New SEP entry: P.F. Strawson


There is a new entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on “Peter Frederick Strawson,” written by Paul Snowdon (Philosophy, University College London). To access it, please click here.

Here is its introductory section:

Peter Frederick Strawson (1919–2006) was an Oxford-based philosopher whose career spanned the second half of the twentieth century. He wrote most notably about the philosophy of language, metaphysics, epistemology and the history of philosophy, especially Kant.

Strawson’s basic assumption is that we have no choice but to employ the core concepts of common-sense, those of body, person, space and time, causation, and also those of meaning, reference and truth. Their applicability does not have to be earned by a reduction to a supposedly more basic and secure realm of concepts, such as those of experience as conceived of by the empiricists, or those of science. There is no more basic or secure level of thought. He maintained, in various ways, that sceptical challenges to these categories are spurious and unwarranted. According to Strawson the proper task of metaphysics is to describe these indispensible notions and their interconnections. He opposed philosophical theories of language, such as Russell’s or Davidson’s, as he interpreted it, which overestimate the degree to which ordinary language is akin to formal languages, and he also opposed sceptical attitudes to the notions of meaning and truth along the lines developed by Quine and Dummett. Within Oxford, Strawson contributed in a major way to the weakening of Austin’s influence and helped to re-establish there an engagement with abstract philosophical questions. The range and quality of Strawson’s writings made him one of the major philosophers in the period in which he lived, and his work still attracts considerable attention.

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