In Memoriam: Mario Bunge, 1919-2020, honorary BRS member

Mario Bunge was our Bertrand Russell Society honoree in 2009, at a Bertrand Russell Society meeting held at Central Connecticut State University. He was unable to travel to the event (he was 89 at the time), but we had a video interview which was played at the meeting. Bunge, who was born September 21, 1919 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, died February 24, 2020 in Montreal, Canada. He had just celebrated his 100th birthday a few months earlier, and despite difficulty in walking, was alert and at work on a book on inverse problems in philosophy of science.

Bunge graduated from the National University of La Plata with a PhD in physico-mathematical sciences; his dissertation dealt with the kinematics of the electron. But he had already developed a wide ranging interest in philosophy: from philosophy of science to political philosophy. During the 1930s he edited a journal called Minerva, which opposed irrationalist philosophy and political dictators, at a time when irrationalist and authoritarian thought was a real danger in Argentina, eventually leading to the dictatorship of Juan Peron. Bunge also founded a workers’ college, which became along with its founder an object of governmental repression.

Bunge’s best known book is Causality: The Place of the Causal Principle in Modern Science (Harvard Univ. Press, 1959) which was subsequently reprinted in the Dover series and remains in print today. His most substantial work was the 9 volumes in 8 Treatise on Basic Philosophy (Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1974 -1989) dealing with semantics, ontology, epistemology and methodology, philosophy of science and technology, and ethics. Bunge’s overall perspective was materialist, systemist, and emergentist. He published in both English and Spanish, and was translated into numerous other languages, with some 100 books and 500 articles, as well as commentaries in the press on subjects of the day – ranging from opposition to the war in Vietnam to the danger of global warming. His political philosophy was democratic and socialist.

He became a Professor of Philosophy at McGill University in Montreal, Canada in 1966, where he served as head of the Philosophy and Foundations of Science Unit until his retirement in 1990 at age 90. He continued to read, research and publish during his retirement, and followed Russell: Journal of the Bertrand Russell Society as a lifetime member. Bunge was the thesis advisor, mentor, and long-time friend of the current Bertrand Russell Society President, David Blitz. Mario Bunge lived a long, productive and engaged life of the mind, and said in his recently published autobiography, Between Two Worlds: Memoirs of a Philosopher Scientist (2016):

I fell in love with philosophy when I read Bertrand Russell’s Problems of Philosophy (1912)… Russell showed me how to rethink tough problems…

1 thought on “In Memoriam: Mario Bunge, 1919-2020, honorary BRS member

  1. I am very sorry to see one of my favorite philosophers besides Bertrand Russell leave this world. I learned of his existence from ads that I received as a member of The Philosophy of Sciences Association. One was for his book the Mind Body Problem. I read it and I knew that he was a philosopher that I was most in agreement with besides Bertrand Russell. I began to read more of his books,including his Treatise on Basic Philosophy.
    I wrote him a letter saying how much I agree with most of his philosophy and that I worked in the same place as his friend Rudolfo Llinás NYU MEDICAL CENTER. And I compared him to Russell which he agreed.
    Since I worked last at night I would see Rudolfo and another Surgeon leave at the same time as myself . I would talk to both on my way home.
    I told Rudolfo that I knew of his friendship with Mario. This friendship lasted until I retired in 2008.

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