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A Companion to Philosophy in Australia and New Zealand


Feminist Bioethics

Susan Dodds

Feminist bioethics encompasses a relatively wide range of activity. It can be described broadly as the study of issues relating to health and medicine that is either directly concerned with the gendered effects and significance of health policy, practices and conceptualisations of health and illness, or is distinctly informed by feminist social, ethical or political theory. One characteristic that is normally present in feminist work is its ‘concern to understand and eliminate oppression’ (Crosthwaite 2001: 32). The challenge of characterising the scope of feminist bioethics is made more difficult because, as an area of applied philosophy, feminist bioethics has arisen from and continues to be informed by a broad range of academic disciplines and areas of political activism. Feminist bioethics in Australia and New Zealand is carried out through work in a range of areas of research and practice, of which philosophy is one important part. Australasian feminist bioethics is distinctive because of the ways in which Continental and analytic philosophical influences are frequently brought together to address issues about health, medicine and the body, and because of the particular social, legal and historical influences shaping health care, medicine and public policy in Australia and New Zealand.

Women’s Health, Political Activism and Feminist Bioethics in Australasia

Feminist activism and political praxis that was most visible during the late 1970s and early 1980s has been a significant influence on the development of feminist bioethics. For example, Australian feminists active in the Feminist International Network of Resistance to Reproductive and Genetic Engineering (FINRRAGE), including Heather Dietrich, Renate Klein, Robyn Rowland and Romaine Rutnam, have written academic and popular works that challenge the claims of medical researchers about the risks and benefits for women arising from reproductive technology and genetic engineering, especially as these manifest relationships of power and subordination (see Arditti, Klein and Minden 1984; Rowland 1992). In New Zealand, women’s health consumer advocates, such as the Women’s Health Action Trust, have been similarly active in drawing public and political attention to the ways in which health and medical practice and technologies can harm women’s interests. A significant case was publicised in the writings of the journalist and co-founder of Women’s Health Action, Sandra Coney. Coney’s investigative journalism uncovered a case of a medical researcher at the National Women’s Hospital who sought to test his hypothesis that there was no clear relationship between a positive cervical cancer screening test (Pap smear) and the subsequent development of cervical cancer but without advising women whose routine screening tests returned positive results. The women on whom this research was conducted were effectively involved without their knowledge or consent (Coney 1988; Cartwright 1988). Coney’s writing drew attention to the institutionalised power imbalances and gendered assumptions that created the circumstances within which this scandal could arise.

Philosophical Approaches in Australasian Feminist Bioethics

The breadth of feminist bioethics reflects the broad scope of bioethics generally, encompassing critical ethical exploration and evaluation of all aspects of health care provision, professional responsibility, medical research, developing medical technologies, and their social and legal contexts. Nonetheless, Australasian feminist bioethics is particularly evident in writing that addresses: abortion (Mackenzie 1992; Mills 2005; Nie 2005); reproduction and reproductive technologies (Dodds and Jones 1989; Diprose 1994; Waldby 2008); and genetic enhancement, genetic engineering and trans-humanism (Diprose 2005; Shaw 2003; Mills 2008). Philosophically, two overlapping sets of concerns dominate Australasian feminist bioethics. The first addresses and extends a set of critiques of the dominant approaches to bioethics coming out of North America, those founded on a liberal conception of the self. The second starts from an exploration of the ethical salience of human embodiment and the social significance of living as temporally extended, socially constituted embodied agents.

Principlism, Liberalism and Autonomy

Feminist bioethicists have challenged several assumptions of the liberal self (as rational, autonomous, unencumbered chooser) that dominates much of the writing in bioethics and health care. These critiques are particularly levelled at the bioethics literature coming out the U.S. during the 1980s and 1990s, emphasising patient choice. These challenges apply to different degrees to utilitarian, deontological and principles-based approaches. ‘Principlism’ was developed during the 1980s by Thomas Beauchamp and James Childress as a pluralist, non-foundationalist approach to ethical decision-making through the application of four general moral principles to particular ethical problems. The four principles of autonomy, justice, non-maleficence and beneficence have their grounding in Kantian deontology, Rawls’ theory of justice, Mill’s utilitarianism, Judeo-Christian morality and even a vestige of the Hippocratic Oath (Beauchamp and Childress 1994). Feminist bioethicists have sought to demonstrate both the limitations of these different normative approaches and the assumptions about agency, emotion and independence that underpin them (e.g. Dodds 2000).

