A. C. Grayling

A. C. Grayling

Anthony Clifford Grayling (born 3 April 1949) is a British philosopher and author. He is Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London and a supernumerary fellow of St Anne's College, Oxford. He has an MA and a DPhil from Oxford, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the Royal Society of Arts.


Grayling was born in Luanshya, Zambia and spent his formative years in the British expatriate community of East Africa. His first exposure to philosophical writing was at the age of twelve when he read an English translation of Plato's Charmides dialogue. At fourteen he read G. H. Lewes's "Biographical History of Philosophy". This work was instrumental in confirming his ambition to study philosophy. Grayling later remarked on the text, "It superinduced order on the random reading that had preceded it, and settled my vocation."

After returning to England in his teens Grayling studied at Sussex University (while there he simultaneously studied for an undergraduate degree of the University of London as an external student), and Magdalen College, Oxford where he obtained his doctorate in 1981. The subject of his thesis was "Scepticism and Transcendental Arguments." This was supervised by the philosophers P. F. Strawson and A. J. Ayer. Grayling lectured in philosophy at St Anne’s College, Oxford before taking up a post at Birkbeck, University of London where he subsequently became Reader in Philosophy, and then Professor of Philosophy. Grayling is also a director of and regular contributor to "Prospect Magazine". He is married to the writer Katie Hickman.

Philosophical work

Grayling’s main areas of interest in technical philosophy lie at the intersection of theory of knowledge, metaphysics, and philosophical logic. He brings these subjects together in an attempt to define the relationship between mind and world, and in so doing he is among other things challenging philosophical scepticism. His arguments are elucidated in a number of publications, including "The Refutation of Scepticism" (1985), "Berkeley: The Central Arguments" (1986), "Wittgenstein" (1988), "Russell" (1996), "Truth Meaning and Realism" (2007), "Scepticism and the Possibility of Knowledge"(2008). Grayling uses philosophical logic to counter the arguments of the sceptic, thereby shedding light on the traditional ideas of the realism debate and developing associated views on truth and meaning. His ideas are described in the later chapters of "An Introduction to Philosophical Logic" (1982, 3rd Ed 1998), and advanced in a series of papers including "Epistemology and Realism" (1991-2), and "Independence and Transcendence: The Independence Thesis and Realism" (1998). In these publications he puts forward the idea that we should consider realism as a primarily epistemological – rather than a metaphysical or a semantic – conception of the relations between mind and world. Grayling sees these questions about the relation of thought to its objects as among the deepest and most important in technical philosophy. He argues that different aspects of this relation figure in philosophical debate in different ways: as the relation of experience to its accusatives, as the relation of language to the world, and as the relation in general of mental states and acts to their objective targets (to what they 'intend'). Although these are by no means merely variant expressions for the same problematic nexus, he says, they denote closely related sides of it.

On the one hand there is the subject of experience – a discourser, where 'discourse' comprehends thought and talk – and on the other hand the world over which discourse ranges. What is the relation between them, and how are the relata themselves to be understood? One sees, says Grayling, that much of the history of philosophy has consisted of attempts to answer this question and its variants. Metaphysics and the theories of knowledge and intentionality, reference and truth revolve upon it.

For this reason, Grayling argues, the importance of understanding the relations in question is great, for it determines the consequences for understanding some of the concepts most central to our thought, not least those of truth, objectivity and possibility. Consider the basic case, that of the relation of discourse to the physical world. If this is an external and contingent relation, then it is compelling to think in familiar terms about truth as correspondence of some kind between thoughts and independently existing facts, of the acquisition of knowledge as the (typically partial) discovery of the same kind of independently existing facts, and of objectivity as a strong notion qualifying whatever belongs to what exists independently of mind. But what if there were a case for saying that the crucial relation is not external in the way required for these familiar views? Manifestly, in Grayling's view, to get alternative understandings of them right if such are needed, it is even more important to be clear about the relation of discoursers and given discourses to the domains over which the latter range. This task requires the joint exploration and development of insights in epistemology, metaphysics and logic.

For Grayling, work on technical problems of the foregoing kind is only one aspect of philosophy. Another aspect, one which has been at the centre of philosophy's place in history, has more immediate application to daily life: the questions of ethics, which revolve upon what Grayling calls the great Socratic question, 'How should one live?'. In pursuit of what he describes as 'contributing to the conversation society has with itself about possibilities for good lives in good societies' Grayling writes widely on contemporary issues, including war crimes, the legalisation of drugs, euthanasia, secularism, and human rights. In support of his belief that the philosopher should engage in public debate, he brings the philosophical perspective to issues of the day in his work as a commentator on radio and television. Between 1999 and 2002 he wrote a weekly column in "The Guardian" called "The Last Word", in which he turned his attention to a different topic every week. In these columns, which also formed the basis of a series of books for a general readership (commencing with "The Meaning of Things" in 2001), Grayling made the basics of philosophy available to the layman. He is a regular contributor to Guardian Unlimited's "Comment is free" group blog, and writes columns for Prospect magazine, The Dubliner magazine, and the New Scientist.

