When I got an e-mail informing me that Sir Peter Strawson had died, I was sitting at my desk in my office at home. Next to my computer was a copy of Introduction to Logical Theory. I have spent the first half of the academic year writing a history of Twentieth Century philosophy of language, in which I set up the latter half of Twentieth Century philosophy of language as a reply to the vision of language Strawson lays out in this work and in other papers. I am probably not the only philosopher who can plausibly reconstruct the recent history of their discipline as being a development of or response to some view most elegantly articulated in Strawson's writings.
For every professional philosopher, there is a small group of philosophers whose work led her to the decision to devote her life to the study of philosophy. In my own case, Strawson was certainly in that group. I have spent over half my life reading, writing about, and teaching his contributions. I have taught Strawson's work in my introduction to philosophy classes, in my upper-level classes, and in my graduate seminars (the very first graduate class I taught was on Individuals and Bounds of Sense). Perhaps I am unusual in this regard, but I doubt that I am that unusual.
My own thinking about the nature of philosophy is very much a product of his work. Like many people, I originally stumbled upon Strawson via Kant. Strawson's elaboration of the project of descriptive metaphysics was a good description of what I liked so much in Kant's metaphysics, and Strawson's attention to language suggested a way of coming closer to a description of common sense metaphysical categories (though of course Strawson was explicit that the descriptive metaphysician cannot only rely upon language in her investigations).
The project of descriptive metaphysics has fallen out of favor again. So I'm ending this post with the following quote from the Introduction to Individuals:
....there is a massive core of human thinking which has no history -- or none recorded in histories of thought; there are categories and concepts which, in their most fundamental character, change not at all. Obviously these are not specialities of the most refined thinking. They are the commonplaces of the least refined thinking; and are yet the indispensable core of the conceptual equipment of the most sophisticated human beings. It is with these, their interconnexions, and the structure that they form, that a descriptive metaphysics will be primarily concerned.
Metaphysics has a long and distinguished history, and it is consequently unlikely that there are any new truths to be discovered in descriptive metaphysics. But this does not mean that the task of descriptive metaphysics has been, or can be, done once for all. It has constantly to be done over again. If there are no new truths to be discovered, there are old truths to be rediscovered. For though the central subject-matter of descriptive metaphysics does not change, the critical and analytical idiom of philosophy changes constantly. Permanent relationships are described in an impermanent idiom, which reflects both the age's climate of thought and the individual philosopher's personal style of thinking. No philosopher understands his predecessors until he has re-thought their thought in his own contemporary terms; and it is characteristic of the very greatest philosophers, like Kant and Aristotle, that they, more than any others, repay this effort of re-thinking.
I wouldn't place Strawson with Kant and Aristotle. But his thoughts nevertheless handsomely reward re-thinking.