Iris Marion Young left us far too young, after struggling with cancer. I’ve just been re-reading Responsibility for Justice, and I went to look at the intro written by Martha Nussbaum. Maybe I had read it before and simply forgotten about it, but this time out, it struck me. It’s a portrait of generous and supportive mentor in scholarship:
When I heard that Iris was coming to the University of Chicago, then, I already felt very happy for our graduate students, and it was indeed a happy era. Iris was in political science and I
in philosophy, but we worked with a lot of the same students,
and I came to know on a daily basis Iris’s wonderful capacity
for intellectual empathy. Many students wrote on topics Iris herself had written, but there were also many who cam to Iris just because she was Iris, whether or not they thought she knew
something about their topic. One woman was working on the
“capabilities approach” in the area of environmental policy-making. I went to the prospectus exam wondering whether Irish would really encourage such a project, which focused on a body of work in philosophy and economics that was rather distant from from Iris’s own work, though a major part of my own. I just didn’t know whether she would get inside it. I needn’t have asked the question. Iris was totally inside the nature of the project, had her usual rigorous objections and suggestions, but also her characteristic maternal warmth that let the student know she was going to be all right. Iris was a mother in the best sense, fostering development toward high ideals while conveying a sense of ultimate safety and support, something like unconditional love if that can exist in the relationship between professor and graduate student.