Jump to content

Anthony Kenny

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Anthony Kenny
Anthony John Patrick Kenny

(1931-03-16) 16 March 1931 (age 93)
Alma materVenerable English College
St Benet's Hall, Oxford
EraContemporary philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolAnalytical Thomism
InstitutionsUniversity of Oxford
Main interests
Philosophy of religion, philosophy of mind, history of philosophy
Notable ideas
Criticism of Cartesian dualism[1]
Ecclesiastical career
ChurchRoman Catholic Church

Sir Anthony John Patrick Kenny FBA (born 16 March 1931) is a British philosopher whose interests lie in the philosophy of mind, ancient and scholastic philosophy, the philosophy of religion, and the philosophy of Wittgenstein of whose literary estate he is an executor. 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 a former president of the British Academy and the Royal Institute of Philosophy.

Education and early career[edit]

Kenny was born in Liverpool on 16 March 1931, the son of John and Margaret (Jones) Kenny.[2]

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 late 1960s.[3][4] He was returned to the lay state in 1963,[5] but according to canon law his priestly ordination remains valid. He was never released from his obligation of clerical celibacy and was therefore excommunicated on his marriage to Nancy Gayley[2] in 1965.[6]

Academic career[edit]

During 1963–64, Kenny was a 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 University of Chicago, Washington University in St. Louis, University of Michigan, University of Minnesota, Cornell University, Stanford University and Rockefeller University.

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).

Philosophical work[edit]

Although deeply interested in traditional Catholic teaching and continuing to take limited participation in the Catholic Mass,[7] Kenny now explicitly defines himself as an agnostic, explaining in the third chapter of his What I Believe (2006) both why he is not a theist and why he is not an atheist:

"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."[8]

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]

That (as Kenny puts it) "there is no such being as the God of traditional natural theology: the concept of God propounded by scholastic theologians and rationalistic philosophers is an incoherent one"[9] is, according to William Hasker, the 'most important conclusion' of Kenny's 'essay in natural theology' The God of the Philosophers (1979).[10] Hasker notes, however, that (in the book's final chapter) Kenny "considers seriously the possible existence of a God who, while differing somewhat in his attributes from the God of traditional natural theology, could still be identified with the saving God of theistic faith."[10]

Hasker further notes that Kenny "concludes by suggesting that one who is in doubt about God may rationally pray for enlightenment about his existence and nature:"[10] As Kenny asserts: "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] And if there is such a God, then such prayer "cannot be less pleasing to him than the attitude of a man who takes no interest in a question so important, or in a question so difficult would not welcome assistance beyond human powers.".[9][10]

Kenny has written extensively on Thomas Aquinas and modern Thomism. In The Five Ways (1969),[11] he deals with St. Thomas' five proofs of God. In it, he argues that none of the proofs Thomas sets out is wholly valid, and instead sets out to show the flaws in the five ways.[12] His arguments range from the problem of Aristotelian motion in a modern scientific context,[13] to the ability of contingent beings to cause eternality in other contingent beings. His objections all focus on a modern interpretation of St. Thomas.[citation needed]

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."[14]

In What Is Faith? (1992), Kenny addresses "the question of whether belief in God, and faith in a divine world, is a reasonable or rational state of mind."[15] 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,[15] arguing that foundationalism is a self-refuting idea.

During the 2000s Kenny wrote a history of Western philosophy, released in four parts from 2004 to 2007; the four books were released together as A New History of Western Philosophy in 2010.[16]

In Brief Encounters (2018) Kenny says Derrida was "corrupted by being famous. He gave up philosophy for rhetoric, and rhetoric of a particularly childish kind".[17] 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 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".[17]

Honours and awards[edit]

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.[18][19][20]

