George Boas was born in Providence, Rhode Island on August 28, 1891. He graduated from Brown University in 1913 with both his B.A. and M.A. The following year he began studying at Harvard under Josiah Royce and received his second M.A. there in 1915. After a year at Columbia, he went to the University of California at Berkeley to begin working on his PhD in Philosophy. While earning his Doctorate, Boas worked as an Instructor in Forensics. However, both his schooling and teaching position were interrupted by his enlistment in the Army and combat service in France during World War I. After the war, Boas returned to Berkeley, where he received his PhD. In 1917. Four years later, Arthur O. Lovejoy, recognizing Boas' knowledge of Philosophy, brought him to the Johns Hopkins University as a Historian of Philosophy. Boas and Lovejoy worked closely together and made Johns Hopkins University a center for the study of the history of ideas.
During World War II, Boas took a leave of absence and served as Lieutenant Commander and later Commander in the Naval Reserve. After the German surrender he was stationed at General Eisenhower's Supreme Allied Headquarters, where he was ranking naval officer. He was subsequently transferred to Brussels at the request of the United States Ambassador. In Belgium he succeeded in tracing and identifying many major works of art which the Germans had confiscated. Boas then returned to his teaching position at Johns Hopkins.
In 1956 Boas retired from Johns Hopkins University but continued to be active as both a teacher and scholar. He was a Fellow at the Center for Humanities at Wesleyan University, and as a visitor held the Andrew W. Mellon Chair at the University of Pittsburgh. He was President of the American Society of Aesthetics as well as a member of the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Academie Royale de Belgique. The American Philosophical Association awarded him their highest honor in 1957, the Carus Lecturer. He also received honorary degrees from the Johns Hopkins, University, Maryland Institute of Art, the University of New Mexico, Washington and Lee, and Washington College. He organized the first exhibition in Baltimore devoted entirely to modern art and in 1938 was one of a 3-man committee that ran the Baltimore Museum of Art in the absence of a director.
Boas' learning was vast and his writing prolific. His primary fields of specialization were the history of philosophy, general intellectual history, aesthetics, and art criticism.
He married the sculptress Simone Brangier in 1921. They had two daughters. George Boas died on March 17, 1980.