Soran Reader was born in 1963 in Cape Town, South Africa, and lived there until 1981.She took her undergraduate degree at New Hall, Cambridge, where she was taught by Jenny Teichman. For her PhD on theism as a form of explanation, also at Cambridge, she worked with Myles Burnyeat on Aristotle, Renford Bambrough on philosophy of religion and Wittgenstein, Susan James on Spinoza and Stephen Clark on theism in ancient philosophy.
Soran’s interest in the moral philosophical problems raised by violence grew in response to the Gulf War of 1989, when she first began to work out arguments for pacifism, which she took to be not just morally superior but rationally required. She drew on a range of considerations to show this, including the way violence demands individual justification, the implications of cosmopolitanism, and most recently, the perspective of victims, which defines violence as a natural disaster, rather than something to be fought.
Soran joined the Philosophy Department at Durham as a Lecturer in 1993 and was promoted to Reader in 2007. At Durham, her research interests shifted increasingly towards ethics. Soran’s work in ethics began with the thought that, rather than having to earn moral significance by possessing intrinsic or relational properties, things might matter presumptively. If this is right, we can see the practice of ethics as teaching moral agents that they may not harm or use things without justification, and that they are obliged to meet things’ needs. Soran argued that the concept of need is fundamental to moral normativity, and that other concepts such as value in consequences, state of will or nature of the act itself, or character, are insufficient to illuminate the nature of ethics and how moral normativity works. This research is recorded in journal articles, in the edited collection The Philosophy of Need, and in Soran’s book Needs and Moral Necessity.
Towards the end of her career at Durham, Soran worked full-time as Director of the university’s Centre for Ethical Philosophy, the aim of which was to explore philosophical issues raised by ‘patiency’. Centre research was premised on Soran’s view that a pervasive and longstanding bias in favour of agents or perpetrators has led philosophers to neglect or misunderstand the role of patients, those in need or victims. Hence she turned to patiency, which includes dependency, subjectedness, suffering, passivity, victimhood and harm. Patiency, as Soran argued in her important article ‘The Other Side of Agency’ and elsewhere, is as constitutive of selfhood as agency.
In December 2008, Soran was diagnosed with a brain tumour. While undergoing treatment, she continued to work on her philosophy and even wrote an article, ‘Ethical Necessities’, which was published in the journal Philosophy. After a period of remission, her condition worsened. She retired in June 2012, at which point she was awarded the title Emeritus Reader. Soran died peacefully at home on 1st September 2012.
Reader, Soran 2011. Ethical Necessities. Philosophy 86 (4): 589-607
Reader, Soran 2008. Abortion, Killing and Maternal Moral Authority. Hypatia 23(1): 132-149.
Reader, Soran 2007. Cosmopolitan Pacifism. Journal of Global Ethics 3(1): 87-103.
Reader, Soran 2007. Needs and Moral Necessity. New York London: Routledge.
Reader, Soran. 2007. The Other Side of Agency. Philosophy 82(4): 579-604.
Reader, Soran. 2006. After 9/11: Making Pacifism Plausible. In Pazifismus: Ideengeschichte, Theorie und Praxis. Bleisch, Barbara. & Strub, Jean-Daniel Bern, Switzerland: Haupt Verlag. 205-221.
Reader, Soran 2006. Does a Basic Needs Approach Need Capabilities?. Journal of Political Philosophy 14(3): 337-350.
Reader, Soran 2005. The Philosophy of Need. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Brock, Gillian & Reader, Soran 2004. Needs as Moral Demands. Utilitas 16(3): 251-266.
Reader, Soran 2004. The Practice Conception of Ethics. Discipline Filosofiche 14(1).
Reader, Soran 2003. Distance, Relationship and Moral Obligation. Monist 86(3): 367-381.
Brock, Gillian & Reader, Soran 2002. Needs-centered Ethics. Journal of Value Inquiry 36: 425-434.
Reader, Soran 2000. Making Pacifism Plausible. Journal of Applied Philosophy 17(2): 168-180.
Reader, Soran 2000. New Directions in Ethics. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 3, No 4 341-364
Reader, Soran 1998. What Price Moral Values. Philosophical Writings 9 3-22
Reader, Soran 1997. Principle Ethics, Particularism and Another Possibility. Philosophy 72 269-292