Published works[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Kenny, A. (1997), A Brief History of Western Philosophy, Blackwell, pp. 207–8.
  2. ^ a b "Kenny, Sir Anthony (John Patrick), (born 16 March 1931), Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Oxford University, 1984–2001 (Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Development, 1999–2001); Warden, Rhodes House, 1989–99; Professorial Fellow, St John's College, Oxford, 1989–99, now Emeritus Fellow; Master of Balliol College, Oxford, 1978–89". WHO'S WHO & WHO WAS WHO. 2007. doi:10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.u22897. Retrieved 13 December 2023. Born Liverpool 16 March 1931; s of John Kenny and Margaret Jones; m 1966, Nancy Caroline, d of Henry T. Gayley, Jr, Swarthmore, Pa; two s
  3. ^ "Interview: Anthony Kenny, philosopher". www.churchtimes.co.uk. 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.
  4. ^ "A Chat with Anthony Kenny". spckpublishing.co.uk. 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
  5. ^ Shortt, Rupert (2 November 2018). "Matter matters: A prominent thinker recalls the great and the good". TLS. Times Literary Supplement (6031): 14–16. Archived from the original on 28 April 2021. his path to Parnassus was unusual. Raised by a single mother in 1930s Liverpool after his father walked out when Tony was two, he found a mentor in his uncle Alec (Alexander Jones), a distinguished scholar-priest, before himself opting at the age of twelve to train for ordination. Brief Encounters describes the move as disastrous. Kenny was laicized by papal fiat in 1963, having gradually lost his faith while a doctoral student.
  6. ^ Byrnes, Sholto (27 May 2006). "An agnostic happy to nurse the 'vice' of religion". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 12 December 2023. Kenny became a Fellow and tutor of Balliol in 1963, having left the priesthood after two years as a curate in Liverpool, his birthplace. A condition of his proceeding to a doctorate at the Gregorian University (he had already passed the exams) was that he take an oath declaring that it was possible to demonstrate the existence of God. Increasingly doubtful about attaching meaning to any statements about God at all, let alone proving his existence, Kenny obtained permission to return to the lay state. He was not, however, released from his vow of celibacy, and so was automatically excommunicated when he married in 1965.
  7. ^ Dowling, W. C. (2003). "Meaningless grades and a new dishonesty" (PDF). Academic Questions. 76 (4): 61. Archived from the original (PDF) on 30 September 2015. I was reading Anthony Kenny's A Life in Oxford. . . . After he has applied for and achieved laicization, married, and taken up a position at Oxford, Kenny—by now an agnostic—continues to attend Catholic Mass. But he does so as a non-Catholic, always careful to limit his participation in the liturgy to those portions that do not imply either religious belief or membership in the Church. His reasoning [being] . . . 'to recite the Creed or receive Communion would be, in my view, not only a sacrifice of integrity on the part of the unbeliever but also an insult to the seriousness with which these actions are undertaken by believers.'
  8. ^ a b Kenny, Anthony (3 July 2006). "Why I am Not an Atheist". What I Believe. A&C Black. p. 21. ISBN 978-0-8264-8971-5.
  9. ^ a b c Kenny, Anthony (1979). The God of the philosophers. Internet Archive. Oxford : Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 121, 179. ISBN 978-0-19-824594-0.
  10. ^ a b c d Hasker, William (1981). "Review of The God of the Philosophers". The Philosophical Review. 90 (4): 621–624. doi:10.2307/2184617. ISSN 0031-8108. JSTOR 2184617.
  11. ^ Anthony Kenny (2018). Anthony Kenny Studies In 5 Ways Of Aquinas – via Internet Archive.
  12. ^ J. W. (1 June 1970). "The Five Ways: St. Thomas Aquinas' Proofs of God's Existence. By Anthony Kenny, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. 1969. 120. $4.50". Dialogue. 9 (1): 130–131. doi:10.1017/S0012217300041846. ISSN 0012-2173. This book is intended as a critical exposition of the arguments for God's existence presented by Aquinas in the Summa Theologiae. Looking for illumination in parallel passages in Aquinas' works, Kenny tries to clarify the meaning of each alleged proof, often disagreeing with other expositors. Kenny finds all the arguments wanting: in each case, at least one premise is questionable if not downright false or some logical fallacy has been committed. Needless to say, this conclusion will come as no surprise to philosophers familiar with attempts to demonstrate rationally the existence of God
  13. ^ Durrant, Michael (June 1971). "Anthony Kenny. The Five Ways: St Thomas Aquinas' Proofs of God's Existence. Pp. 120. (Studies in Ethics and the Philosophy of Religion, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1969)". Religious Studies. 7 (2): 187–189. doi:10.1017/S0034412500001992. ISSN 0034-4125.
  14. ^ Anthony Kenny, The Five Ways: St. Thomas Aquinas' Proofs of God's Existence (New York: Schocken, 1969), p. 66
  15. ^ a b Kenny, Anthony (1992). What is faith? : essays in the philosophy of religion. Internet Archive. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 3, 9–10. ISBN 978-0-19-283067-8.
  16. ^ Kenny, Anthony. A New History of Western Philosophy, p xiv.
  17. ^ a b Kenny, Anthony (2018). Brief Encounters: Notes from a Philosopher's Diary. SPCK. ISBN 978-0281079193.
  18. ^ Art UK
  19. ^ bbc.co.uk
  20. ^ Art UK
  21. ^ Owens, Joseph (June 1984). "AquinasAnthony Kenny "Past Masters" Series New York: Hill and Wang, 1980. Pp. 86. $2.95 paper". Dialogue: Canadian Philosophical Review / Revue canadienne de philosophie. 23 (2): 352–353. doi:10.1017/S0012217300045017. ISSN 1759-0949.
  22. ^ Stroud, Barry (18 July 1985). "An End to Anxiety". London Review of Books. Vol. 07, no. 13. ISSN 0260-9592. Retrieved 13 December 2023.
  23. ^ Long, Peter; Kenny, Anthony (April 1986). "The Legacy of Wittgenstein". The Philosophical Quarterly. 36 (143): 306. doi:10.2307/2219779. JSTOR 2219779.
  24. ^ Haldane, John (April 1994). "Aquinas on Mind By Anthony Kenny London:Routledge, 1993, viii+182pp., £30.00". Philosophy. 69 (268): 242–244. doi:10.1017/S0031819100046908. ISSN 0031-8191.


External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by Master of Balliol College, Oxford
Succeeded by
Preceded by Warden of Rhodes House, Oxford
Succeeded by