Anthony Kenny


region = Western Philosophy
era = 20th-century philosophy
color = #B0C4DE

name = Sir Anthony John Patrick Kenny
birth = 16 March 1931
death =
school_tradition = ancient, medieval and analytic
main_interests = Religion, mind, history of philosophy
influences = Ludwig Wittgenstein, Thomas Aquinas
influenced =

Sir Anthony John Patrick Kenny FBA (born 16 March 1931 in Liverpool) is an English philosopher whose interests lie in the philosophy of mind, ancient and scholastic philosophy, the philosophy of Wittgenstein and the philosophy of religion. With Peter Geach, he has made a significant contribution to Analytical Thomism, a movement whose aim is to present the thought of St Thomas Aquinas in the style of modern philosophy by clearing away the trappings and obscurities of traditional Thomism. He is one of the executors of Wittgenstein's literary estate. He is a former President of the British Academy and current President of the Royal Institute of Philosophy


Kenny initially trained as a Roman Catholic priest at the Venerable English College, Rome, where he received the degree of S.T.L. He was ordained in 1955 and served as Curate in Liverpool 1959-63. Having received his D.Phil. from the University of Oxford (St Benet's Hall) in 1961, he also worked as an Assistant Lecturer in the University of Liverpool (1961-63). However, he questioned the validity of Catholic doctrine and is now an agnostic. He was returned to the lay state in 1963, but according to Canon law his priestly ordination remains valid. He was never dispensed from the obligation of clerical celibacy and was therefore excommunicated on his marriage to Nancy Gayley in 1966.

During 1963-64 Kenny was Lecturer in Philosophy at Exeter and Trinity Colleges, Oxford and he served as University Lecturer 1965-78. From 1964 until 1978, he was a Fellow of Balliol and Senior Tutor during the periods 1971-72 and 1976-78. He was Master of Balliol from 1978 to 1989 and subsequently an Honorary Fellow. During the period 1989-99 he was both Warden of Rhodes House (manager of the Rhodes Scholarship program) and Professorial Fellow of St John's College, and thereafter Fellow Emeritus. He was Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford from 1984 to 2001 (Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Development, 1999-2001). He retired in 2001.

Within the university, Kenny was Wilde Lecturer in Natural and Comparative Religion (1969-72), Speaker's Lecturer in Biblical Studies (1980-83), a member of the Hebdomadal Council (1981-93), Vice-Chairman of the Libraries Board (1985-88), Curator of the Bodleian Library (1985-88), and a Delegate, and member of the Finance Committee, of Oxford University Press (1986-93). From 1972 until 1973 he was the editor of "The Oxford Magazine". He received the degree of D.Litt. in 1980 and the honorary degree of D.C.L. in 1987.

He was a member of the Board of the British Library 1991-96 and Chairman 1993-96, and has served as Chairman of the Society for Protection of Science and Learning (1989-93), of the British National Corpus Advisory Board (1990-95), of the British Irish Association (1990-94), and of the Board of the Warburg Institute (1996-2000). He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1974 and served as a member of the Council of the Academy 1985-88, as Vice President 1986-88, and President 1989-93.

Kenny was Gifford Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh 1972-73 and at the University of Glasgow in 1988, Stanton Lecturer at the University of Cambridge 1980-83, and Bampton Lecturer at Columbia University in 1983. He was a Visiting Professor at Chicago, Washington, Michigan, Minnesota, Cornell, Stanford and Rockefeller Universities.

He has been a member of the American Philosophical Society since 1993, and of the Norwegian Academy of Sciences since 1993, and an Honorary Fellow of Harris Manchester College, Oxford since 1996, and of the School of Advanced Study, University of London since 2002 (Senior Distinguished Fellow 2002-3). He has receveived the honorary degrees of D.Litt. from Bristol (1982), Liverpool (1988), Glasgow (1990), Trinity College, Dublin (1992), Hull (1993), Sheffield (1995), and Warwick (1995), of D.Hum.Litt. from Denison University, 0hio (l986) and Lafayette College, Pennsylvania (1990), and of D.C.L. from the Queen's University of Belfast (1994).

Kenny was appointed Knight Bachelor by H.M. the Queen in 1992 and has been an Honorary Bencher of Lincoln's Inn since 1999.

In October 2006, Kenny was awarded the American Catholic Philosophical Association's Aquinas Medal for his significant contributions to philosophy.


Although deeply interested in traditional Catholic teaching, Kenny now explicitly defines his position as an Agnostic, explaining in his "What I believe" both why he is not a theist and why he is not an atheist. His 2006 book "What I believe" has (as Ch 3) "Why I am Not an Atheist" which begins: "Many different definitions may be offered of the word 'God'. Given this fact, atheism makes a much stronger claim than theism does. The atheist says that no matter what definition you choose, 'God exists' is always false. The theist only claims that there is some definition which will make 'God exists' true. In my view, neither the stronger nor the weaker claim has been convincingly established". He goes on "the true default position is neither theism nor atheism, but agnosticism ... a claim to knowledge needs to be substantiated; ignorance need only be confessed." ["What I Believe", ch. 3]

Kenny has written extensively on Thomas Aquinas and modern Thomism. In "The Five Ways", Kenny deals with St. Thomas' five proofs of God. In it, Kenny argues that none of the proofs Thomas sets out are wholly valid, and instead, sets out to show the flaws in the five ways. His arguments range from the problem of Aristotelian motion in a modern scientific context, to the ability of contingent beings to cause eternality in other contingent beings. His objections all focus on a modern interpretation of St. Thomas. Somewho|date=August 2008 have objected to Kenny's reading of Thomas, largely on the accusation that Kenny fails to interact with Thomas' account of Essence and being, and therefore, the conclusions he draws are not wholly accurate in the way Thomas meant them.

