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A Companion to Philosophy in Australia and New Zealand


Deakin University

Stan van Hooft

Deakin University opened in 1977 with a unique brief: to provide educational opportunities to people who, by reason of distance or disadvantage, had been excluded from higher education. Schooled by visiting academics from Britain’s Open University, the initial course offerings were multidisciplinary and prepared for off-campus delivery through elaborately produced printed course materials. The newly appointed Planning Dean of the School of Humanities, Professor Max Charlesworth, was intent on teaching philosophy in a new way. Charlesworth considered that more traditional schools focussed on the canonical texts of either classical or early modern Western thinkers, filtered them through the prism of contemporary problems, and saw themselves primarily as training the next generation of professional philosophers. Deakin would open philosophy to a wider audience through more topical and cross-disciplinary approaches. Early units combined discussions of such thinkers as Freud and Marx with literary works by Sartre and Brecht, explored Asian philosophies and aboriginal spirituality, and theorised alienation as an aspect of the contemporary human condition. Charlesworth encouraged interactions between the fields of history of ideas, religious studies, social studies of science, literary studies, art history, and anthropology, both in curriculum design and in research, and appointed staff with a much wider range of backgrounds than was typical in philosophy departments. Central to the Open University model, no one academic ‘owned’ the curriculum of any one unit in a course. All units were prepared by cross-disciplinary course teams so as to produce units with a broad vision as well as depth of scholarship.

Of course, this curriculum development model depended upon high levels of funding, not only to produce the quality materials but also to support the high levels of staff time required. After five years federal government funding policies changed. The idea that some universities would be funded for an almost exclusive focus on distance education was displaced by a uniform and reducing funding formula. The university’s response involved an insistence on efficiency which made the cross-disciplinary approach increasingly difficult. Over time, the areas of social studies of science, religious studies and history of ideas became unified into philosophy (which was never formally constituted as a department), and the chair in Philosophy was left vacant on Charlesworth’s retirement.

However, the legacy described above has been maintained in the form of an unusually wide ranging and eclectic set of course offerings and research interests. Deakin philosophers maintain a strong interest in the best of both Anglo-American, Asian and Continental philosophy. Comparative and philosophical studies of world religions remain important, with members of the group editing the international journal Sophia. Owing to its administrative location in the School of International and Political Studies, the philosophy area has developed its strengths in political philosophy and global ethics. It offers the only postgraduate program in Australia in Psychoanalytic Studies. For twenty years, Deakin philosophers hosted the annual Freud Conference, were involved in the Continental philosophy movement in Australia, and in 2006 hosted the annual conference of the Australasian Society for Continental Philosophy.

Deakin has maintained its commitment to distance education with current delivery being largely through the worldwide web, with pre-prepared online course materials and on-campus lectures streamed to off-campus students. In these ways, Deakin provides unique opportunities for undergraduate and postgraduate students anywhere in the world keen to explore the less well-trodden fields of philosophy.


David S. Oderberg

‘Deontology’ is a broad term covering a multitude of normative ethical theories. On the negative side, the most that can be said for what unites them is their opposition to consequentialism. On the positive side, it is that they all hold, in one way or another, the primacy of the concepts of duty and rightness over those of utility and consequences. It is sometimes said that deontologists prioritise the right over the good, but this is not strictly correct. Natural law ethics, for example, begins with a theory of the good and derives moral obligation from the agent’s orientation toward it, but it is a deontological theory in the broad sense; that is to say, it recognises irreducible rights and obligations, though these are but one element of an overarching and more complex approach to morality.

Inevitably, Australasian ethics began its life as largely deontological, under the exclusive influence of the British Idealists. Philosophers such as Francis Anderson and William Mitchell, inspired by Kant, Hegel, Fichte, Schelling and the like, blended notions of Freedom, Consciousness, Will, and Obligation (for the Idealist, usually capitalised) into a largely secular version of religious morality consistent with the respectable Victorian standards of the time. These in turn were part and parcel of Empire, and for the Australian Idealists duty and right went hand in hand with civilisation and moral uplift.

The eclipse of Idealism in general, not just in ethics, was followed by decades of debate over meta-ethics—the meaning of moral terms, whether morality was subjective or objective, the plausibility of non-cognitivism, and so on. A return to normative ethics slowly began after World War Two, the landmark work being The Moral Point of View (1958) by Kurt Baier. Described by D. H. Monro as ‘Ross without intuitions’ (1959), the book sets out an answer to the perennial question ‘Why be moral?’ in terms of an appeal to an objective morality of rules (e.g. do not cheat, do not be cruel, keep promises) that are true irrespective of social or cultural conditions. They are exceptionless but flexible since the formulations build putative exceptions into them. The rules should be obeyed since it is in the overall interest of everyone to follow them. Moral reasons, then, override self-interest. Baier’s theory is a kind of ‘ideal observer’ theory, according to which morality is justified from a neutral or impersonal perspective.

