Susan Stebbing and the Language of Common Sense

In March 2013 I published a study of the life and work of the philosopher Susan Stebbing, as Susan Stebbing and the Language of Common Sense, in the Palgrave History of Analytic Philosophy series. Stebbing is a very interesting and under-researched figure in the British analytic tradition of the early to mid twentieth century. She was a leading exponent of contemporary developments in logical theory, and yet her works were illustrated with examples taken from naturally-occurring texts and with appeals to how her readership would ordinarily use and understand words. Her work therefore calls into question any notion of a clear-cut distinction or binary division between the so-called ‘ideal language’ and ‘ordinary language’ traditions in analytic philosophy. Further, in her later work, Stebbing focussed her attention on the analysis of ideologically loaded texts such as advertisements, newspaper editorials and political speeches, with a particular emphasis on revealing the assumptions and commitments underlying these. This type of analytic work is nowadays most readily associated with fairly recent developments in linguistics, such as critical discourse analysis.

I was very pleased to be invited to take Susan Stebbing as the topic for my talk in the Annual Women in the History of Philosophy Lecture at the University of Sheffield in February 2014. Together with Professor Michael Beaney of King’s College London and the Humboldt University in Berlin, I published an entry on on Stebbing for the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy in 2017. I have been invited to speak about Stebbing at the Society of Women in Philosophy (SWIP) Ireland/In Parenthesis conference in Dublin in May 2018.

8 thoughts on “Susan Stebbing and the Language of Common Sense”

  1. My mother under the patronage of her aunt Elsie Matilda Maude Smith (nee Whetnall) or of her grandfather Thomas William Ward Whetnall attended Kingsley School London (also connected to Tintagel). L S Stebbing was a founder or “Principal” of this school. Apart from a 1939 first edition (Pelican) of “Thinking to some Purpose” I also have LSS’s In Memorian notice.

    B R Carlick

    1. Thanks for this, Brian. The Kingsley School was a very important part of Stebbing’s life, but I haven’t been able to find much information about it, so leads like this are really helpful.

    1. Thanks for drawing my attention to this, Richard. This is a continuation of the discussion that Paul sent me a link to last week. It’s really good to see Stebbing’s work receiving serious philosophical attention.

  2. Dear Richard (if I may)

    ME AGAIN! Via the Internet I see you are in touch with Siobhan Chapman re L.S. Stebbing. Too late for her recent ouevre, I wrote as a pupil at Kingsley School 1927-1935, where of course I came under the formative influence of ‘Phil’ Stebbing. And never forgotten. We were privileged.

    LS took two classes – Logic and also Ethics and Principles of Criticism. I have never forgotten her view of Wordsworth: ‘A namby-pamby milksop who wrote unutterable twaddle’.
    And with good reason, she once called us ‘mindless blobs of protoplasm’ (which put it mildly).

    Sadly, my Mother thought Logic too hifalutin for a girl who might frighten off her boyfriends. Those were the days!

    Anyway, I became a cynic, and then an arch-cynic and scourge of our Local Council.

    Your Joad celebration must have been a great draw.

    Yours sincerely

    Linda Rene-Martin

    PS I am told that Phil’s last words were ‘Always work for peace, never forget’
    Chapman’s book £50 and one copy left. ALAS!

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