Kathleen Okruhlik (1951-2024)


Kathleen Okruhlik, a philosopher at Western University, died last month.

Dr. Okruhlik worked in philosophy of science and feminist theory. You can learn more about her writing here.

Okruhlik joined the philosophy department at Western in the 1980s, and over the years served in various faculty and administrative positions. She earned her PhD in philosophy from the University of Pittsburgh and her undergraduate degree from Marquette University.

The following obituary was provided by James Brown.


Kathleen Okruhlik (1951-2024)

Kathleen Okruhlik was born in San Antonio, Texas, and grew up in Houston.

She attended Marquette University then Pittsburgh HPS for her PhD. She taught in the Philosophy Department for four decades at the University of Western Ontario, in London Ontario. She was the founding Director of the Women’s Studies Institute (later renamed Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies); she chaired the Department of Philosophy; she served two terms as Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities. While Dean, she was instrumental in the initial creation of the Rotman Institute for Philosophy.

While much of her energy went into administration, she also did important work on the history and philosophy of science (Newton, Leibniz, Kant) and feminism and the philosophy of science. She coedited several books on, for instance, Leibniz, Women and Reason, and PSA 1992. Her most influential paper was probably “Gender and the Biological Sciences.” It put two doctrines together: there is no logic of discovery and theory evaluation is fundamentally comparative. She drew the consequence that for the sake of better science the pool of those who create theories had to be as diverse as possible. This leads to a policy of affirmative action that is based on epistemic considerations, not correcting past injustices. Almost weekly she received (and still receives) discussions of this paper and even fan letters, especially from young women.

In early May she suffered a stroke and declined rapidly.  She died on June 6 peacefully with her family at her side, including her husband of 50 years, Jim Brown (a philosopher at Toronto), and her two children, Elizabeth and Stephen. She has two young grandchildren.

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Bill Vanderburgh
15 days ago

Kathleen Okruhlik was a gem of a person. She was a major influence on me as an undergrad at Western, when I had her for three or four classes (including early modern and philosophy of science, which eventually became my two main research areas). She was chair of the department by the time I was a senior, and her encouragement was a prime reason I went to grad school. She became dean while I was in grad school at Western, so she was a bit less of a presence in the department, though she still occasionally supervised dissertations—including mine. The department, college, and her students all thrived under her stewardship. She had an amazing ability to be kind and warm while still being absolutely rigorous and firm, supportive while suffering no fools. And I never knew anyone who had longer hair or drank more Diet Coke. 🙂 My thoughts are with Jim, their children, and my friends from Western who are as devastated as I am by this loss.