You are here

Basil George Mitchell

Nolloth Professor of the Philosophy of Christian Religion, Oxford

Moral philosopher Basil George Mitchell was born on 9 April 1917 to George William Mitchell and Mary Mitchell (née Loxston). Following his secondary education at King Edward VI School in Southampton and his undergraduate studies at Queen's College, Oxford (1939), he entered the Royal Navy. His service (1940–1946) was distinguished by his promotion to Lieutenant in 1942 and Instructor Lieutenant RN in 1945.

Mitchell’s military service concluded soon following the end of the Second World War. After a brief assignment as Lecturer at Christ Church, Oxford (1946–1947), he was made Fellow and Tutor in Philosophy at Keble College, Oxford, where he served from 1947 to 1967. He was invited to deliver the Stanton Lectures in Philosophy of Religion at Cambridge University (1959–1962) and travelled to the United States to serve as Visiting Professor at Princeton University in 1963. He gave the Edward Cadbury Lectures at the University of Birmingham in 1966–1967. In 1968 Mitchell was appointed Nolloth Professor of the Philosophy of the Christian Religion at Oxford University and Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford. On 13 May 1968 he gave Inaugural Lecture at Oxford on ‘Neutrality and Commitment’, which was very successful and later published.

The Gifford Committee at Glasgow University named Mitchell their distinguished Gifford Lecturer in Natural Theology, and his lectures were delivered from 1974 to 1976. The following year, Glasgow University awarded Mitchell an honorary D.Div. He was a Visiting Professor at Colgate University in 1976 and in 1979 received another honorary doctorate (D.Lit.Hum.) from Union College in Schenectady, New York.

A devoted Anglican, Mitchell served as a member of the Church of England’s Working Parties on Ethical Questions from 1964 to 1978 and on the Doctrine Commission from 1978 to 1984.

Mitchell became a Fellow of the British Academy (FBA) in 1983, and he was made Emeritus Fellow of Oriel College in 1984. He delivered several more distinguished lecture series in his later career, including the Nathanial Taylor Lectures at Yale University (1986), the Bishop Hurst Philosophy Lectures at American University, entitled ‘The Enforcement of Morals’ (1986), the Martin Lectures at the University of Hong Kong (1987), the Norton Lectures at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky (1989) and the 1992 Sarum Lectures at Oxford.

He married Margaret Eleanor Collin in 1950, and their marriage produced four children. He enjoys tending the garden at his home in Oxford.

Mitchell’s edited volumes include Faith and Logic: Oxford Essays in Philosophical Theology (1957) and The Philosophy of Religion (1971). In addition to dozens of articles and book chapters, his published monographs include Law, Morality and Religion in a Secular Society (1967), The Justification of Religious Belief (1973), Morality, Religious and Secular: The Dilemma of the Traditional Conscience, his 1974–1976 Gifford Lectures (1980), How to Play Theological Ping-Pong: And Other Essays on Faith and Reason (1990), and Faith and Criticism, his 1992 Sarum Lectures (1994). William Abraham and Steven Holtzer edited The Rationality of Religious Belief: Essays In Honour of Basil Mitchell (1987), a volume of critical essays dedicated to Mitchell’s work.

  • Brannon Hancock, University of Glasgow