John Anthony (“Tony”) Blair was born in Ottawa in August 1941. His great grandfather was a premier of New Brunswick and also a member Sir Wilfred Laurier’s federal cabinet for seven years in the early years of Canadian confederation. In his younger days Tony spent his summers vacationing, and later working, in the bush (the woodlands) of Quebec north of Ottawa. He kept returning to that area every year of his life to spend some time in the woods. He was knowledgeable about the bush and had the skills of an outdoorsman. One of his last writings explored the nature of informal logic through a parable about a canoe trip in a remote part of the woodlands.

Tony entered McGill University in Montreal in 1959 and majored in philosophy. While there he was a member of the university football (North-American style) team – the McGill Redmen – which won the Yates cup (the prize trophy of the inter-collegiate Canadian football conference) in 1960 and 1962. Tony Blair was selected as one of the conference’s all-star linebackers in 1960 and in 2000 the whole 1960 team was inducted into the McGill University Sports Hall of Fame as was the 1962 team in 2013. Tony also excelled as a skier. He was a Canadian Junior Ski Champion in 1958 and he entered three Canadian Ski Marathons in the 1970s.1 He was justly proud of his athletic achievements.

After graduating from McGill University, Tony began PhD studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in 1964. There he fell under the influence of the ethical philosopher, Richard Brandt, who encouraged what turned out to be his life-long interest in ethical theories. Ann Arbor is only an hour’s drive from Windsor, Ontario, and, while still pursuing his graduate research, Tony, being a Canadian, began to teach at the University of Windsor in 1967. He stayed there until his retirement as Distinguished University Professor in 2006, having served both the Philosophy Department and the larger University community with distinction in many different roles. He had two terms as head of the Philosophy Department.

At Windsor, Tony began working with Ralph Johnson on the project of developing an argument evaluation course that would be an alternative to formal logic courses. The idea was to help students develop critical skills that would allow them to evaluate the arguments they encountered in conversation, newspapers and other media. Their approach was, in part, to teach students to spot possible fallacies in

other people’s – and their own – arguments. After a few years – and hundreds of newspaper clippings! – their course was turned into a textbook in 1977: Logical Self-Defense. That book has turned out to be the cornerstone of what has since become known as “informal logic.” Not content with only writing a successful textbook, Blair and Johnson reached out to other university teachers in both Canada and United States who shared their interest in teaching non-formal logic and critical thinking courses. They began organizing international symposia on informal logic and started a newsletter. The conferences eventually evolved into the Ontario Society for the Study of Argumentation (OSSA) conferences (the 13th of which will take place this year at the University of Windsor), and the newsletter became the journal Informal Logic, now in its 44th year. As co-founding editor of the journal, Blair had a strong hand in developing its direction and standards, and he was an active editor on every issue published (often participating in formatting and type-setting) until his very last years.2 (The journal continues to thrive, now under the editorship of Christopher Tindale and Katharina Stevens).

By the count on his CV in 2014 Tony Blair authored or edited 15 books, had nearly 70 refereed articles and/or chapters in books, and had 41 papers in conference proceedings. In 2012 he published Groundwork in the Theory of Argumentation, a selection of his own essays he thought it would be most useful to make available in book form to other researchers. This work was followed by another ten years of productive research and publishing showing Blair’s continually evolving reflections and modifications of his views about argumentation. During this period, he also actively influenced the development of teaching informal logic and critical thinking through editing Studies in Critical Thinking (2019), an authoritative anthology of essays intended to be a sourcebook for beginning instructors of critical thinking.

One of the most significant events in Tony’s life – and in the history of modern argumentation theory – happened at the American Philosophical Association meeting in New York city in 1984. That is when Tony and Ralph met Frans van Eemeren and Rob Grootendorst for the first time. They immediately saw that they had many interests about natural language argumentation in common, and what would turn out to be a remarkably fruitful and enduring cooperative relationship between the informal logicians and the Pragma-dialecticians ensued. Tony was invited (along with the American communication scholar, Charles Willard) to become a co-organizer of the International Society for the Study of Argumentation (ISSA) conferences that began in Amsterdam in 1986, and then to be a member of the editorial board of the journal, Argumentation, edited by van Eemeren and Grootendorst, which was founded at that time. Tony was excited to find that there were kindred thinkers and teachers in other parts of the world and he wanted to connect the Canadian informal logicians with the international community. He led the way in forging these links, and we have all benefitted from his foresight. Tony was also especially delighted by the new friendships that he quickly developed, especially with the professors and students in the Pragma- dialectical programme at the University of Amsterdam. ISSA recognized Tony Blair’s extensive scholarly contributions to argumentation theory by awarding him the prestigious ISSA Prize in 2012.

