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In Memoriam: Stanley Bates, Professor Emeritus

December 12, 2017

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – Professor Emeritus of Philosophy Stanley P. Bates, who joined the Middlebury College faculty in 1971 and continued to teach and advise philosophy students long after his retirement in 2008, passed away on December 10 at Helen Porter Nursing Home after a brief illness. He was 77 years of age.

Stanley P. Bates in 1993. Photo courtesy of Special Collections.

Beloved by family, friends, colleagues, and students, Bates was the epitome of a philosopher. His close friend and colleague Victor Nuovo said, “Stanley was a philosopher not only by profession, but in the whole of his being: his mind was open and tirelessly curious, never dogmatic, always careful in forming his opinions, always ready to revise them, and he was relentless in the search for truth.

“This was evident in the way he approached death: quietly, unafraid, and with a keen intellectual interest,” Prof. Nuovo observed on the day after Bates passed away. “In dying, he taught me and everyone near him how to die. It was the ultimate lesson – his last gift to us.”

A graduate of Dartmouth who earned a master’s degree at Oxford and a doctorate from Harvard, his major fields of interest were ethics and the philosophy of law. Bates published more than 60 articles, book chapters and reviews during his career, and served as an editorial referee for the university press at Princeton, Yale, Harvard, Cambridge (U.K.), Cornell, Chicago, and University of California.

“Stanley was a model of how to be a philosopher at a liberal arts college,” said Kareem Khalifa, associate professor and chair of the Department of Philosophy, “and his lasting legacy will be the passion for ideas that he instilled in generations of Middlebury philosophers. He taught and read broadly, which inspired both his students and his colleagues to strive for the erudition, curiosity, and generosity of thought that he so wonderfully and effortlessly exemplified.

“Well past his retirement, he supported our students' quests to discover their philosophical voices and to hone their ideas. In doing so, he recognized, perhaps better than anyone else in the department, that this was not only an intellectual journey, but also a deeply personal one. It speaks volumes to who he was as both a philosopher and a person that so many students chose to take this journey with him.”

Born in Los Angeles in 1940 and raised in Glendale, Calif., Bates graduated Dartmouth College summa cum laude in 1961 with highest honors in philosophy. He was selected for Phi Beta Kappa his junior year and earned an Alfred P. Sloan National Scholarship.

A Marshall scholar, Bates studied next at the University of Oxford where he earned a second bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and several academic laurels. From England, he returned to the U.S. in 1963 to study with political philosopher John Rawls at Harvard University. While pursuing his Ph.D., Bates was a teaching fellow at Harvard and later an assistant professor at University of Chicago.

In 1971, he was hired by then-President James I. Armstrong to join the faculty at Middlebury. Three years later he earned tenure and was promoted to associate professor, and in 1976 he was named acting dean of arts and humanities. He returned to Oxford on sabbatical in 1977, and in 1980 was promoted to full professor. 

Widely known for his understanding of Kant, Nietzsche, and Wittgenstein, Middlebury named Bates the Walter Cerf Distinguished College Professor in 1996. His many courses included Human Nature and Ethics, American Philosophy, Aesthetics, Wittgenstein’s Philosophy, and Kierkegaard, Marx and Nietzsche. He offered the 100-level Introduction to the Philosophical Tradition numerous semesters, and enjoyed teaching first-year seminars on Tragedy and Philosophy, and the Fate of Morality.

Bates took his teaching responsibilities very seriously, Professor Nuovo added. “He prepared his lectures carefully, and they were wonderful models of clarity. He was also always there for students. His kindness and decency won students’ trust, and he was generous of his time in advising them.”

The Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference was also dear to his heart, and Bates found time from 1978 to 1994 to serve as the administrative director of that renowned summer gathering of writers and editors. He also possessed a penchant for committee work having served multiple terms on the Committee on Reappointment and the Faculty Council, in addition to the Educational Affairs Committee, Teaching Resources Committee, Phi Beta Kappa Prize Committee, and Appeals Council.

