W. W. Bartley III

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W. W. Bartley III
William Bartley.jpg
Born(1934-10-02)October 2, 1934
DiedFebruary 5, 1990(1990-02-05) (aged 55)
Oakland, California, United States

William Warren Bartley III (October 2, 1934 – February 5, 1990), known as W. W. Bartley III, was an American philosopher specializing in 20th century philosophy, language and logic, and the Vienna Circle.

Early life and education[edit]

Born in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, on October 2, 1934, Bartley was brought up in a Protestant home. He completed his secondary education in Pittsburgh and studied at Harvard University between 1952 and 1956, graduating with a BA degree in philosophy.[1]: 18  While an undergraduate at Harvard, he was an editor at The Harvard Crimson newspaper.[2] He spent the winter semester of 1956 and the summer semester of 1957 at the Harvard Divinity School and the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1958, he completed his MA degree in philosophy at Harvard. Bartley was training to become a Protestant minister, but rejected Christianity at that point.[1]: 44f  He went on to study under Sir Karl Popper at the London School of Economics, where he completed his PhD in 1962. Parts of his dissertation, Limits of Rationality: A Critical Study of Some Logical Problems of Contemporary Pragmatism and Related Movements, were subsequently published as The Retreat to Commitment in the same year.


After his doctoral graduation, Bartley worked as a lecturer in logic in London. In the following years, he held positions at the Warburg Institute and the University of California, San Diego.[3] He began teaching at the University of Pittsburgh in 1963, and was appointed to his first full professorship there in 1969.

In 1973, he joined the California State University, Hayward faculty as a professor of philosophy, where he received the distinction of "Outstanding Professor" of the entire California State University system in 1979. His last position there before his retirement was that of a senior research fellow at the Hoover Institution.[4]

Relationship with Sir Karl Popper[edit]

Bartley and Popper had a great admiration for each other, partly because of their common stand against justificationism.[5] However, at the International Colloquium in the Philosophy of Science at Bedford College, University of London, July 11–17, 1965, they came into conflict with each other. Bartley had presented a paper, "Theories of Demarcation Between Science and Metaphysics," in which he accused Popper of displaying a positivist attitude in his early works and proposed that Popper's demarcation criterion was not as important as Popper thought it was. Popper took this as a personal attack, and Bartley took his reply as indicating that Popper was ignoring his criticism.[1]: 81f  Their friendship was not restored until 1974, after the publication of The Philosophy of Karl Popper (edited by Paul Schillpp).[1]: 87  Bartley changed the tone of his remarks about Popper's criterion of demarcation, making it less aggressive. However, despite the restored friendship, Bartley's view was never accepted by Popper, who criticised it even after Bartley's death.[1]: First Part [6]

Author and editor[edit]

Bartley published a biography of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, titled simply Wittgenstein, in 1973.[7] The book contained a relatively brief, 4–5 page treatment of Wittgenstein's homosexuality, relying mainly on reportage from the philosopher's friends and acquaintances. This matter caused enormous controversy in intellectual and philosophical circles; many perceived it as a posthumous "attack" on Wittgenstein.[8] Some foreign translations of the book, such as the first edition of the Spanish translation, omitted the "offending" material. In the second edition of the biography (La Salle, Illinois: Open Court, 1985, pp. 159–97), Bartley answered the objections of critics, pointing out that Wittgenstein's periods of active homosexuality are verified by the philosopher's own private writings, including his coded diaries, and that extensive confirmation was also available from people who knew Wittgenstein in Vienna between the two World Wars, including ex-lovers. Bartley also considered, and rejected, the idea of a connection between the private life and the philosophy.[8]

Bartley also wrote a biography of Werner Erhard, the founder of est. Bartley was graduate of Erhard Seminars Training and served on the advisory board of Est, an educational company.[9]

Bartley edited Lewis Carroll's book Symbolic Logic (see symbolic logic), including the second volume, which Carroll had never published.[10]

Bartley extended Popperian epistemology in his book The Retreat to Commitment,[11] in which he describes pancritical rationalism (PCR), a development of critical rationalism and panrationalism. PCR attempts to work around the problem of ultimate commitment or infinite regress by decoupling criticism and justification.[12] A pancritical rationalist holds all positions open to criticism, including PCR, and never resorts to authority for justification.[12]

