John Frederick Wolfenden

(1906—1985) educationist and public servant

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John Wolfenden was born near Swindon on 26 June 1906 and died in Guildford on 18 January 1985. His parents were from Yorkshire and the family returned there in 1912. Wolfenden was educated at Wakefield Grammar School and at Queen's College, Oxford. His Oxford tutor was H.J. Paton, though he was more influenced by T.D. Weldon of Magdalen, who took him on during Paton's absence. After obtaining a first he was elected to a fellowship at Magdalen, where he joined Weldon and J.A. Smith in 1929. He was a committed teacher and enjoyed doing introductory lectures, though he also taught a more advanced course on Aristotle's ethics. He could not, however, imagine himself ‘concentrating for a lifetime on the problems of perception or the analysis of a sentence’ (Turning Points, p. 63) and he soon became unsettled. In 1934 he made a speculative but nonetheless successful application for the headship of Uppingham School, and from 1944 to 1950 he was Headmaster of Shrewsbury School. He was Vice-Chancellor of Reading University (1950–63), then Chairman of the University Grants Committee (1963–8). In 1968 he was appointed Director and Principal Librarian of the British Museum until his retirement in 1973.


From The Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Philosophy.

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