Author, academic and founder of the popular Arts & Letters Daily
website Denis Dutton has died in New Zealand, his family said Wednesday. He was 66.
Dutton, professor of philosophy at New Zealand's Canterbury University, had been diagnosed with prostate cancer but continued working until his health deteriorated rapidly a week ago and he died Tuesday, said his son, Ben.
"I think that he has been an incredibly passionate advocate for ideas and truth and a wonderful father and husband," Ben said.
Dutton was widely known for his Arts & Letters Daily, a groundbreaking early aggregator featuring links to commentary on arts, literature and events.
He established the site in 1998 and continued on as editor after selling it to the U.S.-based Chronicle of Higher Education the next year. London's Guardian newspaper described it in 1999 as "the best website in the world."
Born in California on Feb. 9, 1944, Dutton was educated at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
His recent work focused on Darwinian applications in aesthetics, explored in his best-selling book "The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure and Human Evolution," in 2009, which he described as a study of art as a product of evolution.
"Whenever you have a pleasure, whether it's a pleasure of sweet and fat or the pleasure of sex or the pleasure of playing with your children, or being in love, that does suggest that there is some kind of Darwinian adaptation that underlies the phenomenon," he said last year in an interview with Radio New Zealand's National Radio.
While at University of Michigan in 1976, he founded the academic journal, "Philosophy and Literature," later taken over by Johns Hopkins University Press.
He became professor of philosophy at New Zealand's Canterbury University in 1984. It was from there that he launched Arts & Letters Daily.
He also helped found the New Zealand Skeptics Society. The group's president, Vicki Hyde, told National Radio Wednesday that Dutton was a larger than life character "who was always eager to learn more and ... always willing to see the absurdity of human nature, but (who) never became too cynical about it."
He also served as a board member of state-owned Radio New Zealand for seven years.
In early December, Dutton was awarded Canterbury University's Research Medal, its highest honor for a researcher described as a true intellectual leader.
He is survived by his wife, Margit, and two children, Sonia and Ben.
Funeral details were not immediately available.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.