Obituary: Professor W. B. Gallie

W.B. GALLIE was successively Professor of Philosophy at Keele, Professor of Logic and Metaphysics at Queen's University, Belfast and finally Professor of Political Science at Cambridge and Fellow of Peterhouse.

Although his book on the American 19th-century philosopher C.S. Peirce (Peirce and Pragmatism, 1952) is familiar to many, he is probably best known for one much cited paper, "Essentially Contested Concepts", which was published in the Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society in the mid- Fifties. This alone will ensure his name is remembered amongst philosophers. (Gallie believed it to be his best work too, along with a paper on the nature of science also from the Fifties.) In it he anticipated some of the developments in philosophy of the Sixties and Seventies, in particular the failure of a programme which purported to establish clearly the boundaries of concepts. The paper formed a central part of his book Philosophy and the Historical Understanding (1964).

However Bryce Gallie probably would have preferred his two books on war - Philosophers of Peace and War (1978) and Understanding War (1990) - to have had the same impact as "Essentially Contested Concepts". He had fought in the Second World War, from 1940 to 1945, and was awarded the Croix de Guerre; he ended with the rank of major. This time evidently made an 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.

Gallie was born in 1912 in Lenzie near Glasgow, the son of an engineer. After taking a First in PPE at Balliol, Oxford, he started his academic career in 1935 as an assistant lecturer in philsophy at Swansea. Here he met his wife, the novelist Menna Gallie, who was a student at the university. Swansea in those days was a lively place and Gallie and Menna knew Dylan Thomas and the literary circle which centred around him. On retirement he became an honorary Professorial Fellow of the University of Wales.

After the war, he returned to Swansea but was never much in sympathy with the Wittgensteinian influence which was beginning to dominate there, and indeed, he disliked Wittgenstein the man. So he followed A.D. Lindsay, whose pupil he had been at Balliol, to Keele in 1950, where Lindsay became vice-Chancellor and Gallie Professor of Philosophy at the University College of North Staffordshire. Gallie was later to write a book on Lindsay and the Keele experiment, (A New University, 1960).

Gallie, though not a philosopher by default, once told me that he might just as well have worked in some other area. His interests were wide and philosophy was not for him the obsessional concern that it is with most professional teachers of philosophy. His first book was, in fact, An English School (1949), reflections on his schooldays as a Classics specialist at Sedburgh between the wars, and on education in general, and he both wrote and translated verse. He was keenly interested in English and German literature, with an especial affection for Words-worth, to which his days at Sedburgh no doubt contributed, and some of his translations of Goethe are beautiful.

Like his wife, Gallie was a lifelong democratic socialist, who, whilst at Belfast in the Fifties and Sixties was already aware that Ulster was a tinder-box and never felt entirely comfortable as a Fellow at Peterhouse. His later years were clouded by ill health and by the loss of Menna in 1990. He remained active as a scholar however until the last year when his sight began to fail and he was no longer able to read. He found some solace in the chamber music of Haydn and Beethoven.

Bryce was both passionate and affectionate, generous to younger colleagues, a man of wide reading and wide intellectual interests. Such humane concerns are now rarer than they once were and his death reminds us, poignantly, of what the best university teachers used to be like. He would broaden the context of a philosophical discussion in a way few could and he was an inspiring teacher. He felt himself lucky to have worked in universities when he did, for he certainly would not have been at home in a milieu dominated by appraisals, "quality" and research assessments. He was a lovable man.

Walter Boyce Gallie, philosopher: born Lenzie, Dunbartonshire 5 October 1912; Assistant Lecturer in Philosophy, University College of Swansea 1935-38, Lecturer 1938-48, Senior Lecturer 1948-50; Professor of Philosophy, University College of North Staffordshire 1950-54; Professor of Logic and Metaphysics, Queen's University, Belfast 1954-67; Professor of Political Science, Cambridge University 1967-78 (Emeritus), Fellow of Peterhouse 1967-78; married 1940 Menna Humphreys (died 1990; one son, one daughter); died Cardigan, Dyfed 31 August 1998.

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk