John Neil Martin received his bachelor's degree from the University of California, Davis, and, in 1973, his Ph.D. from the University of Toronto. He started as an assistant professor at UC in 1973, rising to full professor in 1986.
Martin wrote his dissertation under the direction of Bas Van Fraassen, a major figure in logic and the philosophy of science. The title of Prof. Martin's dissertation was "Sortal presupposition: a study of category mistakes, their logic and importance". A category mistake is something worse than an ordinary mistake, such as when one ascribes motion to an idea, or happiness to a triangle. The problem is to say in exactly what way they are worse than ordinary errors.
As in his dissertation, John Martin has sought throughout his career to bring the concepts of logic to bear on natural language, in all its richness, as well as on basic questions of ontology. His work on natural language semantics appeared in many important journals and reached its fullest development in his monograph, Elements of Formal Semantics: An Introduction to Logic for Students of Language (Academic 1987). I personally learned a lot about approaches to semantics and about the techniques of rigorous formulation from that book, as well as from the many little tips he has offered me when I have been puzzled about something in logic or semantics.
In the 1990's, Martin turned his attention to ancient and medieval logic, initiating a series of many publications on problems posed by the likes of Aristotle, Proclus and Boethius. Nine of his papers on these subjects were reprinted in his collection, Themes in Neoplatonic and Aristotelian Logic: Order, Negation and Abstraction (Ashgate, 2004). Presently, he is at work on a monograph on a debate in logic between two philosophers of the early modern period, Antoine Arnauld and Nicholas Malebranche.
John Martin's career is noteworthy also for his devotion to teaching and for the variety of his teaching interests. He was one of the first in the country to incorporate the use of computers in logic pedagogy. In addition to courses in logic and semantics, he has regularly taught courses in the history of philosophy, especially medieval philosophy and the rationalists. From an early stage in his career, he took an interest in and taught courses in environmental ethics (and served as the review editor for the journal Environmental Ethics for more than 20 years). He has taught courses on the philosophy of education and the ethics of war. In recent years, he has even been teaching courses on "Taste, Food and Wine" (a study of the objectivity of taste) and an honors course called "Conversations on Life" (who knows?).
A remarkable fact about John is his zest for apparently everything: sport (he hikes, skis and roller blades), languages (including, among others, Latin, French, Spanish, and Modern Greek), cooking (for decades he nursed a bit of sour dough starter), travel (to make use those languages), Cincinnati painters, and so on. He is a nature lover (and has extensively explored the Sierra Nevada Mountains), and he is proud of his two grown, socially-conscious children.
As a scholar, teacher, colleague and lover of life, John Martin has been a model for us all. Fortunately, after his official retirement he will continue his teaching and research in the capacity of a McMicken Professor.