We learned yesterday of the death of Marilyn McCord Adams. She is the second of the SCP giants to fall (the earlier being Bill Alston). No one living, in my view, can fill their shoes. Those of us who studied at their feet first- or second-hand will spend the rest of our lives simply working out the details and promise of what they wrote. And we won’t even get that fully done. They’re just that much better than us.
In 2010, as Justin McBrayer and I were about to begin our religious epistemology colloquium at the Pacific APA, I noticed Marilyn McCord Adams enter the room. My confidence suddenly crashed, as her reputation as a sharp critic preceded her. And, mirabile visu, we had made T-shirts for our session which we intended to hand out. Would she think this was inappropriate? Would she think it was funny? What should we do?!
She turned out to be delightful, of course, and we hit it off from the word go. A few APA’s later, and she would be my commentator on what would be a central chapter of my book on animal pain. She had very incisive comments, of course, delivered with wit and vigor. But at the same time, she provided great suggestions for solutions to the criticisms she made. In order to provide context for the paper, I sent her the book MS and suggested she may want to read the synopsis of the preceding chapter. She then took it upon herself to provide commentary on the whole book! This was supererogatory in excelsis!
Then, after the book was published, as one of the critics at a book symposium on that book at Calvin College put together by Matt Halteman she expanded both the criticisms and the suggestions for addressing them. It was a small workshop, and we spent two full days together in sessions, at meals, and on field trips. She was spry and qui vive. This was just two summers ago, and you’d never think there was a thing wrong with her. When I knew she fell ill about a year ago, it didn’t even occur to me that she could succumb to death so early. It was, frankly, hard to believe it could happen at all.
In between these events were many brief but fruitful encounters. She was witty, tough, compassionate. Her work was bold, creative, imaginative, yet precise down to each analytic detail. I read her work for so many classes: Medieval Philosophy, Free Will, Philosophy of Religion, and others. Her book on horrendous evils was the greatest inspiration for mine. But in addition to her written work being so insightful and rigorous, for me at least it was FUN. And in addition to her writing being fun, SHE was fun. I loved her rough-and-tumble give and take that was never, that I witnessed, in any way uncharitable. She was going to write the blurb for the back of the paperback version of my book, which will now never happen, and instead I’m going to dedicate my book _God, Suffering, and Sainthood_ to her memory in the hope that it will impel me to make it a book worthy of being dedicated to her.
Pax et bonum,