DENNIS DUTTON, A PCV IN INDIA and a distinguished philosopher, writer and digital-media guru — he founded Arts & Letters Daily, one of the first Web sites to exploit the Internet — died on Tuesday in Christchurch, New Zealand. He was 66. The cause was prostate cancer. At his death, Dutton was a professor of philosophy at the University of Canterbury, in Christchurch, where he had taught since 1984.
Arts & Letters was an aggregator that linked to a spate of online articles about literature, art, science and politics, and Dutton was one of the first people to recognize the power of the Web to facilitate intellectual discourse. In 2005 TIME Magazine describe him as being among “the most influential media personalities in the world.” Arts & Letters Daily, which was acquired by The Chronicle of Higher Education in 2002, currently receives about three million page views a month.
Professor Dutton also attracted wide notice in early 2010 with the publication of The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution. (Bloomsbury Press). The book was an accounting for taste — and taste, Professor Dutton argued, could be accounted for by looking at the inborn faculties that aided our distant forebears in the arduous prehistoric business of survival.
Denis Laurence Dutton was born in Los Angeles on Feb. 9, 1944. His parents were booksellers who founded what became Dutton’s, a nationally known chain of independent bookstores.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of California, Santa Barbara in ‘66, he went to India with the Peace Corps. He later earned his Ph.D. in philosophy from Santa Barbara, and before going to New Zealand, taught at the University of Michigan.
Prolonged exposure to academic prose drove Professor Dutton to create the Bad Writing Contest, which he ran, under the aegis of Philosophy and Literature, for several years in the 1990s. The contest rules, as he explained them in an essay in The Wall Street Journal, were these:
Entries should be a sentence or two from an actual published scholarly book or journal article. No translations into English allowed, and the entries had to be nonironic: We could hardly admit parodies in a field where unintentional self-parody was so rampant.
According to Margalit Fox’s Obiturary in the Saturday, January 1, 2011, New York Times, “Dutton delighted in the tangential, the parenthetical and the weaving of seemingly diverse strands of human enterprise into a seamless whole, there were a few byproducts of the human condition over which he declined to cast the expansive net of Arts & Letters Daily.”
Dutton other books include The Forger’s Art: Forgery and the Philosophy of Art, an essay collection he edited.