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The Lord Quinton

Quinton in 1978 by Geoff Howard
Anthony Meredith Quinton

25 March 1925
Died 19 June 2010(2010-06-19) (aged 85)
United Kingdom
Occupation Philosopher

Anthony Meredith Quinton, Baron Quinton, FBA (25 March 1925 – 19 June 2010) was a British political and moral philosopher, metaphysician, and materialist philosopher of mind.


Quinton was born at 5, Seaton Road, Gillingham, Kent, the only son of Surgeon Captain Richard Frith Quinton, Royal Navy (1889–1935) and his wife (Gwenllyan) Letitia (née Jones).

He was educated at Stowe School and Christ Church, Oxford, where he took first-class honours in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. A fellow of All Souls from 1948, he became a Fellow of New College, Oxford, in 1955. He was President of Trinity College, Oxford, from 1978 to 1987.

Quinton was president of the Aristotelian Society from 1975 to 1976. He was chairman of the board of the British Library from 1985 to 1990.

On 7 February 1983, he was created a life peer as Baron Quinton, of Holywell in the City of Oxford and County of Oxfordshire. An admirer of Margaret Thatcher, he sat in the Lords as a Conservative.

To BBC Radio audiences, Quinton became well known as a presenter of the long-running Round Britain Quiz.


In the debate about philosophical universals, Quinton defended a variety of nominalism that identifies properties with a set of "natural" classes. David Malet Armstrong has been strongly critical of natural class nominalism: Armstrong believes that Quinton's 'natural' classes avoid a fairly fundamental flaw with more primitive class nominalisms, namely that it has to assume that for every class you can construct, it must then have an associated property. The problem for the class nominalist according to Armstrong is that one must come up with some criteria to determine classes that back properties and those which just contain a collection of heterogeneous objects.

Quinton's version of class nominalism asserts that determining which are the natural property classes is simply a basic fact that is not open to any further philosophical scrutiny. Armstrong argues that whatever it is which picks out the natural classes is not derived from the membership of that class, but from some fact about the particular itself.

While Quinton's theory states that no further analysis of the classes is possible, he also says that some classes may be more or less natural—that is, more or less unified than another class. Armstrong illustrates this intuitive difference Quinton is appealing to by pointing to the difference between the class of coloured objects and the class of crimson objects: the crimson object class is more unified in some intuitive sense (how is not specified) than the class of coloured objects.

In Quinton's 1957 paper, he sees his theory as a less extreme version of nominalism than that of Willard van Orman Quine, Nelson Goodman and Stuart Hampshire.


His "shortest definition of philosophy"

The shortest definition, and it is quite a good one, is that philosophy is thinking about thinking. That brings out the generally second-order character of the subject, as reflective thought about particular kinds of thinking – formation of beliefs, claims to knowledge – about the world or large parts of it. — The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, p. 666 (1st ed.)

His longer definition

Philosophy is rationally critical thinking, of a more or less systematic kind about the general nature of the world (metaphysics or theory of existence), the justification of belief (epistemology or theory of knowledge), and the conduct of life (ethics or theory of value). Each of the three elements in this list has a non-philosophical counterpart, from which it is distinguished by its explicitly rational and critical way of proceeding and by its systematic nature. Everyone has some general conception of the nature of the world in which they live and of their place in it. Metaphysics replaces the unargued assumptions embodied in such a conception with a rational and organized body of beliefs about the world as a whole. Everyone has occasion to doubt and question beliefs, their own or those of others, with more or less success and without any theory of what they are doing. Epistemology seeks by argument to make explicit the rules of correct belief formation. Everyone governs their conduct by directing it to desired or valued ends. Ethics, or moral philosophy, in its most inclusive sense, seeks to articulate, in rationally systematic form, the rules or principles involved. ibid


  • Spaces and Times (1962)
  • Political Philosophy (editor) (1967)
  • The Nature of Things (London, 1973)
  • The Politics of Imperfection: The Religious and Secular Traditions of Conservative Thought in England from Hooker to Oakeshott (1978)
  • Utilitarian Ethics (1973)
  • Francis Bacon (Oxford, 1980)
  • Thoughts and Thinkers (1982)
  • From Wodehouse To Wittgenstein (1998)


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