Parts of Popper's Realism and the Aim of Science, a book that Bartley edited, and the Addendum to the fourth edition of The Open Society and Its Enemies contain passages that are commonly interpreted as Popper's acceptance of Bartley's views. Mariano Artigas held that these were in fact written by Bartley himself.[1]: 23–25, 96 

Alan Ebenstein, a biographer of F. A. Hayek, criticized Bartley for the extent of the changes he made as the editor of The Fatal Conceit, a book attributed to Hayek.[13] Bruce Caldwell suggests that the book in its published form may actually have been written by Bartley.[14]


Bartley died of bladder cancer on February 5, 1990 at his home in Oakland, California, after having been diagnosed with the disease in the middle of the preceding year.[4][15][16]

At the time of his death, Bartley had just finished his last book, Unfathomed Knowledge, Unmeasured Wealth: On Universities and the Wealth of Nations. Other works he was preparing at that time included writing a biography, and editing the collected works, of Friedrich Hayek. The latter was being completed after Bartley's death by his colleague and executor Stephen Kresge.[17] Also unfinished was a biography of Popper. Both biographies were in an advanced stage at the time of Bartley's death.[4]


  • The Retreat to Commitment, 1962
  • Morality and Religion, 1971
  • Lewis Carroll's Symbolic Logic, 1977
  • Wittgenstein, 1973, 1985
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein e Karl Popper: maestri di scuola elementare, 1976
  • Come demarcare la scienza della metafisica, 1983
  • Werner Erhard, The Transformation of a Man: The Founding of est, 1978
  • The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism, 1988 (editor, with F. A. Hayek)
  • Rehearsing a revolution – Karl Popper: A Life, 1989
  • Unfathomed Knowledge, Unmeasured Wealth, 1990

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Mariano Artigas: The Ethical Nature of Karl Popper's Theory of Knowledge (1999)
  2. ^ "About Bartley and the Institute". The Bartley Institute. Retrieved January 24, 2014.
  3. ^ David Miller: Bartley. Critical Rationalism (1994), p. 75
  4. ^ a b c Gerard Radnitzky: William W. Bartley III (1934–1990). Popper Letters 2:1 (1990)
  5. ^ Karl R. Popper: On the Sources of Knowledge and of Ignorance. Proceedings of the British Academy 46 (1960), p. 39–71, reprinted in Conjectures and Refutations.
  6. ^ Kiichi Tachibana: Mails exchanged between Prof. Tachibana and Prof. Agassi On the Kyoto Prize Workshop. Popper Letters 5:1 (November 17, 1992)
  7. ^ William Warren Bartley III, Wittgenstein, Philadelphia, Lippincott, 1973.
  8. ^ a b Madigan, Timothy J. "The Uses and Abuses of Philosophical Biographies". Philosophy Now 2012. Philosophy Now. Retrieved December 28, 2012.
  9. ^ Ankerberg, John and John Weldon (1996). Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs: The New Age Movement. Eugene OR: Harvest House Publishers. p. 263. ISBN 978-1565071605.
  10. ^ Gardner, Martin (1998). The Universe in a Handkerchief: Lewis Carroll's Mathematical Recreations, Games, Puzzles, and Word Plays. New York: Springer. p. 61. ISBN 978-0387256412.
  11. ^ Wettersten, John R. "Karl Popper and Critical Rationalism". Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The IEP. Retrieved December 28, 2012.
  12. ^ a b Rowbottom, Darrell P. (2011). Popper's Critical Rationalism: A Philosophical Investigation. New York: Routledge. p. 12. ISBN 978-0415992442.
  13. ^ Alan Ebenstein: Investigation: The Fatal Deceit Archived February 12, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. Liberty 19:3 (March 2005)
  14. ^ Karl Popper, a Centenary Assessment Vol. 1: Life and Times, and Values in a World of Facts, p. 120
  15. ^ Stephen Kresge: On the Passing of W. W. Bartley III. Popper Letters 2:1 (1990)
  16. ^ anonymous; Obituary: "William W. Bartley 3d, Research Fellow, 55", New York Times February 22, 1990 (corrected February 24, 1990).
  17. ^ Caldwell, Bruce J. "Review of "Friedrich Hayek: A Biography"". The Independent Review. Independent Institute. Retrieved December 28, 2012.

External links[edit]