Geach in 1990
Peter Thomas Geach
29 March 1916
|Died||21 December 2013 (aged 97)|
|Alma mater||Balliol College, Oxford|
(m. 1941; died 2001)
Peter Thomas Geach[a](1916–2013) was an English philosopher and professor of logic at the University of Leeds. His areas of interest were philosophical logic, ethics, history of philosophy, philosophy of religion and the theory of identity.
Peter Geach was born in Chelsea, London, on 29 March 1916. He was the only son of George Hender Geach and his wife Eleonora Frederyka Adolfina née Sgonina. His father, who was employed in the Indian Educational Service, would go on to work as a professor of philosophy in Lahore and later as the principal of a teacher-training college in Peshawar.
His parents' marriage was unhappy and quickly broke up. Until the age of four, he lived with his maternal grandparents in Cardiff. After this time he was placed in the care of a guardian (until his father returned to Britain) and contact with his mother and her parents ceased. He attended Llandaff Cathedral School in Cardiff and, later, Clifton College.
In 1934 Geach won a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford, graduating in 1938 with first-class honours in literae humaniores. In the same year, he was received into the Roman Catholic Church.
Geach spent a year (1938–39) as a Gladstone Research Student, based at St Deiniol's Library, Hawarden. Following the end of the Second World War in 1945, he undertook further research at Cambridge.
In 1951, Geach was appointed to his first substantive academic post, as assistant lecturer at the University of Birmingham, going on to become Reader in Logic. In 1966 he was appointed Professor of Logic in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Leeds. Geach retired from his chair in 1981 with the title Emeritus Professor of Logic. He also held visiting professorships at the universities of Cornell, Chicago, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Warsaw.
Geach was elected a fellow of the British Academy (FBA) in 1965. He was elected an honorary fellow of Balliol College in 1979. He was awarded the papal cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice by the Holy See in 1999 for his philosophical work.
His early work includes the classic texts Mental Acts and Reference and Generality, the latter defending an essentially modern conception of reference against medieval theories of supposition. His Catholic perspective was integral to his philosophy. He was perhaps the founder of analytical Thomism (though the current of thought running through his and Elizabeth Anscombe's work to the present day was only ostensibly so named forty years later by John Haldane), the aim of which is to synthesise Thomistic and analytic approaches. Geach was a student and an early follower of Ludwig Wittgenstein whilst at the University of Cambridge.
Geach defends the Thomistic position that human beings are essentially rational animals, each one miraculously created. He dismissed Darwinistic attempts to regard reason as inessential to humanity, as "mere sophistry, laughable, or pitiable." He repudiated any capacity for language in animals as mere "association of manual signs with things or performances."
Geach dismissed both pragmatic and epistemic conceptions of truth, commending a version of the correspondence theory proposed by Thomas Aquinas. He argues that there is one reality rooted in God himself, who is the ultimate truthmaker. God, according to Geach, is truth. While they lived, he saw W. V. Quine and Arthur Prior as his allies, in that they held three truths: that there are no non-existent beings; that a proposition can occur in discourse without being there asserted; and that the sense of a term does not depend on the truth of the proposition in which it occurs. He is said to have invented the famous ethical example of the stuck potholer, when arguing against the idea that it might be right to kill a child to save its mother.
His wife and occasional collaborator was the philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe. Both converts to Catholicism, they married in 1941 and had seven children. They co-authored the 1961 book Three Philosophers, with Anscombe contributing a section on Aristotle and Geach one each on Aquinas and Gottlob Frege. For a quarter century they were leading figures in the Philosophical Enquiry Group, an annual confluence of Catholic philosophers held at Spode House in Staffordshire that was established by Columba Ryan in 1954.
Peter Geach died on 21 December 2013 at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge and is buried in (what is now) the Ascension Parish Burial Ground.