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A Companion to Philosophy in Australia and New Zealand


Baier, Annette C.

Lynda Burns

Annette C. Baier was born in Queenstown, New Zealand in 1929 and educated at the University of Otago, and then at Oxford. Though she has taught philosophy at the universities of Aberdeen, Auckland and Sydney, most of her career was spent at the University of Pittsburgh. She was President of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association, one of very few women to hold this position, and in 1995 delivered the Paul Carus Lectures, published as The Commons of the Mind. Her book A Progress of Sentiments is an interpretation of the philosophy of David Hume. Much of her other work is contained in articles, some of which are republished in two collections: Postures of the Mind and Moral Prejudices. She retired in 1995 and lives in New Zealand with her husband Kurt Baier.

Baier’s work spans ethics, philosophical psychology, epistemology, philosophy of mind, political philosophy, feminism and history of philosophy. A unifying theme throughout her work is naturalism. She sees much of the philosophical tradition from Descartes to Locke and Kant as in conflict with a naturalistic outlook. For instance, Locke distinguishes the biological entity, ‘the man’, from the thinking thing, or person. It is possible, Locke says, that the same man could be born of different women at different times. Lockean persons are detached from gene pool, social connections and family origins, and have only a tenuous psychological continuity. Baier points out that this Lockean view of persons also makes it seem that women are fixed by their biology while men float free. On the alternative naturalist perspective, all persons are corporeal beings with a genetic inheritance upon which their ability to think is dependent. Baier points out that naturalists should also realise that human infants depend for long periods on other human persons, usually mothers, if that ability is to mature. She argues therefore in Commons of the Mind that reason is not, as Descartes believed, whole and complete in each of us: it is a social skill that needs to be nurtured in children and develops fully only in relations with others. We are born to persons and learn the arts of personhood from others. We are essentially ‘second persons’, since self-consciousness is dependent on the responses and recognition of others, particularly those first persons who treat us as one of them. Upon this mutual responsiveness depend the arts of representation, language, memory and conscience.

Personhood in the Lockean and Kantian tradition is a moral concept and persons are moral atoms. Both in the philosophy of mind and in ethics atomists attempt to analyse phenomena into basic constituents which obey (or should obey) universal laws. Baier’s naturalism leads to a rejection of atomism and the liberal contractarianism which depends on it. Idealised, separate moral atoms are a figment of philosophers’ imagination, she argues, and a focus on these imaginary entities directs attention away from our collective responsibilities in the real world (such as our responsibility for the environment) as well as from what is done to people as groups. Baier is also critical of the Kantian and contractarian belief in universal rules governing moral relations between autonomous individuals. Contract theories assume that relations between persons are relations of equality, but vulnerability and asymmetrical dependence are more common in human relations and should be of more concern to ethicists than deals done between equals.

The dominant philosophical influence on Baier’s work is Hume. Her book A Progress of Sentiments provides a valuable account of Hume’s philosophy in his Treatise of Human Nature. The Treatise is often read in a disjointed way by philosophers who focus on arguments about causation or perception or morality or personal identity in isolation from each other. Baier’s unified account corrects these partial readings and also challenges the traditional conception of Hume as a radical sceptic and destroyer of reason. She sees Hume as freeing us from the obsessions and anxieties of a one-sided intellectual theorising, thus permitting the philosopher to engage all the capacities of the mind, including memory, feeling, passion and imagination as well as reason. Her approach makes use of Hume’s self descriptions in the early sections, tracing his moves from solitary independent thinker to victim of common habit, to sceptic and liberator from norms, to reasoner enmeshed in his own contradictions and finally to his reunion with friends in the common human refusal to think further about such things. The inevitable return to philosophy (after a session of backgammon or wine) will be with the whole mind, knowing and accepting its feelings and indulging its passions. Baier argues that Hume intends this dynamic to reveal the absurdity of the contradictions we are led into by narrow intellectualising. It also moves us towards a reformed and less sceptical reason: one which conforms more closely to commonsense. Metaphysical concerns give way to the moral and practical issues investigated in books two and three of the Treatise. Hume argues here that we have a better understanding of human passions and morality if we recognise the interdependence of reason and sentiment.

