W. B. Gallie  

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"Although Weitz's paper was to become more widely cited than any other, he is not alone in pursuing the line of argument indicated above. W. B. Gallie (1948, 1956b) argues that art has no essence and so is an essentially contested concept (as are ethical concepts also in his view, 1956a). He favors a conjunctive definition ..." --Definitions of Art, 1991, Stephen Davies

"Elton, who reprints Gallie's paper "Philosophical Aesthetics," sees anti-essentialism as belonging to the beginning, long overdue, of the inspection of the linguistic foundations of aesthetics." --The Republic of Art and Other Essays, T. J. Diffey, 1991

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Walter Bryce Gallie (5 October 1912 – 31 August 1998) was a Scottish social theorist, political theorist, and philosopher. He is the author of "Essentially Contested Concepts" (1956a) and "Art as an Essentially Contested Concept" (1956b).


Essentially contested concepts

His paper on 'Essentially contested concepts' (Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, vol. 56, 1956, pp. 167–198) is a seminal statement in the philosophy of the social sciences. In it, Gallie argued that it is impossible to conclusively define key appraisive concepts such as 'social justice,' 'democracy,' 'Christian life', 'art', 'moral goodness' and 'duty', although it is possible and rational to discuss one's justifications for holding one interpretation over competing ones. Clarification of such concepts involves not the examination of predictive relations (as is the case for most scientific concepts), but rather, consideration of how the concept has been used by different parties throughout its history.


  • 1939: "An Interpretation of Causal Laws", Mind Vol.48, No.192, pp. 409–426.
  • 1949: An English School, Cresset Press.
  • 1952: Peirce and Pragmatism, Penguin Books, (Harmondsworth).
  • 1954: "The Function of Philosophical Aesthetics", pp. 13–35 in Elton, W.R., Aesthetics and Language: Essays by W. B. Gallie and Others, Basil Blackwell.
  • 1955: "Explanations in History and the Genetic Sciences", Mind, Vol.64, No.254, pp. 160–180.
  • 1956: "Essentially Contested Concepts", Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Vol.56, (1956), pp. 167–198.
  • 1956: "Art as an Essentially Contested Concept", The Philosophical Quarterly Vol.6, No.23, pp. 97–114.
  • 1957: Free Will and Determinism Yet Again: An Inaugural Lecture Delivered on 15 May 1957 at the Queen's University of Belfast, Marjory Boyd, (Belfast).
  • 1957: "What Makes a Subject Scientific?", The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 8(30): 118–139.
  • 1957: "The Lords' Debate on Hanging July 1956: Interpretation and Comment", Philosophy, Vol.32, No.121, pp. 132–147.
  • 1960: A New University: A. D. Lindsay and the Keele Experiment, Chatto & Windus.
  • 1964: Philosophy and the Historical Understanding, Chatto & Windus, (London).
    • "Narrative and Historical Understanding" [reprint of "The Historical Understanding" (1964), pp. 40–51 in Roberts, G. (ed), The History and Narrative Reader, Routledge, (London), 2001.
  • 1968: Philosophy and the Historical Understanding, 2nd ed. Schocken Books.
  • 1968: "The Idea of Practice", Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 68: 63–86.
  • 1973: "Wanted: A Philosophy of International Relations", Political Studies 27(3): 484–492.
  • 1978: Philosophers of Peace and War: Kant, Clausewitz, Marx, Engels and Tolstoy [The Wiles Lectures, delivered at Belfast University in May 1976], Cambridge University Press.
  • 1979: "Kant's View of Reason in Politics", Philosophy, Vol.54, No.207, pp. 19–33.
  • 1983: How to Think about Nuclear Weapons: J.R. Jones Memorial Lecture Delivered at the College on 26 April 1983, University College of Swansea.
  • 1991: Understanding War: An Essay on the Nuclear Age, Routledge, (London).

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