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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory