SWIP UK Notice - September 2012

Soran Reader (1963-2012)

We are very sad to announce the death of Dr Soran Reader, who died peacefully at her home in Cambridge on 1st September, following a long period of illness. After her PhD at Cambridge, Soran was a member of the Philosophy Department at Durham from 1993 to 2012 where she was the founder and director of Durham’s Centre for Ethical Philosophy. She is best known for her work in ethics, on topics such as need and patiency. Soran was a passionate, courageous philosopher, who was not afraid to confront difficult issues, particularly concerning feminism, pacifism and employment justice; she was and will continue to be an inspiration to many. She was one of the founding members of SWIP in 1989 and played a key role in its revitalisation in the mid-2000s, serving as Director of SWIP UK from 2005 to 2009. Soran will be greatly missed by her former colleagues and her many friends. Our thoughts are with her two daughters, Chloe and Mahalia.

International Association of Women Philosophers (IAPh)

The Board of the IAPh is very sad to report the untimely death of Soran Reader, member of the Board since 2007. She died peacefully at home in Cambridge, the 1st of September, after a long period of battling a brain tumor. We remember Soran as a passionate feminist and an active member of the Board, always full of plans and energy. As a philosopher affiliated with Durham University, she initiated cooperation between the Society of Women in Philosophy in the UK and the IAPh. Her efforts resulted in the conference "Feminist philosophy made simple” which took place at the Women’s Library of London, February 2009. One of her plans was to set up a legal counseling body to help women address problems arising from discrimination in academia. Sadly, her illness prevented her from participating actively in the Board the past few years but she stayed in touch and occasionally contributed to our discussions. Soran leaves two daughters, Chloe and Mahalia. Our thoughts are with them in this time of grief

Department of Philosophy, University of Durham

We are all deeply saddened by the death of Dr Soran Reader, who was a member of this department for nineteen years, until her retirement due to illness in June 2012. Soran died peacefully at her home in Cambridge on 1st September 2012. She leaves two children, Chloe and Mahalia. Our thoughts are with them during this difficult time.

Biography (from the University of Durham)

Soran Reader was born in 1963 in Cape Town, South Africa, and lived there until 1981.She took her undergraduate degree at New Hall, Cambridge, where she was taught by Jenny Teichman. For her PhD on theism as a form of explanation, also at Cambridge, she worked with Myles Burnyeat on Aristotle, Renford Bambrough on philosophy of religion and Wittgenstein, Susan James on Spinoza and Stephen Clark on theism in ancient philosophy.

Soran’s interest in the moral philosophical problems raised by violence grew in response to the Gulf War of 1989, when she first began to work out arguments for pacifism, which she took to be not just morally superior but rationally required. She drew on a range of considerations to show this, including the way violence demands individual justification, the implications of cosmopolitanism, and most recently, the perspective of victims, which defines violence as a natural disaster, rather than something to be fought.

Soran joined the Philosophy Department at Durham as a Lecturer in 1993 and was promoted to Reader in 2007. At Durham, her research interests shifted increasingly towards ethics. Soran’s work in ethics began with the thought that, rather than having to earn moral significance by possessing intrinsic or relational properties, things might matter presumptively. If this is right, we can see the practice of ethics as teachin#g moral agents that they may not harm or use things without justification, and that they are obliged to meet things’ needs. Soran argued that the concept of need is fundamental to moral normativity, and that other concepts such as value in consequences, state of will or nature of the act itself, or character, are insufficient to illuminate the nature of ethics and how moral normativity works. This research is recorded in journal articles, in the edited collection The Philosophy of Need, and in Soran’s book Needs and Moral Necessity.

Towards the end of her career at Durham, Soran worked full-time as Director of the university’s Centre for Ethical Philosophy, the aim of which was to explore philosophical issues raised by ‘patiency’. Centre research was premised on Soran’s view that a pervasive and longstanding bias in favour of agents or perpetrators has led philosophers to neglect or misunderstand the role of patients, those in need or victims. Hence she turned to patiency, which includes dependency, subjectedness, suffering, passivity, victimhood and harm. Patiency, as Soran argued in her important article ‘The Other Side of Agency’ and elsewhere, is as constitutive of selfhood as agency.

In December 2008, Soran was diagnosed with a brain tumour. While undergoing treatment, she continued to work on her philosophy and even wrote an article, ‘Ethical Necessities’, which was published in the journal Philosophy. After a period of remission, her condition worsened. She retired in June 2012, at which point she was awarded the title Emeritus Reader. Soran died peacefully at home on 1st September 2012.

Selected Publications


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