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David Malet Malet Armstrong Edit Profile

materialist philosopher

David Malet Armstrong, Australian philosopher, educator. Named Officer, Order Australia, 1993. Fellow: Australian Academy Humanities, British Academy (correspondent); member: American Academy Arts & Sciences (foreign) (honorary).


Armstrong, David Malet was born on July 8, 1926 in Melbourne, Australia. Son of J.M. and Philippa Suzanne Armstrong.


Bachelor First Class Honours in Philosophy, with University Medal, University Sydney, 1950. Bachelor of Philosophy, Oxford University, 1954. Doctor of Philosophy, University Melbourne, 1960.


Assistant lecturer Birkbeck College, London University, 1954—1955. Lecturer, senior lecturer University Melbourne, 1956—1963. Challis Professor Philosophy University Sydney, 1964—1991, emeritus professor philosophy, since 1992.

Assistant professor Yale University, 1962, visiting professor, 98. Professor Stanford University, 1965, 68, University Texas, Austin, 1980, Austin, 89, University Wisconsin, Madison, 1985. Distinguished visiting professor University California, Irvine, 1992.

Distinguished scholar in residence Franklin and Marshall College, 1993, 94, 2000. Visiting professor University Graz, Austria, 1995, University Norte Dame, Indiana, 1997, University Connecticut at Storrs, 1999. Kemp Distinguished professor Davidson College, 2002.

Seaman Royal Australian Navy, 1945-1946.



Armstrong’s philosophy can be divided into three main, though overlapping, areas: his early work on perception and sensation. A middle period on the mind, consciousness, intentionality, belief and knowledge, abandoning his early behaviourism. And a later interest in universals, branching off into laws of nature and the study of possibility.

A keynote underlying nearly all this work is realism of one sort or another, modified only in his latest work on universals, where he shows more sympathy than previously for a version of nominalism based on ‘tropes', i.e. properties regarded as numerically distinct foreach object possessing them. However, his realism is moderate and he has no truck with Platonic universals, realist possible worlds or other abstractions that cannot satisfy his 'Eleatic principle' that only what has causes and effects is real which predicates stand for universals is therefore an empirical question. Like Anderson and a very different philosopher, Chisholm, he makes states of affairs basic, universals and particulars being abstractions from these but real because things cause by having properties.

He rejects Quine's doctrine that only subjects carry ontological commitment. He treats laws of nature as relations of non-logical necessity between universals, known empirically. The 1977 article offers a good summary of much of his later philosophy. Armstrong’s attack on nominalism has perhaps been more controversial than those on reprcsentationalism and phenomenalism but, apart from his general materialism, particularly controversial was his early claim that perception is nothing but the acquiring of knowledge or an inclination to believe.

His materialism is not eliminative, however. The mind is notabolished but is indentical with part of the body. Sources: Philosophical Investigations.

Personal communication.


Fellow: Australian Academy Humanities, British Academy (correspondent). Member: American Academy Arts & Sciences (foreign) (honorary).


  • Philosophers & Thinkers

    Berkeley. John Anderson, H. H. Price, C. B. Martin, J. J. C. Smart, Oakeshott, Ayer, N. Fleming, A. Michotte, F. Jackson, W. S. Sellars, Kripke, Tooley, D. K. Lewis and Skyrms.

  • Other Interests

    Epistemologist; metaphysician. Philosopher of mind.


Married Madeleine Annette Hayden, 1950. Married Jennifer Mary de Bohun Clark.

J.M. Armstrong

Philippa Suzanne Armstrong

Madeleine Annette Hayden

Jennifer Mary de Bohun Clark.