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Obituary: Tamara Horowitz -- Chairwoman of Pitt philosophy department

Tuesday, February 01, 2000

By Anita Srikameswaran, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

On Sept. 1, Tamara Horowitz became the first woman to chair the world-class philosophy department of the University of Pittsburgh. The 22 full-time faculty members were excited by the prospect of being led by a woman known for her enthusiasm and scholarship.

Within weeks, it became clear that her promising career would be cut short.

Ms. Horowitz was diagnosed with a brain tumor in late September, shortly before her 49th birthday. She died at her Shadyside home on Sunday morning.

"Taking over the chairmanship really was the acknowledgment on the part of her colleagues that she had achieved real stature in the profession," said colleague Robert Brandom, distinguished service professor at the University of Pittsburgh. "We were looking for great things in the next 25 years."

Starting this spring, the philosophy department will bring respected philosophers to Pittsburgh for an annual lecture in Ms. Horowitz's name, said Brandom, who is acting chairman of the department.

The National Research Council ranked Pitt's philosophy department second in the country, behind Princeton University's department, based on criteria that included faculty quality.

"She was somebody who took the point of view that being No. 2 just means you have to try harder," John Cooper, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Pitt, said of Ms. Horowitz.

She intended to recruit top-ranked people to become professors in the department, as well as appoint some highly respected faculty members to key posts, he said.

She also worked diligently in the university's programs in women's studies and cultural studies, hoping to build bridges between them and the philosophy department.

Cooper recalled that his first long conversation with her occurred in the spring of 1998 when, knowing she would become chairwoman, Ms. Horowitz cornered him in the kitchen during a faculty party and they discussed the future of philosophy and the department.

The hour's conversation was marked by her "intensity and energy and commitment," Cooper said. "She had a very deep and sharp mind and a very broad understanding of matters philosophical."

Her imaginative approach led to significant papers about the relationship between metaphysics and semantics. She also wrote extensively about philosophical principles and how people make choices. In the late 1980s, one of her articles was chosen as one of the 10 most important works of the year by Philosopher's Annual, which picks from scholarly journals around the world.

She had co-edited books on thought experiments and on the failure of scientific theories. Her colleagues will put finishing touches on another book that Ms. Horowitz had been working on for six years. "The Backtracking Fallacy" will be published by Princeton University Press.

In an effort that her partner, Pitt philosophy professor Joseph Camp, described as heroic, Ms. Horowitz spent her last months completing a draft of the book, which is about the logic of decision-making.

Camp and Ms. Horowitz first met in the late 1970s when Ms. Horowitz did a postgraduate fellowship at the department.

"I had already met her via her application and I thought she was extraordinarily impressive as a young philosopher, but I had never laid eyes on her," Camp remembered. When they met in person, "I thought she had the most dazzling smile I'd ever seen."

Ms. Horowitz was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Nov. 7, 1950, and grew up there. She completed a bachelor of arts degree at the University of Chicago in 1971.

There, she took a philosophy course taught by Elizabeth Anscombe, one of the best known female philosophers of the mid-20th century, and her career choice was made.

In 1976, Ms. Horowitz became the first woman to receive a doctorate in philosophy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

After her postgraduate training at the University of Pittsburgh, she taught at Vassar College, New York University and the State University of New York at Purchase. She joined the faculty at Pitt in 1984.

In addition to Camp, Ms. Horowitz is survived by her brother, Josh Howard, of Manhattan; and sons, John, of Royal Oak, Mich., and David, of St. Louis, Mo.

In accordance with her wishes, no funeral or memorial services will be held.

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