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W.W. Bartley, III : biography

October 2, 1934 - February 5, 1990

William Warren Bartley, III, (October 2, 1934 – February 5, 1990) known as W.W. Bartley, III, was an American philosopher.

Relationship with Sir Karl Popper

Bartley and Popper had a great admiration for each other, driven by their common stand against justificationism, a view which Popper fought at the British Academy's Annual Philosophical Lecture in 1960 for the first time.Karl R. Popper: On the Sources of Knowledge and of Ignorance. Proceedings of the British Academy 46 (1960), p. 39–71, reprinted in Conjectures and Refutations. However, at the International Colloquium in the Philosophy of Science at Bedford College, University of London, July 11–17, 1965, they came into a conflict with each other. Bartley had presented a paper 'Theories of demarcation between science and metaphysics' and had attacked Popper in it sharply. He accused Popper of a positivist attitude in his early works and proposed that Popper's demarcation criterion was not as important as Popper thought. Popper took this as a personal attack, and Bartley took his reply as ignorant towards his criticism. Their friendship was not restored until 1974, after the publication of The Philosophy of Karl Popper (edited by Paul Schillpp). Bartley changed the tone of his views about Popper's criterion of demarcation, making it less aggressive. However, despite the restored friendship, these views themselves were never accepted by Popper, and Popper criticized them even after Bartley had died.Kiichi Tachibana: . Popper Letters 5:1 (November 17, 1992)


Bartley died of bladder cancer on February 5, 1990 at his home in Oakland, California, after having been diagnosed with the disease in the middle of the preceding year.Stephen Kresge: . Popper Letters 2:1 (1990)anonymous; New York Times February 22, 1990 (corrected February 24, 1990).

At the time of his death, Bartley had just finished his last book, Unfathomed Knowledge, Unmeasured Wealth: On Universities and the Wealth of Nations. Other works he was preparing at that time included writing a biography, and editing the collected works, of Friedrich Hayek. The latter was being completed after Bartley's death by his colleague and executor Stephen Kresge. Also unfinished was a biography of Popper. Both biographies were in an advanced stage at the time of Bartley's death.

Early life and education

Born in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, on October 2, 1934, Bartley was brought up in a Protestant home. He completed his secondary education in Pittsburgh and studied at Harvard University between 1952 and 1956, graduating with a BA degree in philosophy.Mariano Artigas: The Ethical Nature of Karl Popper's Theory of Knowledge (1999) He spent the winter semester of 1956 and the summer semester of 1957 at the Harvard Divinity School and the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1958, he completed his MA degree in philosophy at Harvard. Bartley was training to become a Protestant minister, but rejected Christianity at that point. He went on to study at the London School of Economics under Sir Karl Popper, where he completed his PhD in 1962. Parts of his disseration, Limits of Rationality: A Critical Study of Some Logical Problems of Contemporary Pragmatism and Related Movements, were subsequently published as The Retreat to Commitment in the same year.


After his doctoral graduation, Bartley worked as a lecturer in logic in London. Later, he held positions at the Warburg Institute and the University of California, San Diego.David Miller: Bartley. Critical Rationalism (1994), p. 75 He was appointed to his first full professorship in 1969, at the University of Pittsburgh, where he had been teaching since 1963.

In 1973 he joined the California State University, Hayward faculty as a Professor of Philosophy, where he received the distinction of “Outstanding Professor” of the entire California State University System in 1979. His last position was that of a Senior Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution.Gerard Radnitzky: . Popper Letters 2:1 (1990)

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