Honorary degree letter

Although an understanding of Mary Hesse’s prolific success in the philosophy of science and local history can be gained from many sources, the social impact of this success is revealed by our small collection of 86 documents relating to the development of her career. Hesse joined the University of Cambridge in 1960, and worked in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, where from between 1975 until her retirement in the 1980s she served as Professor of Philosophy of Science. Her work focussed predominantly on the relationship between theory and observation, and methods and foundational assumptions, and she advocated the integration of philosophy of science with its history. She is well-known for her work Models and Analogies in Science, published in 1963. During her retirement, Hesse has been devoted to researching local history. Our collection not only includes offprints and reviews of her work and information on publications about Hesse but also correspondence, articles and reviews she has kept from pivotal moments in her career, including a letter from the Vice-Chancellor inviting Hesse to accept the nomination for the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science from 2002.


Mary passed on the collection to the Library in 2012 via our current Head of Department, Professor Liba Taub, and Hesse’s handwritten notes, torn-out and folded newspaper articles as well as the letters congratulating her on the nomination reflect a well-deserved personal pride, as well as a sense that this is only the tip of the iceberg of decades of impressive work.

The collection additionally has the quirks of being assembled with perhaps a sense of irony, for included is an entry from a draft for the satirical ‘Philosophical Lexicon’ by Dunnett that includes the entry:

“hessean, n. A kind of sackcloth worn at a habermass (q.v.) by those renouncing hemple mindedness”.

Rosanna Evans
Lunchtime Invigilator