Peter Geach

Peter Thomas Geach FBA (/ɡiːtʃ/; 1916–2013) was a British philosopher and professor of logic at the University of Leeds.[2] His areas of interest were the history of philosophy, philosophical logic, ethics, philosophy of religion, and the theory of identity.

Peter Geach

Peter Thomas Geach

29 March 1916
Chelsea, London, England
Died21 December 2013 (aged 97)
Cambridge, England
Alma materBalliol College, Oxford
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolAnalytic philosophy
Analytical Thomism
Main interests
Philosophical logic, history of philosophy, philosophy of religion
Notable ideas
Analytical Thomism, omnipotence paradox, Frege–Geach problem, Cambridge change

Early life

Peter Geach was born in London on 29 March 1916 to George Hender Geach, a professor of philosophy in Lahore who had studied philosophy at Cambridge, in the days of Russell, Moore, and Mactaggart, and Eleonora Adolfina Sgonina, a poet, and spent his earliest years in Cardiff. He attended Llandaff Cathedral School and Clifton College.[3] He received instruction in logic and philosophy from his father who, as a member of the Indian Educational Service, had been professor of philosophy at Lahore and later principal of a teacher training college in Peshawar. His parents' marriage was unhappy and quickly broke up. Until around the age of four, he lived with his maternal grandparents in Cardiff, after which time he was raised by a guardian, and then sent first to Llandaff Cathedral School and then to Clifton College. Geach never saw his mother again after childhood.

In 1934 Geach won a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford, graduating in 1938 with a First in Literae Humaniores.

Academic career

Philosopher Peter Geach in 1990
Peter Geach (1990)

Geach spent a year (1938–39) as a Gladstone Research Student, based at St Deiniol's Library, Hawarden. Following the end of World War II in 1945, he undertook further research at Cambridge.

In 1951, Geach was appointed to his first substantive academic post, as assistant lecturer at the University of Birmingham, going on to become Reader in Logic. In 1966 he was appointed Professor of Logic in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Leeds.[4] Geach retired from his chair in 1981 with the title Emeritus Professor of Logic.[5] He also held Visiting Professorships at the universities of Cornell, Chicago, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Warsaw.[6]

Geach was elected a Fellow of the British Academy (FBA) in 1965.[7] He was elected an Honorary Fellow of Balliol College in 1979.

He was awarded the papal cross "Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice" by the Holy See for his philosophical work.


His early work includes the classic texts Mental Acts and Reference and Generality, the latter defending an essentially modern conception of reference against medieval theories of supposition. His Catholic perspective was integral to his philosophy. He was perhaps the founder of Analytical Thomism (though the current of thought running through his and Elizabeth Anscombe's work to the present day was only ostensibly so named forty years later by John Haldane), the aim of which is to synthesise Thomistic and Analytic approaches. Geach was a student and an early follower of Ludwig Wittgenstein whilst at Cambridge University.[8]

Geach defends the Thomistic position that human beings are essentially rational animals, each one miraculously created. He dismissed Darwinistic attempts to regard reason as inessential to humanity, as "mere sophistry, laughable, or pitiable." He repudiated any capacity for language in animals as mere "association of manual signs with things or performances."[9]

Geach dismissed both pragmatic and epistemic conceptions of truth, commending a version of the correspondence theory proposed by Aquinas. He argues that there is one reality rooted in God himself, who is the ultimate truthmaker. God, according to Geach, is truth. While they lived, he saw W. V. Quine and Arthur Prior as his allies, in that they held three truths: that there are no non-existent beings; that a proposition can occur in discourse without being there asserted; and that the sense of a term does not depend on the truth of the proposition in which it occurs. He invented the famous ethical example of the stuck potholer, when arguing against the idea that it might be right to kill a child to save its mother. Jenny Teichman, fellow of New Hall, Cambridge, has characterised Geach's philosophical style as "deliberately outrageous".[10]

Personal life

His wife and occasional collaborator was the philosopher and Wittgenstein scholar Elizabeth Anscombe.[4] Both converts to Roman Catholicism, they married in 1941 and had seven children.[11] They co-authored the 1961 book Three Philosophers, with Anscombe contributing a section on Aristotle and Geach one each on Aquinas and Gottlob Frege.[4] For a quarter century they were leading figures in the Philosophical Enquiry Group, an annual confluence of Catholic philosophers held at Spode House in Staffordshire that was established by Father Columba Ryan in 1954.[12]

Peter Geach died early in the morning on 21 December 2013 at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge and is buried in what is now the Ascension Parish Burial Ground.


