Ruth Barcan Marcus, 1921-2012

Uwashington_Marcus_t180Hoon Pyo Jeon and Jane Darby Menton in Yale Daily News:

One of Yale’s first female professors, Marcus helped carve a place for women in academia, and her groundbreaking research in the philosophy of language, ethics, metaphysics and epistemology put her at the forefront of her field. To her students and colleagues, Marcus was an academic visionary and an inspirational mentor.

“She had a kind of personal integrity and intellectual integrity that just shone through,” said Don Garrett GRD ’79, chair of New York University’s department of philosophy and one of Marcus’ former students. “People sometimes found her intellectually intimidating, but anyone who knew her knew that she was a very dear person with a very clear mind — the most logical of philosophers and philosophical of logicians.”

Marcus began her revolutionary work in modal logic during the late 1940s when she developed the Barcan formula, which developed the use of quantifiers in the field. Though Marcus initially came under fire for her radical ideas, she continued her research and eventually drew scholarly recognition and acceptance for her work, her colleagues said.

Born in New York City in 1921, Marcus grew up in the Bronx and went on to attend NYU, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and philosophy in 1941. Five years later, she earned a doctorate in philosophy from Yale. In 1959, Marcus took her first teaching post as a part-time professor of philosophy at Roosevelt University in Illinois, where she worked until becoming head of the philosophy department at the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1964. Marcus returned to Yale in 1973 as a professor of philosophy and taught in the department until her retirement in 1992.

As a professor, Marcus was known for her toughness, but also for her open and supportive attitude.

While former students said they initially found her intimidating, they added that they quickly recognized Marcus’ warm, generous and funny personality. Former students also described Marcus as an excellent mentor — particularly to women entering academia — and many said she inspired them to pursue careers in philosophy.