British philosophy refers to the philosophical tradition of the British people. "The native characteristics of British philosophy are these: common sense, dislike of complication, a strong preference for the concrete over the abstract and a certain awkward honesty of method in which an occasional pearl of poetry is embedded".
Saint Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033 – 1109) was an important philosopher and theologian of the Catholic Church, who held the office of Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 to 1109. Anselm is famed as the originator of the ontological argument for the existence of God and of the satisfaction theory of atonement. Anselm's works are considered philosophical as well as theological since they endeavour to render Christian tenets of faith, traditionally taken as a revealed truth, as a rational system.
William of Sherwood (c. 1200 – c. 1272) was a medieval English scholastic philosopher, logician, and teacher. Little is known of his life, but he is thought to have studied in Paris and he was a master at Oxford in 1252. He was the author of two books which were an important influence on the development of scholastic logic: Introductiones in Logicam (Introduction to Logic), and Syncategoremata. These are the first known works to deal in a systematic way with what is now called supposition theory, and were influential on the development of logic in both England and on the continent. According to Roger Bacon, Sherwood was among "the more famous wise men of Christendom", of whom he names another as Albertus Magnus. Bacon judged Sherwood to be "much wiser than Albert".
Roger Bacon (c. 1214–1294), also known as Doctor Mirabilis (Latin: "Wondrous Doctor"), was an English philosopher and Franciscan friar who placed considerable emphasis on empirical methods. He is sometimes credited as one of the earliest European advocates of the modern scientific method inspired by the works of Plato and Aristotle via early Islamic scientists such as Avicenna and Averroes.
John Duns Scotus (c. 1265 – 8 November 1308) was an important philosopher and theologian of the High Middle Ages. Scotus was born around 1265, at Duns, in Berwickshire, Scotland. In 1291 he was ordained as a priest in Northampton, England. A note in Codex 66 of Merton College, Oxford, records that Scotus "flourished at Cambridge, Oxford and Paris". He died in Cologne in 1308. He is buried in the "Minoritenkirche", the Church of the Franciscans (or Minor Friars) in Cologne. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II on 20 March 1993.
Nicknamed Doctor Subtilis (the subtle doctor), he is well known for the "univocity of being," the formal distinction, and the idea of haecceity. The univocity of being holds that existence is the most abstract concept we have and is applicable to everything that exists. The formal distinction is a way of distinguishing between different aspects of the same thing such that the distinction is intermediate between what is merely conceptual, and what is fully real or mind-independent. Haecceity (from the Latin haecceitas) is the idea of "thisness," a concept which denotes the discrete qualities, properties or characteristics of a thing which make it a particular thing.
William of Ockham (c. 1288 – c. 1348) was an English Franciscan friar and scholastic philosopher. He is perhaps most well known for his principle of parsimony, famously known as Occam's razor. This actual term is claimed not to appear in his writings, but rather summarizes the principle he expressed in passages such as Numquam ponenda est pluralitas sine necessitate [Plurality must never be posited without necessity] and Frustra fit per plura quod potest fieri per pauciora (It is futile to do with more things that which can be done with fewer). Generally it refers to distinguishing between two hypotheses either by "shaving away" unnecessary assumptions or cutting apart two similar conclusions.
The words often attributed to Occam: entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem ("entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity") are absent in his extant works; This particular phrasing comes from John Punch who used it in describing a "common axiom" (axioma vulgare) of the Scholastics.
Francis Bacon (1561–1626) was an Englishman who was a statesman, scientist, lawyer, jurist and author in addition to being a philosopher. He famously died of pneumonia contracted while studying the effects of freezing on the preservation of meat. He served both as Attorney General and Lord Chancellor of England. Although his political career ended in disgrace, he remained extremely influential through his works, especially as philosophical advocate and practitioner of the scientific method and pioneer in the scientific revolution.
