Philosophy Susan Stebbing
Michael Beaney, Siobhan Chapman
  • LAST REVIEWED: 31 July 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 July 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0237


L. Susan Stebbing (1885–1943) was an important figure in British philosophy between the two world wars. Converted to analytic philosophy in 1917 by G. E. Moore, she played a major role in the development of analytic philosophy in the 1930s through her contribution to the so-called Cambridge School of Philosophy, which drew its inspiration from the work of Russell, Moore, and the early Wittgenstein. She published A Modern Introduction to Logic, which can be regarded as the first textbook of analytic philosophy, in 1930, and she was the first in the Anglophone philosophical community to critically engage with logical positivism. Her ideas were central to the debates about analysis that took place in the 1930s. In her later work, addressing a more general readership, she focused increasingly on ordinary language and its everyday use. She became interested in the ways in which language can be used to persuade and potentially to manipulate opinion—by scientists, the clergy, advertisers, journalists, and politicians, among others—and saw it as a philosopher’s duty to analyze and where necessary expose such uses. Stebbing’s work has been relatively neglected since her death but can be seen as prescient of how the study of language would develop subsequently in some areas of philosophy and also of the relatively new discipline of linguistics.

General Overviews

Philosophical Studies: Essays in Memory of L. Susan Stebbing was published a few years after Stebbing’s death as a tribute to her contributions to philosophy. In it, various philosophers of the day engage specifically with Stebbing’s ideas or discuss more generally philosophical topics that were of importance in her work. There is little in the way of more recent scholarship that directly addresses Stebbing’s philosophy. Chapman 2013 is the only book-length study of Stebbing. There are a number of useful and informative encyclopedia entries on Stebbing, including Warnock 2004, Beaney 2006, and Beaney and Chapman 2017. Willow 1995 provides an overview of Stebbing’s main writings.

  • Aristotelian Society. Philosophical Studies: Essays in Memory of L. Susan Stebbing. London: Allen & Unwin, 1948.

    A collection of philosophical essays that either address Stebbing’s work directly or discuss philosophical topics related to her published writings. It also contains a brief biographical sketch by John Wisdom and an (incomplete) list of her publications. This book has long been out of print.

  • Beaney, Michael. “Stebbing, Lizzie Susan (1885–1943).” In The Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy. 4 vols. Edited by A. C. Grayling, Andrew Pyle, and Naomi Goulder IV, 3023–3028. London: Thoemmes Continuum, 2006.

    A useful overview of Stebbing’s work and her contribution to philosophy.

  • Beaney, Michael, and Siobhan Chapman. “Susan Stebbing.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Summer 2017 edition.

    An overview of Stebbing’s work, the major events in her life, and her philosophical legacy. This can be recommended as a starting point in exploring Stebbing’s philosophy.

  • Chapman, Siobhan. Susan Stebbing and the Language of Common Sense. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781137313102

    The only book-length study of Stebbing so far published. This traces Stebbing’s life and work, concentrating on her professional and personal associations and considering the significance of her philosophy in relation to its historical and social context. It also offers an assessment of Stebbing’s contribution that is informed by subsequent developments both in analytic philosophy and in linguistics.

  • Warnock, Mary. “Stebbing, (Lizzie) Susan (1885–1943).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1093/ref:odnb/36259

    A biographical and intellectual overview.

  • Willow, Morgan Grayce. “L. Susan Stebbing (1885–1943).” In A History of Women Philosophers. Vol. 4. Edited by Mary Ellen Waithe, 125–155. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Kluwer, 1995.

    This History was a pioneering work on women philosophers. Willow discusses her books.

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