Galen Strawson
Born1952 (age 71–72)
EducationUniversity of Oxford
University of Cambridge
ENS (audit student)
Paris I (audit student)
Era20th-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolAnalytic philosophy
Direct realism[1]
Main interests
Philosophy of mind, metaphysics, philosophy of action
Notable ideas
Realistic physicalism
WebsiteGalen 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.[2] 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 holds a chair in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Texas, Austin, and taught for many years before that at the University of Reading, City University of New York, and Oxford University.

Education and career

Strawson, the elder son of Oxford philosopher P. F. Strawson, was educated at the Dragon School, Oxford (1959–65), where he won a scholarship to Winchester College (1965–68). He left school at 16, after completing his A-levels and winning a place at Trinity Hall, Cambridge. At Cambridge, he read Oriental 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 (audit student) at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris and at the Université 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.[3]

Philosophical work

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.[4]

This argument resembles Arthur 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".[5]


Further information: Panpsychism and Realistic physicalism

Strawson has argued that what he calls "realistic physicalism" (or "realistic monism") entails panpsychism.[6] He writes that "as a real physicalist, then, I hold that the mental/experiential is physical."[6]: 7  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.[6]: 11  The editor of the Journal of Consciousness Studies, Anthony Freeman, has written that panpsychism is regarded by many as either "plain crazy, or else a direct route back to animism and superstition".[6]: 1  But it has a long tradition in Western thought.[7]



Selected articles

See also


  1. ^ Galen Strawson, "Real Direct Realism", a lecture recorded 2014 at Marc Sanders Foundation, Vimeo.
  2. ^ "UT College of Liberal Arts". Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 22 September 2015.
  3. ^ "Leiter, Brian." Archived 29 August 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Strawson, Galen. "Free Will Archived 25 August 2007 at the Wayback Machine" 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).
  5. ^ E. F. J. Payne, in his Translator's Introduction to Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Representation
  6. ^ a b c d Strawson, G. (2006) "Realistic Monism: Why Physicalism Entails Panpsychism", Journal of Consciousness Studies, Volume 13, Nos. 10–11, Exeter, Imprint Academic pp. 3–31
  7. ^ Skrbina, D. (2005), Panpsychism in the West, Cambridge, MA, MIT Press.