Annette C. Baier Biography


(Survey of World Philosophers)

Article abstract: Baier’s work in traditional philosophical fields demonstrated the worth of women philosophers, and her theory of “appropriate trust” created a middle ground between male and female values.

Early Life

In her preface to Moral Prejudices, Annette C. Baier commented on how fortunate she was to be born to parents who urged their daughters to pursue their interests, whatever they might be. She also expressed gratitude toward the high school English teacher who introduced her class to the Socratic method of inquiry, motivating her to become a philosopher. Although there were very few women in that field, Annette’s family encouraged her as did her philosophy professors at the University of Otago, where she enrolled in 1947.

After earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in philosophy from the University of Otago, in 1952, Baier left her native country for Oxford University and began graduate work at Somerville, a prestigious college for women. There she came into contact with prominent philosophers Philippa Foot and Elizabeth Anscombe, who were quietly but firmly pressing for a greater presence of women’s voices in philosophical discourse. Foot was a leading opponent of the philosophy of Immanuel Kant and of the Kantian tradition, which feminists saw as bolstering the male-dominated power structure. Baier, too, came to reject Kantian ideas and to embrace those of Kant’s contemporary, the Scottish philosopher, David Hume, who seemed to be more supportive of feminism.

At Oxford, Baier’s faith in the possibility of a universal moral system based on reason, of which she had become convinced after reading the classical philosophers, was gradually replaced by a profound skepticism. In 1953, when she read the Philosophische Untersuchungen/Philosophical Investigations (1953, bilingual German and English edition) of the Austrian/British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, Baier began to wonder whether she had chosen the right discipline, for she saw that if philosophical analysis was impossible, as Wittgenstein suggested, there could hardly be any future for a philosopher.

It would be years before Baier found the answers she sought, and then, as she explains in the preface to Postures of the Mind: Essays on Mind and Morals, they came through interaction with students and through careful rereading of Wittgenstein and Hume. After receiving a B.Phil. from Oxford in 1954, Baier returned to New Zealand, became a teacher, and began to rethink everything she had been taught. From 1956 to 1958, she held a position as lecturer at the University of Auckland in New Zealand; the following year, she taught at the University of Sydney.

Baier married another philosopher who would also attain prominence, Kurt Erich Maria Baier. Kurt Baier was an Austrian-born Australian, who, after studying law in Vienna, had received a B.A. and an M. A. from the University of Melbourne and a D.Phil. from Oxford. When he left Australia to join the philosophy faculty at the University of Pittsburgh, Annette Baier followed him. As a result, her own academic career suffered, for as a married woman academic who had taken her husband’s name and accompanied him to the United States, she was perceived as being, if not indifferent to advancement in her profession, at least readily available for exploitation.

From 1963 to 1969, Baier taught at Carnegie Mellon University, first as a part-time lecturer, then as a senior lecturer, and finally as associate professor. In 1973, she joined the faculty of the University of Pittsburgh. She was to remain there throughout the rest of her academic career, first as associate professor, then as professor, and finally as Distinguished Service Professor.

Life’s Work

In dedicating Postures of the Mind to her parents, Baier recognized how important their encouragement had been to her. She frequently comments on the support received from her husband and her colleagues, who are often credited in her notes with helping her to refine her ideas. However, Baier merits high praise for her own determination. It took a long time for her to attain the recognition she deserved. By the time Postures of the Mind appeared, the author was in her fifties, and even though almost all of the essays in her book had been published previously, none of them had appeared in print before 1976.

During the years after her arrival in the United States, Baier had not only been seeking an academic home but had also been working on Wittgenstein, Hume, and her own approach to ethics. Meanwhile, she had become increasingly active in her profession, not only teaching but also reading papers at conferences and submitting essays for publication in scholarly journals. To cite some examples, her article “Act and Intent” appeared in a 1970 issue of Journal of Philosophy, “The Search for Basic Actions,” in a 1971 issue of American Philosophical Quarterly, and “Ways and Means,” in 1972 in Canadian Journal of Philosophy. However, these early essays were not included in Postures of the Mind, partly because of space limitations but, more important, according to the author, because when she looked back at these early efforts, she realized that although her conclusions were still the same, there were some radical changes in the way she arrived at them.

By 1976, however, Baier felt comfortable about what she thought and why she thought it. The title of a paper published that year in the Philosophical Quarterly and reprinted in Postures of the Mind exudes a new assurance: It is called simply “Realizing What’s What.” In 1976, one of her essays was selected to appear in an edited work; “Intention, Practical Knowledge, and...

(The entire section is 2394 words.)