Jorge J. E. Gracia

Published July 27, 2021

Longtime UB faculty member Jorge J. E. Gracia died July 13 surrounded by his family. He was 78.

Gracia was born in Cuba and fled to the United States at the age of 18 after the Cuban revolution. He received a bachelor’s degree from Wheaton College, a master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Chicago, an MSL in philosophy from the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, and a PhD in medieval philosophy from the University of Toronto. He joined the UB faculty in 1971. Before his retirement in January 2020, he was named a SUNY Distinguished Professor and Samuel P. Capen Chair in the departments of Philosophy and Comparative Literature.

Gracia’s voluminous publications transformed the field of philosophy. His writing spanned several areas, including metaphysics and ontology; philosophical historiography; philosophy of language/hermeneutics; issues of ethnicity, race and nationality, specifically Hispanic and Latino issues; medieval/scholastic philosophy; and Hispanic, Latino and Latin-American philosophy. Gracia’s work in metaphysics, especially his work on individuation, is magisterial; his views of race and ethnicity have helped shape the field and addressed many issues that previous theories had left unanswered. He actively promoted Latin American visual artists by writing about their work and curating exhibitions here and abroad. 

Gracia received recognition and numerous awards for his scholarship. In 2010, he was listed in the “Blackwell Companion to Latin American Philosophy” among 40 prominent philosophers in the history of Latin America from 1500 to the present. He was founding chair of the American Philosophical Association’s Committee for Hispanics in Philosophy and served as president of the Society for Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy, the Society for Iberian and Latin American Thought, the American Catholic Philosophical Association, and the Metaphysical Society of America.

Among the many awards and grants he received are a National Endowment for the Humanities Research Fellowship, the 1992 John N. Findlay Prize in Metaphysics awarded by the Metaphysical Society of America, and the 2011 Aquinas Medal awarded by the American Catholic Philosophical Association. 

Gracia authored or edited more than 45 books and over 240 scholarly articles. In 2019, he published a biography of his professional journey entitled, “With a Diamond in My Shoe: A Philosopher’s Search for Identity in America.” His most recent book was “Cuba before Castro: A Century of Family Memoirs,” a compilation of family stories from Cuba published in 2020.

A tremendous role model and mentor, Gracia was beloved by his students, who held a conference in his honor in 2019. In a forthcoming book devoted to Gracia’s philosophical legacy, his former students write that “Gracia has indeed lived a philosophical life in the grand sense, and there is much we might say about Gracia’s contributions beyond the academic discipline of philosophy — his love for family, his sense of humor, his friendships, his service to the profession and various institutions, his love of art and music, his dedication to bringing all things under reflection, the way he has served as a phronimos, and much more.”

Colleagues say Gracia truly loved life and lived it to the fullest, and was devoted to his family: his wife, Norma; his daughters, Clarisa and Leticia; and four grandchildren. He enjoyed travel, art collecting and refinishing antique furniture. He had an appreciation of all things beautiful, including the tender and joyful moments between human beings, and shared his delight openly and without reservation, with a huge laugh that often filled a room.

Visit the Department of Philosophy’s website for more tributes to Gracia and links to memorial funds.