Anthony Kenny

Sir Anthony John Patrick Kenny FBA (born 16 March 1931) is an English philosopher whose interests lie in the philosophy of mind, ancient and scholastic philosophy, the philosophy of Wittgenstein and the philosophy of religion. With Peter Geach, he has made a significant contribution to Analytical Thomism, a movement whose aim is to present the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas in the style of analytic philosophy. He is one of the executors of Wittgenstein's literary estate. He is a former President of the British Academy and the Royal Institute of Philosophy.

Sir Anthony Kenny
Born16 March 1931 (age 88)
Alma materSt Benet's Hall, Oxford
EraContemporary philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
Analytical Thomism
Main interests
Philosophy of religion, philosophy of mind, history of philosophy

Education and early career

Kenny initially trained as a Roman Catholic priest at the Venerable English College, Rome, where he received a degree of Licentiate of Sacred Theology (STL) degree. He was ordained in 1955 and served as a curate in Liverpool (1959–63). Having received his DPhil from the University of Oxford (St Benet's Hall) in 1961, he also worked as an assistant lecturer at the University of Liverpool (1961–63). However, he questioned the validity of Roman Catholic doctrine and has been an agnostic since the later 1960s.[1][2] He was returned to the lay state in 1963, but according to canon law his priestly ordination remains valid. He was never dispensed from the obligation of clerical celibacy and was therefore excommunicated on his marriage to Nancy Gayley in 1965.[3]

Academic career

During 1963-64, Kenny was lecturer in Philosophy at Exeter and Trinity Colleges, Oxford and he served as University Lecturer 1965–78. From 1964 until 1978, he was a Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford and Senior Tutor during the periods 1971–72 and 1976–78. He was Master of Balliol from 1978 to 1989 and subsequently an Honorary Fellow. During the period 1989–99, he was both Warden of Rhodes House (manager of the Rhodes Scholarship program) and Professorial Fellow of St John's College and thereafter Fellow Emeritus. He was Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford from 1984 to 2001 (Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Development, 1999–2001). He retired in 2001.

Within the university, Kenny was Wilde Lecturer in Natural and Comparative Religion (1969–72), Speaker's Lecturer in Biblical Studies (1980–83), a member of the Hebdomadal Council (1981–93), Vice-Chairman of the Libraries Board (1985–88), Curator of the Bodleian Library (1985–88) and a Delegate, and member of the Finance Committee, of Oxford University Press (1986–93). From 1972 until 1973 he was the editor of The Oxford Magazine. He received the degree of DLitt in 1980 and the honorary degree of DCL. in 1987.

He was a member of the Board of the British Library 1991-96 and Chairman 1993-96, and has served as Chairman of the Society for Protection of Science and Learning (1989–93), of the British National Corpus Advisory Board (1990–95), of the British Irish Association (1990–94), and of the Board of the Warburg Institute (1996–2000). He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1974 and served as a member of the Council of the Academy 1985-88, as Vice President 1986-88 and President 1989-93.

Kenny was Gifford Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh 1972-73 and at the University of Glasgow in 1988, Stanton Lecturer at the University of Cambridge 1980-83, and Bampton Lecturer at Columbia University in 1983. He was a Visiting Professor at Chicago, Washington, Michigan, Minnesota, Cornell, Stanford and Rockefeller Universities.

He has been a member of the American Philosophical Society since 1993, and of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters since 1993, and an Honorary Fellow of Harris Manchester College, Oxford since 1996, and of the School of Advanced Study, University of London since 2002 (Senior Distinguished Fellow 2002-3). He has received the honorary degrees of D.Litt. from Bristol (1982), Liverpool (1988), Glasgow (1990), Trinity College, Dublin (1992), Hull (1993), Sheffield (1995), and Warwick (1995), of D.Hum.Litt. from Denison University, Ohio (1986) and Lafayette College, Pennsylvania (1990) and of D.C.L. from the Queen's University of Belfast (1994).