At the same time, feminists influenced by Carol Gilligan’s ‘ethics of care’ approach (Gilligan 1982) have extended this approach to issues associated with health care, often drawing on Susan Sherwin’s (1992) work on a feminist bioethics of health care. Gilligan argued that women tend to draw on a different approach to ethical reasoning from the approach normally found in men’s ethical responses. Women, Gilligan argued, were less likely to seek to apply abstract individualistic principles in their moral decision-making and were more likely to articulate their moral reasoning in terms of the tensions among interpersonal relationships that could be fostered or threatened by different courses of action. Australasian feminist engagements with the ‘ethics of care’ approach include Peta Bowden’s work on the ethical practices of care involved in the provision of nursing care (Bowden 1997).

Other feminists have sought to redress the limitations of the liberal conceptions of the moral self through critical articulation of the inability of the idealised atomistic, autonomous rational chooser to capture human selfhood, and in particular human selfhood as it manifests in the context of health care, reproduction and dying. Developing from work in moral psychology by Diana Meyers (1989), the idea of a relational approach to personal autonomy has been developed and applied in the context of bioethics by a number of feminists (e.g. Donchin 2000), including those in Australasia (Dodds 2000; Mackenzie and Scully 2007). Relational approaches to autonomy seek to recognise that people’s capacity for autonomous choice is shaped by and depends on the interpersonal relationships (particularly parental care) and social institutions that may foster or frustrate the development of the self and the limits and possibilities of human embodiment (see Mackenzie and Stoljar 2000). The approach draws from feminism a concern about the ethical significance of oppression and domination for the development of selfhood and recognition of the ways in which the physical reality of human embodiment and bodily differences shape human agency. Applying these to the scope of bioethics draws out the limitations of those approaches that emphasise patient choice or reductive utilitarianism.

Embodiment, Power and Biopolitics

The second major area of distinctly philosophical development within Australasian feminist bioethics also attends to human embodiment and challenges the assumptions of disembodied universalism found in other ethical approaches. This work develops from Continental philosophy, particularly informed by the works of Australian feminist theorists Elizabeth Grosz (1986b, 1989) and Moira Gatens (1988, 1991b), and seeks to understand the ethical significance of being, perceiving and theorising the world in and through human embodiment: that is, to explore what ‘lived bodily experience’ means for being people and how we understand our ethical responses to one another. Ros Diprose (1994) and Philipa Rothfield (1995) have each sought to develop the idea of a philosophy of the body in its application to bioethics. In doing so they have each identified the ways in which bodies become meaningful in different contexts (medical, familial, political) and the ways in which those meanings shape, and are shaped by, how individual embodied agents understand themselves, their world and their ethical responses. Rothfield attends particularly to the interactions between discourses of the body and bodily movement through an engagement with the world. Diprose’s exploration of embodiment, bioethics and reproductive technologies involves not only a critical exploration of ideas of embodiment and sexual difference, but also an analysis of the potentially oppressive effects of certain meanings ascribed to a range of reproductive bodily practices.

More recently work in bioethics and philosophy of the body has been pursued by Catherine Mills (2008), whose work explores Michel Foucault’s (1981) notions of biopolitics and biopower (the ways in which contemporary governments view biological life as a site for regulation and control) and the development of these notions in the work of Giorgio Agamben (1998). Mills’ work critically engages with debates about genetic enhancement, reproductive technologies and concepts of risk and security.

Although the analytic and continental philosophical approaches to bioethics employ distinct methods and draw on different literatures, it would be a mistake to view them as oppositional or directed at wholly different concerns. Increasingly the two areas overlap, in both their topic of concern within health and medicine and in the philosophical questions they seek to answer. As a result there is a relatively high level of cross-referencing between the different areas and approaches of feminist bioethics in Australasia.


