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University Mourns Dutton

The University of Canterbury is mourning the death of internationally renowned philosophy professor Denis Dutton who passed away on Tuesday.

Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Town said Professor Dutton was “an outstanding scholar, popular teacher and generous colleague”.

“His research and scholarship was of the highest international standard and he was recently awarded the University's Research Medal to recognise his enormous contributions to his discipline. On behalf of the University I extend our condolences to his wife Margit and family.”

Professor Dutton’s prolific and celebrated contributions to the field of the philosophy of art placed him at the forefront of academic excellence. A referee for Professor Dutton’s nomination for UC’s Research Medal , Professor Steven Pinker of Harvard University, said Professor Dutton was “a true intellectual leader, an astonishingly productive and daring scholar and one of the most influential academics in the world”.

Professor Dutton’s magnum opus, The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure and Human Evolution (Oxford University Press and Bloomsbury Press, 2009), accomplished the rare feat of becoming a hugely respected academic study that also achieved commercial success. It has so far been translated into five languages and has become a landmark in its field.

As well as developing philosophical theories, Professor Dutton sought to encourage recognition of the work of others. In 1976, while working at the University of Michigan, he founded the journal, Philosophy and Literature, as an outlet for new ideas in a developing field. The journal was taken over in 1983 by Johns Hopkins University Press, where it remains one of their flagship journals. It has received the coveted “A” rating in the European Union’s international rating of scholarly journals with Professor Dutton continuing as editor for a further thirty-five years.

In October 1998, Professor Dutton created Arts & Letters Daily, a website with carefully selected links to essays, articles and book reviews on an extremely broad range of topics. When the site was barely three months old, the Guardian/Observer named Arts & Letters Daily the best website in the world. The site, now owned by the Chronicle of Higher Education in Washington, receives 3.7 million page views a month.

In 2004, Time magazine named Professor Dutton as one of “the most influential media personalities” worldwide for the acclaimed Arts & Letters Daily website.

Professor Dutton, who received his PhD in philosophy from the University of California Santa Barbara in 1975, has been on staff at the University of Canterbury since 1984. He was appointed Professor of Philosophy at UC in 2009.

Just two weeks prior to his death, Professor Dutton briefly left hospital to receive the 2010 University of Canterbury Research Medal at a graduation ceremony in the Christchurch Town Hall.

Professor Dutton took the opportunity to say a few words following the presentation and thanked the University for the opportunities it had afforded him “by the research environment it has so carefully cultivated over the years” and his colleagues for their “rugged, incisive, yet cheerful criticism” of his work.


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