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  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: February 2013

2 - P. F. Strawson: Individuals



Peter Strawson published Individuals in 1959. He had been a Fellow at University College, Oxford, since 1948. Later he was appointed as Gilbert Ryle's successor to the Waynflete Professorship in Oxford. Strawson had achieved fame, like Frege earlier and Kripke later, by writing about reference. In “On Referring” (1950a) he criticized Russell's theory of definite descriptions and claimed that at least some uses of expressions of the form “The F” are devices for reference rather than a form of general quantification. He moved from this case to consider the question of the general relation between ordinary language and formal logic, in his first book, Introduction to Logical Theory (1952). His thesis is that it is not possible to capture the full role of ordinary language in a formal system. Another early article that contributed to Strawson's reputation was “Truth” (1950b), which was part of a debate with J. L. Austin. Austin favoured a version of the correspondence theory, whereas Strawson defended a sophisticated version of F. P. Ramsey's redundancy theory. Strawson also wrote articles about the subject-predicate distinction and Part II of Individuals grew from these. In Individuals Part I, however, Strawson builds on the approach to reference adumbrated in “On Referring”, but asks some more fundamental metaphysical questions about how we refer to objects in the world. Part of the aim is to consider the role of space (and time) as grounds for our thought about objects.