Peter Strawson

Peter Strawson

Peter Strawson

Peter Strawson


The British philosopher, Peter Strawson, has helped shape the development of philosophy for over fifty years. His work has radically altered the philosophical concept of analysis, returned metaphysics to centre stage in Anglo-American philosophy, and has transformed the framework for subsequent interpretations of Kantian philosophy. In this, the first, introduction to Strawson's ideas, Clifford Brown focuses on a selection of Strawson's most important texts and close and detailed examination of the arguments, and contributions to debates (with, for example, Russell, Quine and Austin), which have done the most to establish Strawson's formidable reputation. Each chapter provides clear exposition of a central work and explores the ways in which other philosophers have responded to Strawson's initiatives. Brown shows how Strawson's philosophical approach has been to seek better understanding of particular concepts or concept-groups and to draw out an awareness of parallels and connections among them that sheds new light over an apparently familiar landscape. The central thoughts in logic and language with which Strawson began his career are shown to have remained constant throughout while manifesting their applications across an even broader range of philosophical topics.


"The questions which at the time most seriously engaged my atten-
tion were questions in the philosophy of logic and the philosophy
of language. While … lecturing on these matters, I had become
deeply concerned with the matter of singular reference and predi-
cation, and their objects – a topic which has remained central to
my thought throughout my working life."

--(Strawson 1998a: 7)1

That time and place were the late 1940s in Oxford, at the beginning of the diverse, productive and lengthy career of Peter Strawson, whose accomplishments clearly place him at the forefront of Anglophone philosophers in the latter half of the twentieth century. The questions that engaged him at the outset concern our common use of expressions to refer to particular persons and things as the fundamental objects of reference. That use is fundamental, but since anything whatsoever can be identifyingly referred to, the individuals of our discourse will include not only particular objects, but also all manner of concepts, such as those of species, qualities and relations. This linguistic use is indeed common but, on Strawson’s own account, an attentive investigation of what that presupposes leads us straightaway not only to the most fundamental questions of logic, but also to those of ontology and epistemology.

It is remarkable that while the theme of singular reference and predication, and their objects, has been consistently central to his work, that one theme has at the same time given entry to a broad world of descriptive metaphysics, and to a consequent fresh and critical view of contemporary scepticism and naturalism. Thus Strawson’s work is not a narrowly contained special interest; rather, it embraces an attempt to confront with rigour many of the traditional questions of Western . . .

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