kids encyclopedia robot

Judith Jarvis Thomson facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Quick facts for kids
Judith Jarvis Thomson
Judith Jarvis Thomson, philosopher (1929 – 2020).jpg
Judith Jarvis Thomson in 2005
Judith Jarvis

(1929-10-04)October 4, 1929
New York City, U.S.
Died November 20, 2020(2020-11-20) (aged 91)
Alma mater Barnard College (BA)
Cambridge University (BA, MA)
Columbia University (PhD)
James Thomson
(m. 1962; div. 1980)
Era Contemporary philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Analytic philosophy
Doctoral students Kathrin Koslicki
Notable ideas
The trolley problem, ethics concerning ...

Judith Jarvis Thomson (October 4, 1929 – November 20, 2020) was an American philosopher who studied and worked on ethics and metaphysics. Her work ranges across a variety of fields, but she is most known for her work regarding the thought experiment titled the trolley problem and her writings on .... She is credited with naming, developing, and initiating the extensive literature on the trolley problem first posed by Philippa Foot which has found a wide range use since. Thomson also published a paper titled "A Defense of ...", which makes the argument that the procedure is morally permissible even if it is assumed that a fetus is a person with a right to life. She was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society in 2019.

Early life and education

Thomson was born in New York City, on October 4, 1929. Her mother Helen (Vostrey) Jarvis was an English teacher and her father Theodore Jarvis was an accountant. Thomson's mother died when she was six and Theodore Jarvis remarried two years later. His second wife was Jewish and had two children.

Thomson’s parents placed no religious pressure on her, but she officially converted to Judaism at age fourteen, when she was confirmed at Temple Israel in Manhattan.

Thomson graduated from Hunter College High School in January 1946. She received her bachelor's degree (BA) from Barnard College in 1950, a second BA at Newnham College, Cambridge in 1952, an MA from Cambridge in 1956, and a PhD from Columbia University in 1959. All of her degrees were in philosophy.

In 1960, Thomson began teaching at Barnard College. In 1962, she married James Thomson, who was a visiting professor at Columbia University. Judith and James spent the 1962–1963 academic year at Oxford, after which they moved to Boston. Judith taught for a year at Boston University and, in 1964, was appointed to the faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where she was Laurence S. Rockefeller Professor of Philosophy. James was also appointed a professor of philosophy at MIT. The Thomsons divorced in 1980; they remained colleagues until James's death in 1984.


Thomson was a visiting professor at the University of Pittsburgh (1976), UC Berkeley School of Law (1983), and Yale Law School (1982, 1984, 1985). She has held fellowships from the Fulbright Foundation (1950–1951), the American Association of University Women (1962–1963), the National Endowment for the Humanities (1978–1979, 1986–1987), the Guggenheim Foundation (1986–1987), and the Center for Advanced Study in Oslo, Norway (1996). In 1989, Thomson was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in 1992–1993 she served as president of the American Philosophical Association (APA), Eastern Division. In 1999, she gave the Tanner Lectures on Human Values at Princeton University; her lecture was titled "Goodness and Advice". Thomson taught at MIT for the majority of her career, remaining there as professor emerita.

In 2012, Thomson was awarded the Quinn Prize by the American Philosophical Association.

In 2015, she was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Cambridge, and in 2016 she was awarded an honorary doctorate by Harvard University. In 2016, she was elected a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy.

Thomson died on November 20, 2020, at the age of 91. She was buried beside her former husband in Mount Auburn Cemetery.

Philosophical views

Thomson's main areas of research were moral philosophy and metaphysics. In moral philosophy she made significant contributions to meta-ethics, normative ethics, and applied ethics.

"A Defense of ..." (1971) introduced one thought experiment for which Thomson is especially well known. ..... The paper asks the reader to imagine that her circulatory system has, without her consent, been connected to that of a famous violinist whose life she must sustain for nine months. The hypothetical posed by Thomson notably redirects philosophical attention from the rights of the fetus to those of the pregnant woman. Specifically, her argument accepts that a fetus is a person, moving past any discussion which revolved around that topic. Instead, Thomson claims that the bodily autonomy of the woman supersedes any rights of the fetus. .....

In regards to ethical theories, Thomson was opposed to consequentialist, hedonist, and subjectivist perspectives. Her work relied on specific elements of deontological argumentation.

In metaphysics, Thomson focused on questions regarding the relationship between actions and events, and between time and physical parts.

She also made significant contributions on the topic of privacy.

See also

Women's History Month on Kiddle
Women Scientists of Antiquity
Mary the Jewess
kids search engine
Judith Jarvis Thomson Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.