Bacon has been called the father of empiricism. His works established and popularized deductive methodologies for scientific inquiry, often called the Baconian method or simply, the scientific method. His demand for a planned procedure of investigating all things natural marked a new turn in the rhetorical and theoretical framework for science, much of which still surrounds conceptions of proper methodology today. His dedication probably led to his death, so bringing him into a rare historical group of scientists who were killed by their own experiments.
Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) was an English philosopher, remembered today for his work on political philosophy. His 1651 book Leviathan established the foundation for most of Western political philosophy from the perspective of social contract theory.
Hobbes was a champion of absolutism for the sovereign but he also developed some of the fundamentals of European liberal thought: the right of the individual; the natural equality of all men; the artificial character of the political order (which led to the later distinction between civil society and the state); the view that all legitimate political power must be "representative" and based on the consent of the people; and a liberal interpretation of law which leaves people free to do whatever the law does not explicitly forbid.
Hobbes also contributed to a diverse array of fields, including history, geometry, physics of gases, theology, ethics, general philosophy, and political science. His account of human nature as self-interested cooperation has proved to be an enduring theory in the field of philosophical anthropology. He was one of the key founders of philosophical materialism.
The three 'classic' British empiricists in the early modern era were John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume. The term "British empiricism" refers to the philosophical tradition in Britain that was epitomised by these thinkers (though this tradition did have precursors in Britain stretching back to Roger Bacon). Berkeley, despite being Irish, was referred to as British as County Kilkenny, where he lived in Ireland, was a part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland at the time.
John Locke (1632–1704) was an empiricist at the beginning of the Modern period of philosophy. As such (and in contrast to René Descartes), he held that all of the objects of the understanding are ideas, where ideas exist in the mind. One of his goals in his work An Essay Concerning Human Understanding is to trace the origin of ideas. There are no innate ideas “stamped upon the mind” from birth, and all knowledge is rooted in experience. Further, there are also simple ideas and complex ideas. Simple ideas enter by the senses, and they are simple and unmixed. Complex ideas are simple ideas that have been combined and related together using the abstracting activity of the mind.
Locke is also responsible for an early theory of personal identity. He thought that our being the same person from one time to another consists, not in our having the same soul or the same body, but rather the same series of psychological connections. For Locke, to be a person is to be an intelligent thinking being that can know itself as itself, the same thinking thing in different times and places.
George Berkeley (1685–1753) was an Irish philosopher who served as Bishop of Cloyne from 1734 until his death. He was a British empiricist, an immaterialist, and an idealist. Many of his most important ideas were first put forth in A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, a work which was critical of John Locke's philosophy. Berkeley agreed with Locke that there was an outside world which caused the ideas within the mind, but Berkeley sought to prove that the outside world was also composed solely of ideas. Berkeley thought that the ideas that we possessed could only resemble other ideas (not physical objects) and thus the external world consisted not of physical form, but rather of ideas. This world was given logic and regularity by some other force, which Berkeley concluded was God.
Berkeley is famous for his motto "esse est percipi aut percipere", or otherwise, "to exist is to be perceived, or to perceive". This means that there are no things other than ideas and the minds that house them. There is no such thing as a mind-independent entity.
David Hume (1711–1776) was a Scottish philosopher, economist, and historian. His major works, A Treatise of Human Nature (1739–1740), the An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding (1748), An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751), and Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779) remain widely influential. His ideas regarding free will and determinism, causation, personal identity, induction, and morality still inspire discussion.
Hume famously described the problem of induction. He argues that inductive reasoning cannot be rationally employed, since, in order to justify induction, one would either have to provide a sound deductive argument or an inductively strong argument. But there is no sound deductive argument for induction, and to ask for an inductive argument to justify induction would be to beg the question.
Hume's problem of causation is related to his problem of induction. He held that there is no empirical access to the supposed necessary connection between cause and effect. In seeking to justify the belief that A causes B, one would point out that, in the past, B has always closely followed A in both space and time. But the special necessary connection that is supposed to be causation is never given to us in experience. We only observe a constant conjunction of events, with no necessity whatsoever.
