The Philosophy Department Mourns the Passing of Jay Reuscher, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy

Posted in News Remembrance

John Alfred “Jay” Reuscher, associate professor emeritus of philosophy at Georgetown University, passed away on Sunday, June 14, 2020, due to complications of COVID-19. Jay was a member of the Department of Philosophy at Georgetown from 1969 until his retirement in 2011.

Jay was born in Carnegie, Pennsylvania, outside Pittsburgh, in 1930. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1948, and was ordained a priest in June, 1961. He subsequently left the Society in 1971.

Jay attended Fordham College and earned his BA in 1955. He entered the graduate program in philosophy at Fordham University and earned his MA in 1965, followed by his PhD in 1969, with a dissertation on “Kant’s Philosophy of Space,” supervised by the prominent American philosopher and theologian Robert Cummings Neville.

Jay joined the Department of Philosophy at Georgetown in 1969 and was promoted to associate professor in 1981. He published A Concordance to “The Critique of Pure Reason” (Peter Lang,1996) and Essays on the Metaphysical Foundations of Personal Identity (University Press of America, 1981). Jay served for many years as the Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Philosophy and was instrumental in restructuring the department’s graduate programs during the late 1970s.

Jay also played a central role Liberal Studies degree program in the School of Continuing Studies, serving on its core faculty for many years and helping to launch the Doctor of Liberal Studies degree. Frank Ambrosio (former director of the Doctor of Liberal Studies program) remembers that, “Jay was exceptionally skilled and effective at teaching adults, encouraging and enabling them to meet the challenge and enjoy the rewards of lifelong liberal arts education.” Anne Ridder (former assistant dean of the School of Continuing Studies) writes that “Jay contributed so much to the growth and expansion of the [Liberal Studies] Program,” and that he “truly represents the heart and soul of Georgetown.”

Jay is remembered fondly by his colleagues. For many years, Jay owned (or perhaps, served) doberman pincher dogs, teaching extra courses at night and over the summer to feed them. Terry Pinkard remembers “soaking in the life of pre-gentrified Dupont Circle” when they both lived there in the 1970s. Tom Beauchamp remembers having regular dinners with Jay in the early 1970s, followed by vigorous games of ping-pong.

Daniel Sulmasy (a graduate student in the philosophy department when Jay was Director of Graduate Studies) writes that Jay “put Kant and Aquinas in dialogue with one another in wonderful and fruitful ways.” John Brough remembers sitting in on Jay’s first graduate seminar at Georgetown: “It was amazing. He sat at his desk, Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason opened before him, and proceeded to give a brilliant lecture without a single note. It was a different world then, and he smoked throughout the whole performance, filling an ashtray to the brim. Still more impressive, he was able to sustain that level of performance across the entire semester.” (John also remembers that Jay knew of an unmetered and unmonitored parking spot in the Georgetown neighborhood that allowed him to avoid paying the university parking fees.)

Steve Kuhn reflects on Jay’s mastery not just of Kant, but of St. Thomas Aquinas as well: “I took advantage of Jay’s presence to ask him whether there was any truth to the caricature of Thomistic philosophers that they spent many words debating how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. Jay pulled a well-worn copy of the Summa (in Latin!) down from his shelf and began reading the relevant passages. The discussion, it turns out, had to do with the perfectly reasonable metaphysical question of whether two objects could be in the same place at the same time. And Thomas’s answer, as Jay explained, was also perfectly reasonable: it was not possible for material objects, but it was possible for immaterial ones (like angels). That was one bit of philosophical education that has stayed with me to this day.”

Pinkard sums up many colleagues’ thoughts thus: “Jay’s commitment to the life of the mind and to the teaching mission of the university was an inspiration.” Anne Ridder: “I treasure my years of friendship with him and trust he rests peacefully – no theses/papers to read, just unlimited time for playfulness with his heavenly dobermans.”