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Professor Mary Hesse (1924–2016)


We deeply regret to announce the death on Sunday 2 October of Professor Mary Hesse, ScD FBA.

Mary Brenda Hesse, born 15 October 1924, studied first at Imperial College then at University College London, receiving her doctorate for a thesis on electron microscopy in 1948. She lectured on mathematics at Royal Holloway College from 1947 to 1951 and at the University of Leeds from 1951 to 1955, then from 1955 to 1959 on history and philosophy of science at University College. In 1960 she was appointed to a lectureship in history and philosophy of science at Cambridge, from 1968 to a readership and from 1975 to a professorship. She was elected FBA in 1971 and was awarded a Cambridge honorary ScD in 2002. Following her retirement in 1985 she pursued her long-standing hobby, carrying out extensive researches on local agricultural and landscape history.

Mary's important philosophical works were marked from the outset (in her pioneering Forces and Fields, 1961) by close engagement with the history of the practices and theories of the sciences. Areas in which her studies had major impact include the roles of metaphor and analogy in scientific investigation (Models and Analogies in Science, 1963) and the relations and interactions of observation, experiment and theory in the sciences (The Structure of Scientific Inference, 1974). In later influential works she explored the application of sociological and hermeneutic theory to the understanding of science (Revolutions and Reconstructions in the Philosophy of Science, 1980) and the relations between science and religion (The Construction of Reality, 1986, with Michael Arbib).

The Department of History and Philosophy of Science owes an immense debt to Mary Hesse. She, along with Gerd Buchdahl and Michael Hoskin, made the new department into a well-respected teaching organisation within the Natural Sciences Tripos; and her widely acclaimed publications did much to establish its international reputation. Mary was an incisive and cogent lecturer and an inspiring and generous supervisor. Her career provided a model for women in academia, in times when it was even more difficult for them to gain the recognition they deserved for their work.