Baier agrees of course with Hume’s conclusions, and her interpretation also provides an insight into her own conception of philosophy and how it applies to the world. Unlike most moral theories, which Baier sees as applying just to the morality of a few adult intellectuals, Hume’s theory recognises the scope of ‘vulgar’ morality and the role of reflection and sentiment as a force in human life. What a theory calls ‘morality’ should be the kind of thing a mother could teach her children, she says, suggesting in her article ‘Extending the Limits of Moral Theory’ that we might explain someone’s moral character by saying, ‘His mother was a contractarian (libertarian, utilitarian)’ (1986a: 541).

In several of her articles she argues that an ethical theory appropriate to women’s concerns and moral insights will tend to be a Humean one. Drawing on the work of psychologist Carol Gilligan, she claims that what women want in a moral theory is something more comprehensive than an account of moral obligation. An adequate theory will allow scope for the role of feeling in moral judgement. It will also require an account of the concept of trust. This notion can shed light on both love and obligation and integrate women’s and men’s ethical theories. For an ethics of love must give an account of the conditions of trustworthiness and an account of obligation must deal with issues about trusting the enforcers of obligation.

Baier’s most influential article is ‘Trust and AntiTrust’ (1986a). Starting from the observation that trust is necessary, since no one is self sufficient with respect to those things they care for most, Baier develops an analysis of this important concept, previously unexplored by philosophers. Trust involves more than reliance: it is letting others take care of something we care about and giving them discretionary powers to do so. Not all things that thrive in conditions of trust are good, however: exploitation may depend on trust. So how should relations of trust be assessed morally? The task is to distinguish the relevant moral features of those relations.

Though she has spent most of her working life in North America, Baier’s conception of ethics has influenced philosophers in Australasia. One such philosopher is Karen Jones, who like Baier sees trust as distinct from mere reliance and as involving discretionary power. But Jones argues that trust should be seen more as an attitude of optimism vested in the goodwill and competence of those we count upon. She takes trust to be more a way of seeing the other rather than a relation of the kind Baier analyses.

Baier’s work deserves to have wide influence. It investigates the consequences of a conception of human beings as interdependent social animals, a view of ourselves which is commonly accepted but often forgotten by philosophers.

Ballarat, University of

Jane Mummery

Declared a university in 1994 (although its predecessor institutions date back to 1870), the University of Ballarat focusses on achieving greater educational benefits for the communities in Central and Western Victoria. In particular, it has always aimed to closely integrate its development and strategic objectives with the various needs of the region. This has meant that seemingly strictly academic disciplines such as philosophy have always had a somewhat ambiguous status within the institution.

Nonetheless, the possibility of philosophy being included within the unit offerings of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences was raised back in 1986 (when the institution was the Ballarat College of Advanced Education), and resulted in two philosophy-specific units, entitled ‘Logic and Reasoning’ and ‘Being and Knowing’, being offered for the first time in 1988. These however were controversial new offerings and were initially taught by staff with an interest in the subject matter on a voluntary basis (with staff getting little recognition of this teaching in their workload). Furthermore, given that these units were originally taught by staff from outside of the Humanities and Social Sciences, there was ongoing tension regarding their ownership, position within the B.A., and potential funding. Despite these problems, a further introductory philosophy unit was developed and first offered in 1991, and a proposal for a Minor in Philosophy (comprising five units, students needing to complete four) was circulated towards the end of 1991.

These modest beginnings, spearheaded by John Winkelman (a lecturer in psychology), led to the contracting in 1994 of Edwin Coleman to be responsible for the coordination and teaching of the Minor. This in turn led to the addition of more specialised units in ethics, epistemology, philosophy of science, and classical, modern, political and Asian philosophies. Initially part-time, this position became full-time in 2003 with the appointment of Angus Nicholls as lecturer in philosophy, who was then replaced by Jane Mummery in 2005. Since her appointment Jane Mummery has further consolidated the Minor in Philosophy, refining and increasing the offerings in philosophy by adding units in applied ethics and Continental philosophy, and units emphasising connections not only with other disciplines such as film, mass media and cultural theory, but also with the problematics of technology and the environment.

The past years have seen philosophy secure its position at the University of Ballarat. The current unit offerings, set within a dynamic interdisciplinary context, introduce students to a broad range of philosophical traditions and give them the chance to develop a strong foundation in philosophical study. The past few years have also seen the growth of a small cohort of postgraduate students working in the fields of political and Continental philosophy and phenomenology. This group, with Jane Mummery’s encouragement, also founded the University of Ballarat Annual Philosophy Symposium in 2007. This provides a showcase for student and staff research and, it is hoped, will become a gathering of all those interested in philosophy in the Ballarat region.

