Gary Iseminger

14 December 2022
Gary Iseminger

Gary Iseminger, age 85, died on December 11th in Northfield. Gary taught Philosophy at Carleton for 42 years, beginning in 1962 as an instructor and retiring in 2004 as the Stephen R. Lewis Jr. Professor of Philosophy & Liberal Learning, Emeritus. Among his many gifts, Gary was well-known for helping students grapple deeply with complex philosophical issues, inspiring them in the philosophy of art, aesthetics, music, logic, law, medical ethics, epistemology, and the history of philosophy.

Gary was an internationally known philosopher, publishing several books and numerous articles and reviews on aesthetics and logic, including his latest book, The Aesthetic Function of Art (2004)He was a leader in American philosophical aesthetics and was on the editorial board of the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. During retirement or sabbaticals, he held visiting professorships in many places, including at Lingnan University, Hong Kong; Trinity College, Dublin; King’s College, London; the London School of Economics; and the Mayo Clinic School of Medicine. He was also invited to lecture around the world. 

Gary took an active role in the life of the Philosophy Department and the college, chairing or serving on almost every elected committee, including College Council, the Educational Policy Committee (now ECC), and the Tenure and Development Committee (now FPC). He also coached varsity tennis at Carleton, including a team that won the conference title in 1967.

Gary’s interest in the philosophy of aesthetics and music was grounded in his own musical abilities. He played the vibraphone in Occasional Jazz in Northfield and in Aesthetic Attitude at the American Aesthetics Society meetings. He played the timpani in the Cannon Valley Regional Orchestra and even played once with the Minnesota Orchestra. He also sang at Tanglewood and composed for the Carleton Players and the Northfield Arts Guild.

Gary is survived by his wife, Andrea Grove Iseminger ‘59, who was Carleton’s Off-Campus Studies Director; two children; and two grandchildren. See the family’s more complete obituary.

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  • 2022-12-14 10:12:15
    Daniel Groll

    So sorry to hear the news of Gary's passing. Gary had already retired when I joined the philosophy department in 2009, but he was a regular attendee at talks and retreats for many years and it was a pleasure to get to him know him. He was a very kind and intellectually sharp presence in discussions and just fun to talk with over dinner or a glass of wine. My deepest condolences to his family.

  • 2022-12-14 12:15:57

    I never met Gary, but I am very sorry to hear of his passing, as he clearly meant so much to so many people at Carleton and beyond. The Philosophy Department, our departmental neighbor, especially must miss him. My condolences to you all, and to all who knew and loved him.

  • 2022-12-14 13:43:41
    Alan Bauer '74

    Fall term freshman year: Philo 10 with Iseminger. Decided then to be a Philosophy major. A decision I've never regretted.

  • 2022-12-14 14:44:07
    Ron Rodman

    Gary was my "mentor" during my first year at Carleton, and he and Andrea had Sue and I over for dinner early on. Always grateful for the kind hospitality they showed us during that difficult time.
    Gary was also a fine jazz vibraphonist, and I had the pleasure of playing with him a few times. He also could be found in the percussion section of the Cannon Valley Symphony Orchestra from time to time. The philosophy world will miss him, but so will the Northfield musical community.

  • 2022-12-14 14:53:20
    Dan Sullivan

    Gary and I co-taught a course on medical ethics in either 1978 or 1979--a sociologist of science and medicine and a philosopher. I learned from him how to teach paying close attention to the text, and how to get students to read a text closely. And I watched a master teacher introduce students to elements of formal logic in ways they wouldn't forget. He was a close friend throughout our first term in Northfield--from 1971-86--and, as if we hadn't been gone for 27 years, he and Andrea were friends again when we returned in 2013. Big loss to the Carleton family. Andrea and their children have our deepest, most heartfelt sympathy.

    • 2023-01-09 16:56:29
      Emma Turner

      I took Prof Iseminger's Biomedical Ethics cladding in 78 or 79 and it was one of the most thought provoking course I've ever taken. His style was so calm and yet engaging enough to make a young black freshman girl fron New Orleans feel at ease and comfortable to actually feel my points were both valued and valid. Condolences to his family, friends, colleagues and all of us--his former students.

