By Emily Largent
A week ago, I received the sad news that Alan Wertheimer had passed away. Alan made many important contributions to the philosophical literature, including Coercion and Exploitation. And while Alan would tell you that he did not identify as a bioethicist, he made significant contributions to the bioethics literature as well. I am certain his work will continue to be influential in many areas.
On a personal note, Alan was a mentor and friend. I truly appreciated his intellectual generosity and his many kindnesses toward me.
I met Alan while I was a pre-doctoral fellow in the Department of Bioethics at the NIH. My initial impressions of him were shaped by the vivid and incisive hypotheticals he offered for our consideration; the pointed questions he asked in the Department’s Works in Progress sessions (which have a reputation for “combative collegiality”); the thoughtful and rapid comments he made on manuscripts; and a surprisingly competitive bowling outing that Alan took with the Department of Bioethics fellows.
Our first project together was a survey of IRB members’ attitudes toward coercion and undue inducement. He often reminded me that it was his first survey – as it was mine – and that we would figure it out together (with help from Christine Grady and Frank Miller). The sense of camaraderie Alan fostered, despite the vast difference in our subject-matter expertise, put me at ease and made the project very enjoyable.
After I began grad school, I enjoyed occasional visits with Alan but relied largely on our correspondence to exchange updates on our families, to get feedback on my projects, and to seek Alan’s guidance. In response to my emails, it was not unusual to get either (a) insightful feedback or (b) an email telling me that he was at a bridge tournament. If it was (b), I knew that a second email with insightful feedback would be forthcoming.
I am, in hindsight, embarrassed to admit how unaware I initially was of the magnitude of Alan’s intellect and intellectual contributions. My appreciation for the personal interest he took in my ideas and projects is even deeper in light of what I know now. It says something about the special, and especially generous, colleague that Alan was. He will be missed.