In Memoriam: Judith Jarvis Thomson, 1929-2020

Judith Jarvis Thomson, a philosopher of morality and metaphysics and professor emerita at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, died late last month at her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She was 91.

Sally Haslanger, the Ford Professor of Philosophy at MIT, notes that Dr. Thomson “entered the field when only a tiny number of women even considered pursuing a career in philosophy and proved beyond doubt that a woman could meet the highest standards of philosophical excellence. She is the atomic ice-breaker for women in philosophy.”

Professor Thomson earned a bachelor’s degrees at Barnard College in New York City. She received a second bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in philosophy at the University of Cambridge in England. Dr. Thomson earned a Ph.D. in philosophy from Columbia University in 1959. Before joining the faculty at MIT in 1964, she taught at Barnard College and Boston University. Professor Thomson taught at MIT for 40 years before retiring in 2004.

In 2012 Thomson was awarded the American Philosophical Association’s prestigious Quinn Prize for her “service to philosophy and philosophers.”

Professor Thomson authored six books including Normativity (Open Court, 2008), The Realm of Rights (Harvard University Press, 1990), and Rights, Restitution, and Risk: Essays in Moral Thought (Harvard University Press, 1986). But Professor Thomson was perhaps best known for her article “A Defense of Abortion,” which was published in the Autumn 1971 issue of the journal Philosophy & Public Affairs. The paper has been called “one of the most well-known pieces of applied moral philosophy of the 20th century.”

Filed Under: In Memoriam


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