    • 2023-01-09 16:59:22
      Emma Turner

      Please excuse the obvious typos...i have a wonky keyboard. 😁

  • 2022-12-14 16:06:36
    Jim bonhivert

    I took an all year freshman class from him called “should I be rational”
    It has deeply effected my thought process for 52 years. He is in my mind quite often.
    One of the best courses I had. ‘74

  • 2022-12-15 09:15:39
    John Collins

    I was Gary's student in three classes and he had a great influence on me. I would see him for years after Carleton, as he organized American Philosophical Association conference lunches with Carls. All his handouts were handwritten; I'd still recognize his handwriting anywhere.

  • 2022-12-15 11:55:38
    Kathleen Galotti

    Gary was an important senior colleague and unofficial mentor to me when I first arrived at Carleton. I worked with him on both the Institutional Review Board and in setting up the cognitive science concentration. I frequently wondered if I'd ever be able to live up to the high ethical and intellectual standards he set. I'm so so sorry to hear of his passing.

  • 2022-12-15 16:09:49
    Thomas Henke '98

    I took my first Philosophy seminar with Gary focusing on Descartes. Over my four years, I had several courses with him, and Gary served as my Comps advisor. He was amazing at asking that next question to make my own work better. He also had a wicked dry sense of humor that I will sorely miss. The combination of those two skills is probably the reason I became a Philosophy major.

  • 2022-12-16 06:55:16
    Kate Soule

    Gary and his family have been lifelong friends. In fact, it was my parents, George and Carolyn Soule, who introduced them to each other. I will miss him very much. My best memories are of visits he and Andrea paid to our house and of visiting their house in return. When I was very small, I called good things to eat "minums" (perhaps a variant on "yum yums") and "Iseminums" - those from the Isemingers - were the best. My minds ear still hears the stories Gary told in front of the fire and his expansive laugh. With Gary's passing I mourn the loss of another of the most important people of my childhood.

  • 2022-12-16 09:31:09
    Pamela Feldman-Savelsberg

    My deepest condolences to Andrea and her family on the passing of a treasured person. I remember Gary as an interesting and interested/curious scholar, with whom I had the pleasure of occasional conversations about aesthetics, music, and philosophy of the social sciences. I knew Andrea much better, and always felt kindly toward Gary because of my admiration for Andrea's intellect, ethics, and exemplary way of running meetings.

  • 2022-12-18 00:31:48
    Henry Sidel

    I am sorry to hear the news of Gary's passing. My condolences to his family. I studied philosophy with Gary and remember him well. He was deeply respectful, curious, intelligent, and yet challenging to his students. It was also totally cool that he played the vibes. I forget which band it was, faculty or student or both, but it was awesome.

  • 2022-12-20 13:50:26
    Bruce Dybvik

    I met Gary through Cannon Valley Elder Collegium when he taught a course in Aesthetics- Arguing About Art ,and I was thoroughly taken with his teaching and background in both Aesthetics and Logic. During post-class discussion I disclosed that as a Philosophy undergrad I was first struck by a course and text called Practical Logic, written by Monroe Beardsley. Turns out Gary knew Beardsley well and that Beardsley also taught and wrote about aesthetics. Amazing- I could not believe the fact that Gary knew a life-long scholar idol of mine. When I mentioned some professors I had as an undergrad at UW-Madison, Gary knew them, too! Expressing my incredulity, Gary graciously loaned me one of his own books on Logic to revive my interest. That one CVEC Aesthetics class and subsequent discussions did revive my interest in Philosophy and I will always be grateful. Gary was truly a gentleman, an incredible scholar, and an inspiring teacher- he will be greatly missed. Bruce Dybvik

  • 2022-12-20 14:21:49
    Stephen Kelly

    Gary's loss is very painful to me. Peggy and I met Gary and Andrea shortly after coming to Carleton in 1974 at a Bill Nelson piano recital. Shortly after that they kindly took us under their wings and invited us to their home to meet other senior faculty. That was typical of them and we benefited from their kindness for many years after. My relationship with Gary became much richer when we became bandmates through a whole series of groups starting in the mid 80s and culminating in our time together in Occasional Jazz for more than 20 years. Gary was a sensitive, creative, and tasteful vibes player who brought many new tunes into the repertoire. He was a great colleague in the band with impeccable time and a wry sense of humor. I morn his loss.

