P. F. Strawson

Sir Peter Frederick Strawson
Born 23 November 1919
Ealing, West London
Died 13 February 2006(2006-02-13) (aged 86)
Alma mater St John's College, Oxford
Era Contemporary philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Analytic
Main interests
Philosophy of language · Philosophy of mind
Notable ideas
Ordinary language philosophy, the distinction between sortal and characterising universals[1]

Sir Peter Frederick Strawson FBA (/ˈstrɔːsən/; 23 November 1919 – 13 February 2006), usually cited as P. F. Strawson, 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. His portrait was painted by the artist Daphne Todd.[2]

When he died, the obituary in The Guardian noted that, "Oxford was the world capital of philosophy between 1950 and 1970, and American academics flocked there, rather than the traffic going the other way. That golden age had no greater philosopher than Sir Peter Strawson."[3]

Early years

Peter Strawson was born in Ealing, west London, and brought up in Finchley, north London, 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.


Strawson first became well known with his article "On Referring" (1950), a criticism of Bertrand Russell's Theory of Descriptions (see also Definite descriptions).

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.

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.

Personal life

After serving as a captain in World War II, Strawson married Ann Martin in 1945 and had four children, including the philosopher Galen Strawson. He lived in Oxford all his adult life and died in hospital on 13 February 2006 after a short illness. P. F. Strawson was elder brother to Major General John Strawson.

Partial bibliography



  • "Necessary Propositions and Entailment Statements" (Mind, 1948)
  • "Truth" (Analysis, 1949)
  • "Ethical Intuitionism (Philosophy, 1949)
  • "Truth" (Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society suppl. vol. xxiv, 1950)
  • "On Referring" (Mind, 1950)
  • "Particular and General" (Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 1953
  • "Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations (Mind, vol. 63, 1954)
  • "A Logician's Landscape" (Philosophy, Vol. 30, 1955)
  • "Construction and Analysis" in A.J. Ayer et al., The Revolution in Philosophy. London: Macmillan, 1956
  • "Singular Terms, Ontology and Identity" (Mind, Vol. 65, 1956)
  • "In Defence of a Dogma" with H. P. Grice (Philosophical Review, 1956)
  • "Logical Subjects and Physical Objects" (Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 1957)
  • "Propositions, Concepts and Logical Truths" (Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 7, 1957)
  • "Proper Names" (Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supp. Vol. 31, 1957)
  • "On Justifying Induction" (Philosophical Studies, 1958)
  • "The Post-Linguistic Thaw" (Times Literary Supplement, 1960)
  • "Freedom and Resentment" (Proceedings of the British Academy, Vol. 48, 1960)
  • "Singular Terms and Predication" (Journal of Philosophy, 1961)
  • "Perception and Identification" (Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supp. Vol. 35, 1961)
  • "Carnap's Views on Constructed Systems v. Natural Languages in Analytical Philosophy" in The Philosophy of Rudolf Carnap ed. P.A. Schlipp (La Salle Ill.: Open Court, 1963)
  • " A Problem about Truth: A reply to Mr. Warnock" in Truth, ed. G. Pitcher, Englewood Cliffs (N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1964)
  • "Truth: A Reconsideration of Austin's Views" (Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 15, 1965)
  • "Self, Mind and Body" (Common Factor, Vol. 4, 1966)
  • "Is Existence Never A Predicate" (Critica, Vol.1, 1967)
  • "Bennett on Kant's Analytic" (Philosophical Review, Vol. 77, 1968)
  • "Meaning and Truth" (Proceedings of the British Academy, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969)
  • "Imagination and Perception" in Experience and Theory, ed. L. Foster and J.W. Swanson (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1970)
  • "Categories" in Ryle: A Collection of Critical essays, ed. O.P. Wood and G. Pitcher, (New York: Doubleday, 1970)
  • "The Asymmetry of Subjects and Predicates" in Language, Belief and Metaphysics, ed. H.E. Kiefer and M.K. Munitz (New York: State of University of New York Press, 1970)
  • "Self-Reference, Contradiction and Content-Parasitic Predicates" (Indian review of Philosophy, 1972)
  • "Different Conceptions of Analytical Philosophy" (Tijdschrift voor Filosofie, 1973)
  • "Austin and 'Locutionary Meaning'" in Essays on J.L. Austin, ed. I Berlin (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973)
  • "On Understanding the Structure of One's Language" in Freedom and Resentment and Other Essays
  • "Positions for Quantifiers" in semantics and Philosophy, ed. M.K. Munitz and P.K. Unger (New York: New York University Press, 1974)
  • "Does Knowledge Have Foundations?" (Conocimiento y Creencia, 1974)
  • "Semantics, Logic and Ontology" (Neue Hafte fur Philosophie, 1975)
  • "Knowledge and Truth" (Indian Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 3., No. 3, 1976)

