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Women of Distinction

Women of Distinction: Unveiling of Portraits of Women Philosophers

On 21 January 2016, the Faculty was proud to hold a formal unveiling of the portraits of distinguished Oxford women philosophers that were featured in Oxford Philosophy 2014. The collection comprises portraits of Dorothy Edgington, Philippa Foot, Susan Hurley, Martha Kneale, Mary Warnock and Kathy Wilkes. Those portrayed show philosophical strength across a range of fields, and three made significant contributions in the wider, public world. All are inspiring figures that today’s young Oxford philosophers can look to for testament and for inspiration.

The ceremony was attended by one of those featuring in the portraits –Dorothy Edgington as well as friends and family of the other honorands. The installation of the portraits augments a collection that was previously housed in the Ryle Room at 10 Merton Street, and which now appear on the gallery outside the new Ryle Room in the Radcliffe Humanities building.

Faculty of Philosophy: new portrait photographs

Dorothy Edgington
Dorothy Edgington FBA is the first woman to have held one of the named professorships in philosophy at Oxford, as Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy from 2003 to 2006. She read PPE at Oxford as an undergraduate and then did the BPhil. Outside of Oxford, Dorothy has mostly worked at Birkbeck College, where she is a Senior Research Fellow, and where there is a regular lecture series named in her honour. She has also been President of the Aristotelian Society, and the Mind Association, and held honorary posts in Canada, the US, Mexico and Italy. She is particularly noted for her work on conditionals and vagueness.
Philippa Foot
Philippa Foot (1920-2010) is known as a pre-eminent moral philosopher of recent times, particularly acclaimed for her 2001 work Natural Goodness. She introduced one of the most enduring thought experiments in moral philosophy, the “trolley problem”, and was prominent in reintroducing the topic of virtues in moral philosophy. Philippa read PPE at Somerville College, returning there as a lecturer in 1947, holding fellowships at the college from 1950 until her death. Through Somerville, she had many interactions with Iris Murdoch and Elizabeth Anscombe, themselves already subjects of portraits in the Faculty. Outside of her academic work, Philippa was one of the earliest supporters of Oxfam.
Susan Hurley
Susan Hurley (1954-2007) was the first woman fellow of All Souls College at Oxford, and also held professorships at Warwick and Bristol. Susan read philosophy at Princeton, and law at Harvard before coming to Oxford to take the BPhil and DPhil. Her early professional work was in the areas of legal and political philosophy: having achieved prominence in this, she later further tackled philosophy of mind, psychology and neuroscience, for which she is perhaps most noted, taking strikingly ambitious interdisciplinary approaches to the understanding of consciousness and action.
Martha Kneale
Martha Kneale (1909-2001) co-wrote, with husband William Kneale, The Development of Logic (1962), a work of such authority that it is oft referred to simply as “Kneale and Kneale”. She also had work published on the philosophy of time, and the Rationalists, particularly Leibniz and Spinoza. Her daughter Jane Heal – herself a noted philosopher – recalls that Martha’s particular interest in “metaphysical issues of what we can discern of the deep necessities of the universe… and their bearing on our moral attitudes, our choices”. She found kinship in this in Spinoza, on whom she wrote extensively until very late in her life. Martha was a tutor in philosophy at Lady Margaret Hall from 1936 to 1966, and a fellow there from 1939 to 1966.
Mary Warnock
Mary Warnock FBA DBE is perhaps, despite her connection to philosophy in Oxford, most noted for her longstanding public service and many contributions to political life: she has chaired public inquiries on education, animal experimentation, and fertilization and embryology, and has served on a Royal Commission. In 1985 she was created a life peer, sitting as a crossbencher until her retirement from the Lords in 2015. Prior to this she has been a fellow in philosophy at St Hugh’s College, and Lady Margaret Hall (where she was an undergraduate), and was later Mistress of Girton College, Cambridge. Within philosophy she has written much on ethics and the philosophy of mind.
Kathy Wilkes
Kathy Wilkes (1946-2003) was a fellow and tutor in philosophy at St Hilda’s College from 1973 until her death, having read Literae Humaniores (taking a double first) as an undergraduate. She is known within the profession chiefly for her work in the philosophy of mind. But Kathy’s commitment as a philosopher went far beyond the tutorial and the journal page: she helped found the Jan Hus Educational Foundation, which operated an underground education network in the then Czechoslovakia, which was under Soviet control. In honour of this work, Kathy received in 1998 the Commemorative Medal of the President of the Czech Republic, from then President Václav Havel.

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