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New book offers unique insight into New Zealand philosopher


How does a theologian become a logician? University of Canterbury (UC) Associate Professor Mike Grimshaw explores this question through the letters of a New Zealand philosopher who developed a famous philosophical theory called ‘tense logic’.

Arthur Prior (1914-1969) was regarded as New Zealand’s greatest 20th century philosopher and the new book, Arthur Prior – A ‘Young Progressive’:Letters to Ursula Bethell and to Hugh Teague 1936–1941, follows a unique time in Prior’s life.

In his correspondence with poet and artist Ursula Bethell – who called him one of her ‘young progressives’ – and his communist cousin Hugh Teague, Prior discusses in detail his religious and theological thought and his personal beliefs and influences, including his shift from formal theological study into a world of journalism and philosophy.

These previously unknown letters, which cover the years 1936 to 1941 and his time in Dunedin, Wellington, France and London, chronicle a substantial part of a fascinating period in Prior’s development, both theologically and philosophically.

“These letters are rich in content and detail and give us an intimate view of Prior’s thinking,” Dr Grimshaw says.

“Prior is perhaps more famous for his work in logic. To understand Prior’s ‘tense logic’ and the reason why he is famous, we must first understand his theological thought and his writing, which enables a fuller understanding of the private, personal, theological Prior.

“My book takes the history and legacy of Prior back to the formative years of his life and thought, as well as providing a social and intellectual history of New Zealand during the period 1936 to 1941.”

Dr Mike Grimshaw (PhD Otago) is an associate professor in sociology at UC. Trained as a theologian and historian, he has taught religious studies at Victoria University of Wellington and UC.

A leading scholar of the early life and thought of Prior, having published on unknown Prior notebooks and on Prior’s work on James Joyce, he is currently working on Prior as a public intellectual and on the wider intellectual, theological and cultural circles that he inhabited.

Arthur Prior – A ‘Young Progressive’: Letters to Ursula Bethell and to Hugh Teague 1936–1941 by Mike Grimshaw, published by Canterbury University Press, October 2018, RRP $59.99, 978-1-927145-90-6

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