Ian Mueller, scholar of ancient Greek philosophy and math, 1938–2010
Ian Mueller, Professor Emeritus in Philosophy, died suddenly Friday, Aug. 6 at the University of Chicago Medical Center. He was 72.
Mueller was a scholar of ancient Greek philosophy of science and the reception of Plato and Aristotle in late antiquity. He is the author of Philosophy of Mathematics and Deductive Structure in Euclid's "Elements" (1981); the editor, translator and annotator of 10 volumes in the series Ancient Commentators on Aristotle, under the general editorship of Richard Sorabji; and the author of more than 70 articles on ancient Greek mathematics, astronomy and cosmology.
"Ian Mueller was the preeminent philosopher and historian of ancient Greek mathematics in his generation," said Jonathan Lear, the John U. Nef Distinguished Service Professor in Social Thought, Philosophy and the College. "His book Philosophy of Mathematics and Deductive Structure in Euclid's "Elements" sets the standard for work in this field, and it will be used by scholars through the generations. Ian was an extraordinarily generous teacher and colleague, and some of the very best scholars of the next generation were his students."
Mueller received his B.A. summa cum laude in 1959 from Princeton University, and his M.A. (1961) and Ph.D. (1964) from Harvard University. He taught at the University of Illinois, Urbana, before joining the UChicago faculty in 1967. From 1980 to 1981, he served as chair of the Philosophy Department.
Mueller was the recipient of an American Council of Learned Societies fellowship in 1972-73; a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1991-92; a residential fellowship from the Center for Hellenic Studies, Washington, D.C., in 1977-79; a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1984; a year's visiting appointment in the 'equipe of Roshdi Rashed at the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique, Paris, in 1989-90; and a distinguished visiting scholar appointment at Christ's College, Cambridge, in 2004-05.
Together with his wife, Janel, the William Rainey Harper Distinguished Service Professor Emerita in English and the College, Mueller took the lead in designing the "Greek Thought and Literature, Homer to Plato" common core College sequence in the Humanities. For 18 years they team-taught yearlong in this sequence. In 1998, both Muellers received Faculty Awards for Excellence in Graduate Teaching.
"He worked very hard for his students," said Bill Tait, Professor Emeritus in Philosophy and the College. Tait remembered that Mueller often would take the time to translate Greek or German primary sources into English to help his students. "That's an example of his kindness and generosity and his sense of responsibility when it concerned his students," Tait said.
"His knowledge was prodigious, and his ideas were of major and lasting importance," said Martha Nussbaum, the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics in the Law School, Philosophy and the Divinity School. "He wore his brilliance very lightly. As a colleague he was generous, modest and reticent about his achievements. He was also a great force for social justice, both outside the University and within it, as for example in the active part both he and Janel played in a faculty initiative to persuade the University to divest its investments in firms doing business in apartheid South Africa."
In his spare time, Mueller loved to cook and enjoyed gardening at his home in Michigan, his wife said.
Mueller is survived by his wife, Janel; his daughters, Maria and Monica; his sister, Marjorie; and his granddaughters, Naomi and Jael.
Contributions to the Joseph Regenstein Library in Ian Mueller's memory are welcome.
Follow UChicago’s social media sites, news feeds and mobile suite.