(Further reading: Bennett, Karpin, Ballantyne and Rogers 2008; Donchin 2004; Feminist International Network of Resistance to Reproductive and Genetic Engineering; Rogers 2006.)

Feminist Philosophy

Marguerite La Caze

Feminist philosophers in Australasia have produced a substantial body of work, which involves a range of significant areas: history of philosophy, debates around sex, gender, and the body, ecofeminism, and feminist issues in ethics. Despite the relatively low numbers of women in philosophy, feminist philosophy has become established through teaching, conferences, and publishing (see MacColl et al. 1982). Feminist philosophy was taught in some major philosophy departments from the early 1970s onwards, often in conjunction with Women’s Studies programs, but not until the 1980s or even ’90s in others. ‘Philosophical Issues in Feminist Thought’ was first taught at the University of Sydney in 1973 (Grave 1984: 215–16) and a philosophy and women’s studies course was introduced at Flinders University in 1973 (Franklin 2003: 307). In the 1980s and ’90s papers feminist philosophy and other areas were presented at Women in Philosophy conferences in Australia and New Zealand.

The first articles in feminist philosophy were published at around the same time and this publication gathered pace in the 1980s. Early papers engaged with theories such as Marxism, liberalism, and psychoanalysis in order to provide a critique or develop a form of the theory more adequate to feminist concerns. The resources of both European and analytic philosophy have been transformed in feminist philosophy in the Australasian context. In 1998 a conference was held at the University of Warwick in the U.K. called ‘Going Australian: Reconfiguring Feminism and Philosophy’, and some of those papers were published in a Hypatia special issue in 2000. The editors found that Australian feminist philosophy is distinguished by its concern with specificity and its use of genealogies to address contemporary questions and open up new possibilities in ontology, ethics, and politics.

This article will concentrate on the work and the concerns in feminist philosophy that have generated debate locally and internationally. The most important text in this tradition is Genevieve Lloyd’s book, The Man of Reason (1984), in which she argues 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’ (1984: x). This is evident not only in derogatory remarks about women’s capacities for reason found in the work of Hegel and Rousseau, for example, which are often noted, but also in texts that describe ideals of reason that involve the exclusion of traits symbolically associated with the feminine such as natural forces, passivity, matter, the corporeal, the passions, the personal, and the private. This is so, Lloyd argues, even when philosophers hold the view that women are capable of reasoning, such as Descartes, and is often exaggerated in the work of commentators (1984: 38–50). Responding to criticisms of her view in the preface to the second edition of her book, Lloyd sees an understanding of the metaphorical operation of the male-female distinction to be important to philosophical ideals of reason (1993: viii).

Although not explicitly a response to Lloyd’s work, Karen Green’s The Woman of Reason (1995) takes issue with the view that feminine ideals of reason are excluded from the history of philosophy and argues that we can find such an ideal in the work of Christine de Pisan, Mary Wollstonecraft, and even Rousseau. In her view, ‘if we designate theories “feminine” because they postulate the existence of basic moral motives, or sentiments, connected with innate tendencies to love, and we designate theories “masculine” when they assume that moral motivation is derived from non-moral desires and reason, Rousseau emerges as a “feminine” theorist’ (1995, 84). In her book, Yielding Gender, Penelope Deutscher criticises both The Man of Reason and The Woman of Reason on the grounds that they neglect how philosophical texts such as those of Rousseau and Augustine use instability and contradiction to sustain masculine conceptions of reason and disparaging views of women and femininity (2002: 1–10).

In the foregoing discussion the term ‘masculine’ has been used as if its meaning is straightforward, but other feminist philosophical debates in Australasia contest the meaning and ground of terms such as masculine and feminine, and male and female. Moira Gatens and Val Plumwood differ over the importance of gendered traits, with Gatens arguing for a form of sexual difference feminism and Plumwood for the importance of a concept of gender distinct from sex. Elizabeth Grosz, in Volatile Bodies (1994), also delineates a form of sexual difference feminism, one that uses modern and postmodern theories of the body to describe distinct bodies.