Honours and awards

Kenny was made a Knight Bachelor by Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom in 1992 and has been an Honorary Bencher of Lincoln's Inn since 1999.

In October 2006, Kenny was awarded the American Catholic Philosophical Association's Aquinas Medal for his significant contributions to philosophy.

Portraits of Kenny hang in the British Academy, London, and at Balliol College and Rhodes House, Oxford.[4][5][6]


Although deeply interested in traditional Catholic teaching and continuing to attend the Catholic Mass,[7] Kenny now explicitly defines himself as an agnostic, explaining in his What I believe both why he is not a theist and why he is not an atheist. His 2006 book What I believe has (as Ch 3) "Why I am Not an Atheist", which begins: "Many different definitions may be offered of the word 'God'. Given this fact, atheism makes a much stronger claim than theism does. The atheist says that no matter what definition you choose, 'God exists' is always false. The theist only claims that there is some definition which will make 'God exists' true. In my view, neither the stronger nor the weaker claim has been convincingly established". He goes on: "the true default position is neither theism nor atheism, but agnosticism ... a claim to knowledge needs to be substantiated; ignorance need only be confessed."[8] He defends the rationality of an agnostic praying to a God whose existence he doubts, stating "It surely is no more unreasonable than the act of a man adrift in the ocean, trapped in a cave, or stranded on a mountainside, who cries for help though he may never be heard or fires a signal which may never be seen."[9]

Kenny has written extensively on Thomas Aquinas and modern Thomism. In The Five Ways, Kenny deals with St. Thomas' five proofs of God. In it, Kenny argues that none of the proofs Thomas sets out are wholly valid, and instead sets out to show the flaws in the five ways. His arguments range from the problem of Aristotelian motion in a modern scientific context, to the ability of contingent beings to cause eternality in other contingent beings. His objections all focus on a modern interpretation of St. Thomas.

Kenny candidly describes the predicament of the beginning of the universe, which both atheists and agnostics face, writing, "According to the Big Bang Theory, the whole matter of the universe began at a particular time in the remote past. A proponent of such a theory, at least if he is an atheist, must believe that the matter of the universe came from nothing and by nothing."[10]

In What is Faith?, Kenny addresses "the question of whether belief in God, and faith in a divine world, is a reasonable or rational state of mind."[11] He criticises the idea, "common to theists like Aquinas and Descartes and to an atheist like Russell," that "Rational belief [is] either self-evident or based directly or indirectly on what is evident," which he terms "foundationalism" following Plantinga,[12] arguing out that foundationalism is a self-refuting idea.

In Brief Encounters Kenny says Derrida was "corrupted by being famous. He gave up philosophy for rhetoric, and rhetoric of a particularly childish kind".[13] Writing of Richard Dawkins, he suggests that "moving from The Extended Phenotype to The God Delusion is like moving from the Financial Times to The Sun." He also commends Denis Noble's principle of 'Biological Relativity' which states (according to Kenny) that "in biology there is no privileged level of causation: living organisms and multilevel open systems in which the behaviour at any level depends on higher and lower levels".


