C. D. Broad

From New World Encyclopedia

Western Philosophy
Twentieth century philosophy
Name: Charlie Dunbar (C.D.) Broad
Birth: December 30, 1887
Death: March 11, 1971
School/tradition: Analytic philosophy
Main interests
Metaphysics, Ethics, Philosophy of the Mind, Logic
Notable ideas
Influences Influenced
John Locke, William Ernest Johnson, Alfred North Whitehead, G. E. Moore, Bertrand Russell A. J. Ayer

Charlie Dunbar Broad (known as C.D. Broad) (December 30, 1887 - March 11, 1971) was an English analytic philosopher who was concerned with, and wrote in, many areas: Epistemology, history of philosophy, moral philosophy, philosophy of science, and the philosophical aspects of psychical research. He was known for his thorough and dispassionate examinations of all conceivable arguments in such works as The Mind and Its Place in Nature (1925), Scientific Thought (1930), and Examination of McTaggart's Philosophy (1933).


Broad was born at Harlesden, a suburb of London, as the only child of middle class parents of comfortable circumstances. He received a good education at Dulwich College (a private school for boys) and, based on his interest and ability in science and mathematics, won a science scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1905, the university with which his subsequent philosophical career would be chiefly associated.

Despite early interest and success in science and mathematics, he became convinced that he would never be first-rate in those fields, so he turned to philosophy and took first-class honors with special distinction in it in 1910. In 1911, he became a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, on the basis of a dissertation entitled Perception, Physics, and Reality. This became his first book, in 1914.

In 1911, Broad went to the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. First, he was assistant to G. F. Stout, professor of logic and metaphysics, and then a lecturer at Dundee. During World War I, he combined his lectureship with work in a chemical laboratory for the Ministry of Munitions. He succeeded C. Lloyd Morgan in the chair of philosophy at the University of Bristol in 1920, but in 1923, returned to Trinity College, Cambridge, as successor to J. M. E. McTaggert, as lecturer in moral science. In 1933, he became Knightbridge professor of moral philosophy at Cambridge. Until his retirement in 1953, he did not travel outside Great Britain except for visits to Scandanavia, especially Sweden, and his meetings with and encouragement of Swedish philosophers led to his being given honors by that country.

The strongest influences on Broad at Cambridge were McTaggert, W.E. Johnson, Bertrand Russell, and G.E. Moore. He studied carefully and was especially influenced by Russell's Principles of Mathematics, Moore's Refutation of Idealism—this work, he reports, knocked the bottom out of his youthful subjective idealism—and Johnson's work on problems of probability and induction. At St. Andrews, he was in close contact with Stout and A.E. Taylor and learned much from both of them: Among other things he learned from Stout the importance of psychology, and Taylor led him to read St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Anslem and to recognize the importance and philosophical abilities of the Medieval theologians.

Broad was president of the Aristotelian Society twice: 1927-1928; and 1954-1955.

Broad reported that he was personally almost wholly devoid of religious or mystical experience, but that he had a great interest in such experiences and believed that "they are probably of extreme importance in any theoretical interpretation of the world" ("Critical and Speculative Philosophy," §3, ii). Later in life he had a great interest in, and did investigations of, psychical phenomena and parapsychology, and served two different times as the president of the Society of Psychical Research—1935 and 1958. He concluded that the experimental data warranted a belief in a "psychic factor," although he couched this in hypothetical form (Andrew Chrucky, "C. D. Broad: The Default Philosopher of the Century," p. 4). Some have criticized Broad for this interest and investigation, saying that it was a betrayal of his clear-headed, analytic, scientific, and skeptical character, but others, such as Chrucky, have praised it as being in keeping with his synoptic and synthesizing stance toward everything.

Broad was homosexual and never married. That might not be something that should be noted, except that Broad himself was quite open and sometimes insistent about it, in an era when open acknowledgment of, or declaration of, one's homosexuality was rare.

Broad's work

Broad published a great deal—more, in fact, than any other British philosopher in the twentieth century, including Bertrand Russell.

The largest amount of Broad's writings was concerned with theory of knowledge, philosophy of science, and metaphysics. He also wrote on ethics and other topics. Among other things, he published works on the life and thought of many previous figures, including Bacon, Locke, Newton, Butler, Kant, McTaggert, Meinong, Wittgenstein, and many others. In that sense, Broad was a scholar of philosophy and philosophers, unlike his colleague at Cambridge, Wittgenstein, for example, who was not a scholar at all and who read hardly anyone else, or most of the other analytic philosophers, who had very little knowledge of the history of philosophy. Among many other things, Broad wrote a review of Norman Malcolm's Memoir and its Biographical Sketch of Wittgenstein by Georg Henrik Von Wright.

Broad was not a system builder, but an investigative critic of views and issues, and he frequently found it difficult to make up his mind among the many alternatives he presented. In theory of perception, Broad argued that sense data, or sensa as he called them, are never identical with the surface of what is seen; he tended to treat claims about sense data as being empirical. In discussing the mind-body problem, he attempted to create a theory that would deal with the fact that brain events must go along with mental events, while still allowing for the possibility that mental events can still occur after the death of the body. In dealing with the problems of probability and induction, he held that the problem of justifying induction is a genuine one, and he claimed that the degree of belief that we give to inductions cannot be justified unless we assume some premise about the physical world. In ethics, after examining and laying out the possible theories, he seems to have had no definite opinion about which to choose.

