Stephen Edelston Toulmin was an English philosopher and educator whose career spanned nearly six decades. Toulmin's research focused on moral reasoning analyses, and developed a new approach to analyzing arguments known as the Toulmin Model of Argumentation. A foremost authority on international relations, history and philosophy of the physical and social sciences, ethics, and the history of ideas, his research has widely influenced many fields, particularly clinical medical ethics, rhetoric, communication and computer science.
"Stephen's essential contribution was to bring philosophy back from the abstractions of reason and logic - the world of Plato and Descartes - to the human condition," said Roy Pea, a professor of learning sciences and education at Stanford University. "He argued that if we want to understand questions of ethics, science and logic, we have to inquire into the everyday situations in which they arise." (New York Times obituary, December 11, 2009)
Born March 25, 1922 in London, Toulmin earned his bachelor's degree in mathematics and physics from Cambridge University in 1942. Shortly after graduation, Toulmin was hired by the Ministry of Aircraft Production as a junior scientific officer. After World War II, he returned to England to earn his master's and Ph.D. in moral sciences from Cambridge University, and was a disciple of Ludwig Wittgenstein. In 1949, he began teaching the philosophy of science at Oxford University. He went on to teach at many distinguished universities throughout the world, including Melbourne University, Leeds University, Columbia University, Michigan State University, Brandeis University, the University of California, Santa Cruz, as well as the University of Chicago and Northwestern University before joining the faculty of the University of Southern California in 1993. Also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he was appointed University Professor in 2001.
He was the author of The Uses of Argument (1958), Foresight and Understanding: An Enquiry into the Aims of Science (1961), Human Understanding (1972), The Return to Cosmology: Postmodern Science and the Theology of Nature (1982), Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity (1990), and Return to Reason (2001).
Toulmin died on Dec. 4, 2009 in Los Angeles.