P. F. Strawson

Sir Peter Frederick Strawson (November 23, 1919February 13, 2006) was an English philosopher, and Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy at the University of Oxford.


  • Neither Aristotelian nor Russellian rules give the exact logic of any expression of ordinary language; for ordinary language has no exact logic.
    • Strawson (1950) On Referring p. 27
  • The distinction between identifying reference and uniquely existential assertion is something quite undeniable. The sense in which the existence of something answering to a definite description used for the purpose of identifying reference, and its distinguishability by an audience from anything else, is presupposed and not asserted in an utterance containing such an expression, so used, stands absolutely firm, whether or not one opts for the view that radical failure of the presupposition would deprive the statement of a truth-value. It remains a decisive objection to the theory of Descriptions... that... it amounts to a denial of these undeniable distinctions.
    • Strawson (1964) "Identifying Reference and Truth-Values", Theoria Vol xxx; As cited in: Paul Snowdon (2009) "Peter Frederick Strawson", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Introduction to Logical Theory (1952)Edit

Strawson (1952) Introduction To Logical Theory. London: Methuen,

  • [A] man who contradicts himself may have succeeded in exercising his vocal chords. But from the point of view of imparting information, of communicating facts (or falsehoods) it is as if he had never opened his mouth. He utters words, but does not say anything.
    • p. 2
  • It remains to mention some of the ways in which people have spoken misleadingly of logical form. One of the commonest of these is to talk of ' the logical form' of a statement; as if a statement could never have more than one kind of formal power; as if statements could, in respect of their formal powers, be grouped in mutually exclusive classes, like animals at a zoo in respect of their species. But to say that a statement is of some one logical form is simply to point to a certain general class of, e.g., valid inferences, in which the statement can play a certain role. It is not to exclude the possibility of there being other general classes of valid inferences in which the statement can play a certain role.
    • p. 53 as cited in: Ian Hacking (1975) Why Does Language Matter to Philosophy?. p. 83

Individuals (1959)Edit

Strawson (1959) Individuals: An Essay in Descriptive Metaphysics. London: Methuen,

  • There is a massive central core of human thinking which has no history — or none recorded in histories of thought; there are categories and concepts which, in their most fundamental character, change not at all. Obviously these are not the specialities of the most refined thinking. They are the commonplaces of the least refined thinking; and are yet the indispensable core of the conceptual equipment of the most sophisticated human beings. It is with these, their interconnexions, and the structure that they form, that a descriptive metaphysics will be primarily concerned.
    • p. xiv
  • Metaphysics has a long and distinguished history, and it is consequently unlikely that there are any new truths to be discovered in descriptive metaphysics. But this does not mean that the task of descriptive metaphysics has been, or can be, done once for all. It has constantly to be done over again. If there are no new truths to be discovered, there are old truths to be rediscovered. For though the central subject-matter of descriptive metaphysics does not change, the critical and analytical idiom of philosophy changes constantly. Permanent relationships are described in an impermanent idiom, which reflects both the age’s climate of thought and the individual philosopher’s personal style of thinking. No philosopher understands his predecessors until he has re-thought their thought in his own contemporary terms; and it is characteristic of the very greatest philosophers, like Kant and Aristotle, that they, more than any others, repay this effort of re-thinking
    • p. xiv-xv
  • We think of the world as containing particular things some of which are independent of ourselves; we think of the world's history as made up of particular episodes in which we may or may not have a part; and we think of these particular things and events as included in the topics of our common discourse, as things about which we can talk to each other. These are remarks about the way we think of the world, about our conceptual scheme. A more recognizably philosophical, though no clearer, way of expressing them would be to say that our ontology comprises objective particulars. It may comprise much else besides.
    • p. 2
  • Part of my aim is to exhibit some general and structural features of the conceptual scheme in terms of which we think about particular things.
    • p. 2

About StrawsonEdit

  • Peter Frederick Strawson (1919–2006) was an Oxford-based philosopher whose career spanned the second half of the twentieth century. He wrote most notably about the philosophy of language, metaphysics, epistemology and the history of philosophy, especially Kant.
    • Paul Snowdon (2009) "Peter Frederick Strawson", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Fall 2009 Edition, Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

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Last modified on 1 May 2013, at 22:18