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Sir Stuart Hampshire
Full name Sir Stuart Hampshire
Born 1 October 1914(1914-10-01)
Died 13 June 2004 (aged 89)
Era Contemporary philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Analytic philosophy
Main interests Spinoza

Sir Stuart Newton Hampshire (1 October 1914 - 13 June 2004) was an Oxford University philosopher, literary critic and university administrator. He was one of the antirationalist Oxford thinkers who gave a new direction to moral and political thought in the post-World War II era.

Hampshire was educated at Repton School and at Balliol College, Oxford where he matriculated as a history scholar. He did not confine himself to history, switching to the study of Greats and immersing himself in the study of painting and literature. As is the culture at Balliol, his intellectual development owed more to his gifted contemporaries than to academic tutors. Having taken a first class degree, in 1936 he was elected to a Fellowship of All Souls College, Oxford, where he researched and taught philosophy initially as an adherent of logical positivism. He participated in an informal discussion group with some of the leading philosophers of his day, including J. L. Austin and Isaiah Berlin.

In 1940, at the outbreak of World War II he enlisted in the army and was given a commission. Due to his lack of physical aptitude was seconded to a position in military intelligence near London where he worked with Oxford colleagues such as Gilbert Ryle and Hugh Trevor-Roper. His encounters as interrogator with Nazi officers at the end of the war led to his insistence on the reality of evil.

After the war, he worked for the government before resuming his career in philosophy. From 1947 through 1960, he taught at University College, London and was a fellow of New College, Oxford. His noted study of Spinoza published in 1951 is still widely considered the best introduction to that philosopher. In 1955 he returned to All Souls College, Oxford as a resident fellow and became domestic bursar.

His innovative book Thought and Action (1959) attracted much attention. It propounded an intentionalist theory of the philosophy of mind taking account of developments in psychology. Although he considered most continental philosophy vulgar and fraudulent, Hampshire was much influenced by Maurice Merleau-Ponty. He insisted that philosophy of mind "has been distorted by philosophers when they think of persons only as passive observers and not as self-willed agents". In his subsequent books, Hampshire sought to shift moral philosophy from its focus on the logical properties of moral statements to what he considered the crucial question of moral problems as they present themselves to us as practical agents.

In 1960, Stuart Hampshire was elected a member of the British Academy and became Grote Professor of Philosophy at University College London, succeeding A.J. Ayer. His international reputation was growing and from 1963 to 1970 he chaired the department of philosophy at Princeton University. In 1970 he returned to Oxford as Warden of Wadham College, Oxford. His liberal and socialist views were apparent when Wadham was in the first group of men-only Oxford colleges to admit women in 1974. Hampshire considered his wardenship to be one of his most significant achievements in reviving the fortunes of the college. He was knighted in 1979 and retired from Wadham in 1984, when he accepted a professorship at Stanford University.

His last book, the thought-provoking and accessible Justice Is Conflict (1999), inaugurated the Princeton Monographs in Philosophy series. In this succinct work, he denies that harmony is achievable in moral and social issues. He demotes the role of rationally determined outcomes and stresses the need for debate in deciding these matters; only by trusting the mechanisms of justice can opposing sides accept the outcome peacefully.

Stuart Hampshire wrote extensively on literature and other topics for the Times Literary Supplement and the New York Review of Books amongst others. He was held in high esteem in British society. He was head of the literary panel of the Arts Council for many years. In 1965-6 he was selected by the UK government to conduct a review of the effectiveness of GCHQ.

He married his first wife, Renée Ayer, the former wife of the philosopher A. J. Ayer, in 1961. She died in 1980, and in 1985 he married Nancy Cartwright, who was then his colleague at Stanford and is now Professor of Philosophy at the London School of Economics and at the University of California, San Diego.


  • Age of Reason: The Seventeenth Century Philosophers (The Mentor Philosophers), 1956.
  • Spinoza and the Idea of Freedom, 1960.
  • Feeling and expression (An inaugural lecture delivered at University College, London, 25 October 1960), 1962.
  • Thought and Action, 1970.
  • Freedom of Mind and Other Essays, 1971.
  • Knowledge and the Future (Gwilym James Memorial Lecture), 1976.
  • Two Theories of Morality (Thank-offering to Britain Fund Lecture), 1977.
  • Public and Private Morality, 1978.
  • Morality and Conflict, 1987.
  • Spinoza: An Introduction to His Philosophical Thought (Penguin Philosophy), 1988.
  • Innocence and Experience, 1992.
  • Justice is Conflict (Princeton Monographs in Philosophy), 2000

External links

Academic offices
Preceded by
Maurice Bowra
Warden of Wadham College, Oxford
Succeeded by


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