Call on the New York Times to publish an obituary for Ruth Marcus
March 5, 2012 — 11:56

Author: Matthew Mullins  Category: News  Tags: ,   Comments: 2

I don’t normally post such items to the front page of Prosblogion, but this strikes me as warranting everyone’s attention.
From Michael Della Rocca:
Dear Friends and admirers of Ruth Marcus,
Forgive the mass e-mailing, any duplications, or omissions. As you know, Ruth Marcus died over two weeks ago and an obituary has yet to appear in the New York Times. This failure to recognize one of the most prominent and pioneering philosophers of the last 60 years is appalling. There have been multiple communications between Yale and
also NYU (Ruth’s undergraduate alma mater) with the obituary editors at the Times. The Times has received a wealth of information from these sources and still no obituary. I fear that they have decided or are in the process of deciding that Ruth is not a significant enough figure to warrant the recognition of an obituary in the Times. Don’t get me started on this — it’s simply outrageous. Don Garrett, Diana Raffman and I have sent to the Times’ obituary editors a strongly worded message — see below. If you would like to endorse the sentiments in this message please let me know and we will pass on this information to the Times. I plan to be in touch with them again soon. Or if you would like to write a message of your own to the Times that would be great. The obituary editors are Bill McDonald and Jack Kadden.
If there are other philosophers you know of who might be interested in helping out here, please feel free to forward this message and to encourage them to be in touch with me or Diana or Don. Don, Diana, and I will be in touch directly with the APA leadership about this matter so that they may contact the Times too.
Michael (and Diana and Don)

here is the message that was sent yesterday to the Obituary editors at
the Times:
Dear Mr. McDonald and Mr. Kadden,
Because time is crucial in this matter, we will be brief, direct, and blunt.
Ruth Barcan Marcus — who died, as we believe you know, on Sunday, February 19th — was one of the central figures in philosophy over the last 65 years. Her work advanced in multifarious ways our understanding of logic, metaphysics, philosophy of language, and moral philosophy. Her results in logic in the 1940′s alone — work whose significance is still being plumbed — is sufficient for her to have a permanent place in the pantheon of logicians. Her discovery of the Barcan formula forever changed the way in which we must reason about necessity, possibility, and identity. The seminal essays in which she introduced the formula quite simply created a new field of logic – quantified modal logic — a field which continues to thrive. Her subsequent development of this work changed our understanding of the reference of words and proper names and made possible much of the most important work in the philosophy of language down to the present day. Her pursuits in moral philosophy — embodied in what is perhaps her most widely-cited paper, “Moral Dilemmas” — changed the way philosophers approach the topic of moral obligation. (This paper was a focus of the recent obituary in the _Economist_.) All of this is enough to be worthy of recognition in the Times.
But this brief summary of Marcus’ scholarly contributions does not even begin to touch on her powerful role in philosophy and in academia general. She was one of the few women in philosophy and especially in logic at a time was sexism was rampant in the field. She persevered and succeeded not only in establishing herself in the field but in helping to bring about changes in hiring practices so that appointments in philosophy were no longer governed by the “old boys network”. For this and other roles she played, the American Philosophical Association recently awarded her the Quinn Prize for service to the profession. I know that you have already received much information about Marcus’ accomplishments and accolades. So we will not say more about them here. But we feel obliged to point out that the fact that an obituary has not yet appeared in the Times indicates that you have not yet decided whether to publish such an obituary or that — absurdly — you have already decided not to do so. This is, in our opinion, outrageous. The Times has, we are happy to note, provided timely recognition of many prominent philosophers in its obituary section in recent years. (A list of several such obituaries was sent to you by Michael Della Rocca through Yale.) None of these other philosophers has been more significant both to philosophy and to the profession of philosophy than Marcus. And many of those who were recognized by the Times were, we must say, figures who were not nearly as significant in these respects as Marcus was. If the Times were to fail to recognize Marcus, this would be not only an embarrassment for the Times, but it would reveal that the Times is woefully out of touch with what are the most significant developments within philosophy over the last half-century or more. We do not expect the Times’ authors and editors to be philosophers themselves, but we — as well as the cultural and intellectual community at large — do expect the Times to be aware of the most basic accomplishments in central academic fields, including developments in philosophy, the oldest and most fundamental field of intellectual inquiry.
We hope that the Times has not failed in its responsibilities. There is still time to rectify this scandalous omission. We urge you to do so.
Michael Della Rocca
Andrew Downey Orrick Professor
Yale University
Don Garrett
Professor and Chair
Department of Philosophy
Diana Raffman
Department of Philosophy
University of Toronto

  • Mike Almeida

    Glad you posted this, Matt. What motivation could the NYT have for not publishing an obituary for Marcus? I guess it could be just ignorance.

    March 5, 2012 — 16:15
  • Matthew Mullins

    One likes to hope that these kinds of things are a matter of simple oversight. Perhaps Marcus simply isn’t that well known, though when I look at Healy’s list of philosopher obits I only know half the people listed. Hopefully we can help remedy the editors oversight.

    March 6, 2012 — 8:06