Obituary: Gordon Baker ; Philosopher Who Specialised in Wittgenstein
Hacker, Peter, The Independent (London, England)
GORDON BAKER was a distinguished American Oxford philosopher, whose considerable contribution to the tradition of Oxford analytic philosophy lies in his extensive writings on Wittgenstein, Frege and Descartes.
Baker was born in 1938 in New Jersey, son of Edgar Park Baker, a Wall Street lawyer and Katherine Jones Baker, a biochemist. He spent early years during the Second World War in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where both parents worked for the Manhattan Project. He read for his first degree at Harvard, majoring in mathematics but with a lively interest in philosophy.
In 1960 he was awarded a Marshall Scholarship and came to Queen's College, Oxford. Although intending to read PPE, he found the course too rushed, describing it as akin to a trip on the London Underground - brief flashes of light and long stretches of darkness - and asked permission to read Greats. His tutors Brian McGuinness and Jonathan Cohen were reluctant to grant his request, as he had no Greek. But Baker characteristically asked them to give him nine months and the deficiency would be remedied; the following October he began the Greats course. In 1963 he graduated, and turned to do doctoral work with A.J. Ayer on the logic of vagueness.
He took up a lectureship in philosophy at the University of Kent in 1966 and the following year was elected to a Fellowship at St John's College, Oxford, as successor to Paul Grice. He had allowed his work on his doctoral dissertation to lapse; but, less than six months before the last possible day for submission, he decided that perhaps he should complete it. A flurry of activity produced a fine dissertation and the doctoral degree.
In 1976, Baker and I found our interests converging, and decided to co- operate on a commentary on Ludwig Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations. Volume one of An Analytical Commentary on the Philosophical Investigations, entitled Wittgenstein: understanding and meaning, was published in 1980. It was the first of five joint books.
Our initial work on Wittgenstein led us to question the received interpretation of the philosophy of Wittgenstein's predecessor the great logician Gottlob Frege. Our book Frege: logical excavations (1984) attempted to examine Frege's work in the context of 19th- century advances in mathematics, viewing his logical innovations as a generalisation of higher analysis rather than anticipations of late-20th-century semantics. The result turned out to be passion- provoking. This book was followed by a polemical work, Language, Sense and Nonsense (1984), in which we criticised the ideas of Donald Davidson and Michael Dummett, then dominant in philosophy of language, and parallel ideas in Noam Chomsky's theoretical linguistics.
We then turned to continue the commentary on Wittgenstein. While we were …
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Publication information: Article title: Obituary: Gordon Baker ; Philosopher Who Specialised in Wittgenstein. Contributors: Hacker, Peter - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: July 3, 2002. Page number: 18. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.