  • Geach, Peter; Black, Max, eds. (1952). Translations from the philosophical writings of Gottlob Frege (1st ed.). Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
    • —; —, eds. (1960). Translations from the philosophical writings of Gottlob Frege (2nd ed.). Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
    • —; —, eds. (1980). Translations from the philosophical writings of Gottlob Frege (3rd ed.). Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
  • "Good and Evil," Analysis (1956)
  • Mental Acts: Their Content and Their Objects, 1957/1997
  • Three Philosophers: Aristotle; Aquinas; Frege (with G.E.M. Anscombe), 1961
  • Reference and Generality: An Examination of Some Medieval and Modern Theories, 1962
  • History of the corruptions of logic, inaugural lecture, University of Leeds, 1968
  • God and the Soul, 1969/2001
  • "A Program for Syntax" (1970). Synthèse 22:3-17.
  • Logic Matters, 1972
  • Reason and Argument, 1976
  • "Saying and Showing in Frege and Wittgenstein," Acta Philosophica Fennica 28 (1976): 54–70
  • Providence and Evil: The Stanton Lectures 1971-2, 1977
  • Truth, Love, and Immortality: An Introduction to McTaggart's Philosophy, 1979
  • (edited) Wittgenstein's Lectures on Philosophical Psychology, 1946–47: Notes by P.T. Geach, K.J. Shah, and A.C. Jackson, 1989
  • Logic and Ethics (edited by Jacek Holowka), 1990
  • Truth and Hope: The Furst Franz Josef und Furstin Gina Lectures Delivered at the International Academy of Philosophy in the Principality of Liechtenstein, 1998 (ISBN 0-268-04215-2)
  • Descartes: Philosophical Writings (with G.E.M. Anscombe) (1954) Introduction by Alexander Koyre


  • Gormally, Luke, ed. (1994). Moral truth and moral tradition : essays in honour of Peter Geach and Elizabeth Anscombe. Dublin: Four Courts Press.

See also


  1. ^ Michael Dummett, The Interpretation of Frege's Philosophy, Duckworth, 1981, p. xv.
  2. ^ "Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog: In Memoriam: Peter Geach (1916-2013)". Retrieved 23 December 2013.
  3. ^ "Clifton College Register" Muirhead, J.A.O. p448: Bristol; J.W Arrowsmith for Old Cliftonian Society; April, 1948
  4. ^ a b c Boxer, Sarah (13 January 2001). "G. E. M. Anscombe, 81, British Philosopher". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 24 January 2010.
  5. ^ "University of Leeds, List of Emeritus Professors". Archived from the original on 26 September 2012. Retrieved 11 November 2017.
  6. ^ "Obituaries | Secretariat". University of Leeds. Retrieved 11 November 2017.
  7. ^ "British Academy, List of Fellows". Archived from the original on 13 October 2013. Retrieved 11 November 2017.
  8. ^ News item 'Peter Geach' in Philosophy Now, Issue 100 (link), accessed 29 January 2014.
  9. ^ Murray, Michael J. (4 February 2002). "Review of Truth and Hope: The Furst Franz Josef und Furstin Gina Lectures Delivered at the International Academy of Philosophy, 1998". Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. ISSN 1538-1617. The chapter opens by rejecting the claim that rationality as a differentia fails to pick out human beings uniquely. Geach dismisses Darwin-inspired attempts to regard human reason as distinct from non-human mental activity merely as a matter of degree. Such attempts are rejected by Geach as “mere sophistry, laughable, or pitiable.” Evidence of language acquisition capacities of animals is also dismissed as, at best, association of manual signs with things or performances.
  10. ^ Teichman, Jenny (10 February 1991). "Henry James Among the Philosophers". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 24 January 2010.
  11. ^ "Professor G E M Anscombe". The Daily Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group. 6 January 2001.
  12. ^ "Father Columba Ryan: priest, teacher and university chaplain". The Times. News Corporation. 19 August 2009. Retrieved 24 January 2010.


External links

1916 in philosophy

1916 in philosophy

1980 in philosophy

1980 in philosophy

2013 in philosophy

2013 in philosophy


Abstractionism is the theory that the mind obtains some or all of its concepts by abstracting them from concepts it already has, or from experience. One may, for example, abstract 'green' from a set of experiences which involve green along with other properties. Also, for example, one may abstract a generic concept like 'vegetable' from the already possessed concepts of its instances (carrot, broccoli, onion, etc.). This view was criticized by George Berkeley and Peter Geach.

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).

Anthony Kenny

Sir Anthony John Patrick Kenny (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.