  • Kenny, A. (1963) Action, Emotion and Will. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-30374-5
  • Kenny, A. (1963) Responsa Alumnorum of English College, Rome, 2 vols, Catholic Record Society: Records series, vols. 54–55.
  • Kenny, A. (1968) Descartes
  • Kenny, A. (1969) The Five Ways: St. Thomas Aquinas’ Proofs of God’s Existence. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-31845-9
  • Kenny, A., Longuet-Higgins, H.C., Lucas, J.R., Waddington, C.H. (1972), The Nature of Mind, Edinburgh University Press (Gifford Lectures, online) ISBN 0-85224-235-2
  • Kenny, A., Longuet-Higgins, H.C., Lucas, J.R., Waddington, C.H. (1973), The Development of Mind, Edinburgh University Press (Gifford Lectures, online) ISBN 0-85224-263-8
  • Kenny, A. (1973) Wittgenstein. Harmondsworth: The Penguin Press. ISBN 0-14-021581-6
  • Kenny, A. (1974) The Anatomy of the Soul
  • Kenny, A. (1975) Will, Freedom and Power
  • Kenny, A. (1978) The Aristotelian Ethics: A Study of the Relationship between the Eudemian and Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-824554-8
  • Kenny, A. (1978) Freewill and Responsibility. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-7100-8998-8
  • Kenny, A. (1979) The God of the Philosophers. Oxford: OUP. ISBN 0-19-824594-7
  • Kenny, A. (1980) Aquinas. New York: Hill and Wang. ISBN 0-8090-2724-0
  • Kenny, A. (1982) The Computation of Style: An Introduction to Statistics for Students of Literature and Humanities. Oxford & New York: Pergamon Press. ISBN 0-08-024282-0
  • Kenny, A. (1983) Thomas More Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-287574-4
  • Kenny, A. (1986) A Path from Rome: An Autobiography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-283050-3
  • Kenny, A. (1986) A Stylometric Study of the New Testament. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-826178-0
  • Kenny, A. (1988) God and Two Poets: Arthur Hugh Clough and Gerard Manley Hopkins. London: Sidgwick & Jackson. ISBN 0-283-99387-1
  • Kenny, A. (1989) The Metaphysics of Mind
  • Kenny, A. (1990) The Oxford Diaries of Arthur Hugh Clough
  • Kenny, A. (comp) (1991) Mountains: An Anthology. London: John Murray. ISBN 978-0-7195-4639-6
  • Kenny, A. (1992) What is Faith? Essays in the Philosophy of Religion. Oxford: OUP. ISBN 0-19-283067-8
  • Kenny, A. (1993) Aristotle on the Perfect Life. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-824017-1
  • Kenny, A. (1993) Aquinas on Mind. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-04415-4
  • Kenny, A. (ed) (1994) The Oxford History of Western Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-824278-6
  • Kenny, A. (1995) Frege: An Introduction to the Founder of Modern Analytic Philosophy. London: Penguin Philosophy. ISBN 0-14-012550-7
  • Kenny, A. (1997) A Brief History of Western Philosophy. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-20132-7
  • Kenny, A. (1997) A Life in Oxford. London: John Murray. ISBN 0-7195-5061-0
  • Kenny, A. (2001) Essays on the Aristotelian Tradition
  • Kenny, A. (2002) Aquinas on Being. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-823847-9
  • Kenny, A. (2004) Ancient Philosophy: A New History of Western Philosophy, vol. 1. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-875273-3
  • Kenny, A. (2005) Arthur Hugh Clough: a poet’s life. London & New York: Continuum. ISBN 0-8264-7382-2
  • Kenny, A. (2005) Medieval Philosophy: A New History of Western Philosophy, vol. 2 OUP. ISBN 978-0-19-875275-2
  • Kenny, A. (2005) The Unknown God: Agnostic Essays Continuum. ISBN 978-0-8264-7634-0
  • Kenny, A. (2006) What I Believe. London & New York: Continuum. ISBN 0-8264-8971-0
  • Kenny, A. (2006) The Rise of Modern Philosophy: A New History of Western Philosophy, vol. 3 OUP. ISBN 978-0-19-875277-6
  • Kenny, A. & Kenny C. (2006) Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Utility. Imprint Academic. ISBN 978-1-84540-052-1
  • Kenny, A. (2007) Philosophy in the Modern World: A New History of Western Philosophy, vol. 4. OUP. ISBN 978-0-19-875279-0
  • Kenny, A. & Kenny R. (2007) Can Oxford be Improved? Imprint Academic. ISBN 978-1-84540-094-1
  • Kenny, A. (2012) A New History Of Western Philosophy – In Four Parts, Clarendon Press Oxford. ISBN 0191642916
  • Kenny, A. (2018) Brief Encounters: Notes from a Philosophers Diary, SPCK, London ISBN 978-0-281-07919-3

