8 thoughts on “Annette Baier

  1. I am terribly saddened by her death. She was my first feminist role model. I am reposting here more or less what I posted on facebook.

    Here are some things I learned from Annette Baier. (I was only 19 when I first met her; I had a lot to learn.)

    – How I wanted to treat my colleagues and students and how I wanted to engage in philosophical discussion.
    – Why it was both important to be a feminist and awesomely cool to be one.
    – That you could live a completely non-conformist life filled with romance and adventure and also be a successful academic philosopher.
    – That the history of philosophy is cool and interesting and important.
    – That intellectual and social generosity towards one’s students makes all the difference to them.
    – And perhaps most memorably, that wearing ladylike shoes and a skirt and being in your 60’s is no reason at all not to scale a brambly chain link fence in France so as to trespass on Hume’s old summer home in order to get a picture of it.

    P.S. I have decided that my next pair of pets will be named Annette and Kurt.

  2. She’s provided a daring reading of David Hume that is quite brilliant. I think understanding it has been very difficult for many Hume scholars.

    The idea behind her reading is that the community is essential for Hume for both cognition and morality. One could see it as a fairly early extended mind thesis, but unlike most people espousing some version of that view, she resolutely sees the community as extremely important. One wonders if the view had been proposed by a man, would it have become more dominant?

    At the Hume Society meeting a few years ago I argued that a highly respected Hume scholar had gotten her really wrong. Relatedly, at the same meeting I saw two distinguished Hume scholars take about an hour to discuss a major Hume issue; I am pretty sure they saw themselves as getting Hume more right, but I’m afraid the reality is that they have enough power to set an agenda.

    There’s much more to be said about her; I am very sad today too.

    Let me add: Jackie Taylor has really added to Baier’s views.

  3. I was lucky enough to have Annette Baier as a professor when I was a graduate student at Pittsburgh. My first year there (1973-4) was also her first year in the department, after coming over from Carnegie-Mellon when Pitt dropped its nepotism rules. I had her that first semester for a course on Intentions and Intentionallilty in which we read, among other things, Anscombe’s Intention and David Lewis’s then-brand-new book Convention. I found the Anscombe very hard going and often felt a bit lost in the class. At the same time I had a course with Sellars and I remember Annette saying that she and Sellars could not come to terms at all despite their interest in Wittgenstein because Wilfrid found the later parts of his work unintelligible and she, Annette, found the earlier parts unintelligible. (Or something like that.) I think, though I could not swear to this, that her community-laden reading of Hume (on topics like promising and trust) owes much to that late-Wittgensteinian influence.

    On another topic, we women students–and there were actually four of us out of 10 in our entering class–were constantly fascinated by Annette because she was smart, professional, intimidating, and also incredibly elegant! She was a role model and much more. That first year we had a consciousness-raising group led by, among others, Pamela Foa (later married to Paul Guyer) and Marilyn Frye. Annette did not join us and we were all disappointed. I was a Visiting Professor back at Pitt in 1981 and she DID join our feminist reading group then. Things had changed for her in the intervening years. In retrospect, I now can see why she may not have been either interested in or comfortable with joining such a group in 1973. It was after all her first year in a department that was notoriously combative and, as a wife and younger faculty member, she probably had to prove herself there just as any other younger associate professor would have.

    There were certainly many male graduate students who generated elaborate fantasy lives about seducing her. Or at least I can say for certain there was one because I heard more details about this than I’d care to recall. It was disturbing at the time and I don’t know exactly what to think about it now. The situation of being in a position of less power vis-a-vis a beautiful brilliant woman professor was so unusual for them that perhaps this was a “normal” way to respond. I never felt any particular female or feminist solidarity from her mainly because she was simply so smart and intimidating. Perhaps this changed as things in the profession moved along and she embraced feminism more openly. I think the position for women faculty at Pittsburgh must have been awful at that time. I could write a novel about it but I won’t. Suffice it to say, there were some pretty dreadful occurrences.