Bates served his profession with leadership positions in the American Philosophical Association and American Society for Aesthetics, and served higher education as a frequent evaluator for the New England Association of Schools and Colleges and as a board member of the Vermont Council on the Humanities.

He is survived by his wife Virginia Bates of Weybridge, his daughter Jennifer Bates of Middlebury, his daughter Lissie Bates-Haus and son-in-law Nikolaus Bates-Haus of Littleton, Mass., and their three children: Gus, Walter, and Alice.

The family is planning to conduct a private memorial, and is making the arrangements for a memorial scholarship to assist students of philosophy at Middlebury College. Anyone interested in donating to that scholarship is advised to contact Lissie Bates-Haus at


Very sorry to hear the sad news. Stan was a generous and welcoming colleague when I joined the Middlebury Philosophy Department as a junior member in 1988. He gave me valuable advice, and I still remember our conversations about Marx and Nietzsche. My condolences to his family and his many friends at Middlebury.

by Phil Gasper (not verified)

Blessing to his family. Prof. Bates taught me logic and a formula to evaluate BS that I use today, Thanks Professor.

by Leroy Nesbitt, Jr. (not verified)

I am so sorry to hear this news. I was a philosophy major and was lucky enough to have Prof. Bates as a teacher and advisor. His lectures were amazing - incorporating the history and politics that influenced the philosophical works that we were studying to further our understanding of the context that formed these ideas. He made me a better thinker and writer. This is a great loss to Middlebury's intellectual community.

by Jeff McMahan '91 (not verified)

I graduated Middlebury in 1983. Pr. Bates was my advisor and a principal reason why I chose philosophy as my major. Soft spoken. So well prepared for all of his lectures with his chalk outlines on the board. A curious, keen, and clear mind. In his American Philosophy course, I remember scribbling down excitedly what he said, along with a friend/classmate, and, together, we would review and debate these ideas over the days ahead. For both my friend and me this was clearly our favorite class that term. In the ensuing years, we recalled how on the last day of
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class, as our heads were still looking down at our notepads, Pr. Bates finished his lecture, smiled, and quietly slipped out of the room before we could scarcely look up and clap for such a great intellectual adventure he had just given us. I went on into graduate school in philosophy largely because of the influence of Pr. Bates. And, I am clapping for him today still. So saddened by this news.
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by Jack Huntington... (not verified)

My sister Peggy and I had the privilege of reuniting with cousin Stan and Virginia, Cousin John & Judi in Palm Springs in March 2015. We're so sorry to hear of his passing. Stan will be greatly missed.

by Bridget Edwards (not verified)

I graduated in 1982 and majored in Philosophy. I have had the good fortune in life to work and study with very high caliber people in academia and in finance. Professor Bates stands out among all of the people I have met in my life as an amazing intellect, and such a kind and gentle person. He was one of the best things about MIdd. and epitomizes why folks want to study at small liberal arts colleges.

by Steve Boxer "82 (not verified)

I met Stan first on RMS Queen Mary in 1961 on our way as Marshall Scholars to England. We shared the same stateroom. We became v close friends over the next two years as students there. We both returned to US in 1963 to become PhD students at Harvard. He and Ginny (Virginia) and my wife Marcia and I and our two sets of children met every summer after we both completed our Harvard degrees, when we Coopers spent a month in Greensboro Vermont and always had them come for a week to stay with us.
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Marcia and I last last saw Stan and Ginnie in August this year when we visited them at their home in Weybridge, when we dropped in on them while visiting our daughter Katherine in Burlington. Stan was a big help in advising our other daughter Stephanie Middlebury ‘90. So I regret the death of this very old and one of my best professional friends.
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by John M. Cooper (not verified)

Just the other day, I told one of my students about how much difficulty I had with philosophy and how fortunate I was to have Professor Bates patiently explain concepts from Kant until I understood them. He was truly humble, considerate, and caring - in addition to being brilliant. If he had not helped me build a solid intellectual foundation in philosophy, I probably would not have been able to complete my doctorate years later. His influence was invaluable.