Hence, from very modest beginnings with a few units taught on a voluntary basis, philosophy at Ballarat has become a thriving part of the university. This is due to the collective commitment and enthusiasm of previous and current staff and students, all of whom have been instrumental in keeping philosophy alive and vibrant in the face of funding and teaching problems, concern over the structure of the B.A., and issues regarding the strategic direction of the university. It is to be hoped that regardless of the challenges thrown at it, philosophy will continue to be part of what the university of Ballarat offers the communities in Central and Western Victoria.


Lynn Gillam & Georgina Hall

Bioethics investigates ethical issues that arise out of the practice of medicine and pursuit of biotechnology, covering a broad array of practical matters including informed consent, advance directives, euthanasia, abortion, and reproductive and genetic technologies. Ethics as a philosophical discipline has in the past been largely concerned with quite abstract issues in metaethics and normative ethical theory, but advances in science since the 1970s have given applied ethics a high profile and real-life, practical urgency.

Bioethics is a relatively new field of academic inquiry, and has two distinctive features. Firstly, its nature as an academic discipline is contested. It tends to be seen by philosophers as a speciality area within moral philosophy, usually as a branch of applied ethics. Others, however, see it as a multi-disciplinary field of study, drawing not only from philosophy, but also from law, sociology, the biomedical sciences, medicine and the other health professions, politics and theology. On the latter view, it is not only philosophers who do bioethics. In this article we will describe the contributions of three, often overlapping, groups working in bioethics: (i) philosophers in academic philosophy circles; (ii) philosophers, doctors, lawyers, social scientists, biomedical scientists and others working on specific issues in bioethics, often in the public domain; and (iii) healthcare professionals, some of whom have philosophical or bioethics training, working in both health care and academia.

The second distinctive feature is that bioethics is not solely a theoretical or abstract discipline. Being concerned with actual matters of how scientists and health professionals should act, and how public policy should be framed, bioethics must by its very nature interact with people, ideas and practices in these areas. Arguments made by philosophers in the field of bioethics are often intended to have practical application, and even if not so intended, will be frequently interpreted in this way. The extent to which bioethics has become a public rather than a purely academic discourse, with attendant public responses, is exemplified by Peter Singer’s ill-fated academic trips to Germany in 1989 and 1991, where courses, public lectures and ultimately the International Wittgenstein Symposium on Applied Ethics were cancelled because of public opposition to the idea of euthanasia even being discussed.

Helga Kuhse summed up the unusual position of bioethics in the philosophical landscape when she was asked in a 1998 interview with the Voluntary Euthanasia Society of Scotland why she, a philosopher, would take such a public stance on euthanasia and ‘take sides’. She responded:


In the first half of this century and beyond philosophers generally took the view that ethics was concerned largely with an analysis of the meaning of words, such as ‘good’ or ‘right’, and that practical questions were not their concern. In the 1970s this had begun to change and philosophers focussed on practical questions—such as the moral rights and wrongs of abortion, the Vietnam war, and the question of euthanasia. In this they returned to a much older tradition that has always seen moral philosophy or ethics as practical, that is, as being concerned with what to do, rather than with knowledge, or what is the case. I have always seen moral philosophy as practical in that sense. After all, if your moral reflection tells you that a particular action or policy is unfair and unjust, and that traditional modes of thinking about it are deeply flawed, how can you remain silent and do nothing? (Kuhse 1998)


Although issues such as abortion and euthanasia have been current for many years, the field of bioethics as a distinctive academic discipline arguably began in the 1970s. In Australasia, the most prominent early voices were the philosophers Peter Singer, Max Charlesworth, and Helga Kuhse.

Peter Singer has worked more broadly in applied ethics, but is undoubtedly the best-known Australian bioethicist. His seminal early works included Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for our Treatment of Animals (1975) and Practical Ethics (1979). In the second edition of the latter, he famously and controversially challenged the traditional ‘sanctity of life’ doctrine, putting forward a utilitarian analysis of abortion and euthanasia debates, and giving a central role to the concept of personhood. Often quoted, and often misunderstood in the public debate, is his position that ‘killing a disabled infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Very often it is not wrong at all’ (Singer 1993: 191).

