Sir Peter Frederick Strawson Biography

Sir Peter Frederick Strawson (23 November 1919 – 13 February 2006) was an English philosopher. He was the Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy at the University of Oxford (Magdalen College) from 1968 to 1987. Before that he was appointed as a college lecturer at University College, Oxford in 1947 and became a tutorial fellow the following year until 1968. On his retirement in 1987, he returned to the college and continued working there until shortly before his death.

Early years

Peter Strawson was born in Ealing, West London, and brought up in Finchley, Middlesex, by his parents, both of whom were teachers. He was educated at Christ's College, Finchley, followed by St John's College, Oxford, where he read Philosophy, Politics and Economics.

Career

Strawson first became well known with his article "On Referring" (1950), a criticism of Bertrand Russell's Theory of Descriptions (see also Definite descriptions). He was largely responsible for establishing metaphysics as a worthwhile direction in analytic philosophy.

In philosophical methodology, there are (at least) two important and interrelated features of Strawson's work that are worthy of note. The first is the project of a ‘descriptive’ metaphysics, and the second is his notion of a shared conceptual scheme, composed of concepts operated in everyday life. In his book Individuals, Strawson attempts to give a description of various concepts that form an interconnected web, representing (part of) our common, shared, human conceptual scheme. In particular, he examines our conceptions of basic particulars, and how they are variously brought under general spatio-temporal concepts. What makes this a metaphysical project is that it exhibits, in fine detail, the structural features of our thought about the world, and thus precisely delimits how we, humans, think about reality.

Peter Strawson was made a Fellow of the British Academy in 1960, and Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1971. He was president of the Aristotelian Society from 1969 to 1970. He was knighted in 1977, for services to philosophy.