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Nicholas Sturgeon

Obituary of Nicholas L Sturgeon

Nicholas L. Sturgeon, Susan Linn Sage Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Cornell University, died on August 24, 2020, at Hospicare of Ithaca, from complications of Parkinson's disease. He was 77. Nick taught at Cornell's Sage School of Philosophy for 47 years, serving as chair from 1988-1994, and specializing in metaethics. Together with colleagues, Nick developed 'Cornell Realism,' a view which holds that true moral judgments are about moral facts constituted by natural facts. His reflections on morality and justice informed his lifelong political actions, whether he was marching against both Iraq Wars, or, during apartheid, getting arrested on campus to protest Cornell's financial holdings in South Africa. Nick was known for his kindness, wit, and encyclopedic memory, and to the very end of his life he enjoyed discussing the nuances of ethical argumentation, retrieving decades-old baseball stats, decoding crossword clues, sharing Amtrak trivia, collecting recordings of even the rarest operas, and recalling dreadful puns from The Muppet Show. A committed progressive with subscriptions to just about every leftist periodical, he donated regularly to most humanitarian causes and hoped fervently for a shift in our country's recent political tides. Nicholas Lee Sturgeon was born in Santa Maria, California on October 11th, 1942, to Galen H. Sturgeon, a geologist for Shell Oil and Lieutenant jg in the US Navy, and Anna L. Sturgeon, a homemaker and later a social worker for Contra Costa County Child Protective Services. Thanks to the demands of his father's job, Nick grew up all over the southwestern United States including Grand Junction, Colorado and Salt Lake City, Utah, and spent several happy summers on his maternal grandmother's ranch in Winton, California, where he and his sister would spend hours listening to old records on a wind-up Victrola. He enjoyed recounting memories of family trips and beloved pets, and was a confident and careful driver on hairpin turns high in the Rockies. His passions, besides philosophy, were baseball (he was a diehard Giants fan with a dog named Willie McCovey), opera (he frequented Glimmerglass, Syracuse, and Binghamton, and splurged at the Met), and cross country train travel, especially on Amtrak's California Zephyr, which traveled through the mountainous landscape he loved. A graduate of Carleton College and Princeton University, Nick married Joanne Sanderson in 1966 and, newly hired at Cornell, relocated to Ithaca, NY in 1967, where he happily spent the next 53 years, enjoying intermittent visiting professor appointments at Johns Hopkins, the University of Michigan, and the University of California at Los Angeles, and a sabbatical term as an academic visitor in Oxford, England. His former students speak of his intellect, patience, and kindness, and colleagues remember his "consistently sensible and illuminating voice in departmental meetings." One peer called Nick's writing "a model for how to engage in substantive and fruitful philosophical debate," and another remembered his arguments as "extraordinarily clear, luminous, [. . .] original, important, and right!" Nick faced his Parkinson's diagnosis with characteristic grace, and grew to love the community at his Finger Lakes Rock Steady Boxing class, many of whom rode the same Gadabout bus three times a week. He made a home with Joanne for 54 years, and was a devoted father to his children Kit Sturgeon and Erika Sturgeon Drezner, a welcoming father-in-law to Todd Drezner, and a loving grandfather to Sam. He is survived by all of these family members along with his cherished sister, Janet Sturgeon of Upland, California. We will gather to celebrate Nick's life when such gatherings are again possible. Meanwhile, in lieu of flowers, friends may donate in Nick's honor to Rock Steady Boxing, to the International Rescue Committee, or to the American Civil Liberties Union—or, between now and November 3rd, write postcards, make calls, send texts, donate cash, and otherwise dedicate themselves to achieving Nick's dearest wish: flipping the Senate, soundly defeating the incumbent of the White House, and rescuing our democracy from fascism.
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