For My Teacher, Stanley Cavell


  • Alice Crary University of Oxford



I AM HONORED TO BE HERE, with members of the Cavell family, with friends and with colleagues, to celebrate the life and work of Stanley Cavell, to whom I owe inestimably large debts of gratitude and whom I remember with the greatest affection and admiration.

Cavell’s role in my life was that of a philosophical parent. He is well known to have held that “philosophy is the education of grownups,” and the sort of parenting I am talking about involved opening the door of philosophy for my young adult self. This was not a matter of induction into a theoretical research program of the type that then already dominated academic philosophy. Cavell’s way was to prompt students to confront and interrogate our own intellectual responses, leading us to ask “why we do what we do, judge as we judge,” and positioning us to think for ourselves. This is a demanding pedagogical enterprise, and Cavell devoted singular amounts of time and energy to supporting the young thinkers around him. What I am going to recount is the story of two extraordinary things that he did as my teacher, circumstances all the more arresting in that I was not officially his student.