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peter geach

Emeritus Professor Peter T Geach, MA, FBA

Sadly, as members will be aware, Emeritus Professor Peter Geach, Professor of Logic in the Department of Philosophy from 1966 to 1981, and an internationally-renowned philosopher and logician, died on 21 December 2013

Born in London in 1916, Peter Geach spent his earliest years in Cardiff.  At the age of eight, he became a boarder at Llandaff Cathedral School and later attended Clifton College.  Whilst still a schoolboy, he received systematic instruction in logic and philosophy from his father who, as a member of the Indian Educational Service, had been Professor of Philosophy at Lahore and later Principal of a teacher training college in Peshawar.  (He was invalided out of the IES whilst his son was still a young boy.)  In 1934, Peter Geach won a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford, graduating in 1938 with a First in Literae Humaniores.  In the same year, he was also received into the Catholic Church; his faith was to be central to his future philosophical studies.

Upon graduation, Peter Geach spent a year (1938-39) as a Gladstone Research Student, based at St Deiniol’s Library, Hawarden.  Following the end of World War II in 1945, he undertook further research at Cambridge, where he worked with Wittgenstein and G H von Wright.  Wittgenstein became a good friend, often inviting Peter Geach to accompany him on his walks.  Professor Geach wrote later that the walks were rewarding but very tiring because his walking companion would quash any attempts at light conversation and ruthlessly expose any careless talk about philosophy.  During his time in Cambridge, he embarked on what was to be an extraordinarily sustained publishing career, with articles in the journals Mind and Analysis.  He also undertook some lecturing and supervising for the Moral Science Faculty.  In 1951, he was appointed to his first substantive academic post, as Assistant Lecturer at the University of Birmingham, going on to become Reader in Logic. 

Peter Geach took up the Chair of Logic at Leeds in October 1966.  He found the intellectual atmosphere of the Philosophy Department very much to his taste, later writing approvingly of the wealth of philosophical talent built up by James Cameron and his successor as head of department, Roy Holland, and the great mental stimulus afforded by this environment.  For his part, Peter Geach brought much to the department, quite apart from his high distinction in his discipline: vast erudition; a fascinating stock of reminiscences; unbridled enthusiasm for teaching; a rock-like realism over day-to-day academic matters; a sense of justice and equity; and a kindly readiness to help whenever and wherever the need arose.  He also much enjoyed collegiate life as a staff member of Lyddon Hall; a loyal friend and supporter of the Hall, he was honoured to be chosen by the student residents as their Librarian.  In later life, the shields of the University and of Lyddon Hall hung over the door of his study.

Peter Geach produced seminal publications in the areas of logic, language, mind, religion and ethics.  Spanning some six decades, his corpus of published work is acclaimed, aside from its scholarly content, for its clarity and precision of language.  His books include Mental Acts (1957); Reference and Generality (4th edition 2006); God and the Soul (1969); Logic Matters (1972); Reason and Argument (1976); Providence and Evil (1977); The Virtues (1977); Truth, Love and Immortality: an introduction to McTaggart’s philosophy (1979); and Truth and Hope (2001).  His interest in the writings of philosophers of the past found expression in the book Three Philosophers: Aristotle, Aquinas, Frege (1963), co-written with his wife, Elizabeth Anscome, herself a philosopher of much distinction.  He co-edited translations of selected writings of Descartes and Gottlob Frege.  He was also the author of numerous articles in journals including Mind, Analysis, Philosophical Review and Ratio.  A number of these articles were written in Polish, his mother's language, which he learned the better to understand his Polish heritage and the rich tradition of learning in logic which exists in Poland.  In addition to his writings, he was successively Secretary and Chairman of the Editorial Committee of Analysis.  Peter Geach (along with Michael Dummett) also had a profound influence on British philosophy.  At a time when Oxford ordinary language philosophy was dominant, they championed the thought and writings of Gottlob Frege.  This changed the direction of British philosophy.

In the course of his career many were the honours and accolades bestowed upon Peter Geach.  He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1965 and an Honorary Fellow of Balliol College in 1979.  He held the Stanton Lectureship in the Philosophy of Religion at Cambridge from 1971 to 1974 (his lectures in this capacity giving rise to his books Providence and Evil and The Virtues); and was invited to deliver the Hägerström Lectures at the University of Uppsala in 1975, the Bar-Hillel Lectures at the University of Tel Aviv in 1976, and the first series of O’Hare Lectures at the University of Notre Dame in 1978.  He also held Visiting Professorships at the universities of Cornell, Chicago, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Warsaw.  In 1999, he was awarded the Papal medal ‘Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice’ for his philosophical work and in the following year was the recipient of the Aquinas Medal of the American Catholic Philosophical Association.

Although he retired from his Chair in 1981, Peter Geach’s scholarly endeavours remained undimmed.  His work was celebrated in Peter Geach: Philosophical Endeavours (1991).  Edited by his former Leeds colleague, Harry Lewis, this book contains a revealing philosophical autobiography by Peter Geach, together with contributions from his closest philosophical colleagues and adversaries.  In 1994, Professor Geach and his wife were the joint dedicatees of a Festschrift: Moral Truth and moral tradition: essays in honour of Peter Geach and Elizabeth Anscombe, edited by Luke Gormally.

Peter Geach married Elizabeth Anscombe in 1941.  Elizabeth died in 2001.  Their seven children survive them.