Notes and references

  1. ^ "Interview: Anthony Kenny, philosopher". Retrieved 16 March 2019. I’m agnostic about the existence of God. I don’t find the arguments of atheists like Dawkins convincing, nor the arguments of Aquinas. The sensible thing to say is that I don’t know.
  2. ^ "A Chat with Anthony Kenny". Retrieved 16 March 2019. since the 1960s I have remained in the philosophical position I then adopted: agnostic about the existence of God, sceptical about the possibility of life after death
  3. ^ What I Believe, ch. 1.
  4. ^ Art UK
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ Art UK
  7. ^ William C. Dowling, "Meaningless grades and a new dishonesty", Springer New York, Volume 16, Number 4 / September, 2003
  8. ^ What I Believe, ch. 3
  9. ^ Kenny 1979, p. 129
  10. ^ Anthony Kenny, The Five Ways: St. Thomas Aquinas' Proofs of God's Existence (New York: Schocken, 1969), p. 66
  11. ^ What is Faith?, p. 3
  12. ^ What is Faith?, pp. 9–10
  13. ^ Kenny, Anthony (2018). Brief Encounters: Notes from a Philosopher's Diary. SPCK. ISBN 978-0281079193.


External links

Academic offices
Preceded by
Christopher Hill
Master of Balliol College, Oxford
Succeeded by
Baruch Samuel Blumberg
Preceded by
Dr Robin Fletcher
Warden of Rhodes House, Oxford
Succeeded by
Dr John Rowett
2010 in philosophy

2010 in philosophy


Acosmism, in contrast to pantheism, denies the reality of the universe, seeing it as ultimately illusory, (the prefix "a-" in Greek meaning negation; like "un-" in English), and only the infinite unmanifest Absolute as real. Conceptual versions of Acosmism are found in eastern and western philosophies.

Agnostic existentialism

Agnostic existentialism is a type of existentialism which makes no claim to know whether there is a "greater picture"; rather, it simply asserts that the greatest truth is that which the individual chooses to act upon. It feels that to know the greater picture, whether there is one or not, is impossible, or impossible so far, or of little value. Like the Christian existentialist, the agnostic existentialist believes existence is subjective.

Analytical Thomism

Analytical Thomism is a philosophical movement which promotes the interchange of ideas between the thought of Saint Thomas Aquinas (including the philosophy carried on in relation to his thinking, called 'Thomism'), and modern analytic philosophy.

Scottish philosopher John Haldane first coined the term in the early 1990s and has since been one the movement's leading proponents. According to Haldane, "analytical Thomism involves the bringing into mutual relationship of the styles and preoccupations of recent English-speaking philosophy and the ideas and concerns shared by St Thomas and his followers" (Haldane 2004, xii).

Arthur Hugh Clough

Arthur Hugh Clough ( KLUF; 1 January 1819 – 13 November 1861) was an English poet, an educationalist, and the devoted assistant to Florence Nightingale. He was the brother of suffragist Anne Clough and father to Blanche Athena Clough who both became principals of Newnham College, Cambridge.

Basic belief

Basic beliefs (also commonly called foundational beliefs or core beliefs) are, under the epistemological view called foundationalism, the axioms of a belief system.

Concept and object

In the philosophy of language, the distinction between concept and object is attributable to the German philosopher Gottlob Frege.

Index of philosophy of mind articles

This is a list of philosophy of mind articles.

