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Lynne Rudder Baker Obituary



BAKER, Lynne Rudder

Distinguished Philosopher and Teacher

Lynne Rudder Baker, 73, a distinguished philosopher and teacher, died at her home in Amherst, Massachusetts on December 24, 2017, after a lengthy struggle with heart disease. She is survived by her husband Tom Baker, sister Catherine Rudder and sister-in-law Helen Gibson, sister-in-law Kay Baker Gaston and brother-in-law Joe V. W. Gaston, cherished friends Anne Armstrong and Kate Sonderegger, and extended families of Rudders, Segrests, Gastons, Larsons, and Jewetts.

Born in Atlanta, Georgia on February 14, 1944 to Virginia Bennett and James Rudder, Lynne was predeceased by her parents, her brothers James, Jr. and Claude, and her dear friend Susan Segrest. After graduating from the Westminster Schools in Atlanta, she received a B.A. in mathematics and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Vanderbilt. The formative experience of studying with Adolf Grunbaum at the Uni- versity of Pittsburgh on an Andrew Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship ignited her lifelong passion for philosophy.

Other fellowships soon followed, most notably from the National Humanities Center (1983-1984) and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (1988-1989). Baker taught at Mary Baldwin College in Virginia for four years and at Middlebury College in Vermont for almost twenty before moving to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1989. There, she spent the remainder of her career, serving as Distinguished Professor from 2005 until her retirement in 2013.

Most of Baker’s research and teaching centered on the philosophy of mind and metaphysics, beginning with her first book, Saving Belief: A Critique of Physicalism (Princeton, 1987), and continuing through four other major works: Explaining Attitudes: A Practical Approach to the Mind (Cambridge, 1995), Persons and Bodies: A Constitution View (Cambridge, 2000), The Metaphysics of Everyday Life:An Essay in Practical Realism (Cambridge, 2007), and Naturalism and the First-Person Perspective (Oxford, 2013). One colleague, citing Baker’s myriad contributions to “philosophy of religion, metaphysics, and philosophy of mind,” described her as “a trenchant critic of reductionist/physicalist conceptions of the universe, and perhaps the world’s foremost defender of the constitution view of human persons.”

Baker published regularly in the leading American and European philosophical journals. In addition to her books, she authored more than 100 refereed articles and book chapters, along with countless reviews. An inter- nationally known scholar, she received a steady stream of invitations to deliver papers and keynote addresses around the world. To her great delight, she exchanged ideas with philosophical colleagues across Europe, as well as in Asia, the Middle East, South America, and Australia. Her work has been translated into many languages including Italian, Spanish, German, Chinese, Russian and Farsi.

In 2001, Baker and others delivered the Gifford Lectures in Natural Theology at the University of Glasgow (published as The Nature and Limits of Human Understanding in 2003). At roughly the same time, the Dutch phi- losopher Anthonie Meijers published an edited volume on her work entitled Explaining Beliefs: Lynne Rudder Baker and Her Critics (2001). UMass awarded her the Chancellor’s Medal in 2005 and lauded her for Outstanding Achievement in Research and Creative Activity in the College of Humanities and Fine Arts in 2009. Baker only picked up steam after retiring in 2013. The American Philosophical Association just named her Romanell Lecturer on Naturalism in early December. Up until the day before she died, she was at work on a manuscript in philosophy of religion, a growing interest in her late career.

Baker’s colleagues at UMass praised her “extraordinary body of work, presenting an utterly distinctive set of views on topics of the first importance.” With the help of a poetic line from Baker’s The Metaphysics of Everyday Life, the Italian philosopher Roberta De Monticelli described the book as “a paradigm of rigor and clarity in its ontology of ‘the world that we live and die in, the world where our plans succeed or fail, the world we do or do not find love and happiness in in short, the world that matters to us’” (2007, 4). An unabashed liberal Protestant and political progressive, Baker attended Grace Episcopal Church in Amherst, Massachusetts. A memorial service in her honor will be held there on Saturday, February 10 at 11:00 am.