W. B. Gallie

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Walter Bryce Gallie (5 October 1912 – 31 August 1998) was a Scottish social theorist, political theorist, and philosopher.[1][2]


Early life[edit]

Gallie was born in Lenzie, East Dunbartonshire, near Glasgow, the son of an engineer. He grew up in a British boarding school and later published his memoirs of this in the book An English School.

Military career[edit]

He served in the British Army from 1940 to 1945, leaving the service with the rank of Major. He was awarded the Croix de guerre.

[The time he spent in the army] evidently made an [sic] great impression upon him. Though a very out-going man, he never spoke of his wartime experiences though he repeatedly returned to the philosophical aspects of war in conversation.(Sharpe, R.A., 5 September 1998)

Academic career[edit]

Personal life and death[edit]

Gallie married Menna Patricia Humphreys in 1940. They had a son and a daughter.

He died in Cardigan, Ceredigion, on 31 August 1998:

Walter Bryce Gallie, M.A., Emeritus Fellow of Peterhouse and Emeritus Professor of Political Science, died on Monday, 31 August 1998, aged 85 years. (Cambridge University Reporter, 7 October 1998.)


Essentially contested concepts[edit]

His paper on 'Essentially contested concepts' (Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, vol. 56, 1956, pp. 167–198) is a seminal statement in the philosophy of the social sciences.[citation needed] In it, Gallie argued that it is impossible to conclusively define key appraisive concepts such as 'social justice,' 'democracy,' 'Christian life', 'art', 'moral goodness' and 'duty', although it is possible and rational to discuss one's justifications for holding one interpretation over competing ones. Clarification of such concepts involves not the examination of predictive relations (as is the case for most scientific concepts), but rather, consideration of how the concept has been used by different parties throughout its history.


He published (among other things) "Explanations in History and the Genetic Sciences", Philosophy and the Historical Understanding, Philosophers of War and Peace, and Wanted: A Philosophy of International Relations (1979).

See also[edit]


  • Gallie, W. B., A New University: A. D. Lindsay and the Keele Experiment, Chatto & Windus, (London), 1960.
  • Gallie, W. B., An English School, Cresset Press, (London), 1949.
  • Gallie, W.B., "An Interpretation of Causal Laws", Mind, Vol.48, No.192, (October 1939), pp. 409–426.
  • Gallie, W.B., "Art as an Essentially Contested Concept", The Philosophical Quarterly, Vol.6, No.23, (April 1956), pp. 97–114.
  • Gallie, W.B., "Essentially Contested Concepts", Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Vol.56, (1956), pp. 167–198.
  • Gallie, W.B., "Explanations in History and the Genetic Sciences", Mind, Vol.64, No.254, (April 1955), pp. 160–180.
  • Gallie, W. B., Free Will and Determinism Yet Again: An Inaugural Lecture Delivered on 15 May 1957 at the Queen's University of Belfast, Marjory Boyd, (belfast), 1957.
  • Gallie, W. B., How to Think about Nuclear Weapons: J.R. Jones Memorial Lecture Delivered at the College on 26 April 1983, University College of Swansea, (Swansea), 1983.
  • Gallie, W.B., "Kant's View of Reason in Politics", Philosophy, Vol.54, No.207, (January 1979), pp. 19–33.
  • Gallie, W.B., "Narrative and Historical Understanding" [reprint of "The Historical Understanding" (1964), pp. 40–51 in Roberts, G. (ed), The History and Narrative Reader, Routledge, (London), 2001.
  • Gallie, W. B., Peirce and Pragmatism, Penguin Books, (Harmondsworth), 1952.
  • Gallie, W. B., Philosophers of Peace and War: Kant, Clausewitz, Marx, Engels and Tolstoy [The Wiles Lectures, delivered at Belfast University in May 1976], Cambridge University Press, (Cambridge), 1978.
  • Gallie, W.B., Philosophy and the Historical Understanding, Chatto & Windus, (London), 1964.
  • Gallie, W.B., "The Function of Philosophical Aesthetics", pp. 13–35 in Elton, W.R., Aesthetics and Language: Essays by W. B. Gallie and Others, Basil Blackwell, (Oxford), 1954.
  • Gallie, W.B., "The Idea of Practice", Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Vol.68, (1967–1968), pp. 63–86.
  • Gallie, W.B., "The Lords' Debate on Hanging July 1956: Interpretation and Comment", Philosophy, Vol.32, No.121, (April 1957), pp. 132–147.
  • Gallie, W. B., Understanding War: An Essay on the Nuclear Age, Routledge, (London), 1991.
  • Gallie, W. B., "Wanted: A Philosophy of International Relations", Political Studies, Vol.27, No.3, (September 1973), pp. 484–492.
  • Gallie, W.B., "What Makes a Subject Scientific?", The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, Vol.8, No.30, (August 1957), pp. 118–139.


  1. ^ "Obituary: Professor W. B. Gallie". The Independent. 
  2. ^ "Walter Bryce Gallie, M.A., Emeritus Fellow of Peterhouse and Emeritus Professor of Political Science, died on Monday, 31 August 1998, aged 85 years." (Cambridge University Reporter, 7 October 1998.)
  • Anon, "Obituary Notice: Walter Bryce Gallie", Cambridge University Reporter, 7 October 1998.
  • Harrah, D., "Gallie and the Scientific Tradition", The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, Vol.10, No.39, (November 1959), pp. 234–239.
  • Montefiore, A., "Professor Gallie on Necessary and Sufficient Conditions", Mind, New Series, Vol.65, No.260, (October 1956), pp. 534–541.
  • Sharpe, R.A., "Obituary: Professor W. B. Gallie", The (London) Independent, 5 September 1998