by Bess Malson-Huddle (not verified)

It would be hard to overstate how deeply Stan Bates intimidated me. He was my professor in several courses and my advisor, for my major as an Independent Scholar and for my senior year thesis, and I always had a funny reaction to his remarkable talents. I was awed by the dimensions of his knowledge and the depth of his insights, whether the subject was linguistics or political philosophy or Updike's novels or movies. I recall sitting in his office one afternoon when it dawned on me that there was not a single significant subject that he had not mastered.
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But those who knew Stan well knew that he was one of the most unassuming, unpretentious people on the Middlebury faculty. He conveyed no sense of self-importance as he chatted about Wittgenstein, or Stanley Cavell's theories on words and meaning, or essays on golf, or his observations as a father, a subject he was good at. I wanted to be like him, which is, after all, one of the greatest attributes of a great mentor. It was clear that I could never be as smart as Stan. That was a given. But I could aspire to being rigorous in my efforts to think clearly and piercingly. I could aspire to being a good guy, a nice guy. That's how Stan influenced me. He set the bar high, without trying. But perhaps his greatest influence was on my writing. I built my career as a writer, and his comments constantly come back to me, even now. He never wrote more than a few comments in the margins of my paper, some approving, most of them not. He liked clarity. He hated an inflated sense of importance. He loved insights camouflaged as casual observations. I took note. I'll always remember one note in particular, in the margins of a paper I had thought one of my best. There was my long passage analyzing something or other, and he just wrote, "Is that English?" To say the least, it was deflating, but, given that this was Stan Bates, it was not defeating. I took it as an admonition, and my life and career were richer for it. Stan Bates was one of the Middlebury greats, in his soft-spoken way, and I'm terribly grateful I had the opportunity to study under his broad wings.
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by Jim Sterngold '76 (not verified)

My freshman roommate (Chris Christopher) and I took a 300 level philosophy course with Professor Bates in the fall of 1974 (our first semester on campus). His class was a fantastic introduction to Middlebury College and he was an incredible teacher. I ended up majoring in Physics and Chris in Geography, a long way from Philosophy, but the class was so good that I still remember it fondly after 40 years. What a great way to start at Middlebury, thanks Professor Bates.

by Martin J Cleary... (not verified)

Very sad to hear the news of Professor Bates' passing. I count myself truly lucky to have had the chance to study with him for my senior thesis on Wittgenstein. During the summer before my senior year, when he was an Emeritus professor, Professor Bates was kind enough to video chat with me regularly to discuss my readings in a wide variety of philosophical subjects. He helped prepare me to attend the International Ludwig Wittgenstein Conference in Austria that summer and kept in touch as I traveled across Europe, digging deeper into my thesis research. The time I spent working
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with Professor Bates is without a doubt the most memorable experience of my academic career. Hardly a day goes by that I don't think back to our discussions of the Philosophical Investigations or Stanley Cavell's The Claim of Reason, remembering the incredible breadth of material we covered and his kind, perceptive advice. Professor Bates was an enormous asset to the Middlebury community and his death is an enormous loss. I am forever grateful that I had to the chance to get to know him so late in his career.
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by Kyle Kysela '16 (not verified)

I was very sad to hear of Professor Bates' passing. He was a great teacher and mentor who presented philosophy in all its depth, complexity, and elegance. He was the great influence behind my choice to study philosophy and pursue an academic career in it. During my years at Middlebury, Professor Bates was the model of philosophy teacher I aspired to be. One of my most unforgettable undergraduate experiences was taking a contemporary aesthetics course with him. It started with a daunting stack of books on things we had never heard of thought about, from dance notations to Duchamp's urinal
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and Tolstoy's fables. Professor Bates took these voluminous readings and formed a narrative about art, its purpose and its value. More importantly, he made the students feel that it was them who were making sense of it all. That was teaching philosophy at its best. I am grateful for having been a student of Professor Bates, and for experiencing first hand his love for thinking and teaching.
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by Dimitrios Dents... (not verified)