Woman, Fighter, Philosopher

26stone-ruthbarcanmarcus-articleInlineDiana Raffman on Ruth Barcan Marcus in the NYT's The Stone:

I first met the renowned Yale professor Ruth Barcan Marcus in the ladies’ room at the Marlboro Music Festival during the summer of 1977. As a music major in Yale College I had taken only a few philosophy courses, and none with Marcus. But word of the arrival in 1973 of the formidable philosopher had reached even the musty practice rooms in the bowels of Harkness Hall; and I had seen her several times, from a safe distance, on campus. Perhaps because this initial encounter occurred on musical rather than philosophical terrain, I managed to ask the woman adjusting her collar in the mirror next to me whether she was Ruth Marcus, “the famous logician.” She laughed and said yes, and then asked what I planned to do with my Yale degree. I told her I wanted to go to graduate school in philosophy, but feared that a major in music, rather than philosophy, would be an obstacle. She replied, “I don’t see why that should stop you.”

Those words were to be my first lesson from Professor Marcus, who died in February at the age of 90. They were emblematic of the whole of her intellectual and professional life. Yes she was brilliant, and famous, and powerful; yes her writings changed the course of philosophical history; and yes she demolished her philosophical opponents when she thought they deserved it. But what made Marcus more than a great philosopher were her unflinching honesty, her unfailing integrity and a will of steel. I first thought to describe her as the most courageous person I’ve ever known; but really she wasn’t courageous. Courage requires fear, and Marcus was fearless. She said what she thought and did what she thought was right, no matter the consequences.