Alan Turing

Alexius Meinong

Anomalous monism

Anthony Kenny

Arnold Geulincx

Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness

Australian materialism

Baruch Spinoza

Biological naturalism

Brain in a vat

C. D. Broad

Chinese room



Consciousness Explained

Critical realism (philosophy of perception)

Daniel Dennett

David Hartley (philosopher)

David Kellogg Lewis

David Malet Armstrong

Direct realism

Direction of fit

Disquisitions relating to Matter and Spirit

Donald Davidson (philosopher)

Dream argument

Dualism (philosophy of mind)

Duration (Bergson)

Edmund Husserl

Eliminative materialism

Embodied philosophy

Emergent materialism

Evil demon

Exclusion principle (philosophy)

Frank Cameron Jackson

Fred Dretske

Functionalism (philosophy of mind)

G. E. M. Anscombe

Georg Henrik von Wright

George Edward Moore

Gilbert Harman

Gilbert Ryle

Gottfried Leibniz

Hard problem of consciousness

Henri Bergson

Hilary Putnam



Indefinite monism


Internalism and externalism

Intuition pump

J. J. C. Smart

Jaegwon Kim

Jerry Fodor

John Perry (philosopher)

John Searle

Karl Popper

Kendall Walton

Kenneth Allen Taylor

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Mad pain and Martian pain

Mental property

Methodological solipsism

Michael Tye (philosopher)


Mind-body dichotomy


Multiple Drafts Model

Multiple realizability

Naming and Necessity

Naïve realism


Neutral monism

Noam Chomsky

Parallelism (philosophy)

Personal identity


Philosophy of artificial intelligence

Philosophy of mind

Philosophy of perception


Pluralism (philosophy)

Privileged access

Problem of other minds

Property dualism

Psychological nominalism


Reflexive monism

René Descartes

Representational theory of mind

Richard Rorty

Ron McClamrock

Self (philosophy)

Society of Mind


Stephen Stich

Subjective idealism


Sydney Shoemaker

Tad Schmaltz

The Concept of Mind

The Meaning of Meaning

Thomas Nagel

Turing test

Type physicalism

Unconscious mind

Wilfrid Sellars

William Hirstein

William James

Jan Hus Educational Foundation

The Jan Hus Educational Foundation was founded in May 1980 by a group of British philosophers at the University of Oxford. The group operated an underground education network in the former Czechoslovakia, at the time under Communist Party rule, running seminars in philosophy, smuggling in books, and arranging for Western academics to give lectures.

The Foundation was deemed a "Centre of Ideological Subversion" by the Czech police, and several of the visiting philosophers, including Jacques Derrida, Roger Scruton and Anthony Kenny, were arrested or placed on the "Index of Undesirable Persons".

Jan Pinborg

Jan Pinborg (1937–1982) was a renowned historian of medieval linguistics and philosophy of language, and the most famous member of the Copenhagen School of Medieval Philosophy pioneered by Heinrich Roos in the 1940s. Pinborg was a pupil of Roos.

Language game (philosophy)

A language-game (German: Sprachspiel) is a philosophical concept developed by Ludwig Wittgenstein, referring to simple examples of language use and the actions into which the language is woven. Wittgenstein argued that a word or even a sentence has meaning only as a result of the “rule” of the “game” being played. Depending on the context, for example, the utterance “Water!” could be an order, the answer to a question, or some other form of communication.

Nicholas Wolterstorff

Nicholas Wolterstorff (born January 21, 1932) is an American philosopher and a liturgical theologian. He is currently Noah Porter Professor Emeritus Philosophical Theology at Yale University. A prolific writer with wide-ranging philosophical and theological interests, he has written books on aesthetics, epistemology, political philosophy, philosophy of religion, metaphysics, and philosophy of education. In Faith and Rationality, Wolterstorff, Alvin Plantinga, and William Alston developed and expanded upon a view of religious epistemology that has come to be known as Reformed epistemology. He also helped to establish the journal Faith and Philosophy and the Society of Christian Philosophers.


Nontheism or non-theism is a range of both religious and nonreligious attitudes characterized by the absence of espoused belief in a God or gods. Nontheism has generally been used to describe apathy or silence towards the subject of God and differs from an antithetical, explicit atheism. Nontheism does not necessarily describe atheism or disbelief in God; it has been used as an umbrella term for summarizing various distinct and even mutually exclusive positions, such as agnosticism, ignosticism, ietsism, skepticism, pantheism, atheism, strong or positive atheism, implicit atheism, and apatheism. It is in use in the fields of Christian apologetics and general liberal theology.