In 1981, Singer was appointed the foundation Director of the Centre for Human Bioethics at Monash University, the first Australasian research centre devoted entirely to bioethics. Other bioethics centres soon sprang up during the 1980s, based at hospitals as well as universities, including the Bioethics Centre at the University of Otago, the St Vincent’s Bioethics Centre at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne (founding Director Nicholas Tonti-Filippini), the Plunkett Centre for Ethics at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney (founding Director Bernadette Tobin), and the Centre for Values, Ethics and Law in Medicine (VELIM) at the University of Sydney (founding director Miles Little). Bioethics centres are now a standard feature of the bioethics landscape in Australasia.

This development of bioethics centres coincided with, and was to some extent driven by, events of the time. In Australia, new and contentious advances in biotechnology, especially reproductive technologies such as IVF (in vitro fertilisation) and surrogacy, became the subject of public and academic debate, particularly because many of the scientific developments were coming from the Melbourne-based research team led by Carl Wood and Alan Trounson at Monash IVF. Peter Singer was prominent in these debates over reproductive technologies, publishing Test-Tube Babies: A Guide to Moral Questions, Present Techniques, and Future Possibilities (Singer and Walters 1982) and The Reproduction Revolution: New Ways of Making Babies (Singer and Wells 1984). His position was broadly in favour of reproductive technologies, and in particular attributed no significant moral status to human embryos. This position was challenged by Norman Ford, a Roman Catholic theologian who later became the founding Director of the Caroline Chisholm Centre for Health Ethics, in When Did I Begin?: The Conception of the Human Individual in History, Philosophy and Science (1988).

Coming from a quite different theoretical perspective, Max Charlesworth, now emeritus professor at Deakin University, also wrote about these issues in his Life, Death, Genes, and Ethics (1989). Initially, Charlesworth favoured the more restrictive and conservative approach adopted by the Waller Committee, but gradually altered his views, taking the more liberal position that in a democratic society individual autonomy should be protected where it does no harm to others. Charlesworth’s later book Bioethics in a Liberal Society (1993) reflects this view. In 1988, Charlesworth was appointed Chair of the National Bioethics Consultative Committee (NBCC), set up by the Australian government to brief it on issues such as human embryo experimentation, gamete donation and access to reproductive technology. Most notably, Charlesworth chaired an investigation into surrogacy which recommended in favour of altruistic surrogacy. This finding was controversial at the time and faced so much opposition that the committee was all but disbanded in 1991.

Another prominent voice in bioethics in Australia at this time was Helga Kuhse, who worked closely with Peter Singer at the Monash Centre for Human Bioethics from the early 1980s (Singer and Kuhse 1993), especially on issues related to euthanasia and end-of-life decisions. Major publications from this time include Should the Baby Live? The Problem of Handicapped Infants (Kuhse and Singer 1985) and The Sanctity of Life Doctrine in Medicine: A Critique (Kuhse 1987). Kuhse, like Singer, took a utilitarian approach to these issues.

Robert Young, a philosopher from La Trobe University, was also involved publicly in the voluntary euthanasia debate as President of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society of Victoria. During this time he wrote Personal Autonomy: Beyond Negative and Positive Freedom (1986), which has been an influential contribution on autonomy, arguably the central ethical concept for bioethics. Another important contribution on autonomy is Merle Spriggs’ book Autonomy and Patient Decisions (2005).

In New Zealand in the 1980s bioethics was partly driven by the landmark event which came to be known as ‘The Unfortunate Experiment’. In 1987, two journalists revealed disturbing evidence about a study of cervical cancer conducted by a leading Auckland obstetrician, who had included his patients in an ongoing clinical trial without their consent or even knowledge. They were not informed of potentially helpful treatment alternatives that were available to them, and some died as a result. A Commission of Inquiry followed, chaired by the future Governor-General of New Zealand, Dame Silvia Cartwright. The Cartwright Report became a key document in bioethics, especially human research ethics, in New Zealand.

Grant Gillettt is perhaps the best known New Zealand bioethicist of this time, and he continues to be active and influential in the field. A neurosurgeon with a doctorate in philosophy, Gillettt was the founding Director of the Bioethics Centre at the University of Otago. He is the co-author of Bioethics in the Clinic: Hippocratic Reflections, Representation, Meaning and Thought (Gillett et al. 2004), and Medical Ethics (Gillett et al. 1992). Other New Zealanders prominent in bioethics at this time were Gareth Jones (1991), writing on respect for the dead, and Rosalind Hursthouse, writing on abortion (Hursthouse 1987).

