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Dewi Zephaniah Phillips

Dewi Phillips late in life
Full name Dewi Zephaniah Phillips
Born November 24, 1934
Morriston, Wales
Died July 25, 2006 (aged 71)
Swansea, Wales
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Analytic philosophy, Moral philosophy
Main interests Philosophy of religion, ethics, Philosophy of literature
Notable ideas A new role for the philosophy of religion: not in uniting theology and philosophy, but in recognising and analysing their different functions.

Dewi Zephaniah Phillips (24 November 1934 – 25 July 2006), known as D. Z. Phillips, Dewi Z, or simply DZ, was a leading proponent of Wittgensteinian philosophy of religion and had a long academic career spanning five decades. At the time of his death, he held the Danforth Chair in Philosophy of Religion at Claremont Graduate University, California and was Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Swansea University (formerly the University of Wales, Swansea and University College, Swansea).

Born in Morriston, Glamorgan, Wales, in 1934, Phillips was the youngest son of David and Alice Phillips. One of three brothers, he was predeceased by the Reverend Cadfan Phillips and Keri Phillips. In 1959 he married Margaret Monica Hanford and they had three sons, Aled, Steffan and Rhys, and four grandchildren, Ceri, Bethan, Siân and Emyr.

He attended Swansea Grammar School and studied at University College, Swansea (1952–58) and the University of Oxford (St Catherine’s Society) (1958-61). From 1959 until 1961, he was Minister of Fabian Bay Congregational Church, Swansea. He began his academic career at Queen’s College, Dundee, in 1961, before joining the University College of North Wales, Bangor, in 1963. He returned to Swansea University in 1965 to take up a lectureship in the Department of Philosophy. Promoted to a senior lectureship in 1967, he became professor and head of department in 1971. He also served as Dean of the Faculty of Arts (1982–1985) and as a Vice-Principal (1989–1992). In 1993 he was appointed Danforth Professor of Philosophy of Religion at the Claremont Graduate University in California, and thereafter divided his time between Claremont and Swansea where, in 1996, he became the Rush Rhees Professor Emeritus and Director of the Rush Rhees Archives and Peter Winch Archives based in Swansea University. He held both positions until his death in 2006.

Professor Phillips gave many endowed lectures during his tenure at California's Claremont Graduate University. These included the Cardinal Mercier Lectures (Leuven), Marett Lecture (Oxford), Riddell Lectures (Newcastle), McMartin Lectures (Carleton University, in Ottawa), Hintz Lecture (Tucson), the Aquinas Lecture (Oxford), and Vonhoff Lectures (Groningen).

His teachers at Swansea – J. R. Jones, R. F. Holland, Peter Winch, Frank Ramsey, and, most importantly, Rush Rhees inspired an untiring devotion to philosophy. His research interests included the philosophy of religion, ethics, philosophy and literature, Simone Weil, Søren Kierkegaard, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. He contributed much to Swansea University's reputation as a centre of Wittgenstein's philosophy. Indeed, Phillips's distinctive contribution to philosophy, and a handful of other philosophers associated with Swansea, is recognised among professional philosophers as "the Swansea school" of philosophy.

The Swansea school of thought is, perhaps, most thoroughly articulated as a positive research program in Phillips' own book on the subject, "Philosophy's Cool Place" (1999), where he defends a metaphilosophical position that he calls "contemplative philosophy." On this view, philosophy has a purely conceptual task which involves elucidating the various grammars that constitute our forms of life. However, in contrast to the New Wittgenstein school of thought, on this interpretation of Wittgenstein, philosophy is not limited to purely "therapeutic" treatments and the removing of philosophical confusion. Here, Phillips is primarily indebted to the work of Rush Rhees. For Phillips, what gives philosophy its unique disciplinary feature is its primary concern with elucidating the nature of language as such. This is the attempt to explain the sense in which language is unified without appealing to an external point of view, outside our language games. Contemplation is, therefore, the attempt to understand that which makes all of our various forms of discourse the singular commonality we call "language."

Outside philosophy and academia, his commitment to the language and culture of Wales was clear. He was instrumental in the founding of the Taliesin Arts Centre on the university campus in Swansea, and promoted the use of the Welsh language in local schools. He was honoured by membership of the Gorsedd Circle of the National Eisteddfod.

Phillips died of a heart attack in Swansea University Library, on the 25th of July, 2006. He was 71.

Published works

D. Z. Phillips was perhaps best known for his publications in the philosophy of religion, but he has also published articles in ethics, philosophy and literature, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Welsh language publications in Welsh literature. He was editor of the journal Philosophical Investigations (Blackwells) and the Swansea Series in Philosophy (Palgrave), as well as the Claremont Studies in the Philosophy of Religion and Wittgensteinian Studies series. Selected publications:

  • Athronyddu Am Grefydd (Philosophising About Religion)
  • Belief, Change and Forms of Life
  • Concept of Prayer, The
  • Death and Immortality
  • Dramâu Gwenlyn Parry
  • Faith after Foundationalism
  • Faith and Philosophical Enquiry
  • From Fantasy to Faith
  • Interventions in Ethics
  • Introducing Philosophy: The Challenge of Scepticism
  • Kant and Kierkegaard on Religion (co-edited with Timothy Tessin)
  • Moral Practices (with H O Mounce)
  • Philosophy's Cool Place
  • Problem of Evil and the Problem of God (2005)
  • Recovering Religious Concepts
  • Religion and Friendly Fire
  • Religion and Hume's Legacy (co-edited with Timothy Tessin)
  • Religion and the Hermeneutics of Contemplation
  • Religion without Explanation
  • R.S. Thomas: Poet of the Hidden God
  • Sense and Delusion (with Ilham Dilman)
  • Through a Darkening Glass
  • Wittgenstein and Religion
  • Wittgensteinian Fideism? (Co-written with Kai Nielsen)

External links

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