The University of Arizona

Regents' Professor John Pollock, 1940-2009

By Jeff Harrison, October 5, 2009

Pollock helped lead the UA philosophy department to become one of the premier departments in the nation.

Regents' Professor John Pollock
Regents' Professor John Pollock

John Leslie Pollock, Regents' Professor of philosophy and cognitive science at the University of Arizona, died on Sept. 29 after a long illness. He was 69.

Pollock was among the dominant figures in epistemology, the study of the nature of knowledge. His research also expanded into two relatively new areas: cognitive science and artificial intelligence, or AI.

Philosophy is not really a discipline, Pollock said in 2004 on learning he had been named Regents' Professor. "It's what's left over after you take out the sciences. Most of the sciences started out as philosophy," he said, pointing out as examples that psychology, linguistics and physics were once part of philosophy.

Pollock was born on Jan. 28, 1940, in Atchison, Kan., and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1961, majoring in physics, philosophy and mathematics.

In 1965 he earned a doctorate at the University of California, Berkeley, and held a succession of faculty positions at the State University of New York at Buffalo, the University of Rochester and the University of Michigan.

Pollock was recruited to the UA in 1978, when the University was actively seeking to become a major research institution. He said he declined an offer from Syracuse University and came to Tucson "against my better judgement," largely because of the weather and lifestyle, he said in an earlier interview.

Adding Pollock and a number of other key hires helped the UA elevate its philosophy department into one of the strongest in the country.

Pollock's campus office included an artificial intelligence laboratory where he worked on models of human cognition.

His lab was part of the UA's cognitive science program, which he helped start and has since become one of the best in the world, "in large part because people from departments all across campus frequently discuss their research," he said.

"That's been invaluable. You learn so much about the other fields that way," he said. "This University is great in supporting people doing unusual things."

Pollock published more than a dozen books and more than 100 essays in professional journals during his career. Many of his former students are accomplished faculty at other colleges and universities in the U.S. and other countries.

He also was an outdoor enthusiast, cyclist and photographer.

"John was a man of energy without limit and warm spirit without fail," wrote philosophy department head Christopher Maloney. "He deeply appreciated art in virtually all its many forms and was himself a wonderfully gifted photographer with an unmatched eye for landscapes," Maloney said.

Pollock is survived by his wife, Lilian Jacques, and daughters Katherine Pollock and Erika Burkhalter.

A memorial service is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 10 from 2-6 p.m. at the home of professors Terry and Dianne Horgan at 940 N. Bentley Ave. The family requests that donations in Pollock's memory should be sent to the Arizona Cancer Center at 1515 N. Campbell Ave., P.O. Box 245013, Tucson, Ariz., 85724-5013.