WHEN, EARLY in 1970, the wave of student revolt hit the United Kingdom, "Warwick University Ltd" led the way with an occupation of Senate House and the opening of confidential files - a variety of inferences being drawn from what was found.
Disaffected students demanded consciousness-raising meetings, and were usually rebuffed. Not so in the Department of Philosophy, where Cyril Barrett, as acting Chair, not only readily agreed but issued the equivalent of a three-line whip to all, staff and students, for a meeting to take the place of the afternoon's classes. "What has been discovered?" he enquired. "What conclusions do you draw?" "What is the relation between these?" And so opened one of the most stimulating seminars on the theory of evidence and probability many of us could remember. The trivialities of the moment were left behind and the whole department did philosophy together.
This was typical of the man - brilliant, eccentric, a born teacher, an overcomer of divisions, and a passionate philosopher. Once, suffering a slipped disc, he was immobilised at Kenilworth Presbytery; students taking his aesthetics classes were bussed to him and he lectured flat on his back, surrounded by religious pictures and statuary, adapting his lectures accordingly. This experience sparked his interest in kitsch, leading to his classic paper "Are Bad Works of Art `Works of Art'?", which was published in 1973, having first been given as a lecture to the Royal Institute of Philosophy.
Soon after he recovered, he swept me off to engage with him in a display disputation (in English) according to the strict rules of the medieval University of Paris, to illuminate the intellectual milieu and training lying behind Descartes and his predecessors. (Sadly, the suggestion that Warwick should revert to this method of examining in place of the contemporary curious fixation with writing failed to catch on.)
Internationally, Barrett was a significant force on two fronts. As the man who charmed the executors into permitting him to edit and have published Ludwig Wittgenstein's Lectures & Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology and Religious Belief (1966), he precipitated radical intellectual developments; and as a champion of modern art in many guises, but especially Optical (or Op) Art (objects to be shaped in perception rather than, as art, objects of perception), he opened new horizons across Europe, especially in the East, where he helped to sustain principled resistance to the absurdities of socialist realism.
Royalties there could not sensibly be exported at the official exchange rates; instead they were used to finance his extraordinary and dangerous journeys sustaining the faith, both religious and aesthetic. Not only officials of the "Evil Empire" were baffled; when he returned with disassembled works of Op Art, UK customs waved them through as "agricultural implements".
At home (which meant either side of the Irish Sea) his publications, lectures and the …