Peter Frederick Strawson

(1919—2006) philosopher

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British philosopher, a leading figure in contemporary Oxford linguistic philosophy. He was knighted in 1977.

Strawson was born in London and educated at St John's College, Oxford; after service in the army (1940–46), he returned to Oxford in 1947 as a fellow of University College. He was Wayneflete Professor of Metaphysics from 1968 to 1987.

Strawson's first major publication, ‘On Referring’, appeared in 1950; it was a powerful challenge to Bertrand Russell's theory of descriptions in which Strawson argued that Russell and others had ignored a vital distinction between sentences and statements. The former, while meaningful, could not themselves be true or false; they could, however, be used to make true or false statements. Strawson developed this and many other arguments in his Introduction to Logical Theory (1952). He argued that formal logicians, by limiting themselves to context-free propositions, such as ‘All men are mortal’, ignored or misrepresented much of importance. The implication relation analysed by logicians, for example, ignored many of the complex uses bestowed on the ‘If … then …’ construction in ordinary language. It was time such complex cases were studied further.

In Individuals (1958) Strawson once more broke new ground with what he termed ‘an essay in metaphysics’. He attempted to chart our conceptual scheme at its most general and argued that we accept as basic particulars not the atoms of scientists, or private Cartesian experiences, but material objects. He further insisted that the basic particulars to which we ascribe consciousness were persons. Such themes, both metaphysical and logical, were developed further in Strawson's later works: The Bounds of Sense (1966; a study of Kant), Subject and Predicate in Logic and Grammar (1974), Analysis and Metaphysics (1992), and Entity and Identity (1997).

Subjects: Philosophy.

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