The names of Tony Blair and Ralph Johnson will be forever linked in the future histories of argumentation theory because of the impact of their textbook, Logical Self-Defense, and the founding of the journal, Informal Logic. What should not be overlooked, however, is Tony’s close friendship and co- influential work with his colleague, Robert Pinto. Many of Pinto’s essays contain a reference to Blair’s insights and ideas, and in 1993 their cooperation produced the classic informal logic/reasoning skills textbook focussed on the informal criteria of making good inferences, Reasoning, A Practical Guide. (A special edition of this book, with examples taken from the Canadian media, was also made with the help of their colleague, Kate Parr.)

Tony Blair was an exceptional teacher, and greatly loved by his students. Many of them have gone on to successful professional careers, including some in academia. What made him so successful was a combination of personal integrity and intellectual modesty, combined with an earnest desire to see his students succeed. When OSSA decided to begin encouraging student participation at its conferences by awarding a prize to a student whose paper was deemed especially worthy of recognition, Ralph Johnson immediately insisted that the award should be known as the J. Anthony Blair Prize. At the OSSA conference in 2020, the Blair Prize was awarded for the tenth time.

Before retiring from the University of Windsor, Blair, together with Johnson, created the Centre for Research in Reasoning, Argumentation and Rhetoric (CRRAR). The Centre was given the purpose of stimulating and sustaining research in the work that Blair and Johnson had begun nearly 40 years earlier. Tony became the first director of the Centre and one of his early accomplishments was bringing Douglas Walton, another renowned Canadian informal logician, to the University of Windsor to be a part of our research community. CRRAR continues to this day, having broadened its mission to include the research interests and activities of graduate students and, as Tony hoped, it has become an important destination for visiting scholars from other countries with an interest in argumentation.

Tony remained a staunch critic of formal logic and defender of informal logic all his career. That is not to say that he was closed-minded and unbending, quite the opposite is true. He was always open to new ideas and insights, especially as they affected the teaching an understanding of informal logic and argumentation. Several times he tried to reserve a section of the journal, Informal Logic, for teaching- related matters: techniques, sample tests, classroom dynamics, etc, -- it didn’t catch on as a regular feature much to Tony’s disappointment. In terms of the theory of argument, soon after meeting van Eemeren and Grootendorst, he and Johnson published an essay, “Argumentation as dialectical,” acknowledging the influence of their new-found colleagues in Amsterdam and recognizing that their own view could be supplemented by dialectical considerations. Similarly, near the end of his career, Blair amended his views in light of criticisms of informal logic from his Canadian colleagues, Christopher Tindale and Michael Gilbert. He acknowledged the objection that informal logic was tied to a static view of arguments as products, separated from their meaning-endowing contexts. However, rather than accept the implication that informal logic should be abandoned because it was too narrow and unrealistic in its vision Tony proposed that it should be broadened along with a wider conception of argument, especially visual and narrative arguments which he thought of as non-linear arguments. It is telling that in this late modification of the informal logic programme, Blair brought his two great passions, logical analysis and the Canadian wilderness, together. He made his case carefully, basing his ideas on a parable about a canoe trip around a newly discovered lake in a remote region. Informal logic, he tells us, should consider arguments with a patience, inquisitiveness, and eye for detail similar to that of a canoeist slowly paddling along a newly discovered forested shoreline -- not as the passengers rushing by in a speed boat would view the same phenomena.

Tony Blair passed away in March this year. He had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease that limited his ability to interact with his family and colleagues as he wanted to. He is survived by his wife, June, and son Jay and his wife, Ellen Duckman, and their daughter, Emily Blair. Those of us who knew Tony personally have lost a kind and wise friend and supportive mentor; the field of argumentation studies has lost one of its inspiring founders and visionary builders.


-- H. V. Hansen

1 I am grateful to Jay Blair for information about his father's athletic successes and honours. I have mentioned only a few of the many.

2 For Blair’s own telling of the birth and growth of informal logic at the University of Windsor see his essay in Informal Logic: A ‘Canadian’ Approach to Argument, edited by F. Puppo, Windsor: Windsor Studies in Argumentation, 2019. Also valuable is T. Konishi’s, “When different perspectives interact: An historical account of informal logic between 1983 and 1987,” University of Windsor: OSSA Archive, OSSA 11, 2016.