Philosophy John Cook Wilson
Guy Longworth
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0388


John Cook Wilson (b. 1849–d. 1915) was Wykeham Professor of Logic at the University of Oxford. He made a number of contributions in various areas of philosophy, including important work on knowledge, metaphysics, perception, logic, probability, and the interpretation of Plato and Aristotle. His most distinctive doctrines concerned knowledge. He held, first, that knowledge (or its exercises, in cases of what he called “apprehension”) is a primitive notion distinct from, and excluding, other mental states like belief or opinion. And he held, second, that what is known must obtain independently of its being known. The combination of those two doctrines formed the basis of what has come to be known as Oxford Realism, a family of views about knowledge and reality that builds on Cook Wilson’s articulation and defense of the two doctrines. Although Cook Wilson’s own work is no longer widely read, it has exerted an important influence on later work in epistemology via works in the broad Oxford Realist tradition, including works such as Prichard 1950 (cited under Knowledge) and Austin 1962, Hinton 1973, Snowdon 1980–1981 (cited under Legacy), McDowell 1982, Travis 1989, and Williamson 2000 (all cited under Legacy).

General Overviews

Marion 2015 and Passmore 1968 provide concise but comprehensive overviews of Cook Wilson’s life and work. Robinson 1931 is an important book-length exposition and assessment of Cook Wilson’s work on the philosophy of logic, including an illuminating discussion of his views about knowledge. Marion 2000a, Marion 2000b, and Travis and Kalderon 2013 discuss Cook Wilson’s place in the development of Oxford Realism.

  • Marion, M. “Oxford Realism: Knowledge and Perception I.” British Journal for the History of Philosophy 8.2 (2000a): 299–338.

    DOI: 10.1080/09608780050043235

    This article forms a pair with Marion 2000b and provides a comprehensive overview of the content and development of Oxford Realism.

  • Marion, M. “Oxford Realism: Knowledge and Perception II.” British Journal for the History of Philosophy 8.3 (2000b): 485–519.

    DOI: 10.1080/096087800442156

    This article forms a pair with Marion 2000a and provides a comprehensive overview of the content and development of Oxford Realism.

  • Marion, M. “John Cook Wilson.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2015.

    Marion provides a comprehensive overview of Cook Wilson’s life and work, with particular emphasis on Cook Wilson’s views about knowledge.

  • Passmore, J. “Cook Wilson and Oxford Philosophy.” In A Hundred Years of Philosophy. 2d ed. By J. Passmore, 240–257. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1968.

    Passmore provides an overview of Cook Wilson’s work, in relation to his predecessors, peers, and students at Oxford.

  • Robinson, R. The Province of Logic: An Interpretation of Certain Parts of Cook Wilson’s “Statement and Inference.” London: Routledge, 1931.

    Robinson’s book-length discussion of Cook Wilson’s work focuses on his understanding of the appropriate scope of the discipline of logic. The book also includes very helpful discussions of Cook Wilson’s views about knowledge and other modes of thinking.

  • Travis, C., and M. E. Kalderon. “Oxford Realism.” In The Oxford Handbook of the History of Analytic Philosophy. Edited by M. Beaney, 489–517. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    Travis and Kalderon provide a critical overview of some central themes in Oxford Realism, with particular attention to Cook Wilson.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.