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March 2009

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"Roberta L. Millstein" <[log in to unmask]>
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Tue, 24 Mar 2009 19:44:03 -0700
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Listserv for the International Society
for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology

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Dear ISHPSSB Listserv,

Dick Burian asked me to pass along to you the 
following memorial notice for Marjorie Grene.  A 
second notice will follow in a few weeks, 
describing Marjorie's role in the founding of ISH 
and her influence on the Society and some of its 
early members.

-RLM


In Memoriam Marjorie Grene


Marjorie Grene passed away March 16 at age 98 
after a brief illness.  Marjorie Glicksman Grene, 
born Dec. 13, 1910, was an important historian of 
philosophy (with books on Aristotle, Descartes, 
and various existentialist philosophers), 
epistemologist (with a special emphasis on 
perception and the contextual relations of 
knowers to the world around them) and philosopher 
of science, especially biology, on which she 
wrote several books.  After obtaining a 
bachelor's degree in zoology at Wellesley, she 
studied with such figures as Heidegger and 
Jaspers as an American-German exchange student 
1931-33 and David Prall, Alfred North Whitehead, 
and C.I. Lewis at Harvard.  Her doctorate in 
philosophy was awarded by Radcliffe in 1935 since 
women were not then formally admitted to Harvard. 
From 1937-1944 she was an instructor at the 
University of Chicago, where she participated in 
the seminars run by Rudolf Carnap and Carl 
(Peter) Hempel.  From 1944 to1957 she continued 
to publish, but her main occupations were raising 
her family and helping to run a farm, first in 
the US, then in Ireland.  In 1950 she met Michael 
Polanyi and served as his research assistant 
(largely by correspondence) for the conversion of 
his 1950 Gifford Lectures into his well-known 
book, Personal Knowledge.  Thanks in part to this 
work, she held temporary positions at the 
University of Manchester (1957-8) and then at the 
University of Leeds (1958-60),before becoming a 
Lecturer in Philosophy at Queens University, 
Belfast (1960-65).  She returned to the US, first 
as a faculty member, then as Chair of the 
Department of Philosophy at the University of 
California, Davis, which she built into a major 
department, with strengths in history of 
philosophy and philosophy of science.

Philosophically, one of the most salient threads 
in her work is her view of philosophy as a 
continuous dialogue involving the thought of all 
major philosophers in the main philosophical 
traditions, with a strong contextualist twist. 
She insisted on the necessity of interpreting 
philosophers both within the context of their own 
times and places (else one would misunderstand 
them in important ways) and from the perspective 
of one's own context (in which their thought is 
brought to bear on a new set of problems, 
highlighted by a different physical, social, 
technological, and conceptual background).  In 
epistemology, she was firmly anti-Cartesian, 
insisting that humans are embodied beings whose 
characteristics are built in interaction with and 
in reaction to their physical and social 
environment.  She maintains that human beings 
should be understood in light of their animal 
lineage and in terms of an analysis of perception 
greatly influenced by the perceptual psychology 
of J.J. Gibson.

In philosophy of biology, she was influenced by 
several European biologists (e.g., Adolf 
Portmann, Bernhard Rensch, and Rupert Riedl) and 
many colleagues at UC Davis.  Of special 
importance was her encounter with the 
evolutionary synthesis, especially in the work of 
Ernst Mayr, Theodosius Dobzhansky (who spent the 
end of his career at UC Davis), and her Davis 
colleague G. Ledyard Stebbins.  In keeping with 
her larger philosophical views, she treated 
biological knowledge as a dialectic involving the 
history of biology and the shifting problems and 
technologies encountered in different settings. 
In particular, she insisted on the need to 
include the treatment of problems of form, 
function, and evolution as part of the setting 
for the problems encountered in all current 
biological disciplines - and the problem of human 
well-being in dealing with biomedical sciences. 
She ran at least five summer seminars for the NEH 
and two summer institutes for the Council of 
Philosophical Studies and was influential in 
founding the informal group that eventually 
formed the International Society for History, 
Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology, of 
which she and Ernst Mayr were Honorary Presidents.

Due to her foreshortened career, after her 
mandatory retirement from UC Davis Prof. Grene 
found it financially and intellectually desirable 
to continue working in academic settings.  From 
fall 1978 until spring 1986 she held visiting 
positions in twelve colleges and universities 
plus a research fellowship (1985-86) at the 
American Museum of Natural History.  In 1988, 
when her daughter Ruth moved from Cornell 
University to Virginia Tech, Prof. Grene moved 
from Ithaca, NY to Blacksburg, VA where she was 
named as an Honorary University Distinguished 
Professor and Adjunct Professor of Philosophy and 
Science Studies at Virginia Tech.  She played a 
significant role in both of these units for many 
years, participating in colloquia, tutoring 
students, and collaborating with various 
colleagues.  She remained intellectually active 
until about 2005, publishing her last major book, 
The Philosophy of Biology: An Episodic History, 
written with David Depew, with Cambridge 
University Press in 2004.  She served as the 
President of the Pacific Division of the American 
Philosophical Association (1971-72), the Phi Beta 
Kappa Romanell Lecturer in 1991-92, delivering 
the lectures at the UC Davis, was awarded 
honorary degrees by Tulane University and the 
University of Dijon, and received many additional 
honors.  Several Festschrifts have been devoted 
to her work including volume 29 of the Library of 
Living Philosophers, the first to be devoted to 
the work of a woman (L.E. Hahn. and R.E. Auxier 
(eds.), The Philosophy of Marjorie Grene, Chicago 
and La Salle, IL,: Open Court, 2002), and J. 
Gayon and R.M. Burian (eds.), 2007, Conceptions 
de la Science: Hier, Aujourd'hui, Demain. Hommage 
 Marjorie Grene, Brussels: Ousia.

Marjorie Grene is survived by her daughter Ruth, 
who is on the Virginia Tech faculty in Plant 
Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science, her son 
Nicholas, who is the Professor of English 
Literature in the School of English, Trinity 
College, Dublin, his wife Eleanor, six 
grandchildren, Sophia, Hannah, Jessica, Clement, 
Nick and Lucy Grene and one great-granddaughter, 
Nazyia Terry.

As of this date, memorial plans are somewhat 
fluid, but Prof. Grene was cremated and her 
remains have been returned to Ireland.  To allow 
her Irish family to participate in the memorial 
service in Blacksburg, a memorial service is 
tentatively scheduled for May 3.  Beyond that, 
decisions are still being shaped about the 
family's wishes.  Inquiries can be sent to the 
Department of Philosophy, Virginia Tech.


Richard Burian
Virginia Tech



*** End of announcement

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Professor Roberta L. Millstein
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History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology
<http://www.ishpssb.org/>

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