In personal identity, Hume was a bundle theorist. He said that there is no robust self to which properties adhere. Experience only shows us that there is only a bundle of perceptions.
Adam Smith (1723–1790) was a Scottish moral philosopher and a pioneer of political economics. Smith wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments and An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. The latter, usually abbreviated as The Wealth of Nations, is considered his magnum opus and the first modern work of economics. Smith is widely cited as the father of modern economics.
Smith studied moral philosophy at the University of Glasgow and the University of Oxford. After graduating, he delivered a successful series of public lectures at Edinburgh, leading him to collaborate with David Hume during the Scottish Enlightenment. Smith obtained a professorship at Glasgow teaching moral philosophy, and during this time he wrote and published The Theory of Moral Sentiments.
Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832) is well known for beginning the tradition of classical utilitarianism in Britain. Utilitarianism is a consequentialist theory of normative ethics which holds that an act is morally right if and only if that act maximizes happiness or pleasure. Classical utilitarianism is said to be hedonistic because it regards pleasure as the only intrinsic good and pain as the only intrinsic evil.
Utilitarianism was described by Bentham as "the greatest happiness or greatest felicity principle". Bentham's utilitarianism is known for arguing that the felicific calculus should be used to determine the rightness and wrongness of acts. It does this by measuring the amount of pain and pleasure for various acts. Bentham thought that pleasure and pain be broke down in distinct units called hedons and dolors.
John Stuart Mill (1806–1873) was an influential contributor to social theory, political theory, and political economy. His conception of liberty justified the freedom of the individual in opposition to unlimited state control.
Mill also continued Bentham's tradition of advancing and defending utilitarianism. Mill's book Utilitarianism is a philosophical defense of utilitarianism. The essay first appeared as a series of three articles published in Fraser's Magazine in 1861; the articles were collected and reprinted as a single book in 1863.
Henry Sidgwick (1838–1900) also focused on utilitarian ethics and was one of the founders and first president of the Society for Psychical Research, was a member of the Metaphysical Society, and promoted the higher education of women. The Methods of Ethics is a book on utilitarianism written by Sidgwick that was first published in 1874. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy indicates that The Methods of Ethics "in many ways marked the culmination of the classical utilitarian tradition." Well-known contemporary utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer has said that the Methods "is simply the best book on ethics ever written."
As an area of absolute idealism, British idealism was a philosophical movement that was influential in Britain from the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth century. Important representatives included T. H. Green, F. H. Bradley, Bernard Bosanquet, J. M. E. McTaggart, H. H. Joachim, J. H. Muirhead, and G. R. G. Mure. Two British philosophers, G. E. Moore and Bertrand Russell, were brought up in this tradition and then reacted against it by pioneering analytic philosophy.
Analytic philosophy was based on traditional British empiricism, updated to accommodate the new developments in logic pioneered by German mathematician Gottlob Frege. It has dominated philosophy in the English-speaking world since the early 20th century.
George Edward Moore (1873–1958) was an English philosopher. One of the founders of the analytic tradition, he led the British 'revolt against idealism' at the turn of the twentieth century, along with Bertrand Russell - while Russell is better known, he stated that it was in fact Moore who "led the way".
Moore is best known today for his defence of ethical non-naturalism, his emphasis on common sense in philosophical method, and the paradox that bears his name. He was admired by and influential among other philosophers, and also by the Bloomsbury Group, but is (unlike his colleague Russell) mostly unknown today outside of academic philosophy. Moore's essays are known for his clear, circumspect writing style, and for his methodical and patient approach to philosophical problems. He was critical of philosophy for its lack of progress, which he believed was in stark contrast to the dramatic advances in the natural sciences since the Renaissance. He often praised the analytic reasoning of Thales of Miletus, an early Greek philosopher, for his analysis of the meaning of the term "landscaping". Moore thought Thales' reasoning was one of the few historical examples of philosophical inquiry resulting in practical advances. Among his most famous works are his book Principia Ethica, and his essays, "The Refutation of Idealism", "A Defence of Common Sense", and "A Proof of the External World".
