Death of distinguished Australian philosopher John Ziegler

Death of distinguished Australian philosopher John Ziegler

John Young

John William Ziegler, who died on 13 June 2007 at the age of 78, was one of Australia's best philosophers.

As a young man in the 1940s he began studies at the Aquinas Academy in Sydney, which was founded by Dr Austin Woodbury SM in 1945.

The Academy under Dr Woodbury, who was a genius in philosophy and theology, provided thorough courses based on the teaching of St Thomas Aquinas.

John Ziegler took full advantage of the wisdom offered, and later became a teacher there himself. In more recent years he taught a range of philosophical courses at the Centre for Thomistic Studies in Sydney. He was lecturing at the Centre only a fortnight before his death.

He held a Bachelor of Science degree and became manager of a large firm. He had a keen interest in mathematics and wrote poetry, as well as many articles on philosophical and related topics.

Unassuming in manner, with a keen sense of humour, he liked the magazine Mad from its inception, and used to chuckle at the jokes there. He could speak on deep subjects in a way that brought them alive in the minds of the listeners. He was approachable and patient when students had questions.

I recall an article that illustrates his way of throwing the light of true principles on social questions, and doing so with a humorous play on words. He was writing about the way people can be treated as mere means to an end. Viewing this in the light of the classical distinction of good into useful, pleasant and fitting, he pointed out that persons are good in their own right, and are degraded by being seen as merely useful - as when citizens are viewed as pawns to serve some purpose.

As he put it: 'I don't want to be seen as a useful citizen. I'd rather be seen as good for nothing.'

A devoted family man with five children, John nursed his wife Pam in her last illness, until she died about four years ago. He himself had much ill health in his later years, including heart trouble for which he had bypass surgery. But he always maintained his cheerfulness and always kept up his intellectual apostolate.

He was one of that group of dedicated followers of St Thomas Aquinas who maintain the Centre for Thomistic Studies in Sydney, and he will be missed there.

His mind remained clear to the end. Only hours before his death, as he lay in his hospital bed, he related that the doctors gave him up to two or three days to live. He was serene and ready to enter eternity.

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