Gatens, in ‘A Critique of the Sex/Gender Distinction’ (in Gatens 1996, although first published in Allen and Patton 1983), criticises the distinction on the grounds that it neutralises sexual difference and sexual politics and assumes that both the body and the psyche are passive tabula rasae. Instead, she argues that there are at least two kinds of bodies—male and female—and therefore at least two kinds of lived experience. We live our different bodies through the different meanings similar behaviours acquire in the two sexes and this affects consciousness. A female subject has specific bodily experiences such as menstruation, shame and modesty, which means that femininity in a female is qualitatively different from femininity in a male. Gatens concludes: ‘there is a contingent, though not arbitrary, relation between the male body and masculinity and the female body and femininity’ (1996: 13). More recently, both Gatens and Lloyd have turned to the work of Spinoza for a non-dualistic conception of the self (1999).

Plumwood, who has also contributed a great deal to ecofeminist debates (see Plumwood 1993 and 2002), replies in ‘Do We Need a Sex/Gender Distinction?’ (1989) that in a limited form, the distinction is necessary and defensible. She gives a range of important features of such a form of the distinction, including: that gender differences are more variable and more changeable than sex differences; that it helps to explain how the feminine has been devalued; it enables criticism of biological reductionism; it enables recognition of variation in relation to gender ideals; it makes it possible to see the oppression of women as open to change, and to acknowledge that gender is intentional or bound up with what people believe is the significance of biological sex (3–4). Plumwood argues that we need not assume that gender is added to a neutral and passive body. All that is assumed in the distinction is that the body alone does not determine gender identity. Her preferred conception of gender is as a shared social story about reproductive difference as well as concrete practices, or ‘the social meaning of sex as embedded in social practices’ (8). Plumwood’s view is that difference can be elaborated against a background of basic similarity and the aim of feminism should be a radical restructuring of gender differences rather than the removal of gender differences.

Although they differ on the issue of the sex/gender distinction, Gatens and Plumwood, like many other feminists, would agree that there is a need to reconceptualise the body since corporality and sexual difference have both been neglected in the philosophical tradition. Thus, in Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism (1994), Elizabeth Grosz reflects on a conception of corporeality that addresses this neglect. Her goal is to develop a non-dualist, non-reductionist account of the body and subjectivity premised on an acknowledgment of sexual difference, using the work of Freud, Lacan, Schilder, Merleau-Ponty, Nietzsche, Lingis, Foucault and Deleuze, and subjecting them to feminist critique. Grosz argues that the body itself is as much a cultural and historical product as the mind, and uses the Möbius strip as a model of the way the body is imbued with subjectivity and the way subjectivity is material. She writes: ‘The strip has the advantage of showing the inflection of mind into body and body into mind, the ways in which, through a kind of twisting or inversion, one side becomes another’ (1994: xii).

For Grosz, we live our bodies in one way through a psychical body image which is influenced through social, cultural and historical factors. The body image is a psychical mapping of the body as lived and experienced in relation to others. From the other side of the Möbius strip, she argues that bodies’ interactions with the world create all the impressions of subjectivity or consciousness from the outside in through the constraints and pressures on our bodies. For example, torture and punishment are inscribed on our body and lived; the body is also marked by clothing, grooming, gait, exercise, drugs, and diet, and we live our bodies differently under a system of oppression. Grosz, like Luce Irigaray, acknowledges the range of specificities of bodies, such as racial, ethnic and class differences, but accords a special status to sexual difference, arguing that ‘if anything it occupies a pre-ontological—certainly a pre-epistemological—terrain insofar as it makes possible what things or entities, what beings, exist (the ontological question) and insofar as it must pre-exist and condition what we can know (the epistemological question)’ (1994: 209). She recommends that we understand women’s bodies other than as a lack and explore the way we live our bodies, particularly our conception of bodily fluids.

The discussion thus far may suggest that Australasian feminist philosophy does not concern itself with specific ethical and political issues, yet this is not the case. Feminist issues in ethics and politics have been explored on both sides of the Tasman by authors such as Rosalyn Diprose, Jan Crosthwaite, Christine Swanton, and Susan Dodds. In her book, The Bodies of Women (1994), Diprose explores conceptions informing and challenging biomedical ethics, Crosthwaite and Swanton examine sexual harassment and the idea of treating women as sex objects, and Dodds addresses feminist issues in bioethics.

Explorations of sexual harassment will be the focus here. Crosthwaite and Swanton’s paper appears in the only feminist philosophy supplement to the Australasian Journal of Philosophy (AJP), in 1986. (AJP (1993) contains a selection of papers from the 1992 Women in Philosophy Conference.) They develop a conception of sexual harassment based on the idea that ‘Behaviour of a sexual nature or motivation in the workplace counts as sexual harassment if and only if there is inadequate consideration of the interests of the person subjected to it’ (Thompson 1986: 100). In a later paper, Crosthwaite and Priest argue that sexual harassment is ‘any form of sexual behaviour by members of a dominant gender group towards members of a subordinate gender group whose typical effect is to cause members of the subordinate group to experience their powerlessness as a member of that group’ (1996: 72). The earlier paper accepted that it is possible for women to sexually harass men, but the later paper explicitly argues that this is not possible in cultures where men are dominant (1996: 75). This view connects sexual harassment with a pervasive gender asymmetry.

In recent years feminist interest in historical philosophical texts has continued, especially in the work of Spinoza (Gatens and Lloyd 1999) and Christine de Pisan (Green and Mews 2005), as have discussions of the imaginary using the work of Michèle Le Dœuff (Lloyd in Battersby 2000; Max Deutscher 2000; La Caze 2002), and work in feminist bioethics (Dodds 2004) and environmental philosophy (Plumwood 2002). Like feminist movements in other parts of the world, feminist philosophers have progressively linked questions concerning the oppression of women to issues concerning race and culture (Lloyd in Battersby 2000) and to ethical questions generally (Diprose 2002). Aboriginal feminists have criticised the lack of attention to indigenous experience in much feminist theorising and Aileen Moreton-Robinson suggests that feminisms ‘through theory and practice do not just tolerate racial differences, but should understand that they are constituted through and implicated in complex power relations between women’ (2000: 70). Developing an account of these complex power relations is another challenge for Australasian feminist philosophy.

Flinders University

Greg O’Hair

Flinders University was established in 1965. Brian Medlin was appointed foundation professor of philosophy, and Greg O’Hair senior lecturer. Teaching in philosophy began in 1967.

As with other universities set up in the 1960s there was a general desire to do things a bit differently. Flinders University had schools rather than faculties, and disciplines rather than departments. It was hoped that this would encourage interdisciplinary links and work, and to a degree it did.

Brian Medlin had several ideas about a curriculum. During the preceding years he, along with D. M. Armstrong, had developed Central State Materialism, which generalised the Place-Smart identity theory beyond sensations to all mental states, including beliefs and desires. Medlin had also published papers using modern logic, and was convinced that logic should have an important place in undergraduate courses. Indeed a (non-optional) half of the Philosophy I course was devoted to propositional and predicate logic, up to and including the Completeness Theorem. This worked well (surprisingly) for a number of years. A specialist logician, Dene Barnett, was appointed next to teach logic through to Honours level. There was also a strong emphasis on epistemology and metaphysics.

In the meantime, the Vietnam War was escalating, as was conscription for it and opposition to it. Medlin was very active in the anti-war movement from early on, and was increasingly radicalised by experiences gained in it. A new generation of students was demanding radical changes in universities around the Western world, and Flinders was no exception. By the early 1970s, most of the philosophy staff—which included, by then, Rodney Allen, Ian Hunt, Ken Sievers and Lawrence Johnson—agreed with the need for radical changes.

New courses in Marxism, Political Economy, Women’s Studies (which began in 1973, taught by Rita Helling) and Politics and Art were introduced. Group assessment was developed and applied in a number of courses. A Consultative Committee, with students as well as staff, was set up and met regularly until well into the 1980s.

