- Strawson, Sir Peter Frederick
▪ 2007British philosopher (b. Nov. 23, 1919, London, Eng.—d. Feb. 13, 2006, Oxford, Eng.), was during the 1950s and '60s a principal exponent of Oxford ordinary language philosophy. His book Individuals (1959) was instrumental in restoring metaphysics to a respectable position in Anglo-American analytic philosophy. Strawson was educated at Christ's College, Finchley, and at St. John's College, Oxford. After service with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers in World War II, Strawson lectured for a year at University College of North Wales before returning in 1946 to Oxford. In 1947, on the recommendation of Gilbert Ryle, the Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy, Strawson was appointed to a lectureship at University College; he was elected a fellow the following year. Upon his election as Waynflete Professor in 1968, he moved to Magdalen College, where he remained until his retirement in 1987. He also held numerous visiting professorships in the United States. Strawson first came to prominence with two papers. In “Truth” (Analysis, 1949), Strawson criticized the correspondence theory of truth (in which the truth of a sentence is said to depend on its correspondence to extralinguistic facts). Strawson claimed that truth was better analyzed in terms of what his Oxford colleague J. L. Austin called performatives (such as promising); this led Strawson into a debate with Austin, who had been trying to devise a revised correspondence theory. In “On Referring” (Mind, 1950), he criticized Bertrand Russell's famous theory of definite descriptions. Russell had maintained that sentences such as “The present king of France is bald” are meaningful but false because there is no present king of France. Strawson claimed that such sentences are meaningful but neither true nor false (because what is presupposed, that there is a present king of France, is false) and thus challenged the widely held view that every sentence must be either true or false. With Individuals: An Essay in Descriptive Metaphysics (1959), Strawson turned from linguistic to substantive concerns. He attempted to describe the actual structure of human thought about the world, an enterprise he termed “descriptive metaphysics.” In The Bounds of Sense (1966), Strawson attempted to determine how much of Immanuel Kant's theory could be salvaged from the mistaken theory of transcendental idealism. Strawson's other publications included Introduction to Logical Theory (1952), Freedom and Resentment (1974), Subject and Predicate in Logic and Grammar (1974), Scepticism and Naturalism: Some Varieties (1985), and Analysis and Metaphysics: An Introduction to Philosophy (1992). He was elected a fellow of the British Academy in 1960 and knighted in 1977.
* * *