  • 2022-12-20 14:23:22
    Stephen Kelly

    Gary's loss is very painful to me. Peggy and I met Gary and Andrea shortly after coming to Carleton in 1974 at a Bill Nelson piano recital. Shortly after that they kindly took us under their wings and invited us to their home to meet other senior faculty. That was typical of them and we have benefited from their kindness and friendship for many years after. My relationship with Gary became much richer when we became bandmates through a whole series of groups starting in the mid 80s and culminating in our time together in Occasional Jazz for more than 20 years. Gary was a sensitive, creative, and tasteful vibes player who brought many new tunes into our repertoire. He was a great colleague in the band with impeccable time and a wry sense of humor. I morn his loss.

  • 2022-12-20 15:31:13
    Dale Jamieson

    Gary was the only person I knew at Carleton when i arrived there in 1996, and my respect and admiration grew during the 6 years we were colleagues. He was the sort of person who was the heart and soul of Carleton, and liberal education generally.

  • 2022-12-26 13:23:22
    Fred Hagstrom

    Both Gary and Andrea were very kind to me. You will notice that this is a theme that runs through several of the comments. Gary's kindness came in that quiet way, through various interactions. And Andrea held my hand through my beginnings as a teacher in off campus studies. And both of them gave me encouragement when I was starting to bring more attention to the Shigemura story. I loved seeing them together, and they have always been a big part of this college.

  • 2023-01-06 14:04:32
    Chris Bystroff

    Gary was one of my most potent influences and I use what I learned from him in my own teaching. I was lucky to have visited with him again when I was passing through Northfield a few years ago. When I ask myself whether I really know something, I think of Gary I.

  • 2023-01-08 21:37:36
    Perry Mason

    Gary's long illness and death have been a real blow to me. I met him on my job interview at Carleton in March of 1968, and have regarded him not merely as a supportive colleague but also as a dear friend ever since. Seeing how remarkably well he worked on abstract philosophical issues with students and how well they responded to his work were major factors in my decision to come to Carleton. Once here, my respect for his philosophical work in formal logic and aesthetics only grew stronger, as did my personal respect and affection. My wife and I have enjoyed deep friendship with Gary and Andrea for over 50 years, and we both grieve at his death.

  • 2023-01-09 14:18:03
    Althea Dotzour

    I'm so sorry to hear about Gary's passing. I worked for Andrea in Off-Campus Studies as a student and then as an alumna in the last '90s. Andrea was a mentor and inspiration, and I always admired the life that she and Gary crafted together. I am sending heartfelt condolences to Gary's family as well as deep gratitude for the ways that Gary and Andrea enriched my life.

  • 2023-01-09 14:28:29
    Irena Praitis

    I'm very sorry to hear this news. I took Professor Iseminger's Skepticism and Certainty class early in my time at Carleton, and his approach and insights informed me not only about philosophy, but about my own capacities as a thinker and scholar. His class was one of the first times at Carleton, as a first generation student, that I felt I was intelligent enough to belong. His confidence in me increased my confidence in myself. While I decided to major in English instead of philosophy, philosophy has remained important to me in my own academic career and I have relied on philosophical theories and insights as a professor of English. I thank Professor Iseminger for all he did to make me the scholar I am today.

  • 2023-01-09 14:42:31
    Harold Henderson '69

    Gary Iseminger was a great introduction to serious philosophy in the fall of 1965, and to Carleton. His grin was infectious as were his questions. Near graduation, I remember Sandy and I enjoyed a cheerful visit and sunny outdoor luncheon (Watson?) in the spring of 1969, with him and Andrea. Even though I can't recall a single word at that occasion -- as my mom said of her life, "I'd do it all again if I could."