All these measures were opposed initially on university committees. The proposal to introduce Women’s Studies in particular aroused indignation. (It even provoked the Professor of Spanish to propose a course on Bullfighting Studies, complete with bullfights on the Plaza.) Later, of course, such courses became quite common, and Women’s Studies or Feminist Philosophy were taught at Flinders over many years, by Liz Storey, Jean Curthoys, Christine Vick, Ros Diprose and Linda Burns.

The way the Women’s Studies course was planned and run also reflected a desire to involve members of the community who might not otherwise go to university. It was planned by a committee involving women from the community, and a number of such women participated actively in the course. Some went on to complete a degree at Flinders.

The Politics and Art course, taught by Medlin, was very innovative and attracted artists, poets (Medlin himself was a noted poet) and musicians, from on and off campus. Everyone taking the course had to produce a practical project. Out of this process, a well-known folk-rock group, Redgum, was born.

Although Lawrence Johnson did not agree with the radical and Marxist trends in the discipline, he also introduced—quite early for Australia—courses on Asian Philosophy, and Environmental Philosophy.

Looking back on the early years, the contrast with universities today is striking. The changes that were then made democratically with students, and accepted, albeit at times reluctantly, by other academics seem modest compared with the sweeping changes to the structure and workings of universities introduced by successive governments and administrations.

In the 1980s and ’90s a number of other courses were introduced, including a variety of interdisciplinary ones, involving the Medical School, Legal Studies, Computer Science and Cognitive Science. After a number of years without any new staff, the discipline was able to appoint George Couvalis, and later, Ros Diprose.

Medlin took early retirement in 1988, and after several years the chair was advertised and Greg Currie was appointed. Currie continued the interdisciplinary links and succeeded in raising the research profile of the discipline. Much of his well known work, including joint publications with Ian Ravenscroft and Catherine Abell, grew out of his time at Flinders. Also during this time Linda Burns and Ian Ravenscroft were appointed.

In recent years cutbacks in funding, leading to retirements without replacement, have shrunk the discipline. However, it was able to appoint Craig Taylor to teach Moral Philosophy and is currently making another continuing appointment. The discipline offers a range of topics through Honours—including ones with links to other disciplines—and supervises Ph.D. students. It has publications in a number of areas, and in 2009 Taylor hosted a very successful Hume Conference.


(Thanks to Rodney Allen, George Couvalis, Ian Hunt, Pamela Lyon, Ian Ravenscroft, Craig Taylor and Nick Trakakis for helpful comments.)

Flinders University Centre for Applied Philosophy

Ian Hunt

The Centre for Applied Philosophy was established as a Flinders University Research Centre in 1994. A management committee, with Ian Hunt as its Director, ran the Centre. Ian Hunt remained its director throughout its history. Its early plans were to conduct mini-conferences on topical themes in applied philosophy, with public policy implications, and to publish collections of papers from the conferences and other collections dealing with important issues of debate, where philosophy could make a valuable contribution in examining positions taken or clarifying conceptual issues that underlay public policy debates.

The centre’s first conference was on changes to the Australian industrial relations system, with a move away from dispute resolution through arbitration to enterprise bargaining. This resulted in a publication edited by Ian Hunt and Chris Provis (1995), titled The New Industrial Relations in Australia. This publication proved useful as reference material for industrial relations courses in Australian universities.

The next collection (Burns and Hunt 1996), published by the centre itself, was an equally successful exploration of the issues surrounding euthanasia, titled The Quality of Death. It arose from public debate over the issue of whether there are decisive moral objections to legislation introduced in the Northern Territory to legalise medically assisted death in certain circumstances. This publication attracted national and international interest, with orders placed for the book for many years afterward.

The centre then faced a difficult period of declining funding and increasing workloads for academic staff involved. It organised a conference on the West Review of Australian Universities together with The Flinders Institute of Teaching, but publication of the proceedings of this conference (Hunt and Smyth 1998) did not have a wide audience. The centre subsequently held another mini-conference on ‘The Future of Solidarity’, but a refereed proceedings was not published due to insufficient interest from key contributors, who may have published papers elsewhere, as its director did (Hunt 2001).

