Charlie Dunbar Broad

The English philosopher Charlie Dunbar Broad (1887-1971) published in all the major fields of philosophy but is known chiefly for his work in epistemology and the philosophy of science.

On December 30, 1887, C.D. Broad was born at Harlesden in Middlesex, now a suburb of London. He was the only child of middle-class parents and was brought up in comfortable circumstances in a household that included several adult relatives. His early education was at Dulwich College. There he was encouraged to concentrate on scientific subjects and mathematics. He earned a science scholarship to Cambridge University in 1906.

His work in science at Trinity College, Cambridge, was distinguished, but Broad felt that he would never be outstanding as a scientist. Partly owing to the powerful influence of a roster of eminent philosophers at Trinity, a group which included J. M. E. McTaggart, W. E. Johnson, G. E. Moore, and Bertrand Russell, Broad shifted his studies to philosophy. Here too he took first-class honors. In 1911 he won a Trinity fellowship for his dissertation, later published as Perception, Physics and Reality. There followed a decade of teaching in Scotland. During World War I, Broad worked as a consultant to the Ministry of Munitions, exempting him from military service in a war he did not support.

In 1920 he was elected to the chair of philosophy at Bristol University, and 3 years later he was invited back to Cambridge to succeed McTaggart as lecturer. There, having decided that marriage was not for him, he settled into rooms once occupied by Isaac Newton and into a fixed, routine life. Lecturing and writing were his chief concerns, and he avoided the famous weekly meetings of the Moral Science Club, which were dominated by the more articulate Ludwig Wittgenstein and Moore. In 1933 he was elected Knight-bridge professor of moral philosophy at Cambridge.

Broad's lecture notes formed the basis of his numerous books, of which Scientific Thought (1923) and Mind and Its Place in Nature (1925) are perhaps the most important. His philosophical work is always competent and well informed if not highly original, and it is expressed in language of admirable lucidity and style. In addition to the usual academic subjects, Broad long pursued an interest in psychical research and urged other philosophers to do the same.

After his retirement from teaching in 1953, Broad lectured for a year in the United States. He then returned to Cambridge to live "an exceptionally sheltered life." There he died on March 11, 1971.


Further Reading on Charlie Dunbar Broad

Paul A. Schilpp, ed., The Philosophy of C. D. Broad (1959), includes a lengthy autobiographical essay in which Broad gives a very candid and rather unflattering appraisal of his own character and accomplishments. The same volume includes a number of critical, but more appreciative, essays by contemporaries, together with detailed replies by Broad. It also features a complete bibliography through 1959. Also worth consulting is the critical study of Broad's theory of perception, Martin Lean, Sense Perception and Matter: A Critical Analysis of C. D. Broad's Theory of Perception (1953).