Obituary: Deborah Fitzmaurice

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The Independent Online
Deborah Winsome Howarth, philosopher, born Ashton-Under- Lyme 30 November 1954, Baring Fellow in Philosophy and Human Rights Essex University 1990-92, married 1981 Timothy Fitzmaurice (marriage dissolved 1987), died Krakow 20 August 1992.

Deborah Fitzmaurice's philosophical career was short, intense and lived with a passionate commitment and concern.

Born in 1954, she was educated at Manchester High School for Girls and took a First in Philosophy and Literature at the University of East Anglia in 1976. She entered secondary teaching, in both state and independent schools. When she returned to philosophy at Essex University in 1984 she was a seasoned teacher, and after a distinguished MA taught a wide range of philosophy courses, at Essex and at the Open University.

From her father, Eric Howarth - with whom she shared a love of car mechanics - she learnt to prize exacting standards. Whether she was building an argument, organising MA admissions, negotiating a grant for the summer school in Krakow from the Council of Europe or ordering dinner for 30 less concentrated minds in an Indian restaurant, she took the trouble to do everything she turned her hand to well.

In 1990 she was appointed Baring Fellow in Philosophy and Human Rights at Essex and played a central part in building up the interdisciplinary Centre for Human Rights and its successful MA programme, which links law, philosophy and political theory. Fitzmaurice revelled in this work: she was as perceptive and effective in dealing with the administrative strains of a rapidly growing research centre as she was in teaching the diverse students who came eager to understand what political philosophy can and cannot establish about human rights.

Despite these heavy commitments, her philosophical writing grew both in scope and ambition. She had begun by working on a Ph D within the confines of contemporary liberal political philosophy, in which she sought above all to find a better articulation of the demands of toleration and of feminist concerns. She moved on, as others have in the last decade, to argue that liberal politics cannot be based on moral neutrality, but must be based on an adequate account of the human good, and in particular of the good of human autonony. Her work became distinctive when she concluded that the accounts of autonomy developed in much current political philosophy are inadequate. She traced this inadequacy to the philosophy of mind and action relied on by most contemporary political philosophy, and immediately set about offering a more adequate account of the good of autonomy. In particular she argued that each of us has reason to value certain institutions and practices, not as means to satisfying the preferences that we actually have or supposely would have if fully rational, but as constitutive conditions of respectful human relations.

While her writing took this strenuous philosophical path, she never lost sight of its relevance to current politics, and took an active part in debates, particularly on human-rights abuses, the limits of toleration, and education for autonomy. She leaves behind a number of essays in the press and a sustained and virtually complete work which would have been both an exceptional Ph D thesis and her first book.

She will be remembered as an outstanding and demanding teacher, a good philosopher who took no short cuts, a colleague of unerring good sense, and an excellent and generous friend and companion.

Debbie Fitzmaurice died in Krakow, where she was running the summer school in political philosophy and human rights, which brought together younger scholars from Eastern and Western Europe.