The centre in its final years organised a well-attended series of public lectures titled ‘Science, Biotechnology, and Designer Lifestyles: The End of Humanity as we Know it?’, which explored the moral dilemmas and impact on the human condition of using new technology for perfectionist ends: to have desired babies, bodies, feelings and experiences, or to design disease and pest resistant sources of food. It also conducted a successful campaign led by Lynda Burns to introduce philosophy as a senior high school subject in South Australian schools.

Its final conference was among its most successful. The refereed proceedings on the conference theme of ‘The Rights of Strangers’ was published as a two-part symposium, guest edited by Ian Hunt (2003), in The Australian Journal of Human Rights (volume 9, issue 2 and volume 10, issue 1, 2003–2004). The symposium papers explore the issue of whether the new policies of the Australian government on refugees involved violations of the rights of people who were not citizens to asylum and effective protection. The centre has since been subsumed within the Ethics Centre of South Australia (ECSA).

French Philosophy

Robert Sinnerbrink

Interest in French philosophy within Australia, surprisingly enough, dates as far back as the 1920s (see Grave 1984: 31–2, 39–40; Harney 1992: 127–28). John Passmore, for example, described Australian philosophy at this time as ‘deeply interested in Continental philosophy’ (Harney 1992: 127), notably in the work of Henri Bergson (Grave 1984: 39–40). With the rise of analytic philosophy, however, Continental philosophy in Australia was soon institutionally marginalised. Despite waves of interest in phenomenology and existentialism, then Marxism and feminism, and later French poststructuralism, it is only from the late 1960s through to the late 1970s that the first courses, conferences, and active research on contemporary French philosophy finally appeared in Australian universities (Harney 1992: 133–43).

Australian Bergsonism

Australian interest in French vitalist Henri Bergson was well established in the early decades of the century, thanks largely to W. R. Boyce Gibson, second professor of philosophy at the University of Melbourne (1911) (Grave 1984: 31–2, 39–41). Best known today for his landmark translation of Husserl’s Ideas, Boyce Gibson co-taught Bergson—whom he described as one of the key thinkers of the age—in courses with J. McKellar Stewart (appointed as lecturer in 1912), whose book Critical Exposition of Bergson’s Philosophy (1911) was one of the earliest Bergson studies in English (Grave 1984: 43). In 1923, J. Alexander Gunn, a specialist in ‘contemporary and nineteenth-century French philosophy’ (Grave 1984: 43) was appointed at the University of Melbourne. Gunn had published two books on French thought: Bergson and His Philosophy (1920) and Modern French Philosophy (1922), as well as an article on Bergson (‘Great Thinkers: Bergson’) in the Australian Journal of Philosophy and Psychology (1925), known today as the Australasian Journal of Philosophy or AJP. In the latter, Gunn expressed the hope that Bergson might soon visit Australia (Grave 1984: 44), and plans were even underway to have Bergson lecture at the University of Sydney in 1928 (University of Sydney Archives 1927). Australians would have to wait many decades, however, for visits by prominent French thinkers (Jean Baudrillard in 1984, Jacques Derrida’s ‘virtual appearance’ via satellite in 1996, Alain Badiou and Derrida in 1999, and Jacques Ranciere in 2006).

