Richard Ithamar Aaron
|Died||29 March 1987 (aged 85)|
Wales, United Kingdom
|Cause of death||Alzheimer's disease|
Richard Ithamar Aaron (6 November 1901 – 29 March 1987) was a Welsh philosopher who became an authority on the work of John Locke.
Early life and education
Born in Blaendulais, Glamorgan, Aaron was the son of a Welsh Jewish draper, William Aaron, and his wife, Margaret Griffith. He was educated at Ystalyfera Grammar School, followed by a spell at the University of Wales starting in 1918, where he studied history and philosophy. In 1923 he was elected a Fellow of the university, allowing him to attend Oriel College, Oxford, where he was awarded a DPhil in 1928 for a dissertation titled "The history and value of the distinction between intellect and intuition".
In 1926 he was appointed as a lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at Swansea University. After the retirement of W. Jenkin Jones in 1932, Aaron was appointed to the chair of philosophy at Aberystwyth University where he settled, initially on the nearby hill of Bryn Hir and later at Garth Celyn. Although his early publications focused on epistemology and the history of ideas, Aaron became fascinated with the work and life of John Locke. The interest was sparked by his discovery of unresearched information in the Lovelace Collection, a collection of notes and drafts left by John Locke to his cousin Peter King. There he found letters, notebooks, catalogues, and most exciting of all, an early draft of Locke's "An Essay Concerning Human Understanding", hitherto presumed missing. Aaron's research led to the 1937 publication of a book covering the life and work of Locke, which subsequently became to be considered the standard work for that subject. The proofs were read by Rhiannon Morgan, whom Aaron married in 1937. They had five children together.
Aaron produced several more books and articles, including a book in Welsh on the history of philosophy, Hanes athroniaeth—o Descartes i Hegel in 1932. He attempted to boost interest in philosophy in Wales, and established a philosophy section at the University of Wales Guild of Graduates in 1932, a society which still exists and conducts all its proceedings in Welsh.
Other notable publications of Aaron's include the essay "Two senses of the word universal" (published in Mind in 1939) and "Our knowledge of universals" read to the British Academy in 1945 and published in volume 23 of its Proceedings. Aaron's work shows an intense fascination with the idea of a Universal, which culminated in his 1952 book The Theory of Universals. In this he attacks the notion of universals as Platonic forms, but is equally critical of Aristotelian realism about essences, as he is also of nominalism and conceptualism as theories of universals.
Between 1952 and 1953 Aaron was invited to be Visiting Professor at Yale University. In 1956 he was able to study the third draft of Locke's An Essay Concerning Human Understanding at the Pierpont Morgan Library, which resulted in a substantial addition to the second edition of John Locke, published in 1955, a year where he was also made a Member of the British Academy and President of the Mind Association. In 1956 the annual lecture hosted by the Aristotelian Society and the Mind Association (who published the journal Mind) was hosted in Aberystwyth, and Aaron was invited to give the inaugural lecture. In 1957 he was elected president of the Aristotelian Society.
In 1967 Aaron published a second edition of The Theory of Universals, with a new preface, several additions and several rewritten chapters. In 1971 he published a third edition of his Locke biography and the book Knowing and the Function of Reason, which includes a wide-ranging discussion of the laws of non-contradiction, excluded middle, identity, of the use of language in speech and thought, and of substance and causality.
After retiring in 1969, he taught for one semester at Carlton College in Minnesota before returning to Wales. While at home he helped write articles for the 1974 edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica. He eventually began to feel the effects of Alzheimer's disease, and died at his home on 29 March 1987.
- The Nature of Knowing. London: Williams & Norgate. 1930. OCLC 18633058.
- Hanes Athroniaeth o Descartes i Hegel [History of Philosophy from Descartes to Hegel] (in Welsh). Caerdydd: Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru. 1932. OCLC 21747278.
- John Locke (3rd ed.). Oxford: Clarendon. 1973 . OCLC 490103200.
- The Theory of Universals (2nd ed.). Oxford: Clarendon. 1967 . OCLC 307324.
- Knowing and the Function of Reason. Oxford: Clarendon. 1971. OCLC 263355808.
- Brown, Stuart C.; Collinson, Diané; Wilkinson, Robert (1996). Biographical Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Philosophers. London: Routledge. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-415-06043-1.
- Jones, O. R. "Aaron, Richard Ithamar (1901–1987)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/65645. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
- Jones, O. R. (1987). Richard Ithamar Aaron, 1901–1987. Proceedings of the British Academy. 73. London: Published for the British Academy by the Oxford University Press. OCLC 606853006.
- Stephens, Meic, ed. (1986). The Oxford Companion to the Literature of Wales. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-211586-7. OCLC 12133490.