With the publication of one book, Virginia Tech philosopher Marjorie Grene became the first woman to join the ranks of such great philosophers as Albert Einstein (philosopher-scientist), Jean-Paul Sartre, John Dewey, Alfred North Whitehead, Bertrand Russell, Paul Weiss, and Donald Davidson.

The Library of Living Philosophers has published The Philosophy of Marjorie Grene, edited by Randall E. Auxier and Lewis Edwin Hahn. This volume is number 29 in a series of books that, since 1939, has asked the greatest living philosophers what their ideas mean in an attempt to avoid future "interminable controversies" over their works, according to the General Introduction to The Library of Living Philosophers. "…There is no Nobel Prize for philosophy," Auxier said recently, "{so} many people regard selection for the Library of Living Philosophers and for the Gifford Lectures in Scotland as the two highest honors a professional philosopher can receive."

Known for her controversial views, Grene was chosen for the series for the value of her ideas, according to Auxier in the book's preface. "Professor Grene has written about a wide variety of philosophical topics and issues over her long career," Auxier wrote. "Particularly she made and continues to make major contributions to the philosophy of biology, a field in which she has been an important voice in the community of biological theorists in their on-going discussion of evolution and its various possible interpretations." Grene believes historical figures must be studied in the context of their time and not in terms only of "consciousness." "My daughter's dog is conscious," she said.

"In her often well-publicized and pointed disputes with the philosophers of consciousness, Professor Grene has come to have a daunting reputation as a philosopher who can disarm or slay an opponent with a single phrase or question," Auxier wrote. However, she is "a person of considerable wisdom and humility, and — that rarest of finds in the contemporary world, a true human being." In fact, Auxier wrote, "…the charm and dry wit of Professor Grene's writing might hold for us a certain danger, namely a tendency to underestimate the difficulties she faced as a woman in the middle portion of the twentieth century in gaining the professional positions and recognition for her ideas--recognition that men with only a fraction of her talent and learning could easily have commanded."

Grene was interested in philosophy when she started college in 1927 at Wellesley, but majored in zoology with a minor in English. She went to Germany as an exchange student, where she attended lectures of Heidegger and Jaspers. She came home in 1933, the year Hitler came to power, and earned a Ph.D. at Radcliffe, "as close as women got to Harvard in those days," she said. She enjoyed teaching the history of philosophy, but her appointment at the University of Chicago was not renewed during the war. She moved to Ireland with her then husband, where she helped farm and raised a family. She taught for five years at Queen's University, Belfast, and then came back to the States, to the University of California at Davis. Richard Burian, a professor of philosophy at Virginia Tech who describes Grene's career as "remarkable," said Grene overcame the difficulties of being a woman in a man's profession because she "came in as a curious outsider and found a way to produce serious criticisms that had a serious impact in the fields" about which she wrote. "She finds a way to activate people in interesting ways."

Grene became adjunct professor and Honorary Distinguished Professor when she and her daughter, Ruth Grene (formerly Alscher), professor of plant physiology, moved to Virginia Tech in 1988. In addition to her time at Queen's and at UC Davis, Marjorie Grene has had visiting appointments at a number of other institutions. She has earned numerous awards, including fellowship in the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences and American Association for the Advancement of Science. She has published 12 books, including those on Heidegger, Aristotle, Sartre, and Descartes.

The volume in The Library of Living Philosophers includes an intellectual autobiography of Grene and a series of essays written by prominent exponents and opponents of her thought, as well as Grene's responses. In her own self-effacing way, Grene called her inclusion in the series "puzzling, but fun" and joked in November 2002 that, since the books were published only on living philosophers, "I have to live at least until January."


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