Prellet fostered community

Victor Preller, a teacher and scholar noted for his knowledge of St. Thomas Aquinas and Ludwig Wittgenstein, died of pneumonia Jan. 19 at the Medical Center at Princeton. He was 69.

Preller taught philosophy of religion in Princeton's Department of Religion for more than 30 years, until his retirement in 1995. He served as master of the Graduate College from 1985 to 1990, and was noted for fostering a high level of intellectual discourse and a genuine sense of community there. Many graduate alumni remember him as someone who fought tirelessly to protect their interests.

In the academic world, Preller is best known for his controversial but increasingly influential interpretation of Aquinas, "Divine Science and the Science of God," published by Princeton University Press in 1967. One of the book's central claims is that Aquinas did not intend his "proofs" for the existence of God to be taken in the way almost all modern philosophers and theologians have taken them, namely, as positive contributions to our knowledge of God. Preller's work has had important implications for ecumenical dialogue among Christian theologians.

In seminars he taught over the last 15 years of his career, Preller attacked the traditional scholastic assumption that the central concept in Aquinas' ethics is that of natural law. In other courses, he developed a novel account of religious language and its interpretation, drawing heavily on the work of philosophers Wilfrid Sellars and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Preller graduated from Princeton with a bachelor's degree in philosophy in 1953. He then attended Keble College at Oxford University, earning a diploma in theology in 1954. He studied theology at General Theological Seminary in New York and received a bachelor of sacred theology degree in 1956. He began teaching at Princeton in 1960, and four years later was awarded a doctorate, with distinction, for his dissertation on Aquinas. For two years Preller pursued post-doctoral research in Munich, Germany, before returning to Princeton as associate professor of religion in 1968.

Preller was ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey in 1956. He was active as a priest at All Saints' Church in Princeton, where he dedicated himself to the service of others.


February 19, 2001
Vol. 90, No. 17
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Nassau Notes

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