Peter Geach

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Peter Geach

Philosopher Peter Geach in 1990.jpg
Geach in 1990
Peter Thomas Geach

(1916-03-29)29 March 1916
Chelsea, London, England
Died21 December 2013(2013-12-21) (aged 97)
Cambridge, England
Alma materBalliol College, Oxford
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolAnalytic philosophy
Analytical Thomism
Main interests
Philosophical logic, history of philosophy, philosophy of religion
Notable ideas
Analytical Thomism, omnipotence paradox, Frege–Geach problem, Cambridge change

Peter Thomas Geach FBA (/ɡ/; 29 March 1916 – 21 December 2013) was a British philosopher and professor of logic at the University of Leeds.[2] His areas of interest were the philosophical logic, ethics, history of philosophy, philosophy of religion and the theory of identity.

Early life[edit]

Peter Geach was born in London on 29 March 1916 to George Hender Geach, a professor of philosophy in Lahore who had studied philosophy at Cambridge, in the days of Russell, Moore, and Mactaggart, and Eleonora Adolfina Sgonina, a poet, and spent his earliest years in Cardiff. He attended Llandaff Cathedral School and Clifton College.[3] He received instruction in logic and philosophy from his father who, as a member of the Indian Educational Service, had been professor of philosophy at Lahore and later principal of a teacher training college in Peshawar. His parents' marriage was unhappy and quickly broke up. Until around the age of four, he lived with his maternal grandparents in Cardiff, after which time he was raised by a guardian, and then sent first to Llandaff Cathedral School and then to Clifton College. Geach never saw his mother again after childhood.

In 1934 Geach won a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford, graduating in 1938 with a First in Literae Humaniores.

Academic career[edit]

Geach spent a year (1938–39) as a Gladstone Research Student, based at St Deiniol's Library, Hawarden. Following the end of World War II in 1945, he undertook further research at Cambridge.

In 1951, Geach was appointed to his first substantive academic post, as assistant lecturer at the University of Birmingham, going on to become Reader in Logic. In 1966 he was appointed Professor of Logic in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Leeds.[4] Geach retired from his chair in 1981 with the title Emeritus Professor of Logic.[5] He also held Visiting Professorships at the universities of Cornell, Chicago, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Warsaw.[6]

Geach was elected a Fellow of the British Academy (FBA) in 1965.[7] He was elected an Honorary Fellow of Balliol College in 1979.

He was awarded the papal cross "Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice" by the Holy See for his philosophical work.


His early work includes the classic texts Mental Acts and Reference and Generality, the latter defending an essentially modern conception of reference against medieval theories of supposition. His Catholic perspective was integral to his philosophy. He was perhaps the founder of Analytical Thomism (though the current of thought running through his and Elizabeth Anscombe's work to the present day was only ostensibly so named forty years later by John Haldane), the aim of which is to synthesise Thomistic and Analytic approaches. Geach was a student and an early follower of Ludwig Wittgenstein whilst at Cambridge University.[8]

Geach defends the Thomistic position that human beings are essentially rational animals, each one miraculously created. He dismissed Darwinistic attempts to regard reason as inessential to humanity, as "mere sophistry, laughable, or pitiable." He repudiated any capacity for language in animals as mere "association of manual signs with things or performances."[9]

Geach dismissed both pragmatic and epistemic conceptions of truth, commending a version of the correspondence theory proposed by Aquinas. He argues that there is one reality rooted in God himself, who is the ultimate truthmaker. God, according to Geach, is truth. While they lived, he saw W. V. Quine and Arthur Prior as his allies, in that they held three truths: that there are no non-existent beings; that a proposition can occur in discourse without being there asserted; and that the sense of a term does not depend on the truth of the proposition in which it occurs. He invented the famous ethical example of the stuck potholer, when arguing against the idea that it might be right to kill a child to save its mother. Jenny Teichman, fellow of New Hall, Cambridge, has characterised Geach's philosophical style as "deliberately outrageous".[10]

Personal life[edit]

His wife and occasional collaborator was the philosopher and Wittgenstein scholar Elizabeth Anscombe.[4] Both converts to Roman Catholicism, they married in 1941 and had seven children.[11] They co-authored the 1961 book Three Philosophers, with Anscombe contributing a section on Aristotle and Geach one each on Aquinas and Gottlob Frege.[4] For a quarter century they were leading figures in the Philosophical Enquiry Group, an annual confluence of Catholic philosophers held at Spode House in Staffordshire that was established by Father Columba Ryan in 1954.[12]

Peter Geach died early in the morning on 21 December 2013 at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge and is buried in what is now the Ascension Parish Burial Ground.