  • 2023-01-09 15:01:47
    Bob Fliegel, ‘61

    I have fond memories of Gary (and Andrea) when I lived with my new bride, Nena Thames Whittemore, in Northfield for a short time in the early 80s. I remember when he described a visiting philosophy speaker as “a substantial person.” That was Gary. Substantial. My deepest condolences to you, Andrea.

  • 2023-01-10 13:21:11
    MJ (John) Thelin ('72)

    A drummer after my own heart, Gary, the body has stopped but the pulse goes on....

  • 2023-01-11 16:29:01
    Susan Hammel

    Gary was my advisor back in 1986. He helped me with academics, of course, but what I really remember about him is the care and kindness he showed me. I went through a bit of a rough patch and Gary checked in to make sure I was ok. It's this kind of true prof-student relationship that makes Carleton so special. I'm sorry for the family's loss.

  • 2023-01-12 21:56:47
    Mark Kline, '87

    Gary was my advisor for my comprehensive exam, my logic and my aesthetics class. I appreciated his kindness and guidance, especially when I felt out of my depth. He broadened my mind with his aesthetic course and I am forever greatful for how it lead to my appreciation of the arts. I would not have graduated had it not been for his guidance and tutelage.

  • 2023-01-19 16:59:47
    Ed Langerak

    I taught philosophy for 40 years at the other college in Northfield, and during that time Gary was instrumental in developing and maintaining the collegial cooperation between the departments. This included regular joint colloquia and the annual Carleton-St Olaf philosophy retreat in which we would read and discuss papers or books, usually by a well-respected visiting philosopher but sometimes our own writings. One retreat was devoted to Gary's book "The Aesthetic Function of Art," which began as a well-received set of Belgum Lectures at St Olaf. When Gary talked everyone listened--and often took notes--because of his perceptiveness, clarity, and rich background in so many areas of philosophy. And even more notable was his generosity of spirit, his sense of humor, and his collegiality. He was a true and immensely valued friend to us at St Olaf, and we will remember him with fondness and great appreciation. Our deep condolences to Andrea and his children and grandchildren, including daugher Ellen, whom I enjoyed having as a student in class.

  • 2023-02-08 23:04:36
    Osvaldo Kozak

    Dear owner, You always provide practical solutions and recommendations.

  • 2023-02-15 07:42:53
    Sandra Newman

    Gary was a dear man and Andrea has been very strong and she will continue to be strong, I know. Gary was the brother of Boyd Iseminger, my step dad. Together they grew up near Attleboro, MA in a wonderful family. I will speak briefly of his brother, Boyd, as I knew him better but these brothers were similar, I know, and now they are together at last. Boyd was a peaceful man, a reasonable man and had a positive influence on our family. I could not fully appreciate this until I was older. I remember Boyd and Gary’s father, a retired Magistrate, would drive down to our home in Connecticut and would always bring an antique. I am glad I got to know the wonderful Isemingers. My sympathies.

  • 2023-03-11 23:39:40
    Jonas Solorio

    Hello administrator, Excellent work!

  • 2023-03-12 16:17:03
    Beth McKinsey

    Gary and Andrea's invitation to dinner at their house was the first that my husband Tom and I received in Northfield, when we came to campus for my interview in early 1989 for the Dean of the College position. It was a cold, snowy night and I'll never forget walking down the steps to the front door of their wonderful house on Prairie Street. It had been a long day for me, starting with a 7 am breakfast and it was now 7 pm. As I approached the bottom of those steps I took a spectacular graceless fall and landed on their front porch on my bum! Luckily I wasn't hurt, they were incredibly gracious, we had a scintillating evening with good food and great conversation - and I got the job! Over all the years following, Andrea has been a valued colleague and friend, and Gary was an exemplary faculty member, devoted to teaching and his students, to his research and participating in the broader philosophy community, and to his colleagues and the college. I also loved hearing his music when he played the vibraphone for "Occasional Jazz."

  • 2023-05-03 13:24:35
    Justin London

    A remembrance of Gary has been published in the Spring Newsletter of the American Society for Aesthetics, which I was privileged to write. A copy may be found here:

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