  • "Entity and Identity" in Contemporary British Philosophy Fourth Series, ed. H.D. Lewis (London: Allen and Unwin, 1976)
  • "Scruton and Wright on Anti-Realism" (Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Vol. 77, 1976)
  • "May Bes and Might Have Beens" in Meaning and Use, ed. A. Margalit (London: Reidel, 1979)
  • "Perception and its Objects" in Perception and Identity: Essays Presented to A.J. Ayer, ed. G.F. Macdonald (London: Macmillan, 1979)
  • "Universals" (Midwest Studies in Philosophy, 1979)
  • "Belief, Reference and Quantification" (Monist, 1980)
  • "P.F. Strawson Replies" in Philosophical Subjects Presented to P.F. Strawson, ed. Zak Van Straaten (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980)
  • "Comments and Reples" (Philosophia, Vol. 10, 1981)
  • "Logical Form and Logical Constants" in Logical Form, Predication and Ontology, ed. P.K. Sen (India: Macmillan, 1982)
  • " Liberty and Necessity" in Spinoza, His Thought & Work, ed. Nathan Rotenstreich and Norma Schneider (Jerusalem: The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1983)
  • "Causation and Explanation" in Essays on Davidson, ed. Bruce Vermazen and J. Hintikka (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985)
  • "Direct Singular Reference: Intended Reference and Actual Reference" in Wo steht die Analytische Philosophie Heute?, 1986
  • "Reference and its Roots" in The Philosophy of W.V.Quine. ed L.E. Hahn and P.A. Schlipp (La Salle Ill.: Open Court, 1986)
  • "Kant's Paralogisms: Self Consciousness and the 'Outside Obsrver'" in Theorie der Subjektivität, ed. K. Cramer, F. Fulda, R.-P. Hortsmann, U. Poshast (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1987)
  • "Concepts and Properties, or Predication and Copulation" (Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 37, 1987)
  • "Kant's New Foundations of Metaphysics" in Metaphysik nach Kant, ed. Dieter Henrich and R.-P. Horstmann (Stuttgart: Klett Cotta, 1988)
  • "Ma Philosophie: son Developpement, son Theme Central et sa Nature Generale (Revue de Theologie et de Philosophie, Vol. 120, 1988)
  • "Sensibility, Understanding and the Doctrine of Synthesis: Comments on D. Henrich and P. Guyer" in Kant's Transcendental Deductions, ed. E. Forster (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1989)
  • "Two Conceptions of Philosophy" in Perspectives on Quine, ed. Robert Barrett and Roger Gibson (Oxford: Blackwell: 1990)
  • "The Incoherence of Empiricism" (Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supp. Vol. 66, 1992)
  • "Comments on Some Aspects of Peter Unger's Identity, Consciousness and Value (Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 42, 1992)
  • "Echoes of Kant" (Times Literary Supplement, 1992, The State of Philosophy)
  • "Replies" in Ensayos sobre Strawson, ed. Carlos E. Carosi (Montevideo: Universidad de la Republica, 1992)
  • "Knowing From Words" in Knowing From Words, ed. B. K. Matilal and A. Chakrabati (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1992)
  • "My Philosophy," and "Replies" to critics in The Philosophy of P.F. Strawson, ed. P.K. Sen and R.K. Verma (New Delhi: Indian Council of Philosophical Research, 1994)
  • "Individuals" in Philosophical Problems Today, Vol. 1, ed. G. Floistad (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1994)
  • "The Problem of Realism and the A Priori" in Kant and Contemporary Epistemology, ed. Paolo Parrini (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1994)
  • "Introduction," "Kant on Substance," and "Meaning and Context" in Entity and Identity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997)


  1. N. Milkov, A Hundred Years of English Philosophy, Springer Science+Business Media, 2013, p. 201.
  2. Todd, Daphne. "Bill Sykes, Peter Strawson, George Cawkwell and Hartmut Pogge von Strandmann". Your Paintings. UK: BBC. Retrieved 23 January 2015. External link in |work= (help)
  3. The Guardian – Obituary


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