Galen Strawson

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Galen Strawson
Born 1952
Nationality British
Occupation Philosopher
Known for "Against Narrativity"
Website Galen Strawson's personal site

Galen John Strawson (born 1952) is a British analytic philosopher and literary critic who works primarily on philosophy of mind, metaphysics (including free will, panpsychism, the mind-body problem, and the self), John Locke, David Hume, Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Nietzsche.[1] He has been a consultant editor at The Times Literary Supplement for many years, and a regular book reviewer for The Observer, The Sunday Times, The Independent, the Financial Times and The Guardian. He is the son of philosopher P. F. Strawson. He presently holds a Chair in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Texas, Austin, and taught for many years prior to that at the University of Reading, City University of New York, and Oxford University.


Strawson, elder son of Oxford philosopher Sir Peter Strawson (P F Strawson), was educated at the Dragon School, Oxford (1959–65), from where he won a scholarship to Winchester College (1965–68). He left school at sixteen, after completing his A-levels and winning a place at the University of Cambridge. At Cambridge, he read Islamic Studies (1969–71), Social and Political Science (1971–72), and Moral Sciences (1972–73), before moving to the University of Oxford, where he received his BPhil in philosophy in 1977 and his DPhil in philosophy in 1983. He also spent a year as an auditeur libre at the École normale supérieure in Paris and at the Université de Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne as a French Government Scholar (1977–78).

Strawson taught at the University of Oxford from 1979 to 2000, first as a Stipendiary Lecturer at several different colleges, and then, from 1987 on, as Fellow and Tutor of Jesus College, Oxford. In 1993, he was a Visiting Research Fellow at the Research School of Social Sciences, Canberra. He has also taught as a Visiting Professor at NYU (1997), Rutgers University (2000), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2010) and the Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris (2012). In 2011 he was an Old Dominion Fellow, Council of the Humanities, Princeton University (2011). In 2000, he moved to the University of Reading as professor of philosophy, and was also Distinguished Professor of Philosophy from 2004 to 2007 at the City University of New York Graduate Center. In 2012, he joined the faculty at the University of Texas, Austin as holder of a new Chair in Philosophy.[2]

Free will

In the free will debate, Strawson holds that there is a fundamental sense in which free will is impossible, whether determinism is true or not. He argues for this position with what he calls his "basic argument", which aims to show that no-one is ever ultimately morally responsible for their actions, and hence that no one has free will in the sense that usually concerns us. In its simplest form, the Basic Argument runs thus:

  1. You do what you do, in any given situation, because of the way you are.
  2. To be ultimately responsible for what you do, you have to be ultimately responsible for the way you are — at least in certain crucial mental respects.
  3. But you cannot be ultimately responsible for the way you are in any respect at all.
  4. So you cannot be ultimately responsible for what you do.[3]

This argument resembles Schopenhauer's position in On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, summarised by E. F. J. Payne as the "law of motivation, which states that a definite course of action inevitably ensues on a given character and motive".[4]


Strawson has argued that what he calls realistic physicalism entails panpsychism.[5] He writes that "as a real physicalist, then, I hold that the mental/experiential is physical."[6] He quotes the physicist Arthur Eddington in support of his position as follows: "If we must embed our schedule of indicator readings in some kind of background, at least let us accept the only hint we have received as to the significance of the background – namely that it has a nature capable of manifesting itself as a mental activity."[7] The editor of the Journal of Consciousness Studies, Anthony Freeman, notes that panpsychism is regarded by many as either plain crazy, or else a direct route back to animism and superstition."[8] Panpsychism, however, has a long tradition in western thought.[9]