Benson Mates

Benson Mates (May 19, 1919 in Portland, Oregon – May 14, 2009 in Berkeley, California) was an American philosopher, noted for his work in logic, the history of philosophy, and skepticism. Mates studied philosophy and mathematics at the University of Oregon, Cornell University, and the University of California at Berkeley. Some of his teachers included J. Barkley Rosser, Harold Cherniss, and Alfred Tarski. From 1948 until his retirement in 1989, he was a professor of philosophy at Berkeley. He remained Professor Emeritus of philosophy at University of California at Berkeley until his death.

Mates's 1948 dissertation, "On the Logic of the Old Stoa", formed the basis for his 1953 book Stoic Logic, of which Peter Geach wrote, "Stoic logic is a difficult subject [...] Dr. Mates's monograph is a strenuous and successful effort to overcome these difficulties." Mates's 1965 book, Elementary Logic, remains a widely used introductory textbook in symbolic logic. His 1986 study of Leibniz is also highly regarded.In his own philosophical work, Mates defends a stance akin to Pyrrhonian skepticism. He argues that the major problems of philosophy (such as the liar paradox, the existence of an external world, and free will) are intelligible and non-trivial yet utterly defy solution. Unlike the classical Pyrrhonists, however, Mates finds that skeptical arguments lead to unsatisfactory perplexity rather than ataraxia.

G. E. M. Anscombe

Gertrude Elizabeth Margaret Anscombe (; 18 March 1919 – 5 January 2001), usually cited as G. E. M. Anscombe or Elizabeth Anscombe, was a British analytic philosopher. She wrote on the philosophy of mind, philosophy of action, philosophical logic, philosophy of language, and ethics. She was a prominent figure of analytical Thomism.

Anscombe was a student of Ludwig Wittgenstein and became an authority on his work and edited and translated many books drawn from his writings, above all his Philosophical Investigations. Anscombe's 1958 article "Modern Moral Philosophy" introduced the term consequentialism into the language of analytic philosophy, and had a seminal influence on contemporary virtue ethics. Her monograph Intention is generally recognised as her greatest and most influential work, and the continuing philosophical interest in the concepts of intention, action, and practical reasoning can be said to have taken its main impetus from this work.

Gottlob Frege

Friedrich Ludwig Gottlob Frege (; German: [ˈɡɔtloːp ˈfreːɡə]; 8 November 1848 – 26 July 1925) was a German philosopher, logician, and mathematician. He is understood by many to be the father of analytic philosophy, concentrating on the philosophy of language and mathematics. Though largely ignored during his lifetime, Giuseppe Peano (1858–1932) and Bertrand Russell (1872–1970) introduced his work to later generations of logicians and philosophers.

His contributions include the development of modern logic in the Begriffsschrift and work in the foundations of mathematics. His book the Foundations of Arithmetic is the seminal text of the logicist project, and is cited by Michael Dummett as where to pinpoint the linguistic turn. His philosophical papers "On Sense and Reference" ("Über Sinn und Bedeutung") and "The Thought" ("Der Gedanke") are widely cited.

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.

List of metaphysicians

This is a list of metaphysicians, philosophers who specialize in metaphysics. See also Lists of philosophers.

List of philosophers of language

This is a list of philosophers of language.

