Katherine Hawley (1971-2021) (updated)

Katherine Hawley, professor of philosophy at the University of St. Andrews, has died.

Professor Hawley was known for her philosophical work on trust, various questions in metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy of science, and other topics such as impostor syndrome and creativity. Her most recent book, How To Be Trustworthy, was published in 2019. She is also the author of Trust: A Very Short Introduction (2012) and How Things Persist (2001). You can learn more about her research here and here.

Her work in public philosophy included interviews, radio and podcast appearances, government consulting, and a long-running column in Psychology Today.

Professor Hawley started at St. Andrews in 1999. Prior to that, she was a research fellow at Cambridge University, where she earned her Ph.D. and M.Phil. Her undergraduate degree, in physics and philosophy, is from Oxford.

She died of cancer.

CORRECTION: The original headline of this post misstated the year of Katherine Hawley’s birth as 1972. She was born in 1971.

UPDATE: Alexander Douglas (St. Andrews) has written a remembrance of Katherine Hawley. An excerpt:

I sometimes wondered how she had time to do her own work when she was always looking after the rest of us. But reading her work now, I see that this might be a false separation. The spirit of her kindness shines through it. Maybe it’s even the engine that powers it, for all that her intelligence does.

UPDATE (5/25/21): The Executive Committee of the Mind Association and the editors of MIND have posted a tribute on the Oxford University Press website: Honoring Professor Katherine Hawley | Mind | Oxford Academic (oup.com). It includes links to three papers that Katherine published in the journal, which have been made available open access for a period.


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Helga Vierich
1 year ago

I am so sorry to hear of her death.Her insights about creativity, trust, and empathy were extremely valuable to me – I followed her on Psychology Today.Report

Reply to  Helga Vierich
1 year ago

I just saw this and I know I am poorer for her absence from the world. I wish I could talk to her.Report

Alec Fraher
Alec Fraher
1 year ago

This is truly sad news.

I trust that her friends and colleagues will take care of the massive contribution Katherine leaves for us on her WordPress site.

I would be certain that her gifted efforts of giving insight, meaning and practice to existence of the public good are meant to be carried forward.Report

Terre Quinn Guerrieri
1 year ago

Sounds like she was quite determined to understand what makes humans and the universe tick.And to share what she discovered.Report

Christiane Helling
1 year ago

She lately included worlds outside the solar system into her thinking, too. What an immense loss.

Katherine was one of the founding board members of the St Andrews Center for Exoplanet Science.Report

1 year ago

I am saddened to see this. I was taught by Katherine during my taught master’s, a decade ago. I took her metaphysics course expecting to be angered by the pointlessness of the individual topics. To some degree, I was! But through the course I found “metametaphysics”, an incredibly engaging body of literature questioning the presuppositions of metaphysics as a modern field. Katherine, in her teaching and guiding, was very open to me airing my misgivings with this or that topic, this or that argument. It always struck me how open to questioning their own field this subset of philosophers was, and Katherine in turn, in comparison to so many other fields. It really felt like no question was too silly or too taboo to ask.

The most memorable moment, though, was when Katherine asked me to stay behind after a seminar, patiently explaining to me (alone) that though she valued my contributions to discussion, there were times others didn’t get a chance to speak or think out loud, given the frequency of my comments. I’ve taught others now and I always think back to that moment – she very kindly took me down a peg or two and made me a more considerate interlocutor for others. I’ve tried to emulate her example in teaching since. I am sure she will be missed by many.Report

Khalid Masood
1 year ago

Rest in peaceReport

1 year ago

I came across Katherine’s book Trust: A Very Short Introduction by somewhat chance and thought it was superb. She wrote clearly and in language that was easily comprehensible for most. She was transparent, honest, humble, impartial, intelligent, and most of all very wise. Reading her book was such a breath of fresh air. Her work is truly a hidden gem in the philosophy and academic world in my view. I’m grateful for her dedication to philosophy and truth. I’ve learned a lot from her even though she taught at a distance via articles and books. She will be missed.Report