Within the scope of nontheistic agnosticism, philosopher Anthony Kenny distinguishes between agnostics who find the claim "God exists" uncertain and theological noncognitivists who consider all discussion of God to be meaningless. Some agnostics, however, are not nontheists but rather agnostic theists.Other related philosophical opinions about the existence of deities are ignosticism and skepticism. Because of the various definitions of the term God, a person could be an atheist in terms of certain conceptions of gods, while remaining agnostic in terms of others.

Peter Geach

Peter Thomas Geach (; 29 March 1916 – 21 December 2013) was a British philosopher and professor of logic at the University of Leeds. His areas of interest were the philosophical logic, ethics, history of philosophy, philosophy of religion and the theory of identity.

Remarks on Colour

Remarks on Colour (German: Bemerkungen über die Farben) was one of Ludwig Wittgenstein's last works, written during a visit to Vienna in 1950 while dying of cancer. Believing that philosophical puzzles about colour can only be resolved through attention to the involved language games, he considers Goethe's propositions in the Theory of Colours, and the observations of Philipp Otto Runge in an attempt to clarify the use of language about colour.

Wittgenstein was interested in the fact that some propositions about colour are apparently neither empirical nor exactly a priori, but something in between: phenomenology, according to Goethe. However, he took the line that 'There is no such thing as phenomenology, though there are phenomenological problems.' He was content to regard Goethe's observations as a kind of logic or geometry. Wittgenstein took his examples from the Runge letter included in the "Farbenlehre", e.g. "White is the lightest colour", "There cannot be a transparent white", "There cannot be a reddish green", and so on. The logical status of these propositions in Wittgenstein's investigation, including their relation to physics, was discussed in Jonathan Westphal's Colour: a Philosophical Introduction (1991).

Although Remarks on Colour is considered difficult on account of its fragmentation, his last work, On Certainty (German: Über Gewissheit) is considered to be his most lucid.

Rhodes House

Rhodes House is part of the University of Oxford in England. It is located on South Parks Road in central Oxford, and was built in memory of Cecil Rhodes, an alumnus of the university and a major benefactor.

Stephen R. L. Clark

Stephen Richard Lyster Clark (born 1945) is an English philosopher and professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Liverpool. Clark specialises in the philosophy of religion and animal rights, writing from a philosophical position that might broadly be described as Christian Platonist. He is the author of 19 books, including The Moral Status of Animals (1977), The Nature of the Beast (1982), Animals and Their Moral Standing (1997), G.K. Chesterton (2006), Philosophical Futures (2011), and Ancient Mediterranean Philosophy (2012), as well as 77 scholarly articles, and chapters in another 109 books. He is a former editor-in-chief of the Journal of Applied Philosophy (1990–2001).

Theological noncognitivism

Theological noncognitivism is the position that religious language – specifically, words such as "God" – are not cognitively meaningful. It is sometimes considered synonymous with ignosticism.

Ultimate Boeing 747 gambit

The Ultimate Boeing 747 gambit is a counter-argument to modern versions of the argument from design for the existence of God. It was introduced by Richard Dawkins in chapter 4 of his 2006 book The God Delusion, "Why there almost certainly is no God".

The argument is a play on the notion of a "tornado sweeping through a junkyard to assemble a Boeing 747" employed to decry abiogenesis and evolution as vastly unlikely and better explained by the existence of a creator god. According to Dawkins, this logic is self-defeating as the theist must now account for the god's existence and explain whether or how the god was created. In his view, if the existence of highly complex life on Earth is the equivalent of the implausible junkyard Boeing 747, the existence of a highly complex god is the "ultimate Boeing 747" that truly does require the seemingly impossible to explain its existence.

Concepts in religion
Conceptions of God
Existence of God
Religious language
Problem of evil
Philosophersof religion

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