  4. Cynthia– wow, that’s awful (your last paragraph). I wish it were also surprising– it’s not.
    I didn’t know Annette personally at all, and as any Hume scholar can attest, we agreed on just about nothing– save the dates on which Hume was born and died. (Actually, we never discussed that issue, and given the fact that the calendar changed in Scotland during Hume’s lifetime, well, we could have ended up in an argument over that). I have a very different reading of Hume on most counts, and feminist-wise, well, I’m definitively third rather than second-wave, queer and have been out forever (and hence, on both scores, have a very different set of experiences than someone who, like Annette, came to philosophical maturity at the beginning of the second-wave, married to a male philosopher).
    And still, for all of that, my overwhelming sense on learning of Annette Baier’s passing was and is one of great debt. Without the work of women of her generation, there would be no possibility for women like me in the field. I posted the following on my facebook page, but have decided to post it here too, because I think in some ways it shows just how much things did change for Annette in the decades between when you first met her and when I first had contact with her.
    Annette Baier and I first had professional contact when she read an article of mine, decided she disagreed with me, and wrote me to tell me so. I was a very young assistant professor, so I was both utterly flattered, and completely intimidated. Didn’t stop me from arguing with her. We argued for six months over email. Over time, the emails became gradually interlaced with comments about her cats. Then mine. And a few other such personal details. But it was definitively a professional exchange. The thing that was great about that was the philosophical content of the exchange, and the fact that it meant I felt taken seriously as a philosopher (feminism on the ground, as it were). But I couldn’t imagine that she’d taken much of any notice of me; not really.
    And yet, some time after that email exchange, I found myself running away from Don Ainslie at the Iceland edition of the annual Hume conference. Don, you see, was pursuing me trying to get my photo. I was being recalcitrant. To put it mildly. (I’ve become much better about this, but I used to be camera shy to the point of nearly phobic). Finally Don, rightly exasperated, said, “look you have to let me take a picture– Annette wants to know what you look like!” There was a *person* with whom Annette had been having these arguments, not just a producer of ideas, and she wanted to know what I looked like. {Don got the photo}
    May she rest in peace, and may we all try to repay the debt we owe her, in our interactions with the next generation of women philosophers.

  5. Annette was so important to me — a true role model, and I am so pleased to be able to mentor others now as she did for me and so many others. Right now, I am in Bogota, visiting Javeriana, the university of Angela Calvo (an important Latina Hume scholar), and we were talking a few days ago about the importance of Annette’s work and warmth — we were able to make a tribute to her at the conference.
    (Anne, thanks for the lovely comment about my work.)

  6. My earliest memories of Annette are of a stylish,exotic and mysterious figure.
    who sent beautiful postcards and presents from famous far-flung cities. When she and Kurt came to live and teach here for a year
    I got to know her as a person: cultured and refined,elegant and incisive.

    When I was 4 or 5 she took my sisters and I up to the cliffs above Tunnel Beach
    where we each had turns being swung up into the sky in her arms
    I remember that my smile
    didn’t fool her at all.
    she stopped swinging, looked at me in a gentle but piercing way and said “you’re not enjoying it at all, are you?”
    I sensed that honesty was very important to her, and surprised myself, saying “Actually it’s pretty scary”

    something in her responded with great gentleness to that
    and a lasting trust formed between us.

    Later she filled my young mind with amazement, with pre-Socratic quotes and explanations of the need to think about thought itself.
    By the age of 7 I must have thought she knew everything
    I remember asking her what the earliest names of God were!
    She inspired me with stories about a student philosophy camp on Stewart Island, how deep their night talks round the fire were in the depths of that setting.
    Communion with the ineffable.
    Like her experience as a volunteer in a mescaline experiment,where she sensed the presence of a leopard-like creature, but didn’t think it a deity

    I most like to remember the walking tour of Vienna she gave me, and how my wonder and delight pleased her.
    Whether she was pointing out the subtle Turkish structural beauty in the facial bones of Viennese girls, or opening the door into the drunken twisting red-and-white marble-
    pillared interior of carlskirche, saying
    “The survivor’s of the plagues built this,Ali. They were so grateful to be alive that for a brief time they thought joy itself something holy – and gave us the baroque.”

    at times like that I thought of her as a poet, like when we hiked along the trail where Beethoven took his daily walks and she paraphrased his description of them as
    walks to other worlds
    filled with forests of indescribably beautiful music
    from which he could only bring back the odd leaf or two.

    Thank you Annette
    I loved it when you shared your soul
    thank you also, for the perceptive interest you showed in my life and art
    your unobtrusive and thoughtful generosity deepened them both.

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