The publication in 1967 of Moral Notions by Julius Kovesi caused a minor sensation. Although mainly meta-ethical in character, constituting a sustained attack on the fact-value distinction, this important and under-rated book should be mentioned in a deontological context since Kovesi uses the Aristotelian form-matter distinction to shed important light on moral concepts. What he calls ‘complete’ moral notions have both a formal and a material element. To describe an act as a killing is to give its matter, but not its form. To describe it as the intentional killing of an innocent person is to give its form as well. Form is given by intention and related mental states such as knowledge and motive. A complete moral notion, containing both form and matter, has instances such that we are able, by a rule, to determine them as right or wrong. An incomplete moral notion has no such rule: when we say that a killing is wrong, we do not merely add a reminder of its moral status (unlike ‘murder is wrong’) but use moral judgment to determine that the act is wrong. This way of looking at moral concepts clearly anticipates the defence, by Philippa Foot, Bernard Williams and others, of ‘thick moral concepts’. But it is also highly congenial to deontology, for which some such distinction between intention and deed (or thing done) needs to be made.

Perhaps the most thoroughly deontological of Australasian works is Alan Donagan’s The Theory of Morality (1977). Donagan sets out what he calls the morality of the ‘Hebrew-Christian tradition’. The theory he elaborates is that part of traditional morality that can be divorced, in his view, from theism. He takes morality to be a system of exceptionless laws deriving from a single basic principle. This, he claims, is Kant’s categorical imperative formulated as enjoining respect for human beings as rational creatures. From this, he asserts, the further principles of morality can be deductively derived using extra conditions such as non-moral premises specifying kinds of act. This leads him to a way of answering moral problems that, while by no means on all fours with the traditional morality he claims to be elaborating, has much in common with it. Since traditional morality is not Kantian in nature (Kant’s moral theory being an etiolated secular version of it), this is not surprising.

In the decades since Donagan’s book, no revival in deontological theories has been discernible in Australasia or among most of the Australasian philosophers based abroad. On the contrary, if there is an Australian approach to moral theory, it is more than ever identified with consequentialism. Some redoubts remain, however, most prominently among expatriates. John Finnis is one of the leading representatives of the ‘new natural law theory’, a variation of (and arguably a departure from) the Thomist natural law tradition. His book Natural Law and Natural Rights (1980) sets out a theory of both based on a conception of ‘basic human goods’ (such as life, knowledge, and friendship). A very different approach, though also highly deontological in character, is Raimond Gaita’s Good and Evil: An Absolute Conception (1991). Gaita emphasises the lack of seriousness, among contemporary ethicists, concerning the reality of moral evil. He disparages scepticism about evil as itself a kind of evil, or intellectual corruption, and urges a return to the truths of moral experience, especially as found in phenomena such as shame and remorse. The argumentative style and approach is broadly Wittgensteinian, and eschews the systematic and more formal approach of theorists such as Donagan. Mention should also be made of Eric D’Arcy (later Archbishop of Hobart), whose 1963 book Human Acts provides important action-theoretic foundations for deontology, with roots in Thomistic natural law; and H. J. McCloskey, who has published many articles against consequentialism and in defence of rights, and whose Meta-ethics and Normative Ethics (1969) defends Rossian intuitionism.


Yujin Nagasawa

It is widely recognised that Australia has produced a number of prominent physicalists, such as D. M. Armstrong, U. T. Place and J. J. C. Smart. It is sometimes forgotten, however, that Australia has also produced a number of prominent dualists. This entry introduces the views of three Australian dualists: Keith Campbell, Frank Jackson and David Chalmers. Their positions differ uniquely from those of traditional dualists because their endorsement of dualism is based on their sympathy with a naturalistic, materialistic worldview rather than with a supernaturalistic, spiritual worldview.

Keith Campbell

In his book Body and Mind (1970, 2nd ed. 1984), Keith Campbell defends a version of property dualism, which he calls the new epiphenomenalism. According to traditional epiphenomenalism, mental states are causally inefficacious nonphysical by-products of physical states. Campbell’s new epiphenomenalism, however, disagrees with this. He argues that ‘some bodily states are also mental states and that the causal mental properties are physical properties of these bodily states’. The new epiphenomenalism differs then from physicalism because, unlike physicalism, it affirms that ‘the enjoying or enduring of phenomenal properties is not a physical affair’ (1984: 127). In sum, Campbell’s epiphenomenalism is not epiphenomenalism about all mental states but epiphenomenalism exclusively about phenomenal properties.

