Iris Einheuser

Berit Brogaard writes:

It saddened me deeply when I recently heard of the death of Iris Einheuser. Iris was supposed to attend a conference on aesthetics and relativistic semantics organized by James Young in Victoria, Canada, this week. I had been looking forward to seeing her at the conference. I knew she had been struggling with cancer but she was so young that I believed that she would have been able to make it through. Iris’ colleague Sara Bernstein informed me that Iris passed away last week on March 29, 2012, after officially receiving tenure at Duke University on March 22.

Iris was a very promising young philosopher with papers in prestigious journals and volumes, such as Relative Truth (Oxford), Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Philosophical Studies, Nous and Philosophers’ Imprint. Despite her young age, she had already made notable contributions to important issues in core analytic areas. She had an exceedingly bright future ahead of her that was abruptly interrupted by this terrible disease.

Iris received her master’s degree at St. Andrews and her Ph.D. at MIT. She wrote her dissertation on conventionalism under the direction of Professor Stephen Yablo. In her dissertation she argues that metaphysical relations, such as ontological dependence, may be partially grounded in conventions. After teaching a few semesters at Wellesley College, she was hired at Duke University in 2005. She was a prominent person in several core analytic areas, including philosophy of language, metaphysics and philosophical logic. We both had an interest in relativistic semantics, which was how I got to know her. I have learned a tremendous amount from our conversations about semantics and the different notional variants of relativistic semantics.

Iris was a wonderful human being, one of the nicest people I have ever met. Her exceptional intellect and her kindness have always been among the first things people have noted when Iris’ name came up. My former colleague Irem Kurtsal Steen just noted on my update on Facebook that Iris was the nicest person she had ever been interviewed by. That is just how Iris was. She asked the kinds of questions that brought out the best in people, both intellectually and personally. She was philosophically and psychologically insightful in a way that is rare to find in people in today’s busy, internet-based society. Iris’ premature death is an immense loss to the philosophical community. She will be truly missed.

We hope to publish at least one more remembrance of Iris. But please also leave your thoughts in comments.

(Dates corrected above.)

7 thoughts on “Iris Einheuser

  1. Iris was my friend and colleague for several years at Duke. This portrait rings true, especially the remark that “Her exceptional intellect and her kindness have always been among the first things people have noted when Iris’ name came up.” Those things characterize every conversation I ever had with Iris.

    There is much more one could say, of course: a smile that exuded warmth, interest and openness. A dedication to clarity and precision in philosophy, no matter what the topic; a refusal to compromise on the important things, and a refusal to be bothered about the unimportant. And, perhaps not unrelated, unfailing taste in clothing, food, and design.

    My last term at Duke, Iris and I designed and co-taught a course on analytic philosophy, which was a high point of my time there. Earlier today, in my new locale, I was teaching a text that we had co-taught a few years ago in that small seminar at Duke (the Preface to the Tractatus). For a few moments, I was not in Pittsburgh at CMU but transported back to the seminar room where Iris, I and our class had had a lively and stimulating hour-long discussion on those same few paragraphs. In realizing I would not be able to talk to her again, I felt how much we all had lost, how much I would miss not seeing her again, how very fortunate I was to have had her friendship. For awhile, I was not sure I could continue, so acutely had I become aware of the loss, in a place where nobody around me knew of her. Afterwards, I commented to a colleague that I had not seen any official announcement or remembrance of Iris, and of how necessary it was to be able to share memories of her, and talk about it. Your post on feminist philosophers appeared a few hours later, and is much appreciated.

    As I found myself writing in an email I sent to someone close to her: “It is hard for me to comprehend that she is gone, but her existence was always somewhat of a little miracle to me, too.”

  2. This is very sad. I just learned that we at Disputatio accepted a paper of hers recently, “Nonexistence, Vague Existence, Merely Possible
    Existence”. We were waiting for the revised proofs. We will publish it as is, probably in our November issue.

  3. I was so sorry to hear about her death. I wish I had known her.

    (I note awkwardly that I was wrong about the kind of cancer, though the warning about breast cancer for young women seems important.)

    It might be good just to mention here that breast cancer does indeed occur in young women, and when it does a number of factors can contribute to its being lethal. In particular, for reasons not well understood, cancer in young women can be considerably more aggressive.

    other problems include denser breast tissue in young women, making it harder to notice lumps and making mammograms less accurate. Also, lots of medical people share the idea that young women do not get breast cancer, and so they are inclined not to pursue biopsies, etc.

    Any young women with a breast lump really need to see out a doctor who will conduct required tests and not just put them on a wait and see basis.

  4. Brit–as you so generously shared with me my loss of a good friend, so I share yours. Please accept my sympathy.

  5. Philosophers’ Imprint has just published Iris Einheuser’s paper “Inner and Outer Truth” . We deeply regret that it was not published before her death. It has a place of honor as our 100th publication.

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