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OBITUARY: Marie-Claude Lorne (1969–2008)

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Clark, Stephen

Jan 21, 2011, 6:13:26 AM1/21/11
My thanks to Thomas Pradeu for allowing this obituary to be posted here.

It's late because I have only just found - when checking an obsolete email address - that Dr Lorne is dead.

Obituary: Marie-Claude Lorne (1969–2008)
Thomas Pradeu
Biology and Philosophy 2009. Volume 24, Number 3<>, pp.281-282, DOI: 10.1007/s10539-008-9148-4

One of the most rigorous philosophers of biology I have ever known died on 22
September 2008. At the age of 39, Marie-Claude Lorne committed suicide by
jumping into the Seine. She left a letter saying she felt that life had nothing more to
offer her. The letter described her sense of deep injustice at the failure of the
University of Brest, France, to confirm her as an Associate Professor. This decision
is extremely rare, even exceptional in France.

Marie-Claude was a specialist in the concept of biological function. Her Ph.D
dissertation, Functional explanations and normativity, was written at the Institute
Jean Nicod (Paris, France), under the supervision of Joe¨lle Proust, and defended in
2004. It was hailed as a landmark work on the subject. Jean Gayon, Professor at
Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne University, had organized a seminar on biological
functions at the Institut d’Histoire des Sciences et des Techniques (IHPST, Paris,
France), and Marie-Claude quite naturally became one of the pillars of our group.
Marie-Claude was never satisfied with her work and constantly moved into new
areas in the philosophy of biology: the concept of information, the evolutionary
significance of symbiosis, the debate on developmental constraints, developmental
systems theory, among others. To each of these investigations Marie-Claude
brought her signature rigour and intellectual honesty. That refusal to be satisfied,
however, also made her reluctant to publish. Several of her friends, admirers of her
work, intend to bring Marie-Claude’s writings to the attention of the broader
community of scholars. An association, called ‘‘Les Amis de Marie-Claude’’
(‘‘Marie-Claude’s Friends’’), will be created soon. Jean Gayon will be its president.

With her good friend Francesca Merlin, Marie-Claude organized our Philosophy
of Biology seminar at IHPST ( Under their
talented direction it became, in my opinion, one of the most active and stimulating
philosophy of biology groups in the world. In 3 years, Marie-Claude and Francesca
brought to the seminar the likes of Lindley Darden, Peter Godfrey-Smith, Paul
Griffiths, Eva Jablonka, Evelyn Fox Keller, Philip Kitcher, Tim Lewens, Roberta
Millstein, Gerd Mu¨ller, Alexander Rosenberg, Elliott Sober, and Kim Sterelny.
To many of us at IHPST, Institut Jean Nicod, and beyond, Marie-Claude was first
and foremost a great friend. Her life was hard and filled with intolerable problems.
Despite these problems, she loved, and knew, good food and wines. Perhaps her
favourite hobby was reading detective novels; she even spoke of writing some day
in that genre. She loved concerts, and was herself a musician. She had started to
learn violin late, but thanks to her usual and always impressive perseverance she
became a good player. She had a passion for Wagner, and sometimes described
herself as a ‘romantic’. What many of us remember most vividly is her booming and
expressive laugh.

Her friends inside the philosophy of biology community admired her rigour,
freedom of thought, and honesty. In addition to Francesca Merlin, these included
Fre´de´ric Bouchard (University of Montreal, Canada) Jean-Claude Dupont (University
of Picardie, France), and Denis Forest (University of Lyon 3, France); Marie-
Claude always spoke of these companions with respect and tenderness.
Marie-Claude Lorne will remain an example to us; she was a true philosopher:
critical, never fully satisfied, and always direct. She could be stubborn and
uncompromising—even harsh. Certainly these aspects of her character, so central to
her integrity as a thinker, made her ill-suited to the French mandarin academic
system. The University of Brest’s refusal to confirm her position was not the only
cause of her suicide, but it was certainly a major one. The exact nature of these
events is now being investigated.

May Marie-Claude rest in peace. Remembering her, we cannot.

Acknowledgment Thanks to Susan Oyama for her help and her friendship.


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Herbert Hrachovec

Jan 23, 2011, 6:17:11 AM1/23/11
The Hungarian government, known to run a forceful campaign against members of
its predecessor government, is currently turning against some "liberal"
philosophers that received project money under the Gyurcsány administration.

Here are some pointers:


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