Author, contrarian academic and web entrepreneur Denis Dutton died yesterday, aged 66.

The professor of philosophy at Canterbury University had been diagnosed with prostate cancer but continued working until his health deteriorated quickly a week ago, his son, Ben,said.

Professor Dutton was due to retire early next year.

"I think that he has been an incredibly passionate advocate for ideas and truth and a wonderful father and husband," his son said.

Born in California on February 9, 1944, Professor Dutton was educated at the University of California Santa Barbara and joined the University of Canterbury staff in 1984.

He gained a significant public profile for the Arts and Letters Daily website he established in 1998, which was sold to the United States-based Chronicle of Higher Education in 1999.

Professor Dutton continued as editor of what some dubbed "the best website in the world".

His recent work focused on Darwinian applications in aesthetics, which he explored in his bestselling book The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure and Human Evolution.

He is survived by his wife, Margit, and two children, Sonia and Ben.