Broad was known for being thorough in investigating any point. As Chrucky puts it, "Broad's writings have two critical merits." The first of those is that "he tried his best to classify all the logical and historical philosophical alternative solutions to various philosophical problems, with their accompanying arguments." He tried, without bias, "to present these arguments in their strongest forms." The second merit of Broad's writing, according to Chrucky, is

…its extreme clear-headedness. Ever mindful of ambiguity and vagueness, Broad meticulously makes distinctions and marks them with a technical vocabulary, which he either invents or borrows…. His writings are paradigms of a reflective alertness for both soundness and strength of arguments, and of an equal alertness for various fallacies ("C.D. Broad: The Default Philosopher," 3).

Broad himself commented on his penchant for clarity:

I have an extreme dislike for vague, and oracular writing; and I have very little patience with authors who express themselves in this style. I believe that what can be said at all can be said simply and clearly in any civilized language or in a suitable system of symbols, and that verbal obscurity is almost always a sign of mental confusion…. I think that this may prejudice me against some writers who really are struggling to express profound ideas in imperfect language ("Critical and Speculative Philosophy, §3, vi).

A hint of the thoroughness with which Broad approached topics can be seen in the number of alternatives and classifications he brought to particular fields. Some examples: In Chapter 14 of his book, Mind and Its Place in Nature, he presents 17 alternatives to the mind-body problem. He responded to Henry Sidgwick's book Methods of Ethics, which he admired and praised, by publishing his own book Five Types of Ethical Theory.

Broad distinguished between what he called Critical and Speculative Philosophy. Critical philosophy analyzes obscure and confusing concepts, and also takes "propositions which we uncritically assume in science and daily life and subject(s) them to criticism." Critical philosophy then goes on, after "we have got a clear idea of the meanings of propositions which are commonly assumed," to "expose them to every objection that we can think of ourselves or find in the writings of others."("Critical and Speculative Philosophy," §5, 6, 7) Speculative philosophy's "business is to take over all aspects of human experience, to reflect upon them, and to try to think out a view of Reality as a whole which shall do justice to all of them" (Ibid., §14). The value of Speculative Philosophy is not in its conclusions, "but in the collateral effects which it has, or ought to have, on the persons who pursue it" (Ibid., §17). In addition, Speculative Philosophy must take into serious consideration the "religious and mystical experiences of mankind. These form a vast mass of facts which obviously deserve at least as careful attention as the sensations of mankind" (Ibid., §18).

In his autobiography in the Schilpp, Library of Living Philosophers, volume on his philosophy, Broad declared that sometime shortly after the acceptance of the Knightsbridge chair, he gave up philosophy in all but outward appearance: "I no longer believed in the importance of philosophy. I took little interest in its later developments, and I knew very well that I at least had shot my bolt and had nothing further of value to contribute." But this confession seems unfounded, or at least premature, because the period of his largest and greatest publications occurred after 1933.

Broad was known as one person at Cambridge who was not intimidated or awed by Wittgenstein. In fact, he seems to have had small regard for Wittgenstein because their methods and interests were so different: Broad was a careful scholar who examined all known views on and sides of a problem, whereas Wittgenstein was a pure speculative philosopher who wrote in an oracular way and who knew little, if anything, of the views of anyone else.

A.J. Ayer summed up Broad this way:

Philosophical fashion has not been kind to Broad, and indeed his historical importance is evidently less than that of Russell, Moore, or Wittgenstein. Even so, I think that his work is under-rated…. Where he excelled was in drawing up a brief. The subject is discussed from every angle, the various possibilities judiciously set out, the precedents cited, the fallacious arguments exposed; nothing is skimped; looking for reason, we are not fobbed off with rhetoric; there is never a hint of "something far more deeply interfused." This is perhaps his weakness, that he does not burrow under the surface, but only few can do this with profit, and it is much to have the surface properly scrubbed (A.J. Ayer, Part of My Life, 117-118).


Selected books and publications of C. D. Broad

  • Perception, Physics, and Reality, London: Cambridge University Press, 1914.
  • "Induction and Probability" (2 papers), in Mind, Vol. 27, 1918, p389-404; Vol 29, 1920, p11-45.
  • Scientific Thought, London: K. Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd.; New York: Harcourt, Brace, & Company, Inc., 1923.
  • "Critical and Speculative Philosophy," in Contemporary British Philosophy: Personal Statements (First Series), ed. by J.H. Muirhead, London: G. Allen and Unwin, 1924, p77-100.
  • The Mind and Its Place in Nature, London: Kegan Paul, 1925.
  • Five Types of Ethical Theory, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner; New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1930.
  • Ethics and the History of Philosophy, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1952.
  • "Review of Norman Malcolm's Memoir and von Wright's Biographical Sketch of Wittgenstein," in Universities Quarterly, 13 May 1959, p304-306.
  • Induction, Probability, and Causation: Selected Papers By C. D. Broad, Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel, 1968.
  • Kant: An Introduction, Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 1978. ISBN 0521217555
  • Lectures on Psychical Research, Incorporating the Perrott Lectures Given in Cambridge University in 1959 and 1960, New York: Humanities Press, 1962.
  • Leibniz: An Introduction, London: Cambridge University Press, 1975. ISBN 052120691X
  • "Autobiography" and "Reply to Critics" in Schilpp.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Ayer, A.J., Part of My Life: The Memoirs of a Philosopher. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1977. ISBN 0151709734
  • Brown, Robert. "Broad, Charlie Dunbar," in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 1, Paul Edwards, ed. New York: Macmillan, 1967.
  • Oaklander, L. Nathan. C. D. Broad's Ontology of Mind. Frankfurt: Ontos, 2006. ISBN 3937202978
  • Schilpp, Paul Arthur. The Philosophy of C. D. Broad, The Library of Living Philosophers, Vol. 10. New York: Tudor, 1959.

External links

All links retrieved November 24, 2023.

General philosophy sources


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