J. N. Findlay

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John Niemeyer Findlay
Philosopher John Niemeyer Findlay (1903 - 1987).jpg
Born25 November 1903
Died27 September 1987 (1987-09-28) (aged 83)
NationalitySouth African
EducationUniversity of Pretoria
Balliol College, Oxford
University of Graz (PhD, 1933)
Spouse(s)Aileen Hawthorn
Era20th-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolAnalytic philosophy
InstitutionsUniversity of Pretoria
University of Otago
Rhodes University College
University of Natal
King's College, Newcastle
King's College London
University of Texas at Austin
Doctoral advisorErnst Mally
Notable studentsArthur Prior
Main interests
Metaphysics, ethics
Notable ideas
Rational mysticism

John Niemeyer Findlay (/ˈfɪndli/; 25 November 1903 – 27 September 1987), usually cited as J. N. Findlay, was a South African philosopher.

Education and career[edit]

After reading classics and philosophy as a boy and at the University of Pretoria, Findlay received a Rhodes scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford for the years 1924–1926. He completed Oxford's classics course (also known as "Greats") in June 1926, and stayed on for a fragment of a third year before returning to a lectureship appointment in South Africa. He later completed his doctorate in 1933 at Graz, where he studied under Ernst Mally. From 1927 to 1966 he was lecturer or professor of philosophy at the University of Pretoria, the University of Otago in New Zealand, Rhodes University College, Grahamstown, the University of Natal, Pietermartizburg, King's College, Newcastle, and King's College London. Following retirement from his chair at London (1966) and a year at the University of Texas at Austin, Findlay continued to teach full-time for more than twenty years, first as Clark Professor of Moral Philosophy and Metaphysics at Yale University (1967–1972), then as University Professor and Borden Parker Bowne Professor of Philosophy (succeeding Peter Bertocci) at Boston University (1972–1987).[2][3][4]

Findlay was president of the Aristotelian Society from 1955 to 1956 and president of the Metaphysical Society of America from 1974 to 1975, as well as a Fellow of both the British Academy and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was also an Editorial Advisor of the journal Dionysius. A chair for visiting professors at Boston University carries his name, as does a biennial award given for the best book in metaphysics, as judged by the Metaphysical Society of America. Findlay betrayed a great commitment to the welfare and formation[5] of generations of students (Leroy S. Rouner was fond of introducing him as "Plotinus incarnate"), teaching philosophy in one college classroom after another for sixty-two consecutive academic years. On 10 September 2012 Findlay was voted the 8th "most underappreciated philosopher active in the U.S. from roughly 1900 through mid-century" in a poll conducted among readers of Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog, finishing behind George Santayana, Alfred North Whitehead, and Clarence Irving Lewis.[6]

Findlay's autobiographical essay, 'Confessions of Theory and Life', is printed in Transcendence and the Sacred, ed. by A. M. Olson & L. S. Rouner, Notre Dame & London: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981, pp. 176–92.


Rational mysticism[edit]

At a time when scientific materialism, positivism, linguistic analysis, and ordinary language philosophy were the core academic ideas, Findlay championed phenomenology, revived Hegelianism, and wrote works that were inspired by Theosophy,[7] Buddhism, Plotinus, and Idealism. In his books published in the 1960s, including two series of Gifford Lectures, Findlay developed rational mysticism. According to this mystical system, "the philosophical perplexities, e.g., concerning universals and particulars, mind and body, knowledge and its objects, the knowledge of other minds,".[8] as well as those of free will and determinism, causality and teleology, morality and justice, and the existence of temporal objects, are human experiences of deep antinomies and absurdities about the world. Findlay's conclusion is that these necessitate the postulation of higher spheres, or "latitudes", where objects' individuality, categorical distinctiveness and material constraints are diminishing, lesser in each latitude than in the one below it. On the highest spheres, existence is evaluative and meaningful more than anything else, and Findlay identifies it with the idea of The Absolute.[9] In 2012 Findlay's major work on Plato along with both collections of his "cave lectures" returned into print courtesy of the Routledge Revivals series [1]; and as of 2019 both volumes of Findlay's published journal articles along with his major works on Hegel, Wittgenstein, and value theory remain in print thanks to the Routledge Library Editions series [2].


Findlay translated into English Husserl's Logische Untersuchungen (Logical Investigations [3]), which he regarded as the author's best work, representing a developmental stage when the idea of phenomenological bracketing was not yet taken as the basis of a philosophical system, covering in fact for loose subjectivism. To Findlay, the work was also one of the peaks of philosophy generally, suggesting superior alternatives both for overly minimalistic or naturalistic efforts in ontology and for Ordinary Language treatments of consciousness and thought.[10][11] Findlay also contributed final editing and wrote addenda to translations of Hegel's Logic and Phenomenology of Spirit. And in 2013 Oxford University Press added Findlay's Kant book to the list of works it now reprints on demand [4].


Findlay was first a follower, and then an outspoken critic [5], of Ludwig Wittgenstein. He denounced his three theories of meaning, arguing against the idea of Use, prominent in Wittgenstein's later period and in his followers, that it is insufficient for an analysis of meaning without such notions as connotation and denotation, implication, syntax and most originally, pre-existent meanings, in the mind or the external world, that determine linguistic ones, such as Husserl has evoked. Findlay credits Wittgenstein with great formal, aesthetic and literary appeal, and of directing well-deserved attention to Semantics and its difficulties.[12]



  • Meinong's Theory of Objects, Oxford University Press, 1933; 2nd ed. as Meinong's Theory of Objects and Values, 1963
  • Hegel: A Re-examination, London: Allen & Unwin/New York: Macmillan, 1958 (Muirhead Library of Philosophy) [13]
  • Values and Intentions, London: Allen & Unwin, 1961 (Muirhead Library of Philosophy)
  • Language, Mind and Value, London: Allen & Unwin/New York: Humanities Press, 1963 (Muirhead Library of Philosophy)
  • The Discipline of the Cave, London: Allen & Unwin/New York: Humanities Press, 1966 (Muirhead Library of Philosophy) (Gifford Lectures 1964–1965 [6])
  • The Transcendence of the Cave, London: Allen & Unwin/New York: Humanities Press, 1967 (Muirhead Library of Philosophy) (Gifford Lectures 1965–1966 [7])
  • Axiological Ethics, London: Macmillan, 1970
  • Ascent to the Absolute, London: Allen & Unwin/New York: Humanities Press, 1970 (Muirhead Library of Philosophy) [13]
  • Psyche and Cerebrum, Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1972
  • Plato: The Written and Unwritten Doctrines, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul/New York: Humanities Press, 1974 [14]
  • Plato and Platonism, New York: New York Times Book Co., 1976
  • Kant and the Transcendental Object, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981 [13]
  • Wittgenstein: A Critique, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984


  • "Time: A Treatment of Some Puzzles"", Australasian Journal of Psychology and Philosophy, Vol. 19, Issue 13 (December 1941): 216–235, DOI: 10.1080/00048404108541170
  • "Morality by Convention", Mind, Vol. 33, No. 210 (1944): 142–169, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2250746
  • "Can God's Existence Be Disproved?", Mind, Vol. 37, No. 226 (1948): 176–183; reprinted with discussion in Flew, A. and MacIntyre, A. C., (eds.), New Essays in Philosophical Theology, New York: Macmillan, 1955 [8]
  • "Linguistic Approach to Psychophysics", Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 1949–1950 https://www.jstor.org/stable/4544463
  • "The Justification of Attitudes", Mind, Vol. 43, No. 250 (1954): 145–161 https://www.jstor.org/stable/2251252
  • "Use, Usage and Meaning", Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volumes, Vol. 35. (1961), pp. 223–242 [9]
  • "Foreword", in Frederick G. Weiss, ed., Hegel: The Essential Writings, Harper & Row/Harper Torchbooks, 1974. ISBN 0-06-131831-0
  • "Foreword", in Hegel's Logic, Being Part One of The Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1830), Clarendon Press, 1975. ISBN 978-0-19-824512-4 [10]
  • "Foreword", in Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, Oxford University Press, 1977. ISBN 0-19-824597-1
  • "Analysis of the Text", in Phenomenology of Spirit, Oxford University Press, 1977: 495–592. ISBN 978-0-19-824597-1 [11]
  • "The Myths of Plato", Dionysius, Volume II (1978): 19–34, (reprinted in Alan Olson, ed., Myth, Symbol, and Reality, South Bend: University of Notre Dame Press, 1980, 165–84)
  • "Plato's Unwritten Dialectic of the One and the Great and Small" (1983) The Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy Newsletter, 113. (Open Access)
  • Findlay's Nachlass (list of posthumous essays derived from Findlay’s lecture notes and published in The Philosophical Forum)


  1. ^ John R. Shook (ed.), Dictionary of Modern American Philosophers, Thoemmes, 2005, p. 779.
  2. ^ Howard, Alana. "Biography". Gifford Lecture Series. Archived from the original on 20 April 2008. Retrieved 10 July 2008.
  3. ^ Harris, Errol (Spring 1988), "In Memoriam: John Niemeyer Findlay", Owl of Minerva, 19 (2), pp. 252–253, doi:10.5840/owl198819245
  4. ^ "Awards – Department of Philosophy at Boston University". Archived from the original on 14 May 2008. Retrieved 10 July 2008.
  5. ^ '"I owe to [Findlay’s] teaching, directly or indirectly, all that I know of either Logic or Ethics" (A. N. Prior).
  6. ^ "Underappreciated philosophers active in the U.S. from roughly 1900 through mid-century?". Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog. Retrieved 7 August 2019.
  7. ^ "[My Gifford Lectures] ... represent my attempt to cull an eternal, necessary theosophy from the defective theosophic teaching of my adolescence" (Studies in the Philosophy of J. N. Findlay, p. 45). Findlay's Gifford Lectures also may well constitute the most comprehensive defense of the doctrine of the transmigration of the soul (reincarnation) in 20th-century academic philosophy.
  8. ^ Findlay, J. N. (1966), "Preface", written at London, The Transcendence of the Cave, New York: Humanities Press (published 1967), archived from the original on 21 April 2014
  9. ^ Drob, Sanford L, Findlay's Rational Mysticism: An Introduction
  10. ^ Findlay, J. N. (1970), "Translator's Introduction (Abridged)", written at New Haven, Connecticut, in Moran, Dermot (ed.), Logical Investigations, I, New York: Routledge (published 2001), ISBN 0-415-24189-8
  11. ^ Ryle, Gilbert; Findlay, J. N. (1961), "Symposium: Use, Usage and Meaning" (PDF), Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volumes, 35, p. 240, retrieved 14 June 2008 CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  12. ^ Ryle, Gilbert; Findlay, J. N. (1961), "Symposium: Use, Usage and Meaning" (PDF), Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volumes, 35, pp. 231–242, retrieved 14 June 2008 CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  13. ^ a b c Available for loan at Internet Archive here
  14. ^ Findlay's findings herein are summarized in: Findlay, John Niemeyer, "Plato's Unwritten Dialectic of the One and the Great and Small" (1983). The Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy Newsletter. 113. (Open Access).


  • Robert S. Cohen, Richard M. Martin, and Merold Westphal (eds.), Studies in the Philosophy of J.N. Findlay, Albany NY: State University of New York Press, 1985 (Includes autobiographical note by Findlay and his account of encounters with Wittgenstein). ISBN 978-0-87395-795-3 (Available for loan at Internet Archive here).
  • Bockja Kim, Morality as the End of Philosophy: The Teleological Dialectic of the Good in J.N. Findlay's Philosophy of Religion, University Press of America, 1999. ISBN 978-0-7618-1490-0 (Available for loan at Internet Archive here).
  • Michele Marchetto, L'etica impersonale: La teoria dei valori di John Niemeyer Findlay, Edizioni scientifiche italiane, 1989. ISBN 978-88-7104-138-4; Eng. tr. 1989, Impersonal Ethics: John Niemeyer Findlay's Value-theory, Avebury, 1996. ISBN 978-1-85972-272-5
  • Douglas Lackey, "John Niemeyer Findlay". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

External links[edit]