Passings: Ian Charles Jarvie

Candle light vigil memorial passing

Professor Emeritus Ian Charles Jarvie, formerly of York University’s Department of Philosophy, passed away at age 85 with his loved ones at his side on May 16.

Jarvie was born in South Shields, U.K. on July 8, 1937. He was an admired philosopher, pioneering in the fields of the philosophy of the social sciences and the philosophy and sociology of film. With J. O. Wisdom, John O’Neill and Harold Kaplan, Jarvie founded the journal Philosophy of the Social Sciences, which came to define the field. He nurtured it as a managing editor from 1971 for over 50 years until 2023, when he relinquished its management due to failing health. His publications in the philosophy of film and in the sociology of film, linked below, also created new areas of study which have since flourished.

Jarvie was educated at Dover Grammar School for Boys. He graduated with a BSc (Econ) from the London School of Economics (LSE) in 1958, reading social anthropology. Joseph Agassi, Karl Popper’s assistant, recruited him to philosophy. Jarvie gained his PhD in 1962 under John Watkins’ and Popper’s supervision and often described the latter as his guiding light. From 1960 until 1962, he tutored at LSE and became Popper’s assistant. He then took up a lectureship at the University of Hong Kong for five years, where Agassi had preceded him in 1960. Jarvie was appointed professor in 1967 at the Department of Philosophy and the Department of Social Science at York University. He was the graduate program director for several years in the Department of Philosophy, and he briefly chaired the department in the 1980s, eventually retiring in 2008 as emeritus professor.

Jarvie’s first book, The Revolution in Anthropology (1964), was widely acclaimed. His choice of philosophical method, critical rationalism, was featured in it, combined with his knowledge of social anthropology. In this vein, he published anthropological work on the cargo cults of the South Pacific and contributed to anthropological studies on the media, particularly film. His adherence to functionalism in the study of the social differed from that of Emile Durkheim in that knowledge and ideas must be presented as causal variables. Further, he contended that it must be the case that a functionalist framework with an active role in explanatory ideas requires adopting a rational attitude towards ideas, which aligns with Popper’s influence.

Jarvie collaborated extensively with Agassi on many books and articles, which included the editing with prefaces of several of Ernest Gellner’s collected papers. Their co-authored papers on the rationality of magic, dogmatism, and irrationalism have been widely cited. Their teaching overlapped in Hong Kong for a year, and in 1968 they jointly wrote a book on its state of transition. Agassi was also his colleague at York for 15 years, and they collaborated on editing Rationality: The Critical View (1987), and later, writing A Critical Rationalist Aesthetics (2008).

Jarvie was a Guggenheim scholar in 1986 when he researched his book on Philosophy of the Film: Epistemology, Ontology, Aesthetics (1987). He had an abiding interest in aesthetics and taught it successfully for many years at the University. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. His consolidated publications list includes hundreds of scholarly papers and reviews, in addition to 14 books, of which two were co-authored with Agassi. Furthermore, he managed and co-edited an academic journal for 52 years, and co-edited 17 books. He died, at nearly 86 years of age, with medical assistance, from cancer.

Although prolific as a contributing scholar and editor, Jarvie was a modest man with a genial, optimistic and cheerful attitude. He will be missed by his family, colleagues and his many friends in the academic world. He is survived by his wife, Jeanette Bicknell, their daughter Madeleine, his brother Bruce, and two children, Suzanne and Max, by his former wife, May Jarvie.