David K. Lewis and Analytical Philosophy

The Manuscripts Division is pleased to announce that the correspondence, manuscripts, and other papers of the philosopher David K. Lewis (1941-2001) have been donated to the Princeton University Library by his widow Stephanie Lewis and are now available for study in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. The finding aid for the David K. Lewis Papers (C1520) is available online. Lewis is widely regarded as one of the most important analytic philosophers of the twentieth century. He is the author of Convention (1969), Counterfactuals (1973), On the Plurality of Worlds (1986), Parts of Classes (1991), and over 110 articles. He also published five volumes of collected articles: Philosophical Papers I (1983), Philosophical Papers II (1986), Papers in Philosophical Logic (1998), Papers in Metaphysics and Epistemology (1999), and Papers in Ethics and Social Philosophy (2000). Lewis’s work was highly influential and affected most areas of analytic philosophy. He made significant contributions to philosophy of mind, philosophical logic, philosophy of language, philosophy of science, philosophy of mathematics, epistemology, and metaphysics. His impact and influence was due not merely to the doctrines he defended, but also to the way he framed the philosophical debates in which he engaged. Lewis’s work continues to be widely discussed and remains a central part of contemporary philosophy.

Lewis was a graduate student in philosophy at Harvard University (PhD, 1967), where he studied under Willard Van Orman Quine (1908-2000) and met Stephanie Robinson, Lewis’s future wife and the present donor of the papers. They met in a philosophy of science course taught by J.J.C. Smart, who at the time was visiting Harvard from Australia. In 1966, Lewis accepted an Assistant Professorship at UCLA. In 1970, Lewis became an Associate Professor at Princeton University. He was named Stuart Professor of Philosophy in 1995, and three years later was appointed Class of 1943 University Professor of Philosophy. Lewis and his wife made annual summer trips to Australia from 1971 until his death. Australia became a second home to Lewis, and he became an integral part of the philosophical culture of Australia. Along with the Australian philosopher D. M. Armstrong, Lewis played an important role in reviving metaphysics in the latter half of the twentieth century.

The David K. Lewis Papers include his extensive correspondence with other philosophers and scholars. There are approximately sixteen thousand pages of Lewis’s correspondence, both incoming and outgoing. There is significant volume of correspondence with David Armstrong, J.J.C. Smart, Frank Jackson, Willard Van Orman Quine, Hugh Mellor, Max Cresswell, Allen Hazen, and John Bigelow; as well as smaller amounts of correspondence with R. B. Braithwaite, Peter van Inwagen, Paul Benacerraf, William Alston, Iris Murdoch, Jonathan Bennett, Anthony Appiah, J. Peter Burgess, Paul Churchland, D. C. Dennett, Gareth Evans, Philippa Foot, Margaret Gilbert, Sally Haslanger, Jaakko Hintikka, David Kaplan, Saul A. Kripke, Colin McGinn, Thomas Nagel, Derek Parfit, Steven Pinker, Alvin Plantinga, and many others. Lewis’s letters are often very detailed, as he maintained ongoing conversations regarding many philosophical topics with his colleagues through regular correspondence. Lewis’s writings include drafts of published articles and books, often along with publishing correspondence, reviews, and notes related to each publication. A smaller amount of reviews and unpublished or posthumously published writings are also present, as well as some of Lewis’s undergraduate and graduate student writings, course materials, and notes, including notes from graduate seminars with Donald Williams and others at Harvard and elsewhere, and research files and reports from Lewis’s time as a researcher at the Hudson Institute in the 1960s.

Two research projects now underway make extensive use of the David K. Lewis Papers. The first project is organized by Professor Peter Anstey of the University of Sydney and Stephanie Lewis. They aim to publish the correspondence between Lewis and Armstrong. The second project is The Age of Metaphysical Revolution: David Lewis and His Place in the History of Analytic Philosophy, which is headed by Professor Helen Beebee of the University of Manchester and is funded by the British Arts and Humanities Research Council. The project includes Professor Fraser MacBride of the University of Glasgow as co-investigator, and two postdoctoral researchers: Anthony Fisher, University of Manchester, who provided the biographical information for this blog-post; and Frederique Janssen-Lauret, University of Glasgow. The latter project has the goal of publishing several volumes of Lewis’s correspondence and unpublished papers, as well as a monograph on Lewis and his place in the history of analytic philosophy.

The Manuscripts Division also holds the extensive papers of the eminent mathematical logicians Kurt Gödel (1906-78), C0282, on deposit from the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton; and Alonzo Church (1903-95), C0948, Department of Mathematics. The division also has manuscripts and selected other papers of Princeton philosophy professors Charles Woodruff Shields (1825-1904), C0343; George Tapney Whitney (1871-1938), C0448); and Walter Kaufmann (1921-80), C0469. For information about the David K. Lewis Papers, consult the finding aid. For more information about the holdings of the Manuscripts Division, contact Public Services at rbsc@princeton.edu

David K. Lewis in Cambridge, June 2001,
where he received an honorary D. Litt.
degree from the University of Cambridge.
© Hugh Mellor