Frank Jackson

Frank Jackson (1982, 1986) defends a version of epiphenomenalism that is similar to Campbell’s. While Jackson finds physicalism initially attractive, he believes that it ultimately fails. He expresses his intuitive refutation of physicalism poetically as follows:


Tell me everything physical there is to tell about what is going on in a living brain, the kind of states, their functional role, their relation to what goes on at other times and in other brains, and so on and so forth, and be I as clever as can be in fitting it all together, you won’t have told me about the hurtfulness of pains, the itchiness of itches, pangs of jealousy, or about the characteristic experience of tasting a lemon, smelling a rose, hearing a loud noise or seeing the sky. (Jackson 1982: 127)


Jackson claims that this intuition can be used to construct three arguments against physicalism: (i) the knowledge argument, which is based on the well-known imaginary scenario of Mary, who is confined in a black-and-white environment, and the scenario of Fred, who can recognise one more shade of red than ordinary people can; (ii) the modal argument, according to which there is a possible world with organisms exactly like us in every physical respect that lack consciousness; and (iii) Nagel’s ‘what it is like to be a bat’ argument. Honouring their Australian proponents, Robert Van Gulick calls these ‘boomerang arguments’ (Van Gulick 2004: 367). The distinctive feature of boomerang arguments is, according to Van Gulick, that they reach across to the epistemic domain of the world and then circle back to the metaphysical feature of the corresponding reality. That is, they derive the ontological conclusion about the nature of the world from epistemic premises about what we can know or what we can conceive of.

Convinced thusly of the falsity of physicalism, Jackson defends epiphenomenalism. His epiphenomenalism has two important features. First, exactly like Campbell, Jackson rejects the idea that mental states are inefficacious in the physical world. He holds instead that ‘it is possible to hold that certain properties of certain mental states, namely … qualia, are such that their possession or absence makes no difference to the physical world’. Second, he denies that the mental is totally causally inefficacious. He allows that ‘the instantiation of qualia makes a difference to other mental states though not to anything physical’ (1982: 133).

Jackson is, however, no longer a dualist. In 1998 he declared that he had come to think that the knowledge argument failed to refute physicalism and, accordingly, that physicalism is true (Jackson 1998c). However, Jackson’s former dualist position remains very influential.

David Chalmers

Despite Jackson’s retraction, Australia continues to produce prominent dualists. In 1996 David J. Chalmers published Conscious Mind, which now represents one of the most important contemporary defences of dualism. Chalmers maintains that there are two distinct problems of consciousness: the hard problem and the easy problem. The easy problem is to explain the function, structure and mechanism of the brain; in other words, to answer questions that cognitive scientists and brain scientists ordinarily work on. The hard problem, on the other hand, is concerned with fundamental relationships between physical processing in the brain and the rich phenomenal experiences that it gives rise to. Chalmers claims that the existence of the hard problem exposes the limitations of the physicalist approach to consciousness. He also appeals to various arguments against physicalism, such as Jackson’s knowledge argument and various forms of the modal argument, and concludes that phenomenal properties do not supervene on physical properties.

While Chalmers describes his position as ‘the disjunction of panprotopsychism, epiphenomenalism and interactionism’, he states that his ‘preferred position on the mind-body problem … is not epiphenomenalism but the “panprotopsychist” (or “Russellian”) position on which basic physical dispositions are grounded in basic phenomenal or protophenomenal properties’ (Chalmers 1999: 492–3). Panprotopsychism is the view that physical objects have protophenomenal properties, which are such that, while they are not themselves phenomenal or experiential, a proper combination of them constitutes phenomenal properties. He believes that panprotopsychism solves various metaphysical perplexities of consciousness.

Dualism as a Revised Form of Physicalism

One might find it peculiar that dualism has flourished in Australia, where physicalism has traditionally been so influential. Once we look more closely at the contents of these Australian dualisms, however, we can see that this is not peculiar at all. Contrary to traditional dualists, most Australian dualists adopt their version not because they are attracted to a supernaturalistic, spiritual worldview but because, perhaps paradoxically, they are attracted to a naturalistic, materialistic worldview. Campbell, Jackson and Chalmers all start with physicalism, which they find prima facie most plausible, and amend it, almost reluctantly, into dualism in accordance with persistent problems that evince the intractable nature of consciousness. The following passage by Campbell exemplifies this point:


The account given of awareness by phenomenal properties is the only point where the new epiphenomenalism diverges from Central-State Materialism. Perhaps the new Epiphenomenalism could be called Central-State Materialism Plus. (Campbell 1970: 125)


Similarly, Alec Hyslop, another Australian epiphenomenalist who influenced Jackson’s commitment to epiphenomenalism, writes as follows:


Epiphenomenalism’s appeal is to those who are convinced that the Materialist view of human beings is false, but regret this, regretting that the case for Materialism fails, overwhelmed by qualia. Epiphenomenalism gets as near to Materialism as is decent, so it is thought. It is a (more than) half way house: not Materialism but deeply Materialist, giving us a world of purely material causes. (Hyslop 1998: 61)


Even Chalmers’ panprotopsychism, which appears initially even more extraordinary than Cartesian dualism, can be construed as a form of physicalism. Chalmers remarks:


From one perspective, [panprotopsychism] can be seen as a sort of materialism. If one holds that physical terms refer not to dispositional properties but the underlying intrinsic properties, then the protophenomenal properties can be seen as physical properties, thus preserving a sort of materialism. (Chalmers 2002c: 265)


Australian dualism is therefore consistent with the naturalistic character of Australian philosophy of mind. It is based on a firm conviction that even if the physicalist approach to the problem of consciousness fails, there is no reason to jump to the conclusion that supernaturalism is true.

A Companion to Philosophy in Australia and New Zealand

   by Graham Oppy, N. N. Trakakis