their last names (“Mr. Parsi”). He introduced me to words like Rawlsian and Nozickian (as in “what would a Nozickian say about a government-run health system?”). Even though we were just undergraduates, he expected us to be prepared for intense Socratic dialogue, like Professor Kingsfield from the Paper Chase (but Engelhardt was even more erudite and had a better sense of humor). A proud Texian, he even gave us Texas Independence Day (March 2nd) off from classes.
My relationship with him was formal (I never could call him Tris, even as I became a tenured professor years later) and he greatly shaped the way I teach bioethics. I still use his Foundations of Bioethics with my graduate students at Loyola. In addition to being a brilliant philosopher, I like to think of Dr. Engelhardt as an intellectual historian, someone greatly interested in the history of ideas. This appreciation of intellectual history also influenced my own intellectual interests. Ultimately, I view him as a counter-cultural thinker in the field of bioethics. I suspect he would embrace that mantle with relish.
University of North Carolina, Charlotte
Tris was a legend already by the time I began working with him. He was both supportive and demanding, and mentored his students intensively, not just in philosophy itself, but also in other areas of life. From him I gained a deep appreciation for the importance and value of mentoring students, and when I mentor my own, it is in part a way of paying back Tris's mentoring of me. Good bye, Tris; we'll lift a glass to you whenever we gather together.
Rice Philosophy Department
When I came to Rice for my job talk (I think it was in February 1983), I had no idea what to expect. I'd never been to Houston, and Rice was known to me only as a vague memory from my very young days when followed college football and "Rice" would appear on the TV screen somewhere in the roll-call of the weekend's recap of final scores. I delivered some highfalutin' lecture on phenomenology, Husserl, Heidegger, History, or something, after which I received the usual spate of intelligent, if somewhat baffled, questions. Then, from the very back of the lecture hall, a booming voice rang out (in an unmistakable, yet unplaceable, accent): "The problem with Heidegger is that while he has a lot of concepts, he doesn't have the concept of the concept!" That was my first taste of Tris, and while I had no idea what to make of that, it was the beginning of a tremendously fruitful dialogue with the man that has now, sadly, ended. Talking with Tris was always a pleasure, great fun, full of surprises -- but ever so humbling. Tris seemed to know everything and seemed to put everything he knew into every sentence he spoke. One could only counter the intimidation that one felt in the presence of such erudition with a kind of humor, a humor that Tris knew how to return in kind. During the over thirty years that Tris and I spent together in the department he would greet me, every time, in the German language (peppered with Latin, of course) and I would stumble along with my rusty German until the whole thing broke down into a baffling glossolalia. What fun we had! Beyond that, of course, Tris became my comrade-in-arms in maintaining the presence of the continental philosophical tradition in the department. His thinking derived from Kant and Hegel, mine from the tradition of Husserl and Heidegger, and so the undergraduate and graduate students who were curious about such things received, I believe, a first-rate picture of what is most important in that continental tradition. Of course, Tris's interests went far beyond that framework. His eminence in philosophy is attested not only by his telephone book sized CV, but also in the army of students he trained who have gone on to professorships at leading universities and to other professional positions. But for me, he will always be most remembered for the trenchant debates we would have over what amounted to his challenge delivered on that very first day at Rice -- now ramified into every nook and cranny of every philosophical question we ever discussed. Though we never came to agreement on anything, the disagreement was ever so productive. I will remember his passion for philosophy, above all -- that, and his love of a good scotch and his generosity in sharing it with me! Such a good friend and colleague. How sorry I am to lose him.
Tris was a mentor and a teacher like few others. He was extraordinary in his ability to pour time into his students, striving to see them succeed and become better scholars. As all of his students know, if he could be of any help to you, he would. But he would often remind us, in his own characteristic way: 'do ut des,' 'I give so that you may give.' I continue to be deeply impressed by the community of scholars he has built over his distinguished career.
Even when he did not always agree with you, his comments were penetrating, and you were always challenged to be a better philosopher. He will be deeply missed.