Emmet, Dorothy, 1904-

Alternative names
Birth 1904-09-29
Death 2000-09-20

Biographical notes:

Dorothy Mary Emmet was born on 29 September 1904 in Kensington, London as the first child of Rev. Cyril William Emmet and his wife Gertrude Julia (n'e Weir). A sister, Margery Lilian was born in 1906 and a brother, Arthur Maitland, in 1908 (d. 2001). The family left London when her father became vicar of West Hendred, nr. Wantage, Oxfordshire. In 1920 the Rev. Emmet became Vice Principal of Ripon Hall and fellow of University College, Oxford, and the family moved to Oxford. Dorothy Emmet attended school at St. Mary's Hall, Brighton (1918-1923) and went on to Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford (1923-1926), where she read Classics. She attended lectures by H. Joachim, by H.A. Prichard, by W.D. Ross, and by R.G. Collingwood. Her tutor was A.D. Lindsay, them Master of Balliol. As an undergraduate and later after graduating, she worked as a Workers' Educational Association tutor at Maes-yr-haf Settlement in the Rhondda Valley. George Thomas, later Speaker of the Commons and still later Lord Tonypandy was one of her youngest students and became a life-long friend. In 1928 Dorothy Emmet was awarded a Harkness Scholarship to Radcliffe College, the women's College at Harvard. She worked with A.N. Whitehead, co-author with Bertrand Russell of Principia Mathematica, and became a leading expositor of his work with the publication of Whitehead's Philosophy of Organism (1932). From 1930-1932 she was a Research Fellow at Somerville College, Oxford. After further teaching in the Rhondda she began her academic career as lecturer at Armstrong College, Newcastle-on-Tyne, later the University of Newcastle, in 1932. In 1938 she moved to the University of Manchester as lecturer in the Philosophy of Religion, becoming reader in philosophy in 1945 and the Sir Samuel Hall professor of philosophy and Head of Department in 1946. Dorothy Emmet established her reputation with The Nature of Metaphysical Thinking (1945), written in part during nights of wartime fire-watching in the University of Manchester Arts Building when air raids had become less frequent. Dorothy Emmet was convinced that philosophy had much to contribute to the study of other subjects, she encouraged the establishment of joint honours schools and enthusiastically developed links with colleagues in the departments of government, economics and anthropology. In post-war Manchester she was part of a group of distinguished philosophers and social scientists, including Max Gluckman, Michael Polanyi and Arthur Prior. During these productive years she worked increasingly on social explanation, action and ethics, contributing articles for journals, including Mind and Philosophy, and wrote a number of books, of which Rules, Roles and Relations (1966) is probably most widely known. Her activities were not confined to Manchester. She gave the annual philosophical lecture to the British Academy in 1949, the Stanton lectures in Cambridge in 1950-1953, and was president of the Aristotelian Society in 1953-1954. Upon retirement in 1966 Dorothy Emmet moved to Cambridge and shared a house with two long-time friends, Richard and Margaret Braithwaite (nee Masterman). All three were active members of the 'Epiphany Philosophers' a group of religiously inclined philosophers who held that philosophy should investigate rather than marginalise religious experience and phenomena. From 1966 to 1981 she edited the group's journal, Theoria to Theory. During these years she also taught philosophy in West Africa and became a regular member of the Moral Sciences Club in Cambridge. She continued an energetic pattern of writing through her nineties, publishing The Role of the Unrealisable (1994), Philosophers and Friends (1996) and a volume of reworked essays in social and religious philosophy, Outward Forms and Inner Springs (1998). To the end of her days, Dorothy Emmet keenly followed the fortunes of 'her' department at Manchester. Her last paper there was given in 1994, when she addressed the question 'Could God be a Person?' Only failing sight ended her writing; with her many friends she discussed philosophy until the end. Dorothy Emmet became a fellow of Lucy Cavendish College in 1966, and emeritus fellow in 1980. She was also elected an honorary fellow of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, and received honorary degrees from the University of Glasgow (1974), the University of Leicester (1976), and the Open University (1997). Her publications include Whitehead's Philosophy of Organism (1932); The Nature of Metaphysical Thinking (1945); Function, Purpose and Powers (1958); Rules, Roles and Publications (1966); The Moral Prism (1979); The Effectiveness of Causes (1986); The Passage of Nature (1992); The Role of the Unrealisable (1994); Philosopher and Friends: Reminiscences of Seventy Years in Philosophy (1996); Outward Forms and Inner Springs (1998). She died in Cambridge on 20 September 2000.and Inner Springs (1998). She died in Cambridge on 20 September 2000.

From the guide to the Papers of Dorothy Emmet, c1900- 2000, (University of Cambridge, Lucy Cavendish College)


Loading Relationships


Ark ID:


  • Women's education
  • Philosophy


not available for this record


  • Cambridge (as recorded)