By the early 1990s, bioethics was expanding, with more philosophers and academics from other disciplines involved, and the range of bioethical issues under active consideration was broadening. At this time, the Australasian Bioethics Association was founded by Max Charlesworth and Christine Martin, with the aim of promoting debate on bioethics issues amongst academics and health professionals broadly. Reproductive ethics (abortion, IVF, surrogacy) remained a major area of interest: contributors to the debate included Catriona MacKenzie (1992), Suzanne Uniacke (1994), Rosalind Hursthouse (1991) and Leslie Cannold (1995) on abortion, and Justin Oakley (1989), Susan Dodds and Karen Jones (1989) on surrogacy. Euthanasia (increasingly referred to under the umbrella of ‘end-of-life decision-making’) also continued to attract attention (e.g. Kuhse 1994). Emerging areas at that time included research ethics, clinical ethics, and the ethics of genetics (especially pre-natal testing), and since then all have become established in the bioethics arena.

Research ethics became subject to a regulatory system, as well as a field of research in bioethics, and has attracted considerable attention, especially from Paul NcNeill (McNeill 1993) and many others, including Lynn Gillam, Deborah Zion and Bebe Loff (Zion et al. 2002). The National Health and Medical Research Council made a requirement that universities and other research institutions have Human Research Ethics Committees (HRECs), and in the 1990s set up the Australian Human Ethics Committee (AHEC) to oversee them. Many bioethicists have served on the AHEC, including Nicholas Tonti-Filipinni, Wendy Rogers, Don Chalmers (a lawyer) and Chris Cordner. Chalmers was Chair of AHEC when the first National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Research Involving Humans was produced in 1999, and Cordner chaired the working party for the 2007 revision of the National Statement. Many others have been members of HRECs.

Clinical ethics is now a recognised area of specialisation within bioethics, with informed consent, end-of-life decisions, the doctor-patient relationship, organ transplantation (e.g. Ankeny 2001), and resource allocation as some of the matters at issue. Key figures include both clinicians with bioethics or philosophy training, and bioethicists, such as Paul Komesaroff, Ian Kerridge (1998), Mal Parker, Lynn Gillam, Annette-Braunack Mayer and Wendy Rogers (2004), all of whom were involved in the formulation in 1991 of a consensus medical ethics curriculum (Braunack-Mayer et al. 1991). Megan-Jane Johnstone put forward a bioethically-informed but distinctive nursing position in clinical ethics (Johnstone 1989).

The ethics of genetic interventions, especially pre-natal and pre-implantation diagnosis, and genetic enhancement, are the subject of ongoing debate. Julian Savulescu, in a well-known article which propounds the principle of ‘procreative beneficence’ (Savulescu 2001), has argued that parents have a moral obligation to ensure that they produce the most genetically optimal offspring. Savulescu was Director of the Ethics of Genetics Unit at Melbourne’s Murdoch Childrens Research Institute at the time and is the Director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics in the U.K. Nicholas Agar, in Liberal Eugenics: In Defence of Human Enhancement (2004), also examines the extension of human reproductive freedom to include the selection (or avoidance) of certain characteristics of future children. A very different voice, much more critical of selection technologies, came from Christopher Newell (1999), a bioethicist and well-known disability advocate with a background in theological ethics, who passed away suddenly in mid 2008.

Alongside all of this, there has been ongoing work on ethical theory relevant to bioethics. Virtue ethics has become prominent through the work of Justin Oakley (Oakley and Cocking 2001), who took over from Helga Kuhse as Director of the Monash Centre for Human Bioethics in 1999, and Rosalind Hursthouse (1999). The notion of an ‘ethics of care’ advanced by some nursing theorists has come under sustained investigation by Helga Kuhse (1997) and Stan van Hooft (1995).

