Prizing geography's traditional mélange of nature and culture, Cosgrove had little affinity with either the abstract positivism of spatial science or the radical activism of post-colonial social critique. Happy in 16th-century Italy, he recalled that at home and at his Jesuit school, Rome had always been more important than London. Like Renaissance humanists, he saw the fulfilled life as a balance between the vita activa and the vita contemplativa; for himself he chose contemplation, self-reflection, thoughtful critical converse. His vocation was less about changing the world than changing oneself. Whereas policy-driven social science was blind to the liberating and consoling power of beauty, dismissing it as veneer and distraction, Cosgrove's aesthetic concern reflected his conviction that beauty was inseparable from goodness and truth. In common with Stoics and Jesuits, he told an interviewer, he valued education as "something that feeds the soul and the mind and the body together, posing questions like 'Who are we in relation to the world? How should we live our lives in a way that is fulfilling and morally proper?' "
In that quest, he was eminently successful. His warmth, humour, kindness, delight in children, theirs in him, and intellectual challenge, charmed and dazzled all who knew him.