American Philosophical Society
Member History

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407. Philosophy[X]
1Name:  Dr. Judith Jarvis Thomson
 Institution:  Massachusetts Institute of Technology
 Year Elected:  2019
 Class:  4. Humanities
 Subdivision:  407. Philosophy
 Residency:  Resident
 Living? :   Deceased
 Birth Date:  1929
 Death Date:  November 20, 2020
Judith Jarvis Thomson was Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She earned her Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1959. Her teaching career includes Barnard College, Boston University, and as Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Philosophy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Judith Jarvis Thomson has been a leading contributor to the flourishing of moral and political philosophy in America since the 1960s. She is best known for her defense of abortion and for her subtle and pioneering use of “trolley problem” thought experiments as a tool for understanding interpersonal morality, which has set the agenda, and provided a model, for much subsequent work. Thomson’s ingenious use of examples, and her rigorous yet extremely readable style, have made her writing widely influential. Her important book, The Realm of Rights, used this same method of argument from carefully crafted examples to develop a general account of morality based on rights, drawing important connections between morality and law, particularly the theory of torts. Thomson was one of a small number of women philosophers to rise to great prominence in the field in the second half of the twentieth century, paving the way for many others. She has been honored with a Guggenheim Fellowship (1987-88) and the Quinn Prize of the American Philosophical Association in 2012. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences (1989) and the American Philosophical Association (president, Eastern Division, 1992-93). Her works include Acts and Other Events (1977), Rights, Restitution, and Risk (1986), The Realm of Rights (1990), and Normativity (2008). Judith Jarvis Thomson was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society in 2019. She died on November 20, 2020.
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