Renowned academic receives top honour

16:00, Dec 15 2010
Professor Denis Dutton
ACCOLADE: Professor Denis Dutton was presented yesterday with the University of Canterbury Research Medal, the university's highest recognition of an outstanding contribution to research.

Philosophy professor Denis Dutton pointed to the inspiration of another immigrant philosopher as he received an accolade for his influential career.

United States-born Dutton received a Canterbury University research medal during a graduation ceremony in the Christchurch Town Hall yesterday.

He told the audience that from 1937 to 1946, the university employed leading Viennese thinker Karl Popper, who came to New Zealand to avoid the Nazi threat.

A strong opponent of fascism and communism, Popper wrote his major work, The Open Society and Its Enemies, while in Christchurch.

Dutton said Popper set Canterbury an example of what a university should be.

"It should be a research institution," he said. "Long may Popper's ideals guide scholarship at Canterbury."


Dutton has been in poor health. He arrived halfway through the humanities, social sciences and science graduation ceremony in a wheelchair and spoke briefly to the audience.

Born in California in 1944, Dutton received his PhD in philosophy from the University of California Santa Barbara in 1975 and joined the Canterbury staff in 1984.

In a long career as a prolific public intellectual, Dutton's most influential achievement may have been his founding of the Arts and Letters Daily website in 1998.

When Arts and Letters Daily was only three months old, The Guardian newspaper in Britain called it the best website in the world, and it still receives 3.7 million page views a month.

Dutton sold the site to the Washington DC-based Chronicle of Higher Education in 1999 for a reported US$250,000 but continued as its editor.

In 1976, while working at the University of Michigan, he founded the twice-yearly journal Philosophy and Literature. He sold it to Johns Hopkins University Press in 1983 but continued as editor.

Canterbury deputy vice chancellor Ian Town quoted from a reference provided by Professor Steven Pinker, of Harvard University: "Dutton is a true intellectual leader, an astonishingly productive and daring scholar and one of the most influential academics in the world."

The Press