About the project


Our topic

Twentieth-century analytic philosophy didn’t turn out the way it was supposed to. The early decades were given over to a frenzy of meta-philosophical debate. The systematic programs (logical atomism and positivism) that had promised a scientific way forward for philosophy from the excesses of nineteenth-century idealism quickly became popular exemplars of philosophical hubris and folly. By mid-century it had become a widespread expectation that philosophy could now comfortably settle down to patient reflection upon ordinary language and common-sense dicta. Speculative metaphysicians were personae non gratae. But these expectations were wide of the mark. By century-end speculative metaphysicians were back, making ever bolder and more surprising claims about reality; their influence spread outside the confines of metaphysics, to the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of science, the philosophy of mathematics and beyond. An Age of Metaphysical Revolution was underway. How, when, by what means, by whose hands did this shift in metaphysics’ fortunes arise?

David Lewis, at home, Princeton, 20 December 1992.

David Lewis, at home in Princeton, 20 December 1992.

The history of late twentieth-century philosophy has remained unwritten because of the proximity of events unfolding. But now is the time to write such a history. It is already evident that the American philosopher David Lewis (1941-2001) was a lightning rod through which the currents of intellectual change transformed philosophy; through him the tradition of Quine, Russell, and behind them, Hume, continues to bear an influence upon us.

But Lewis did something else extraordinary that no philosophers, or historians of philosophy, can ignore. Between 1959 and 2001 he corresponded with the most eminent philosophers of the day and he kept copies of both sides! The David Lewis Papers contains c13,000 pages of philosophical correspondence and over a dozen unpublished papers; in his letters Lewis raised the analytic style to a new level, making a major literary and intellectual impact upon how philosophy is practised today.

The David Lewis Papers is an intimate record of history in the process of its making: how Lewis influenced, and was influenced by a global network of philosophers to bring about the Age of Metaphysical Revolution.


What will the project involve?

Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of Steffi Lewis the David Lewis Papers is now housed in the Princeton University Library.

  • Princeton University Library: The David Lewis Papers


    David Lewis’ folders of his various publications, now located in the Princeton University Library.

We’ll be publishing two volumes of edited letters, a collection of Lewis’ unpublished papers, and a volume on the philosophy of time travel, based on Lewis’ Gavin David Young Lectures at the University of Adelaide, July 1971. (Lewis originally intended to work these lectures into a ‘semi-popular’ book, but never found the time; instead he condensed them into ‘The Paradoxes of Time Travel’.)

We will also be co-authoring a monograph on Lewis and his significance for the metaphysical revolution in late twentieth-century philosophy.

We will be running various workshops and an end-of-project conference. For these, we’re going to be trying out various different brands of virtual conferencing software so that people can participate without having to travel to the UK. This is in line with the environmental sustainability component of the project.