Jason D'Cruz
1 year ago

One of the many valuable ideas in How to be Trustworthy is that a concern for trustworthiness can be in tension with values such as generosity. Yet somehow Katherine managed to embody both to the highest degree. On top of that, she was funny, self-deprecating, brilliant, and very kind. Her loss is a terrible one, but I’m so grateful to have crossed paths with her on life’s brief journey.Report

Omar A Sheikh Al-Shabab
1 year ago

An inspiring figure. Her array of topics and amount of devotion will be remembered and admired.
Omar A Sheikh Al-Shabab (PhD)
Text Linguistics
Effat University
Saudi ArabiaReport

Mosa Bandak
1 year ago

Rest in peace
God bless you 🙏Report

Morad Syoof
1 year ago

She left a message or more to the world. Unlike most human beings, who live and die leaving nothing. May her soul rest in peace and my condolences to her family.Report

Barbara Rohrs
Barbara Rohrs
Reply to  Morad Syoof
1 year ago

Though I never knew her, and of her wonderful contribution to the world. she is one to always remember. Trust.
Not everyone has this wonderful opportunity to share the good within.Report

1 year ago

I heard about Katherine’s death just as I was writing about her commitment theory of trust and trustworthiness. I had thought that we would surely be able to talk together about philosophy again, as we have before. We seldom met, but we sent “fan mail” from time to time. Her death reminds me of how important it is that we tell those whose writing we love that we love it. I love it. I will continue to think with it. I’m so very sorry that I will not again get to think with her.Report

Felix Pinkert
1 year ago

Katherine was my metaphysics teacher during my M.Litt. at St Andrews, and Head of School when I was a PhD student there. My first philosophy job interview ever was a Skype interview with an Austrialian university. I have no idea anymore how it came about, but I practised the interview with Katherine, who called in from her home down the Fife coast. I was grateful for the help, but it also didn’t feel like a big deal. Looking back, it’s astounding: Katherine was not my supervisor, nor had much to do with my field (the job was in bioethics, I was in moral theory). She was also incredibly busy as Head of School. That it didn’t feel like I’m placing a burden on her, and that I don’t even recall how it came about (she probably just offered it), shows exactly what others here are saying about her contributions to the community and others’ work: She was genuinely generous, kept giving a lot, and never made the other feel like it was a big deal. 

I was very happy to meet her again many years later, when she gave a talk at Vienna in 2019. Her genuine interest in how I was doing here was absolutely heartwarming. She continues to be an example for me, personally and professionally, and I will miss her.Report

1 year ago

Not very familiar with her or her works, but sad to read nonetheless. This is my reality check that this life is a gift & to always move operating in & coming from a place of GRATITUDE first. It cannot & must not be taken for granted, she is just two years older than I. God bless her heart- may she rest in peace.Report

Jamie Belcher
1 year ago

So sorry to hear of her passing. I loved her writing and she will certainly be missed, but remembered always.Report

Shaukat Usman
Shaukat Usman
Reply to  Jamie Belcher
1 year ago

Death of a teacher is an unrepairable loss,but rememberance is always there.Report

Gordon Ferries-Scott
1 year ago

On learning of Dr Hawley’s passing, I’m reminded of the adage ‘only the good die young’. We’re better off for her all too brief and astonishingly productive life.Report

Ouma Wilber
1 year ago

May her soul rest in peaceReport

Tehsin Fatima
1 year ago

I feel sorry for her early departure. May her soul rest in peace. I am impressed by her high academic achievements and dedication to the the people welfare.Report

Priscilla Bajema
1 year ago

My name is Priscilla Bajema,
What a shame for such a bright light to be dimmed so young. Your books I’m sure will be read and shared by many. May God bless your family and friends and thank you Katherine, RIP
Priscilla BajemaReport

Susanne Robinson
1 year ago

Very sad to hear about the death of this highly gifted person, I did not know her or know of her, but after reading about her, would like to get to know her! I can only do this by reading what she wrote and this I will do. So I will now order the books and thoroughly enjoy reading them. In this way can give meaning to her life.RIPReport