  • Geach, Peter; Black, Max, eds. (1952). Translations from the philosophical writings of Gottlob Frege (1st ed.). Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
    • —; —, eds. (1960). Translations from the philosophical writings of Gottlob Frege (2nd ed.). Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
    • —; —, eds. (1980). Translations from the philosophical writings of Gottlob Frege (3rd ed.). Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
  • "Good and Evil," Analysis (1956)
  • Mental Acts: Their Content and Their Objects, 1957/1997
  • Three Philosophers: Aristotle; Aquinas; Frege (with G.E.M. Anscombe), 1961
  • Reference and Generality: An Examination of Some Medieval and Modern Theories, 1962
  • History of the corruptions of logic, inaugural lecture, University of Leeds, 1968
  • God and the Soul, 1969/2001
  • "A Program for Syntax" (1970). Synthèse 22:3-17.
  • Logic Matters, 1972
  • Reason and Argument, 1976
  • "Saying and Showing in Frege and Wittgenstein," Acta Philosophica Fennica 28 (1976): 54–70
  • Providence and Evil: The Stanton Lectures 1971-2, 1977
  • Truth, Love, and Immortality: An Introduction to McTaggart's Philosophy, 1979
  • (edited) Wittgenstein's Lectures on Philosophical Psychology, 1946–47: Notes by P.T. Geach, K.J. Shah, and A.C. Jackson, 1989
  • Logic and Ethics (edited by Jacek Holowka), 1990
  • Truth and Hope: The Furst Franz Josef und Furstin Gina Lectures Delivered at the International Academy of Philosophy in the Principality of Liechtenstein, 1998 (ISBN 0-268-04215-2)
  • Descartes: Philosophical Writings (with G.E.M. Anscombe) (1954) Introduction by Alexander Koyre


  • Gormally, Luke, ed. (1994). Moral truth and moral tradition : essays in honour of Peter Geach and Elizabeth Anscombe. Dublin: Four Courts Press.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Michael Dummett, The Interpretation of Frege's Philosophy, Duckworth, 1981, p. xv.
  2. ^ "Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog: In Memoriam: Peter Geach (1916-2013)". Retrieved 23 December 2013.
  3. ^ "Clifton College Register" Muirhead, J.A.O. p448: Bristol; J.W Arrowsmith for Old Cliftonian Society; April, 1948
  4. ^ a b c Boxer, Sarah (13 January 2001). "G. E. M. Anscombe, 81, British Philosopher". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 24 January 2010.
  5. ^ "University of Leeds, List of Emeritus Professors". Archived from the original on 26 September 2012. Retrieved 11 November 2017. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  6. ^ "Obituaries | Secretariat". University of Leeds. Retrieved 11 November 2017.
  7. ^ "British Academy, List of Fellows". Archived from the original on 13 October 2013. Retrieved 11 November 2017. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  8. ^ News item 'Peter Geach' in Philosophy Now, Issue 100 (link), accessed 29 January 2014.
  9. ^ Murray, Michael J. (4 February 2002). "Review of Truth and Hope: The Furst Franz Josef und Furstin Gina Lectures Delivered at the International Academy of Philosophy, 1998". Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. ISSN 1538-1617. The chapter opens by rejecting the claim that rationality as a differentia fails to pick out human beings uniquely. Geach dismisses Darwin-inspired attempts to regard human reason as distinct from non-human mental activity merely as a matter of degree. Such attempts are rejected by Geach as “mere sophistry, laughable, or pitiable.” Evidence of language acquisition capacities of animals is also dismissed as, at best, association of manual signs with things or performances.
  10. ^ Teichman, Jenny (10 February 1991). "Henry James Among the Philosophers". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 24 January 2010.
  11. ^ "Professor G E M Anscombe". The Daily Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group. 6 January 2001.
  12. ^ "Father Columba Ryan: priest, teacher and university chaplain". The Times. News Corporation. 19 August 2009. Retrieved 24 January 2010.


External links[edit]