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Joseph Henry Woodger

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Joseph Henry Woodger (2 May 1894 – 8 March 1981) was a British theoretical biologist and philosopher of biology whose attempts to make biological sciences more rigorous and empirical was significantly influential to the philosophy of biology in the twentieth century. Karl Popper, the prominent philosopher of science, claimed "Woodger… influenced and stimulated the evolution of the philosophy of science in Britain and in the United States as hardly anybody else".[1]

Life and work[edit]

Joseph Woodger was born at Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, and studied at University College London from 1911 until 1922, except for a period serving in the First World War.[citation needed] He then became a reader at the University of London Middlesex Hospital Medical School. He became a professor there in 1947, and eventually retired in 1959 as emeritus professor of biology. He was a member of the Theoretical Biology Club along with Joseph NeedhamConrad Hal WaddingtonJohn Desmond Bernal, and Dorothy WrinchKarl Popper described the club as "one of the most interesting study circles in the field of the philosophy of science."[citation needed]


Woodger was known to friends and family as "Socrates", and with his wife Eden (born Buckle) he lived at Epsom in Surrey, where they had four children.[citation needed]His eldest child was Mike Woodger (born 1923), a computer pioneer who worked with Alan Turing at the National Physical Laboratory, leading to the early Pilot ACEcomputer.[2] Joseph Woodger died in 1981.

On hypotheses in science[edit]

J. H. Woodger wrote, "Admittedly, some hypotheses have become so well established that no one doubts them. But this does not mean that they are known to be true. We cannot determine the truth of a hypothesis by counting the number of people who believe it, and a hypothesis does not cease to be a hypothesis when a lot of people believe it."[3]


  • Biological Principles (1929). London: K. Paul, Trench, Trubner.
  • The Axiomatic Method in Biology (1937). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.[4]
  • The Technique of Theory Construction (1939), Chicago.
  • Biology and Language (1952). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.


  1. Jump upPopper, Karl (1981). "Obituary: Joseph Henry Woodger". British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. 32 (3): 328–330. doi:10.1093/bjps/32.3.328.
  2. Yates, David (Spring 2010). "Pioneer Profile: Michael Woodger". Computer RESURRECTION – The Bulletin of the Computer Conservation Society. 50.
  3. Woodger, J. H. (1948). "Observations on the present state of embryology". Symposium of the Society for Experimental Biology. 2 (Growth in Relation to Differentiation and Morphogenesis): 354.
  4. Allen, E. S. (1938). "Review: J. H. Woodger, The Axiomatic Method Method in Biology". Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. 44 (11). doi:10.1090/S0002-9904-1938-06874-7. Jump up

Further reading[edit]

  • Nicholson, Daniel J.; Gawne, Richard (19 July 2013). "Rethinking Woodger’s Legacy in the Philosophy of Biology". Journal of the History of Biology47 (2): 243–292. doi:10.1007/s10739-013-9364-x.

External links[edit]

  • Biographical note at URL 
  • Note of papers held at University College of London URL