Grayling's book on the allied strategic air offensive in World War Two "Among the Dead Cities: Was the Allied Bombing of Civilians in WWII a Necessity or a Crime?" (2006) was well received as a contribution to the debate on the ethics of war. According to John Charmley in the Guardian it was "A provocative and readable study...that is the purpose of his book, to provoke our leaders, and those on whose behalf they purport to act, to ask how to wage war by methods short of barbarism". [ [http://books.guardian.co.uk/reviews/politicsphilosophyandsociety/0,,1722904,00.html Methods of Barbarism] ]

Positions held

*Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature
* Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts
* Fellow of the World Economic Forum
* Member of the editorial boards of "Reason in Practice" and "Prospect"
* British Academy visitor to the Institute of Philosophy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (1986)
* Director of the Sino-British Summer School in Philosophy in Beijing (1988, 1993)
* Jan Hus Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Philosophy at the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic (1994 and 1996)
* Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship (1998)
* Honorary Secretary of the Aristotelian Society (1993-2001)
* Gifford Lecturer at the University of Glasgow (2005)
* Past chairman of June Fourth, a human rights group concerned with China
* Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society
* Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association



* "An Introduction to Philosophical Logic" (1982), ISBN 0-389-20299-1
** 2nd ed. (1990), ISBN 0-7156-2353-2
** 3rd ed. (1997), ISBN 0-631-20655-8
* "The Refutation of Scepticism" (1985), ISBN 0-7156-1922-5
* "Berkeley: The Central Arguments" (1986), ISBN 0-7156-2065-7
* "Wittgenstein" (1988), ISBN 0-19-287676-7
* "China: A Literary Companion" (1994), ISBN 0-7195-5353-9, with Susan Whitfield
* "Philosophy: A Guide Through the Subject" (1995), ISBN 0-19-875156-7, ed.
* "Russell" (1996), ISBN 0-19-287683-X
* "The Future of Moral Values" (1997), ISBN 0-297-81973-9
* "Philosophy 2: Further Through the Subject" (1998), ISBN 0-19-875179-6, ed.
* "The Quarrel of the Age: The Life and Times of William Hazlitt" (2000), ISBN 0-297-64322-3
* "" (2001), ISBN 0-297-60758-8
** published in the U.S. as "Meditations for the Humanist: Ethics for a Secular Age"
* "The Reason of Things: Living with Philosophy" (2002), ISBN 0-297-82935-1
** published in the U.S. as "Life, Sex, and Ideas: The Good Life Without God"
* "What Is Good?: The Search for the Best Way to Live" (2003), ISBN 0-297-84132-7
* "The Mystery of Things" (2004), ISBN 0-297-64559-5
* "Descartes: The Life of René Descartes and Its Place in His Times" (2005), ISBN 0-7432-3147-3
* "The Heart of Things: Applying Philosophy to the 21st Century" (2005), ISBN 0-297-84819-4
* "The Form of Things: Essays on Life, Ideas and Liberty in the 21st Century" (2006), ISBN 0-297-85167-5
* "The Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy" (2006), ISBN 1-84371-141-9, ed. with Andrew Pyle and Naomi Goulder
* "Among the Dead Cities: Was the Allied Bombing of Civilians in WWII a Necessity or a Crime?" (2006), ISBN 0-7475-7671-8
** Paperback: (2007) ISBN 0-8027-1565-6
* "Against All Gods: Six Polemics on Religion and an Essay on Kindness" (2007), ISBN 978-1-84002-728-0
* "Truth, Meaning and Realism: Essays in the Philosophy of Thought" (June 2007), ISBN 978-0-8264-9748-2
* "Towards The Light" (September 2007) ISBN 978-0-8027-1636-1
** published in the US as "Towards the Light of Liberty"
* "The Choice of Hercules" (November 2007)
* "Scepticism and the Possibility of Knowledge" (April 2008)

Reviews of Grayling's work

* Schwarz, Benjamin. [http://www.powells.com/review/2006_05_30.html Fire From the Sky: What not to read this month] , The Atlantic Monthly, 30 May 2006. An American Review of " Among the Dead Cities: The History and Moral Legacy of the WWII Bombing of Civilians in Germany and Japan "
* Smoler, Fredric. " [http://www.americanheritage.com/events/articles/web/20060406-bombing-strategic-world-war-ii-grayling-among-dead-cities-germany-japan-civilians-royal-air-force-atomic-bomb-richard-pape-terrorism-russia-axis.shtml Was the American Bombing Campaign in World War II a War Crime?] " Review of "Among the Dead Cities: The History and Moral Legacy of the WWII Bombing of Civilians in Germany and Japan" by A. C. Grayling. "American Heritage", 6 April 2006.
* Gambotto-Burke, Antonella " [http://antonellagambottoburke.com/NonfictionReviewGrayling.htm The Compulsive Votary] " Review of "The Form of Things: Essays on Life, Ideas and Liberty in the Twenty-First Century" by A. C. Grayling
* [http://liberalpolemic.blogspot.com/2007/03/mill-liberty-and-id-cards.html Liberal Polemic] reviewed A. C. Grayling's lecture entitled "John Stuart Mill and Actual Liberty", given at the National Liberal Club on 5 March 2007, in which Grayling contrasted Mill's concept of liberty with emerging UK policy on ID cards.

External links

* [http://www.acgrayling.com A. C. Grayling website]
* [http://www.abc.net.au/rn/bookshow/stories/2008/2163846.htm] transcript of interview with Ramona Koval for The Book Show, ABC Radio National, 20 February 2008
* [http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/ac_grayling "Comment is Free" articles, Guardian]
* [http://www.tdf.org/TDF_Article.aspx?id=129 TDF Interview about "Grace" as co-dramatist]

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