Margaret MacDonald (philosopher)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Margaret MacDonald
Margaret MacDonald (philosopher) c1953.jpg
Born (1907-04-09)9 April 1907
Died 7 January 1956(1956-01-07) (aged 48)
Region England

Margaret MacDonald (9 April 1907 – 7 January 1956) was a British analytic philosopher.[1] She worked in the areas of philosophy of language, political philosophy and aesthetics.

Life and Education[edit]

Margaret MacDonald was born in London and abandoned as a child. She was educated at Birkbeck College, London and was awarded a first class degree in philosophy in 1932, followed by a PhD in 1934. Her PhD supervisor was Susan Stebbing and she provided her with financial assistance during her research.[2]

MacDonald joined Girton College, Cambridge, as a Pfeiffer Research Fellow in Moral Sciences between 1934–37. While at Cambridge, she studied under G.E. Moore and was part of the inner circle of students that Ludwig Wittgenstein taught.[3] Along with fellow student Alice Ambrose she secretly (since he did not allow this) made notes during Wittgenstein's lectures, which were later published.[4] They later convinced Wittgenstein to allow them continue to write his lectures down.


From 1937–41 MacDonald taught philosophy at St Hilda's, Oxford, where she was also librarian. During the war she was temporary principal in the Board of Trade. This was followed by a lectureship at Bedford College, London.[3] At this time, she was one of a very small number of women teaching philosophy outside of Oxford University. From 1947 she was also a lecturer on Ethics to staff at the Home Office. She became reader in philosophy at Bedford College in 1955.

MacDonald's early articles were criticisms of the work of contemporary philosophers, however she later concentrated on aesthetics, particularly how language relates to art.[5] She was also interested in political philosophy and published a significant article 'Natural Rights'.[6] In this paper she argues against the idea that natural rights are founded on the natural law. Her view is summarised by Jonathan Wolf as: "...statements of natural rights are akin to decisions, declaring ‘here I stand’, and...uses an analogy with another area of critical judgement—in her case literary appreciation—to point out the possibility of rational argument through the presentation of reasons".[7]

Her work attracted substantial attention at the time. Two of her articles were reprinted in the Logic and Language (1951) series which included articles that were representative of current philosophical trends.

MacDonald helped to found the philosophy journal Analysis together with Susan Stebbing, C.A. Mace and Gilbert Ryle in 1933. She was also the journal's editor from 1948 until around 1954.

She died in London in 1956, following heart surgery, aged just 48.[8]


  • Margaret MacDonald (1933). Verification and Understanding. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 34:143 - 156.
  • Margaret Macdonald (1936). Russell and McTaggart. Philosophy 11 (43):322 - 335.
  • Margaret MacDonald, G. Ryle & I. Berlin (1937). "Symposium: Induction and Hypothesis". Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 16:20 - 102.
  • Margaret MacDonald (1937). Reply to Mr. MacIver. Analysis 4 (5):77 - 80.
  • Margaret MacDonald (1937). Further Reply to Mr. MacIver. Analysis 5 (1):12 - 16.
  • Margaret MacDonald (1938). Things and Processes. Analysis 6 (1):1 - 10.
  • Margaret MacDonald (1940). Necessary Propositions. Analysis 7 (2):45 - 51.
  • Margaret MacDonald (1946). Natural Rights. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 47:225 - 250.
  • Margaret MacDonald (1951). The Philosopher's Use of Analogy. In Gilbert Ryle & Antony Flew (eds.), Logic and Language (First Series): Essays. Blackwell.
  • Margaret MacDonald (1951). The Language of Political Theory. In Gilbert Ryle & Antony Flew (eds.), Logic and Language (First Series): Essays. Blackwell.
  • Margaret MacDonald (1951). Professor Ryle on the Concept of Mind. Philosophical Review 60 (January):80-90.
  • Margaret MacDonald (1952). Art and Imagination. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 53:205 - 226.
  • Margaret MacDonald (1953). Sleeping and Waking. Mind 62 (April):202-215.
  • Margaret MacDonald (1953). Linguistic Philosophy and Perception. Philosophy 28 (October):311-324.
  • Margaret MacDonald (1954). Some Distinctive Features of Arguments used in Criticism of the Arts. In William Elton (ed.) Aesthetics and Language. Oxford University Press.
  • Margaret MacDonald & M. Scriven (1954). "Symposium: The Language of Fiction." Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 28:165 - 196.
  • Margaret MacDonald (ed.) (1954/1966). Philosophy and Analysis. Oxford, B. Blackwell.


  1. ^ Grayling, Anthony C. (2006). Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy. Continuum. ISBN 9780199754694. 
  2. ^ Addis, Mark (2005). "MacDonald, Margaret (1907-56)". In Brown, Stuart. The Dictionary of Twentieth-century British Philosophers. Bristol: Thoemmes. pp. 601–605. ISBN 184371096X. 
  3. ^ a b Waite, Mary Ellen (1995). History of women philosophers, vol. 4. Kluwer. p. 364. ISBN 0792328086. 
  4. ^ Ambrose, Alice (1979). Wittgenstein's lectures : Cambridge, 1932-1935; from the notes of Alice Ambrose and Margaret Macdonald. Blackwell. ISBN 0631101411. 
  5. ^ MacDonald, Margaret (1954). "Some Distinctive Features of Arguments used in Criticism of the Arts". In Elton, William. Aesthetics and language. Oxford University Press. 
  6. ^ MacDonald, Margaret (1946). "Natural Rights". Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society. 47: 225–250. JSTOR 4544427. 
  7. ^ Wolff, Jonathan (2013). "Analytic Political Philosophy". In Beaney, Michael. Oxford Handbook of The History of Analytic Philosophy. Oxford University Press. p. 804. ISBN 9780199238842. 
  8. ^ Saw, Ruth (1956). "Dr Margaret MacDonald". Analysis. 16 (4): 73–74. doi:10.1093/analys/16.4.73.