Jonathan Bennett (philosopher)


Jonathan Francis Bennett (born 17 February 1930) is a philosopher of language and metaphysics, specialist of Kant's philosophy and a historian of early modern philosophy. He has New Zealand citizenship by birth and has since acquired UK and Canadian citizenship.

Life and educationEdit

Jonathan Bennett was born in Greymouth, New Zealand to Francis Oswald Bennett and Pearl Allan Brash Bennett.[1] His father was doctor and his mother a homemaker. He read philosophy at the University of Canterbury (formerly Canterbury University College)[2] and was awarded his MA there in 1953.[3] He then went to the University of Oxford where he was a member of Magdalen College, Oxford. He obtained his BPhil in 1955.


Bennett's first academic post was as a junior lecturer at the University of Auckland, New Zealand (then Auckland University College) (1952).[4] He was an instructor in philosophy at Haverford College (Pennsylvania) (1955-56), then a lecturer in moral science (philosophy) at the University of Cambridge (1956–68), then at Simon Fraser University (1968–70), the University of British Columbia (1970–79), and in 1979 he went to Syracuse University as professor of philosophy. He remained in this position until his retirement in 1997.[5]

In 1980, he was the Tanner Lecturer at Brasenose College of Oxford University.[6] His lectures were refined and published in his 1995 book The Act Itself. In this work he argues that letting someone die is as immoral as killing someone. This also applies to other harms that one commits or fails to prevent. This view has been widely discussed for example by Judith Jarvis Thomson[7]

In 1992, he was the John Locke Lecturer at the University of Oxford giving lectures on 'Judging Behaviour: Analysis in Moral Theory'.[8]

In 1985, he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[9] The British Academy extended him the same honour in 1991.[10] In the same year he was awarded a LittD from the University of Cambridge. Bennett has written extensively on philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, events, conditionals, and consequentialist ethics. He is particularly renowned for his interpretations of major early modern philosophers and he has written five books in this area.[11] A Festschrift to commemorate his 60th birthday was published in 1990.[12]

Bennett's website is devoted to making the texts of early modern philosophers more accessible to today's students.[13]



  • 1989 (1964). Rationality. Hackett.
  • 1966. Kant's Analytic. Cambridge University Press.
  • 1971. Locke, Berkeley, Hume: Central Themes. Oxford University Press.
  • 1974. Kant’s Dialectic. Cambridge University Press.
  • 1990 (1976). Linguistic Behaviour. Hackett.
  • 1984. A Study of Spinoza’s Ethics. Hackett.
  • 1988. Events and their Names. Hackett.
  • 1995. The Act Itself. Oxford University Press.
  • 2001. Learning from Six Philosophers. Oxford University Press.
  • 2003. A Philosophical Guide to Conditionals. Oxford University Press.

Selected journal articles

  • 1954. 'Meaning and Implication', Mind, 63, pp. 451–63.
  • 1965. 'Substance, Reality and Primary Qualities', American Philosophical Quarterly, 2, pp. 1–17.
  • 1988. 'Thoughtful Brutes', Proceedings of the American Philosophical Association, 62 pp. 197–210.
  • 1993. 'Negation and Abstention: Two theories of Allowing', Ethics, 104, pp. 75–96.


  1. ^ Hull, Richard (2013). "Jonathan Francis Bennett". The American Philosophical Association Centennial Series. Presidential Addresses of The American Philosophical Association 1981–1990. 10: 515–518. doi:10.5840/apapa2013172.
  2. ^ "University of Canterbury, philosophy, Master's Theses". University of Canterbury. Archived from the original on 5 May 2013. Retrieved 13 April 2012.
  3. ^ Bennett, J.F. (1952), The paradoxes of strict implication, UC Research Repository, doi:10.26021/4451, hdl:10092/13728, Wikidata Q111991083
  4. ^ Hull, Richard (2013). "Jonathan Francis Bennett". The American Philosophical Association Centennial Series. Presidential Addresses of The American Philosophical Association 1981–1990. 10: 515. doi:10.5840/apapa2013172.
  5. ^ Levey, Samuel (2005). "Bennett, Jonathan Francis (1930-)". In Brown, Stuart (ed.). Dictionary of Twentieth Century British Philosophers. Thoemmes Press. p. 78. ISBN 184371096X.
  6. ^ Bennett, Jonathan. "Who is Jonathan Bennett?". Retrieved 13 December 2013.
  7. ^ Thomson, Judith Jarvis (1996). "Review: The Act Itself. by Jonathan Bennett". Noûs. 30 (4): 545–557. doi:10.2307/2216119. JSTOR 2216119.
  8. ^ "The John Locke Lectures". Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford. Retrieved 7 July 2017.
  9. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter B" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 15 June 2011.
  10. ^ "Professor Jonathan Bennett". British Academy. Retrieved 7 July 2017.
  11. ^ Lowe, E. J. (2005). Honderich, Ted (ed.). The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 87. ISBN 0-19-926479-1.
  12. ^ Cover, J.A.; Kulstad, Mark, eds. (1990). Central themes in early modern philosophy : essays presented to Jonathan Bennett. Indianapolis: Hackett. ISBN 0872201090.
  13. ^

External linksEdit

  • – Translations by Bennett of philosophical classics of the English language into contemporary English. Also works in Latin, French and German.