Charles Kay Ogden bigraphy, stories - English linguist, philosopher, writer

Charles Kay Ogden : biography

1889 - 1957

Charles Kay Ogden (1889–1957) was an English linguist, philosopher, and writer. Described as a polymath but also an eccentric and outsider,Frank Kermode he took part in many ventures related to literature, politics, the arts and philosophy, having a broad impact particularly as an editor, translator, and activist on behalf of a reformed version of the English language. He is typically defined as a linguistic psychologist, and is now mostly remembered as the inventor and propagator of Basic English.

Early life

He was born at Rossall School in Fleetwood, Lancashire on 1 June 1889, where his father Charles Burdett Ogden was a housemaster. He was educated at Buxton and Rossall, winning a scholarship to Magdalene College, Cambridge and coming up to read Classics in 1908.

Language and philosophy

Ogden helped with the English translation of Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. In fact the translation itself was the work of F. P. Ramsey; Ogden as a commissioning editor assigned the task of translation to Ramsey, supposedly on earlier experience of Ramsey's insight into another German text, of Ernst Mach. The Latinate title now given to the work in English, with its nod to Baruch Spinoza's Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, is attributed to G. E. Moore, and was adopted by Ogden. In 1973 Georg Henrik von Wright edited Wittgenstein's Letters to C.K. Ogden with Comments on the English Translation of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, including correspondence with Ramsey.Nils-Eric Sahlin, The Philosophy of F. P. Ramsey (1990), p. 227.

His most durable work is his monograph (with I. A. Richards) titled The Meaning of Meaning (1923), which went into many editions. This book, which straddled the boundaries among linguistics, literary analysis, and philosophy, drew attention to the significs of Victoria Lady Welby (whose disciple Ogden was) and the semiotics of Charles Sanders Peirce. A major step in the "linguistic turn" of 20th century British philosophy, The Meaning of Meaning set out principles for understanding the function of language and described the so-called semantic triangle. It included the inimitable phrase "The gostak distims the doshes."

Although neither a trained philosopher nor an academic, Ogden had a material effect on British academic philosophy. The Meaning of Meaning enunciated a theory of emotivism. Ogden went on to edit as Bentham's Theory of Fictions (1932) a work of Jeremy Bentham, and had already translated in 1911 as The Philosophy of ‘As If’ a work of Hans Vaihinger, both of which are regarded as precursors of the modern theory of fictionalism.


He built up a position as editor for Kegan Paul, publishers in London. In 1920, he was one of the founders of the psychological journal Psyche, and later took over the editorship; Psyche was initially the Psychic Research Quarterly set up by Walter Whately Smith,Lewis Spence, Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology vol. 2 (2003), p. 749. but changed its name and editorial policy in 1921. It appeared until 1952, and was a vehicle for some of Ogden's interests.Psyche: An Annual of General and Linguistic Psychology, facsimile edition 1995 in 18 volumes.

Also for Kegan Paul he founded and edited what became five separate series of books, comprising hundreds of titles. Two were major series of monographs, "The History of Civilisation" and "The International Library of Psychology, Philosophy and Scientific Method"; the latter series included about 100 volumes after one decade. The "To-day and To-morrow" series was another extensive series running to about 150 volumes, of popular books in essay form with provocative titles; he edited it from its launch in 1924. The first of the series (after an intervention by Fredric Warburg)C. K. Ogden: A Collective Memoir, p. 128. was Daedalus; or, Science and the Future by J. B. S. Haldane, an extended version of a talk to the Heretics Society. Other series were "Science for You" and "Psyche Miniatures".C. K. Ogden and Linguistics vol. 4, p. xiv.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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