Bertrand Russell (1872–1970) led the British "revolt against idealism" in the early 1900s, along with G. E. Moore. He was influenced by Gottlob Frege, and was the mentor of Ludwig Wittgenstein. He is widely held to be one of the 20th century's premier logicians. He co-authored, with Alfred North Whitehead, Principia Mathematica, an attempt to derive all mathematical truths from a set of axioms using rules of inference in symbolic logic. His philosophical essay "On Denoting" has been considered a "paradigm of philosophy." Both works have had a considerable influence on logic, mathematics, set theory, linguistics, and philosophy.
Russell's theory of descriptions has been profoundly influential in the philosophy of language and the analysis of definite descriptions. His theory was first developed in his 1905 paper "On Denoting".
Russell was a prominent anti-war activist; he championed free trade and anti-imperialism. Russell went to prison for his pacifist activism during World War I. Later, he campaigned against Adolf Hitler, then criticised Stalinist totalitarianism, attacked the United States of America's involvement in the Vietnam War, and finally became an outspoken proponent of nuclear disarmament.
Sir Alfred Jules Ayer (29 October 1910, London – 27 June 1989, London), better known as A. J. Ayer or "Freddie" to friends, was a British analytic philosopher known for his promotion of logical positivism, particularly in his books Language, Truth and Logic (1936) and The Problem of Knowledge (1956).
Ordinary language philosophy is a philosophical school that approaches traditional philosophical problems as rooted in misunderstandings that philosophers develop by forgetting what words mean in their everyday use.
This approach typically involves eschewing philosophical theories in favour of close attention to the detail of everyday language. Sometimes also called "Oxford philosophy", it is generally associated with the work of a number of mid-century Oxford professors: mainly J. L. Austin, but also Gilbert Ryle, H. L. A. Hart, and P.F. Strawson.
It was a major philosophic school between 1930 and 1970.
Other recent figures in the British analytic tradition include David Wiggins, Derek Parfit, and P. F. Strawson, who have focused on fields such as metaphysics, philosophy of mind, logic, and the philosophy of language.
On Liberty is a rational justification of the freedom of the individual in opposition to the claims of the state to impose unlimited control and is thus a defence of the rights of the individual against the state.
Andrew Pyle (born 17 March 1955) is a British philosopher on the history of philosophical atomism.
Pyle is currently a Reader in Early Modern Philosophy at the University of Bristol, where he also received his doctorate. His dissertation was titled Atomism and its Critics: Democritus to Newton. Pyle also writes on the history of science and has given talks within the university on the nature of science historically. Pyle is one of the editors of the Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy.In 2018, Bristol University held an all day conference honouring the thematic themes of Pyle's researchBritish idealism
A species of absolute idealism, British idealism was a philosophical movement that was influential in Britain from the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth century. The leading figures in the movement were T. H. Green (1836–1882), F. H. Bradley (1846–1924), and Bernard Bosanquet (1848–1923). They were succeeded by the second generation of J. M. E. McTaggart (1866–1925), H. H. Joachim (1868–1938), J. H. Muirhead (1855–1940), and R. G. Collingwood (1889-1943). The last major figure in the tradition was G. R. G. Mure (1893–1979). Doctrines of early British idealism so provoked the young Cambridge philosophers G. E. Moore and Bertrand Russell that they began a new philosophical tradition, analytic philosophy.Bryan Magee
Bryan Edgar Magee (born 12 April 1930) is a British philosopher, broadcaster, politician, author, and poet, best known as a popularizer of philosophy.Cambridge University Moral Sciences Club
The Cambridge University Moral Sciences Club, founded in October 1878, is a philosophy discussion group that meets weekly at Cambridge during term time. Speakers are invited to present a paper with a strict upper time limit of 45 minutes, after which there is discussion for an hour. Several Colleges have hosted the Club: Trinity College, King's College, Clare College, Darwin College, St John's College, and from 2014 Newnham College.