Bioethics is not an easy area of philosophy to come to grips with, being characterised by diversity and multi-disciplinarity. Apart from philosophers, medical doctors (e.g. Gillettt, Savulescu, Komesaroff and Kerridge) are centrally involved. Legal academics (including Don Chalmers, Cameron Stewart, Belinda Bennett, Roger Magnusson and Margaret Otlowski) play a major role, especially in the public domain. Notable among these is Loane Skene (1998, 1990), who has written extensively about genetics and the use of human tissue and informed consent. Skene was Deputy Chair of the Australian government’s Lockhart Committee, which reviewed the use of human embryos and recommended legalising the creation of embryos for research on somatic cell nuclear transfer in 2005. There is also a significant presence in Australasian bioethics of theologians and philosophers working from a Roman Catholic perspective, including Nicholas Tonti-Filippinni, Norman Ford and Bernadette Tobin. Sociologists such as Rob Irvine are also involved. Some philosophically trained bioethicists, including Lynn Gillam (Guillemin and Gillam 2005), Annette Braunack-Mayer (2005) and Paul Komesaroff, have also incorporated empirical research methods and theoretical frameworks from the social sciences into their work, a trend which appears to be turning into a common and established practice in Australasian bioethics. This diversity and multi-disciplinarity can be expected to continue fruitfully in the future.

Body, The

Rosalyn Diprose

Australasian philosophers, particularly feminist philosophers influenced by European philosophical traditions, have been at the forefront of international attempts to reconceive the nature of human embodiment. Beginning in the late 1970s, with the introduction of pertinent European thought into the philosophy curriculum at the University of Sydney (e.g. the work of Freud, Lacan, Foucault, and Derrida), Australasian philosophers of the body have developed critiques of dominant concepts of the human body and alternative models of the role the body plays in subjectivity, politics and ethics.

The fundamental target of these critiques is two related ways that ‘embodiment’ is loosely understood within and beyond philosophy: in the sense of the concrete expression of human being in a body and in the sense of the concrete expression of ideas, concepts, and meanings in material signifiers (e.g. words, laws, or social institutions). Implied in both senses of embodiment is the idea of the incarnation or expression in material form of a non-material essence where that essence is assumed to exist prior to its embodiment and ideally persists in pure form, despite its embodiment. Following Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy, for example, where human existence is said to centre on a thinking, non-material substance, the embodiment of that consciousness (in a bio-mechanical, causally determined body) is viewed as incidental and secondary to the essence of human being. Similarly, if concepts are assumed to be immaterial entities, then their embodiment in and expression through material signifiers (words, laws, etc.) is said to be secondary to the origin and essence of meaning. In both cases, the body tends to be viewed as either irrelevant to the essence it supposedly signifies or a problem: a potential hindrance to achieving rational subjectivity in the case of the human body, and the source of the corruption of meaning in the case of the body of the sign. Such assumptions limit our understanding of how socio-political meanings and values about human differences (about sexed, raced or ‘disabled’ bodies, for example) impact on our perception of other persons (to foster inequitable social relations, for instance) or how embodied human beings might be ‘socialised’ by the different meanings they signify in a social and political context. Philosophers of the body ask how socio-political meanings of differences become incarnated in human beings without assuming we are fully determined by those meanings or, conversely, free to reject them at will.

Answering that question has involved challenging the dualisms (mind/body, reason/passion, meaning/expression, culture/nature) apparent in these two general senses of embodiment. The body is thereby given a more active role in the expression of human being and of cultural meanings. Various accounts of the body have emerged from this work that draw on ideas from the history of philosophy to challenge dominant understandings of corporeality and the corporeal and affective dimensions of human agency, perception, thinking, and sociality. These accounts characterise human existence in ways that fall between materialism and Idealism by proposing that the body and the differences it signifies are central to human existence, but are irreducible to a bio-physical, causally determined mechanism of Cartesian philosophy and of some forms of contemporary materialism. And, insofar as these models of the body account for the incarnation and transformation of social and political norms, meanings and values, they also provide ways of rethinking the role of the body and affectivity in ethics and politics.

