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Judith was best known as a American moral philosopher.
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Judith Jarvis Thomson
Judith Jarvis Thomson
A caricature of Judith Jarvis Thomson.jpg
BornOctober 4, 1929 (1929-10-04) (age 91)
DiedNovember 20, 2020
Alma materBarnard College (B.A.)
Cambridge University (B.A., M.A.)
Columbia University (Ph.D.)
EraContemporary philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolAnalytic philosophy
Notable ideas
The "violinist" argument
Judith Jarvis Thomson (October 4, 1929 – November 20, 2020) was an American moral philosopher. She was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society in 2019.
Contents
1 Childhood and education
2 Later career
3 Research areas and publications
4 "A Defense of Abortion"
5 Selected publications
6 See also
7 References
8 External links
Childhood and education
Thomson was born on born in New York City, on October 4, 1929. Her mother Helen Vostrey was an English teacher and her father Theodore was an accountant. Thomson's mother died when she was six.
Thomson graduated from Hunter College High School in January 1946. She received her BA from Barnard College in 1950, a second BA at Newnham College, Cambridge in 1952, an MA from Cambridge in 1956, and a PhD from Columbia University in 1959. All her degrees were in philosophy.
In 1962, she began teaching at Barnard College. That same year, she married James Thomson, who was a visiting professor at Columbia University. Judith and James spend the 1962–1963 academic year at Oxford, after which they moved to Boston. Judith taught for a year at Boston University and, in 1964, was appointed to the faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where she was Laurence S. Rockefeller Professor of Philosophy. James was also appointed a professor of philosophy at MIT. The Thomsons divorced in 1980; they remained colleagues until James's death in 1984.
Later career
Thomson was a visiting professor at the University of Pittsburgh (1976), UC Berkeley School of Law (1983), and Yale Law School (1982, 1984, 1985). She has held fellowships from the Fulbright Foundation (1950–1951), the American Association of University Women (1962–1963), the National Endowment for the Humanities (1978–1979, 1986–1987), the Guggenheim Foundation (1986–1987), and the Center for Advanced Study in Oslo, Norway (1996). In 1989, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in 1992–1993 she served as president of the American Philosophical Association (APA), Eastern Division. In 1999, she gave the Tanner Lectures on Human Values on "Goodness and Advice," at Princeton University. She taught at MIT for the majority of her career, remaining there as professor emerita.
In 2012, she was awarded the Quinn Prize by the American Philosophical Association.
In 2015, she was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Cambridge, and in 2016 by Harvard University. In 2016, she was elected to a Corresponding Fellowship of the British Academy.
Research areas and publications
Thomson's main areas of research were moral philosophy and metaphysics. In moral philosophy she has made significant contributions to meta-ethics, normative ethics and applied ethics. Her contribution to her book with Gilbert Harman, Moral Relativism and Moral Objectivity (1996) defends the objectivity of morality against Harman's relativism. The papers collected in Rights, Restitution and Risk (1986) include discussions of assisted suicide, abortion, self-defense, and preferential hiring. And her work published in Goodness and Advice (2001) and The Realm of Rights (1992) cover basic issues in normative moral theory concerning the basis of moral rights and an account of goodness. Her work in metaphysics focuses on issues concerning action and events, time and parthood.
"A Defense of Abortion"
Main article: A Defense of Abortion
One thought experiment for which Thomson is especially well-known occurs in her paper "A Defense of Abortion":
You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist's circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. ... To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it's only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you.
The scenario is meant to suggest that the human right not to be killed can be trumped by another person's right to control her own body, when these two rights come into conflict.
In this paper, Thomson argues on the basis of the violinist thought experiment that "the right to life consists not in the right not to be killed, but rather in the right not to be killed unjustly." Therefore, to show that abortion is morally impermissible, "it is by no means enough to show that the fetus is a person and to remind us that all persons have a right to life—we need to be shown also that killing the fetus violates its right to life, i.e., that abortion is unjust killing. And is it?" Thomson's article defends abortion rights and functions primarily as an argument by analogy in regards to the idea of mother/fetus consanguinity.
The paper meets reactions and criticisms from many different philosophers and bioethicists. Philippa Foot, a prominent Aristotelian ethicist, argued that negative non-provision of service, as in the case of the violinist, is different from active killing, or interference, as in abortion (see Foot's book Moral Dilemmas, 86–87). Thomson's thought experiment has also been replied to by Oxford philosopher John Finnis in "The Rights and Wrongs of Abortion: a reply to Judith Thomson". Thomson in turn replied to Finnis in her paper, "Rights and Deaths", reprinted in her volume of essays, Rights, Restitution, and Risk.
Selected publications
Thomson, Judith Jarvis (1975). "The Right to Privacy". Philosophy & Public Affairs. 4 (4): 295–314. ISSN 0048-3915. JSTOR 2265075.
Thomson, Judith Jarvis (1976). "Killing, Letting Die, and the Trolley Problem". The Monist. 59 (2): 204–217. doi:10.5840/monist197659224. PMID 11662247.
Thomson, Judith Jarvis (1977). Acts and Other Events. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press. OCLC 655087495.
Thomson, Judith Jarvis (1986). Rights, Restitution, and Risk: Essays in Moral Theory. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. OCLC 1151158974.
Thomson, Judith Jarvis, ed. (1987). On Being and Saying: Essays for Richard Cartwright. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. ISBN 978-0262200639.
Thomson, Judith Jarvis (1990). The Realm of Rights. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. OCLC 1151074383.
Thomson, Judith Jarvis (January 1994). "Goodness and Utilitarianism". Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association. 67 (4): 5–21. doi:10.2307/3130740. JSTOR 3130740.
Harman, Gilbert; Thomson, Judith Jarvis (1996). Moral Relativism and Moral Objectivity. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Blackwell. OCLC 1036773391.
Thomson, Judith Jarvis (2001). Goodness and Advice. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-1-4008-2472-4. OCLC 362799240.
See also
Fact and Value: Essays on Ethics and Metaphysics for Judith Jarvis Thomson
American philosophy
The fat man version of the trolley problem
Violinist (thought experiment)
List of American philosophers
Judith Jarvis Thomson
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