Lynne Rudder Baker (1944-2017) was a remarkably original, courageous, and clear-headed Christian philosopher who stands as a role-model for anyone aspiring to excellence as a Christian scholar and teacher. Her first book, Saving Belief, is still the best sustained critique of eliminative materialism and was an inspiration to my own work in philosophy of mind. Lynne’s most innovative contribution was the constitution view of persons. This view accepts the irreducible reality of persons as intentional beings with a first-person perspective and offers an alternative to substance dualism in its account of the Christian teachings of the incarnation and resurrection. Lynne’s last book, Naturalism and the First-Person Perspective, is a standing challenge to naturalism that deserves to be widely discussed for years to come. Students, colleagues, friends, and her husband Tom, will dearly miss her.
Since her passing, various philosophers and former students have also expressed their memories of Lynne and tributes to the value of her work. A common theme articulated by many: Lynne Rudder Baker was overwhelmingly ‘smart,’ ‘elegant,’ ‘generous,’ and ‘kind.’
At the time of her death, Professor Lynne Rudder Baker was Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. In 2005, she achieved the rank of Distinguished Professor of Philosophy. Lynne started teaching at UMass. in 1989.
The contributions and significance of her work extended to various areas of philosophy, including metaphysics, philosophy of mind, philosophy of religion, and epistemology.
Just a few weeks ago, the American Philosophical Association announced that Baker would give the 2018-2019 Patrick Romanell Lecture, focused on the topic of “Philosophical Naturalism.” The chair of the selection committee said,
Lynne Rudder Baker has been a leading contributor to the literature on philosophy of mind, metaphysics, and philosophical theology for more than forty years. One of the many important themes that she has explored in her work concerns just what naturalism is committed to, and what it is that naturalists can and cannot account for.
Of her books, the UMass. Memoriam reads:
Lynne’s first book, Saving Belief: A Critique of Physicalism, presented a defense of the importance of intentional notions against eliminitivists, such as the Churchlands, whose stark metaphysics would rob the world of intentionality, but, at the same time, argued that the legitimacy of intentional notions does not depend on their finding a place in some successful cognitive science, as many then, and now, would have it. The pragmatic metaphilosophy which underlay this view was brought into sharp focus in Lynne’s second book, Explaining Attitudes: A Practical Approach to the Mind. In Persons and Bodies: A Constitution View, Lynne made explicit her distinctive metaphysical views about the intimate relationship between a person and that person’s body, avoiding both the perils of various forms of reductionism, and the excesses of an extravagant dualism. The Metaphysics of Everyday Life: An Essay in Practical Realism extended Lynne’s pragmatism to questions about the metaphysics of ordinary objects. And Lynne’s latest book, Naturalism and the First-Person Perspective, presents a striking challenge to naturalism, arguing that the very fact that we are capable of thinking of ourselves from a first-person point of view cannot be captured within a naturalistic worldview. This is an extraordinary body of work, presenting an utterly distinctive set of views on topics of the first importance.
It is believed [though not yet confirmed] that Baker was working on a forthcoming book with Mario De Caro and Fiona Ellis. In April 2016, all three participated in an international conference [at Gregorian University in Rome] on “Nature and Naturalism” (including presentations by Andrew Pinsent and Steven D. Smith). Lynne’s presentation was published in July 2017 in Philosophy [Royal Institute of Philosophy], titled, “Naturalism and the Idea of Nature.”
In 2012, she gave a keynote address explaining her defense of Anselm’s “ontological argument for God’s existence.”
In the pages of Philosophia Christi, the peer-reviewed journal of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, her work related to naturalism, mind-body dualism, and philosophy of religion was cited, consulted, appraised and critiqued. For example, Kevin Timpe published a 2004 response to Baker’s 2013 Faith and Philosophy article [“Why Christians Should Not Be Libertarians: An Augustinian Challenge”], titled, “Why Christians Might be Libertarians: A Response to Lynne Rudder Baker” (Philosophia Christi, vol. 6, no. 2).
Earlier this year, Biola University’s Center for Christian Thought hosted an exchange between Lynne Rudder Baker and Dean Zimmerman:
- Baker: “A Materialist Model of Christian Resurrection.”
- Zimmerman: “How Could Anyone Be a Dualist?”
- Zimmerman: “Jumping from Body to Body When We Die?”
- Baker: “Is Disembodied Existence Central to Christianity?”
- Baker: “Deep Metaphysical Differences.”
- Zimmerman: “What is Our Relationship to our Bodies?”
In 2001 Lynne participated in the Gifford Lectures [she contrasted “first-person knowledge and third-person understanding to scientific knowing”]. Her Gifford bio page indicated that was a member of Grace Episcopal Church in Amherst. Writing for PhilosophyOfReligion.org, in January 2017, Baker wrote the following in light of her lead question, “What does philosophy of religion offer to the modern university?”
Granted, I didn’t teach philosophy of religion in relation to history or culture. Analytic philosophers, myself included, teach philosophy of religion as a series of logical puzzle cases: Can God make a stone so heavy that he couldn’t lift it? Or perhaps as religious epistemology: is there any good reason to believe in a deity? Or perhaps as genealogy: Why did religion (considered generically) arise? I now see these approaches, which are followed by many analytic philosophers, as misleadingly reductive.Although I would not teach philosophy of religion by draining the life and particularity out of religions, I do recognize that there is a distinctively philosophical place for religions in the university curriculum–a place that would benefit students raised in a consumerist culture that leaves people with the emptiness of routine work and the endless quest for diversion. (Pascal was on the mark when he excoriated lives focused on diversion.)Philosophy of religion could play a signal role in helping university students understand reality as a domain-independent whole: What difference would it make if there is any reality beyond the spacetime universe, beyond the particular domains of the sciences—any reality that comprehends the cosmos as a whole? The aim of philosophy of religion could be to bring reflection to unreflective ideas of reality, and to teach students to be still and to reflect on their own lives. We are all going to die–and that includes you and me; what bearing does that fact have on how we live?
. . .
If we do conceive of the cosmos as an ordered whole, it can be argued that we have resulting obligations to the environment and to future generations; global questions about human beings as such; and about animals as such. We should also consider anti-human implications of advances in technology. These matters are illuminated by arguments in the philosophy of religion.Another deep question arising from thinking about the world as a whole is this: What is natural–as opposed to artificial or cultural? What is it to act according to one’s nature? Do human beings have a natural or divine right to be delivered from murderous harm? What is the purpose of government? Is there a common good? What is the relation between fact and value? (Hume has held the stage on this question far too long.)Philosophy of religion may ask metaphysical questions that blossom out into social, political and ethical questions. What is justice? If others are starving, does justice require depriving oneself to the point of self-harm? Philosophy of religion may also argue about war and its justification, and poverty and its alleviation. Are hierarchies justifiable? Even though such questions may be answered with no appeal to religion, it seems arbitrary—given the influence of religions in the world—to rule out religions as contributing to answering them.. . . .The philosophy of religion stubbornly explores the Big Questions: Does life have purpose beyond individual choice? Are living people responsible for the evil of the past? Why can we not learn from the past? Is there any remedy?Traditionally, much of philosophy of religion has concerned itself with the existence of God, but in truth, the area is much broader and encompasses almost all domain-independent questions.Philosophy of religions ranges over all the domains of the particular sciences. It is one of the highest achievements of the human intellect to think about these matters. As ancients Greeks said, we throw away these questions to our peril.Broadening one’s perspective in light of these questions of what is ultimate is what university education is all about. So, I think that philosophy of religion that attends to such questions undoubtedly has a place in the university curriculum.