The club has been highly influential in analytic philosophy because of the concentration of philosophers at Cambridge. Members have included many of British philosophy's top names, such as Henry Sidgwick, J.M.E. McTaggart, Bertrand Russell, G.E. Moore, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, and several papers regarded as founding documents of various schools of thoughts had their first airing at a club meeting. Moore's "The Nature of Judgment" was first read to the club on 21 October 1898. Frank P. Ramsey's "Knowledge by acquaintance and knowledge by description" was presented to a meeting in 1911, and in 1926 became Truth and Probability. Russell's "Limits of Empiricism" was read in the Michaelmas term of 1935, Friedrich Hayek's "The Facts of the Social Sciences" was read in the Michaelmas term of 1942, and Moore's paradox was first read in Michaelmas 1944. Almost every major anglophone philosopher since the Second World War has delivered a paper to the club.It was during a meeting of the Moral Sciences Club in October 1946 that Wittgenstein famously waved a poker at Sir Karl Popper during a heated discussion about whether philosophical problems are real or just linguistic games.Daemonologie
Daemonologie—in full Daemonologie, In Forme of a Dialogue, Divided into three Books: By the High and Mighty Prince, James &c.—was written and published in 1597 by King James VI of Scotland (later also James I of England) as a philosophical dissertation on contemporary necromancy and the historical relationships between the various methods of divination used from ancient black magic. This included a study on demonology and the methods demons used to bother troubled men. It also touches on topics such as werewolves and vampires. It was a political yet theological statement to educate a misinformed populace on the history, practices and implications of sorcery and the reasons for persecuting a person in a Christian society accused of being a witch under the rule of canonical law. This book is believed to be one of the main sources used by William Shakespeare in the production of Macbeth. Shakespeare attributed many quotes and rituals found within the book directly to the Weird Sisters, yet also attributed the Scottish themes and settings referenced from the trials in which King James was involved.Doctrine of internal relations
The doctrine of internal relations is the philosophical doctrine that all relations are internal to their bearers, in the sense that they are essential to them and the bearers would not be what they are without them. It was a term used in British philosophy around in the early 1900s.Frederick C. Beiser
Frederick Charles Beiser (; born November 27, 1949) is an American philosopher who is professor of philosophy at Syracuse University. He is one of the leading English-language scholars of German idealism. In addition to his writings on German idealism, Beiser has also written on the German Romantics and 19th-century British philosophy. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship for his research in 1994, and was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 2015.G. E. Moore
George Edward Moore (4 November 1873 – 24 October 1958) was an English philosopher. He was, with Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and (before them) Gottlob Frege, one of the founders of the analytic tradition in philosophy. Along with Russell, he led the turn away from idealism in British philosophy, and became well known for his advocacy of common sense concepts, his contributions to ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics, and "his exceptional personality and moral character". He was Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge, highly influential among (though not a member of) the Bloomsbury Group, and the editor of the influential journal Mind. He was elected a fellow of the British Academy in 1918. He was a member of the Cambridge Apostles, the intellectual secret society, from 1894 to 1901, and the Cambridge University Moral Sciences Club.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".Paul Fletcher (theologian)
Paul Fletcher (1965–2008) was an English Roman Catholic philosophical theologian and lecturer.
Fletcher was born and raised in Birkenhead, England, and attended St Hughes Roman Catholic secondary school. As he was about to escape to a sixth-form place at St Anselm's college, owned and run by the Irish Christian Brothers, he lost his best childhood friend, Dessie, to a drug overdose. He felt the event marked a transition from boy to adult, and announced his intention to become a monk.