Two early and highly influential interventions along these lines in Australasian philosophy was Moira Gatens’ ‘A Critique of the Sex/Gender Distinction’ (first published in 1983) and Genevieve Lloyd’s The Man of Reason (first published in 1984). The significance of Lloyd’s book for a philosophy of the body lies more in her critical examination of dichotomous thought (in particular mind/body dualism and the related distinction between reason and passion) and its consequences for ideas of sexual difference, rather than an examination of the nature of embodiment per se. She demonstrates that, in the history of philosophy, ‘the male-female distinction has been used to symbolise the distinction between reason and its opposites’ such that ‘our ideals of Reason have historically incorporated an exclusion of the feminine, and that femininity itself has been partly constituted through such processes of exclusion’ (Lloyd 1993: x, xix). Gatens’ focus has been on showing how the body plays a pivotal role in this process of the social constitution of sexual and other differences. Initially with reference to Freud’s idea that the ego is a bodily ego, she argues that human identity and behaviour do not reside exclusively in the mind; nor is the body a neutral or passive tabulae rasa upon which ideas of (sexual and other) differences are imprinted. Rather, Gatens argues, the different ways in which male and female bodies are represented, perceived and evaluated in a socio-political context feed back, through the incorporation of these ideas, into the different (and sometimes conflicting) ways that sexed bodies are lived at the level of pre-reflective experience (Gatens 1996b: 3–20). The connection between, on the one hand, critiques of dichotomous thinking and of the socio-political representation of differences and, on the other hand, efforts to reconceive the body, is explained by Gatens in ‘Toward a Feminist Philosophy of the Body’ (1988): redressing social inequities requires, not only political action, but also work on the conceptual dimensions of the relation between the bodies of the disadvantaged and the body politic (the state apparatus and culturally dominant conceptions of the body) (see also Gatens 1991a, 1991b). The third significant figure influencing the emergence of philosophies of the body in the 1980s was Elizabeth Grosz: through her teaching of semiotics (Jacques Derrida’s critiques of dichotomous thought and the representation of differences, in particular) and her early work on the social constitution of embodied sexual difference influenced by psychoanalytic theory, in particular that of French feminists, such as Luce Irigaray (Grosz 1989).

The development of philosophies of the body through the late 1980s and early 1990s was due to a large degree to the teaching activities of these philosophers and their graduate students at the University of Sydney, Australian National University, University of New South Wales, and Monash University. The multidirectional character of the philosophies of the body that began to emerge in Australasia, and the variety of philosophical resources being used, was reflected in an anthology published in 1991, Cartographies: Poststructuralism and the Mapping of Bodies and Spaces (ed. Diprose and Ferrell). Several Australian authors represented in this volume, one of only two on the body available internationally at the time, went on to publish works reconceiving the body and its relation to the politics of difference, thinking, and/or ethics: Diprose (1994, 2002), Ferrell (1996, 2006), Gatens (1996), Kirby (1997), Patton (2000), and Vasseleu (1998). At the same time, by the late 1980s, there was a critique of the classical Liberal (Lockean) notion of the body as the person’s property emerging in Australasian political philosophy (Pateman 1988) and in bioethics (Mackenzie 1986; Dodds and Jones 1992).

Australasian philosophers of the body have drawn from three other philosophical traditions, besides psychoanalytic theory and the critiques of the dualist conception of the representation of differences mentioned above. First, Spinoza’s seventeenth-century critique of Descartes’ substance dualism has played an important role in inspiring revised ideas of the body, particularly through the work of Gatens (1988, 1996) and Lloyd (1996). Within Spinoza’s monism, the mind is an ‘idea of’ the body; mind and body are the same substance conceived under two different ‘attributes’. Therefore, the human body does not contain a mind nor do bodies incorporate pre-existing ideas; rather, every ‘mode’ of extension is identical with the ‘idea of’ that mode. Using Spinoza’s related concept that imagination is also an idea that reflects the constitution of the body, Gatens develops her idea of ‘imaginary bodies’ to explain how historically and culturally variable ideas of different bodies constitute bodies and their powers and, conversely, how human powers may be altered ‘through changes in our understanding of self and others’ (1996: xiv). This lays the foundation for a new ethics and politics of difference proposed in Imaginary Bodies (Gatens 1996).