In "What is Faith?", Kenny addresses "the question of whether belief in God, and faith in a divine world, is a reasonable or rational state of mind." ["What is Faith?", p. 3] . He criticises the idea, "common to theists like Aquinas and Descartes and to an atheist like Russell," that "Rational belief [is] either self-evident or based directly or indirectly on what is evident" which he terms "foundationalism" following Plantinga [Ibid., pp. 9-10] pointing out that foundationalism is a self-refuting idea.


* Kenny, A. (1963) "Action, Emotion and Will". London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-30374-5
* Kenny, A. (1963) "Responsa Alumnorum of English College, Rome," 2 vols.
* Kenny, A. (1968) "Descartes"
* Kenny, A. (1969) "The Five Ways: St. Thomas Aquinas’ Proofs of God’s Existence". London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-31845-9
* Kenny, A., Longuet-Higgins, H.C., Lucas, J.R., Waddington, C.H. (1972), "The Nature of Mind", Edinburgh University Press (Gifford Lectures, [
] ) ISBN 0-852-24235-2
* Kenny, A., Longuet-Higgins, H.C., Lucas, J.R., Waddington, C.H. (1973), "The Development of Mind", Edinburgh University Press (Gifford Lectures, [
] ) ISBN 0-852-24263-8
* Kenny, A. (1973) "Wittgenstein". Harmondsworth: The Penguin Press. ISBN 0-14-021581-6
* Kenny, A. (1974) "The Anatomy of the Soul"
* Kenny, A. (1975) "Will, Freedom and Power"
* Kenny, A. (1978) "The Aristotelian Ethics: A Study of the Relationship between the Eudemian and Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle". Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-824554-8
* Kenny, A. (1978) "Freewill and Responsibility". London: Routledge. ISBN 0-7100-8998-8
* Kenny, A. (1979) "The God of the Philosophers". Oxford: OUP. ISBN 0-19-824594-7
* Kenny, A. (1980) "Aquinas". New York: Hill and Wang. ISBN 0-8090-2724-0
* Kenny, A. (1982) "The Computation of Style: An Introduction to Statistics for Students of Literature and Humanities". Oxford & New York: Pergamon Press. ISBN 0-08-024282-0
* Kenny, A. (1983) "Thomas More" Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-287574-4
* Kenny, A. (1986) "A Path from Rome: An Autobiography". Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-283050-3
* Kenny, A. (1986) "A Stylometric Study of the New Testament". Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0198261780
* Kenny, A. (1988) "God and Two Poets: Arthur Hugh Clough and Gerard Manley Hopkins". London: Sidgwick & Jackson. ISBN 0-283-99387-1
* Kenny, A. (1989) "The Metaphysics of Mind"
* Kenny, A. (1990) "The Oxford Diaries of Arthur Hugh Clough"
* Kenny, A. (comp) (1991) "Mountains: An Anthology". London: John Murray. ISBN 978-0719546396
* Kenny, A. (1992) "What is Faith?: Essays in the Philosophy of Religion". Oxford: OUP. ISBN 0-19-283067-8
* Kenny, A. (1993) "Aristotle on the Perfect Life". Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-824017-1
* Kenny, A. (1993) "Aquinas on Mind". New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-04415-4
* Kenny, A. (ed) (1994) "The Oxford History of Western Philosophy". Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-824278-6
* Kenny, A. (1995) "Frege: An Introduction to the Founder of Modern Analytic Philosophy". London: Penguin Philosophy. ISBN 0-14-012550-7
* Kenny, A. (1997) "A Brief History of Western Philosophy". Malden, Mass.: Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-20132-7
* Kenny, A. (1997) "A Life in Oxford". London: John Murray. ISBN 0-7195-5061-0
* Kenny, A. (2001) "Essays on the Aristotelian Tradition"
* Kenny, A. (2002) "Aquinas on Being". Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-823847-9
* Kenny, A. (2004) "Ancient Philosophy: A New History of Western Philosophy, vol. 1". Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-875273-3
* Kenny, A. (2005) "Arthur Hugh Clough: a poet’s life". London & New York: Continuum. ISBN 0-8264-7382-2
* Kenny, A. (2005) "Medieval Philosophy: A New History of Western Philosophy, vol. 2" OUP. ISBN 978-0198752752
* Kenny, A. (2005) "The Unknown God: Agnostic Essays" Continuum. ISBN 978-0826476340
* Kenny, A. (2006) "What I Believe". London & New York: Continuum. ISBN 0-8264-8971-0
* Kenny, A. (2006) "The Rise of Modern Philosophy : A New History of Western Philosophy, vol. 3" OUP. ISBN 978-0198752776
* Kenny, A. & Kenny C. (2006) "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Utility". Imprint Academic. ISBN 978-1845400521
* Kenny, A. (2007) "Philosophy in the Modern World: A New History of Western Philosophy, vol. 4". OUP. ISBN 978-0198752790
* Kenny, A. & Kenny R. (2007) "Can Oxford be Improved?". Imprint Academic. ISBN 978-1845400941

Notes and References


* [ School of Advanced Study, University of London]
* [ About the satirical magazine "Why?"]

External links

* [ podcast interviews with Anthony Kenny on "philosophy bites"]

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