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George Terzis, Ph.D.: 1951-2023


George Terzis, Ph.D., an associate professor of Philosophy at Saint Louis University, died on Aug. 27, 2023. He was 71. 

Terzis was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA. He received his undergraduate degree in 1973 from Duquesne University and his Master’s (1977) and Doctorate (1984) in Philosophy from Johns Hopkins University. After a position at Rice University in 1985, George joined the faculty in the Department of Philosophy at Saint Louis University, where he served for 38 years.

George Terzis, Ph.D.
George Terzis, Ph.D. SLU File Photo.

Terzis was known at SLU for both the brilliance of his mind and the gentleness of his spirit, colleagues said. His research in the history of philosophy focused on the moral theory of the central philosophers of Western civilization: Plato, Aristotle, and the most important philosopher of the European Enlightenment, Immanuel Kant. 

After several years of teaching and publishing research on these figures in leading academic journals, Terzis began to wonder about the role of the brain in the development of moral virtue. He began to study the intersection of neurophysiology, biology, and psychology, developing a course, "Biology and Mind," which he taught for decades at SLU to countless neuroscience majors. A genuine lover of wisdom, his research included a book with MIT Press: Information and Living Systems: Philosophical and Scientific Perspectives.

Terzis devoted his life to his calling: he was, by temperament and by profession, a philosopher, colleagues said. His lectures, which he usually delivered without notes (except for a brief outline written in pen on his hand or arm), contained sentences ordered with perfect grammar arranged in well-formulated paragraphs. 

Beyond the classroom, Terzis gave countless hours to his students, who describe him as a beautiful mind with an “almost encyclopedic knowledge” of his subject and “a great mentor” who supported his student’s life ambitions with high expectations motivated by genuine care. 

Both kind and tenacious, Terzis wanted each of his students to pursue thoughtfully, with depth and clarity, what is true and good and beautiful. One former student called him “one of the brightest lights in my life.” No wonder, then, that he was nominated four times for a SLU award celebrating excellence in mentoring.

Terzis’s commitments to his students’ well-being and to philosophical excellence leave behind a strong legacy at SLU. Jason Eberl, Ph.D., currently the Hubert Mader Chair in Health Care Ethics at SLU, said during his time as a graduate student, Terzis helped him out.

“Having received my first publication rejection, I was questioning whether I had what it takes to succeed in graduate studies and an academic career,” Eberl said. “Dr. Terzis approached me one day after class, and we took a long walk up and down West Pine Mall. He gave me the reassurance I needed to move past this first rejection. I have strived to model his concern for students’ well-being in my own mentorship of undergraduate and graduate students throughout my career.”

Theodore Vitali, C.P., Ph.D., chair of philosophy for the majority of Terzis’s years on the faculty, credits George with the vision to “get into the mainstream” that oriented his chairmanship. 

“I consider the success of the department’s hiring of new faculty to rest in great part on George’s efforts,” Vitali said. 

Terzis had a passion for stray cats, a concern for those whose hard work goes unnoticed, and a sense of gratitude for the blessings of this country. He loved recounting his childhood growing up in the old neighborhood surrounded by cousins and the Greek traditions he learned from family and friends. He could recall with precise detail particular innings or sequences of plays from the glory days of the Pirates and the great Steeler football teams, and he possessed amazing skill when shooting pool.

“There's an adage that goes something like, ‘People will forget what you say, but they'll always remember how you make them feel.’ My memories of Dr. Terzis will always be good ones. Peace to you, Good and Kind Sir,” said Robert Arp, a former student and co-author.

Terzis was preceded in death by his father, George Terzis, mother, Katherine Terzis, brother, Chris Terzis, and sister, Alexis Terzis. He is survived by his nephew, Raymond, his aunt, Athena Terzis, and a host of loving cousins.

A funeral service will be at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023, at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church, 123 Gilkeson Road, Pittsburgh, PA. Burial at the Jefferson Memorial Cemetery will follow. 

A memorial service with Terzis’s SLU family and friends will be held at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 6, at Cupples House.