In 1988, while still a Christian Brother, he went to study theology at Durham University. He left the order shortly before taking his final vows, disillusioned by the restrictions increasingly placed upon the social work of the Brothers in Liverpool. Later, he returned to Durham University for a Masters in systematic philosophy and subsequently a PhD.
In 1997, he was appointed as a lecturer in religious studies at Lancaster University, where he remained until his death in 2008. Fletcher's influence in modern philosophy has been affirmed by some of the top speakers in British philosophy and his controversial ideas in applied ethics have been cited as having influenced some of the more radical modern philosophical approaches.Philip Kitcher
Philip Stuart Kitcher (born 20 February 1947) is a British philosophy professor who specialises in the philosophy of science, the philosophy of biology, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of literature, and, more recently, pragmatism.Philosophy of sport
Philosophy of sport is an area of philosophy that seeks to conceptually analyze issues of sport as human activity. These issues cover many areas, but fall primarily into five philosophical categories: metaphysics, ethics and moral philosophy, philosophy of law, political philosophy, and aesthetics. The philosophical perspective on sport originated in Ancient Greece, having experienced a revival in the latter part of the 20th century with the work of Paul Weiss and Howard Slusher.A philosophical perspective on sports incorporates its metaphysical relationships with art and play, ethical issues of virtue and fairness and more broadly sociopolitical.Praxis (British philosophy journal)
Praxis is a peer-reviewed online postgraduate journal of philosophy affiliated with the University of Manchester. The journal was created in 2007. The first issue was published in April 2008. Praxis publishes papers, book reviews and interviews.Robert Towerson Cory
Robert Towerson Cory (1759-23 April 1835) was an English churchman and Professor of moral philosophy at the University of Cambridge.Sublime (philosophy)
In aesthetics, the sublime (from the Latin sublīmis) is the quality of greatness, whether physical, moral, intellectual, metaphysical, aesthetic, spiritual, or artistic. The term especially refers to a greatness beyond all possibility of calculation, measurement, or imitation.The Democratic Intellect
The Democratic Intellect: Scotland and her Universities in the Nineteenth Century is a 1961 book by philosopher George Elder Davie.The Philosophical Society of England
The Philosophical Society of England was founded in 1913 by a group of largely amateur 'philosophers' concerned to provide an alternative to the formal university-based discipline. The society has passed through a series of changes in direction, including a period during which it offered distance-learning courses in philosophy (although it no longer does today). These courses caused a minor academic tussle in the 1950s over the status of its diplomas of associateship, triggered by an ill-advised attempt to award them to all the then UK university Philosophy Professors an honorary fellowship (FPhS).
In the words of its founding statement, The Philosophical Society of England exists 'to promote the study of practical philosophy among the general public'. It aims to bring together professional philosophers and non-professionals, to bring philosophical ideas and problems to the public attention, and to encourage wider discussion of both traditional and topical philosophical issues. To carry out this function, the Society published its own journal, The Philosopher, set up local groups for lectures and discussions and held regular conferences, often free of charge.
Its most high-profile president was Professor Brenda Almond, well known for her work in the cause of 'Applied Philosophy' in the United Kingdom, who helped shepherd the Society to its 100th anniversary, celebrated with a special conference in Malmesbury in 2012. In the same year, the Philosopher's online version became fully independent of the traditional Society Newsletter.
The Society has never aligned itself with any particular school of philosophy, nor is it a cover for any political, ideological, religious or esoteric movement or interests. Membership is open to all interested persons who share the Society's aims.Wittgenstein's Poker
Wittgenstein's Poker: The Story of a Ten-Minute Argument Between Two Great Philosophers is a 2001 book by BBC journalists David Edmonds and John Eidinow about events in the history of philosophy involving Sir Karl Popper and Ludwig Wittgenstein, leading to a confrontation at the Cambridge University Moral Sciences Club in 1946. The book was a bestseller and received positive reviews.