Second, reinterpretations of two aspects of Nietzsche’s ‘materialism’, and their development through the work of Foucault and/or Deleuze, have also been influential in advancing Australasian philosophies of the body, particularly through the work of Diprose (1989, 1994), Grosz (1994) and Patton (1989, 1991). These are Nietzsche’s proposal in On the Genealogy of Morals that social moral norms are incorporated through punishment such that ideas that become conscious are already ‘interpreted’ through the body; and his doctrine of ‘will to power’, which includes the idea that bodies are ‘works of art’, that is, bodies are forces, sets of effects, or ‘quanta of power’ in relation to other quanta of power that, through resistance, evaluation and interpretation, form complexes of power and meaning (Diprose 1989, 1994). Both these ideas of the body foreshadow Foucault’s influential thesis in Discipline and Punish that the human body is the locus of subjection (social control and subject formation) in that ‘micro-techniques of power’ such as discipline and ‘biopower’, in concert with prevailing social norms and the knowledges of the human sciences, produce self-regulating bodies that enact ideas which need not pass through consciousness (Patton 1989). In A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari (1987) develop the idea of a ‘body without organs’ from Nietzsche’s thesis about ‘quanta of power’. The ‘body without organs’ describes the corporeal intensities, powers, and flows that exceed and defy organisation and regulation into a meaningful, proper body. Paul Patton’s translations, teaching, and research of Foucault and Deleuze’s philosophy in the 1980s and 1990s have played an important role in bringing that work to bear on the development of philosophies of the body in Australasia such that adaptations of Foucault’s thesis on the body and power appear throughout the field. Reinterpretations of Deleuze’s philosophy of corporeality, power, and difference, while apparent in the early 1990s, began to have a greater impact by the late 1990s, both in political philosophy (Braidotti 1994; Patton 2000) and aesthetics (Colebrook 2002; Munster 2006).

The third dominant resource for Australasian philosophers’ rethinking of the body, difference and meaning since the 1980s has been twentieth-century existential phenomenology, particularly the work of Simone de Beauvoir (Gatens 1991b; Mackenzie 1986; Deutscher 2005) and Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy of the body and its critical appropriation by Diprose (1994, 2002), Grosz (1994) and Vasseleu (1998). On Merleau-Ponty’s model of the perceiving body (in Phenomenology of Perception 1962, for example), socio-political meaning is necessarily ambiguous and open to transformation, and ‘subjectivity’ is intercorporeal such that the meaning expressed in perception comes as much from the world and from the other person as it does from oneself. Through this, and his later idea of sensibility through ‘flesh’ (the ‘intertwining’ of bodies, ideas and ‘matter’ in general), Merleau-Ponty provides resources for bringing together questions of human embodiment with the embodiment of meaning, understanding both in terms of the following formula: the body expresses existence, not as a symbol of an external or inner idea; the body expresses existence (and therefore meaning) as it realises it through sensibility in the ‘undividedness of the [act of] sensing and the [“object”] sensed’ (Merleau-Ponty 1964). One important application of Merleau-Ponty’s work in the hands of Australasian philosophers of the body has been in critiques of the medical model of the body in relation to bioethics (Diprose 1994; various authors in Komesaroff 1995). By the early 2000s Diprose extended this approach to the body, combined with Emmanuel Levinas’ idea of ‘responsibility for the other’, to formulate an ethics of ‘corporeal generosity’ (2002). The phenomenological approach to the body has reached into interdisciplinary fields since 2000, including attention to the politics of cultural difference and postcolonialism and is being further developed by a new generation of Australian philosophers, such as Reynolds (2005), Ross (2007) and Sorial (2004).

By developing their philosophies of the body through a range of philosophical traditions, Australasian philosophers have not only produced multifarious models of human embodiment for which they are internationally renowned, but they have also made significant contributions to scholarship on thinkers such as Spinoza, Nietzsche, Beauvoir, Merleau-Ponty, Foucault, and Deleuze.

Bond University

Damian Cox

Bond University is Australia’s first not-for-profit private university. It was founded in 1987 and its first students enrolled in 1989. Located in Queensland’s Gold Coast, it has grown into a successful university with over 4,000 students.

Philosophy has played a central role in the curriculum at Bond University since the university’s inception. Undergraduate programs in Law, Business, Information Technology, Education, Psychology, Humanities and so on include a suite of core (i.e. compulsory) curriculum components. Philosophy is represented in the core curriculum through a course in the history of ethics and political philosophy, and, from 2010, through a course in informal logic and reasoning skills. Bond University teaches a major in philosophy, covering topics in epistemology and metaphysics, philosophy of mind, philosophy of religion, Buddhist philosophy, political philosophy, and philosophy and film.

Philosophers who have made significant contributions to Bond University include: Raoul Mortley (Platonism, Neoplatonism, the development of Christianity, and contemporary European Philosophy); Peter Harrison (seventeenth-century philosophy of science); and Damian Cox (realism, ethics, politics).

A Companion to Philosophy in Australia and New Zealand

   by Graham Oppy, N. N. Trakakis