Selected articles

  • "Red and 'Red'" (1989), Synthèse 78, pp. 193–232.
  • "The Impossibility of Moral Responsibility" (1994), Philosophical Studies 75, pp. 5–24.
  • "'The Self" (1997), Journal of Consciousness Studies 4, pp. 405–28.
  • "The bounds of freedom" (2001), in The Oxford Handbook on Free Will, ed. R. Kane (Oxford University Press), pp. 441–60.
  • "Hume on himself" (2001), in Essays in Practical Philosophy: From Action to values, ed. D. Egonsson, J. Josefsson, B. Petersson & T. Rønnow-Rasmussen(Aldershot: Ashgate Press), pp. 69–94.
  • "Real Materialism" (2003), in Chomsky and his Critics, ed. L. Antony & N. Hornstein (Oxford: Blackwell), pp. 49–88.
  • "Mental ballistics: the involuntariness of spontaneity" (2003), Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, pp. 227–56.
  • "A Fallacy of our Age" (‘Against Narrative’) in the Times Literary Supplement, 15 October 2004
  • "Against Narrativity" (2004,) Ratio 17, pp. 428–52.
  • "Gegendie Narrativität" (2005), revised and expanded version of "Against Narrativity" in Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie 53, pp. 3–22.
  • "Episodic ethics" (2005) in "Narrative and Understanding Person", ed. D. Hutto (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp. 85–115.
  • "Why I have no future" (2009) The Philosophers' Magazine, Issue 38
  • "Against 'corporism': the two uses of I" (2009) Organon F 16, pp. 428–448.
  • "The Self" in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Mind, ed. B. McLaughlin & A. Beckermann (Oxford University Press), pp. 541–64.
  • "5 Questions on Mind and Consciousness" (2009), in Mind and Consciousness: 5 Questions (AutomaticPress/VIP,) pp. 191–204.
  • "5 Questions on Action" (2009), in Philosophy of Action: 5 Questions (AutomaticPress/VIP), pp. 253–9.
  • "On the sesmet theory of subjectivity" (2009), in Mind That Abides, ed. D. Skrbina (Amsterdam: John Benjamins), pp. 57–64.
  • "The identity of the categorical and the dispositional" (2008), Analysis 68/4, pp. 271–8.
  • "Radical Self-Awareness" (2010), in Self, No Self?: Perspectives from Analytical, Phenomenological, and Indian Traditions, ed. M. Siderits, E. Thompson, and D. Zahavi (Oxford University Press), pp. 274–307.
  • "The depth(s) of the twentieth century" (2010), Analysis 70/4:1.
  • "Fundamental Singleness: subjects as objects (how to turn the first two Paralogisms into valid arguments)" (2010), in The Metaphysics of Consciousness, ed. P. Basile et al.(Cambridge University Press), pp. 61–92.
  • "Narrativity and non-Narrativity" (2010), in Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science 1, pp. 775–80.
  • "Cognitive phenomenology: real life" (2011), in Cognitive Phenomenology, ed.T. Bayne and M. Montague (Oxford University Press), pp. 285–325.
  • "The impossibility of ultimate responsibility?" in Free Will and Modern Science, ed. R. Swinburne (London: British Academy) (December), pp. 126–40.
  • "Owning the Past: Reply to Stokes" (2011), Journal of Consciousness Studies 18, pp. 170–95.
  • "The minimal self" (2011), in Oxford Handbook of the Self, ed.S. Gallagher (Oxford University Press), pp. 253–278.
  • "Real naturalism" (2012) in Proceedings of the American Philosophical Association 86/2, pp. 125–154.
  • "I and I: immunity to error through misidentification of the subject" (2012), in Immunity to Error Through Misidentification: New Essays, ed. S. Prosser and F. Recanati (Cambridge University Press)
  • "All My Hopes Vanish: Hume’s Appendix" (2012), in The Continuum Companion to Hume, ed. A Bailey and D. O’Brien (London: Continuum)
  • "We live beyond any tale that we happen to enact" (2012), in Harvard Review of Philosophy 18, pp. 73–90.
  • "Free will" in Norton Introduction to Philosophy, ed. A. Byrne, J. Cohen, G. Rosen and S. Shiffrin (New York:Norton) (forthcoming)
  • "Real direct realism" in The Nature of Phenomenal Qualities, ed. P. Coates and S. Coleman (Oxford University Press) (forthcoming)
  • "Nietzsche’s metaphysics?" in Nietzsche on Mind and Nature, ed.M. Dries and P. Kail (Oxford University Press) (forthcoming)
  • "When I enter most intimately into what I call myself", in Oxford Handbook of David Hume ed. Paul Russell (Oxford University Press) (forthcoming)
  • ‘The unstoried life’ in On Life-Writing , ed. Z. Leader (Oxford: Oxford University Press) (forthcoming)
  • ‘“The secrets of all hearts”: Locke on personal identity’ in Mind, Self, and Person , ed. A. O’Hear (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) (forthcoming)
  • ‘Mind and being: the primacy of panpsychism’ in Panpsychism: Philosophical Essays , ed. G. Bruntrup and L. Jaskolla (New York: Oxford University Press) (forthcoming)
  • ‘The concept of consciousness in the twentieth century’ in Consciousness, ed. A. Simmons (New York: Oxford University Press) (forthcoming)

See also



  2. "Leiter, Brian."
  3. Strawson, Galen. "Free Will" in the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward Craig (1998); "The Bounds of Freedom" in The Oxford Handbook of Free Will, ed. Robert Kane (2002).
  4. E. F. J. Payne, in his Translator's Introduction to Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Representation
  5. Strawson, G. (2006) Realistic Monism: Why Physicalism Entails Panpsychism, in the Journal of Consciousness Studies, Volume 13, No 10-11, Exeter, Imprint Academic pp3-31
  6. Strawson, G. (2006) Realistic Monism: Why Physicalism Entails Panpsychism, in the Journal of Consciousness Studies, Volume 13, No 10-11, Exeter, Imprint Academic p7
  7. Strawson, G. (2006) Realistic Monism: Why Physicalism Entails Panpsychism, in the Journal of Consciousness Studies, Volume 13, No 10-11, Exeter, Imprint Academic p11
  8. Strawson, G. (2006) Realistic Monism: Why Physicalism Entails Panpsychism, in the Journal of Consciousness Studies, Volume 13, No 10-11, Exeter, Imprint Academic p1
  9. Skrbina, D. (2005), Panpsychism in the West, Cambridge, MA, MIT Press.

External links