Virgil Aldrich

William Alston

G. E. M. Anscombe

Karl-Otto Apel

Saint Thomas Aquinas, OP


J. L. Austin

Alfred Jules Ayer

Joxe Azurmendi

Jody Azzouni

Kent Bach

Ingeborg Bachmann

Archie J. Bahm

Yehoshua Bar-Hillel

Walter Benjamin

Jonathan Bennett

Henri Bergson

Max Black

Paul Boghossian

Andrea Bonomi

Jacques Bouveresse

F. H. Bradley

Robert Brandom

Berit Brogaard

Cardinal Thomas Cajetan, OP

Herman Cappelen

Rudolf Carnap

Hector-Neri Castañeda

Stanley Cavell

David Chalmers

Cheung Kam Ching

Noam Chomsky

Alonzo Church

Nino Cocchiarella

James F. Conant

William Crathorn

Donald Davidson

Arda Denkel

Michael Devitt

Keith Donnellan

William C. Dowling

César Chesneau Dumarsais

Michael Dummett

David Efird

S. Morris Engel

John Etchemendy

Gareth Evans

Kit Fine

Dagfinn Føllesdal

Gottlob Frege

Marilyn Frye

Robert Maximilian de Gaynesford

Peter Geach

Alexander George

Allan Gibbard

Gongsun Long

Nelson Goodman

Paul Grice

Jeroen Groenendijk

Samuel Guttenplan

Þorsteinn Gylfason

Susan Haack

Jürgen Habermas

Peter Hacker

Ian Hacking

Axel Hägerström

Bob Hale

Oswald Hanfling

Gilbert Harman

John Hawthorne

Jaakko Hintikka

William Hirstein

Richard Hönigswald

Jennifer Hornsby

Paul Horwich

Wilhelm von Humboldt

Carrie Ichikawa Jenkins

David Kaplan

Jerrold Katz

Saul Kripke

Mark Lance

Stephen Laurence

Ernest Lepore

David Kellogg Lewis

John Locke

Béatrice Longuenesse

Paul Lorenzen

William Lycan

John McDowell

Colin McGinn

Merab Mamardashvili

Ruth Barcan Marcus

José Medina

Maurice Merleau-Ponty

John Stuart Mill

Ruth Millikan

Richard Montague

Charles W. Morris

Adam Morton

Stephen Neale

William of Ockham

Jesús Padilla Gálvez

Peter Pagin

L.A. Paul

Charles Sanders Peirce

Carlo Penco

John Perry

Gualtiero Piccinini

Steven Pinker


Hilary Putnam

Willard Van Orman Quine

Adolf Reinach

Denise Riley

Richard Rorty


Jay Rosenberg

Bertrand Russell's views on philosophy

Bertrand Russell

Gilbert Ryle

Robert Rynasiewicz

Mark Sainsbury

Nathan Salmon

Stephen Schiffer

Duns Scotus

John Searle

Susanna Siegel

Brian Skyrms

Quentin Smith

Scott Soames

David Sosa

Robert Stalnaker

Jason Stanley

John of St. Thomas, OP (John Poinsot)

Jaun Elia

Stephen Yablo

P. F. Strawson

Alfred Tarski

Kenneth Allen Taylor

Ernst Tugendhat

Michael Tye

Zeno Vendler

Vācaspati Miśra

Friedrich Waismann

Brian Weatherson

Michael Williams

Timothy Williamson

John Wisdom

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Crispin Wright

Georg Henrik von Wright

Edward N. Zalta

Eddy Zemach

Paul Ziff

Dean Zimmerman

Max Black

Max Black (24 February 1909 – 27 August 1988) was a British-American philosopher, who was a leading figure in analytic philosophy in the years after World War II. He made contributions to the philosophy of language, the philosophy of mathematics and science, and the philosophy of art, also publishing studies of the work of philosophers such as Frege. His translation (with Peter Geach) of Frege's published philosophical writing is a classic text.

Natural-law argument

Natural-law argument for the existence of God was especially popular in the eighteenth century as a result of the influence of Sir Isaac Newton. As Bertrand Russell pointed out much later, many of the things we consider to be laws of nature, in fact, are human conventions. Indeed, Albert Einstein has shown that Newton's law of universal gravitation was such a convention, and though elegant and useful, one that did not describe the universe precisely. Most true laws are rather trivial, such as mathematical laws, laws of probability, and so forth, and much less impressive than those that were envisioned by Newton and his followers. Russell wrote:

"If you say, as more orthodox theologians do, that in all the laws which God issues he had a reason for giving those laws rather than others -- the reason, of course, being to create the best universe, although you would never think it to look at it -- if there was a reason for the laws which God gave, then God himself was subject to law, and therefore you do not get any advantage by introducing God as an intermediary. You really have a law outside and anterior to the divine edicts, and God does not serve your purpose, because he is not the ultimate law-giver. In short, this whole argument from natural law no longer has anything like the strength that it used to have."The argument of natural laws as a basis for God was changed by Christian figures such as Thomas Aquinas, in order to fit biblical scripture and establish a Judeo-Christian teleological law.

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.

Some Remarks on Logical Form

Some Remarks on Logical Form (German: Bemerkungen über logische Form) was the only academic paper ever published by Ludwig Wittgenstein, and contained Wittgenstein's thinking on logic and the philosophy of mathematics immediately before the rupture that divided the early Wittgenstein of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus from the later Wittgenstein. The approach to logical form in the paper reflected Frank P. Ramsey's critique of Wittgenstein's account in the Tractatus, and has been analyzed by G.E.M. Anscombe and Jaakko Hintikka, among others.

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.

Zettel (Wittgenstein)

Zettel (German: "slip(s) of paper") is a collection of assorted remarks by Ludwig Wittgenstein, first published in 1967.

It contains several discussions of philosophical psychology and of the tendency in philosophy to try for a synoptic view of phenomena. Analyzed subjects include sense, meaning, thinking while speaking, behavior, pretense, imagination, infinity, rule following, imagery, memory, negation, contradiction, calculation, mathematical proof, epistemology, doubt, consciousness, mental states, and sensations.Editions include a parallel text English/German edition edited by Elizabeth Anscombe and Georg Henrik von Wright first published by Blackwell (UK) and University of California Press (USA) in 1967.

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

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