French Existentialism and Phenomenology

Although interest in phenomenology goes back to W. R. Boyce Gibson’s pioneering work on Husserl, there was little institutional recognition of phenomenology and existentialism in Australia for most of the post-War period. French existentialism (primarily the work of Sartre) was regarded with suspicion and disdain by mainstream anglophone philosophers. In his A Hundred Years of Philosophy, for example, John Passmore breezily remarked that ‘professional philosophers … dismiss it [Sartre’s existentialism] with a contemptuous shrug’ (1957: 450). Despite such dismissals, a few figures bravely pursued their interest in post-War French thought. A. M. Ritchie of Newcastle University had published work in phenomenology and existentialism during the 1940s and ’50s, but never taught any university courses on these topics (Harney 1992: 134). Pioneering Melbourne philosopher Max Charlesworth pursued his doctoral studies at the Husserl Archives in Louvain, and introduced phenomenology and existentialism to his students at the University of Melbourne. Charlesworth also introduced Australia’s first course dedicated to contemporary European philosophy (in 1967), which began with Husserl but gave major emphasis to Sartre and Merleau-Ponty (Harney 1992: 133). Despite a large student following, Charlesworth’s main scholarly relations were with literary critics in the French department, existentialist theologians, and philosophically-minded Freudians (Harney 1992: 133–4)—anticipating the interdisciplinary reception of contemporary French philosophy that continues today.

This institutional marginalisation of French philosophy began to change during the 1960s and ’70s. In Sydney, pioneering figures included Max Deutscher, the foundation professor of philosophy at Macquarie University (1966), who had developed an interest in French and German existentialism (Sartre, Heidegger, Jaspers) early in his career (he had been a prominent figure in the materialism debates of the 1960s). While at Oxford in the early 1960s, Deutscher read a paper on Sartre ‘partly because no one else there was familiar with Sartre at the time’ (Harney 1992: 136). Deutscher’s interest in Sartre deepened during the 1960s and he began introducing themes from Sartrean existentialism to his students at Macquarie University (Paul Crittenden had also been teaching and researching Sartre’s work at the University of Sydney during this time). Deutscher drew on his training and expertise in analytic philosophy in approaching existentialism and phenomenology, and later, French feminist and poststructuralist thought. This did not prevent certain colleagues regarding Deutscher’s existentialism as a kind of philosophical corruption. As David Stove opined after hearing one of Deutscher’s papers on Sartre, ‘that’s what comes of consorting with philosophically underdeveloped countries!’ (Deutscher 2008). Despite this, scholarly interest in phenomenology and existentialism began to grow, William Ginnane’s review of Merleau-Ponty’s In Praise of Philosophy and Phenomenology of Perception, for example, appearing in the AJP in 1964.

A host of social, cultural, and political factors contributed to the growing interest in French philosophy in Australia: the emergence of newer universities during the 1970s (Griffith, Murdoch, and Deakin), the expansion of tertiary education, the availability of French philosophical works in translation, and growing student political awareness connected with the Vietnam war protests, civil rights, and feminist movements (Harney 1992: 140–1). For many younger scholars, French philosophy seemed to offer a richer vocabulary to describe the contemporary world than mainstream analytic philosophy. Witnessing the 1960s student demonstrations and political upheavals in the U.S. convinced Max Deutscher, for example, that ‘the vocabulary of analytic philosophy was too narrow to grasp contemporary events’ (Deutscher 2008). This would also be the case, following the collapse of Marxism, with the turn towards French poststructuralism during the 1980s and ’90s.

During the 1970s, a new generation of philosophers emerged who began the serious reception of French philosophy after the existentialist and phenomenological wave. Genevieve Lloyd and Kimon Lycos, for example, had taught French philosophy at the ANU during a period that was decidedly post-existentialist. Indeed, Lycos had already begun a translation of Foucault’s first volume of the History of Sexuality (in 1976–77) well before Robert Hurley’s version was published in 1978. Among the students that Lycos and Lloyd taught were Rosi Braidotti and Andrew Benjamin, who wrote Honours theses on topics in French philosophy and went on to become internationally recognised authorities on Deleuze (Braidotti), Derrida, Lyotard, and Continental aesthetics (Benjamin).

Marion Tapper, who had completed a doctorate with Deutscher on ‘Dichotomies’, was another key figure in disseminating French thought during the 1970s and 1980s. Having studied existentialism in the late sixties she then taught existentialism, phenomenology, Heidegger, and feminism at a number of institutions, including at the Australian National University (ANU), Macquarie University, and the University of Queensland (UQ), before taking up a position at the University of Melbourne in 1986 teaching contemporary European philosophy. Many of Tapper’s Melbourne students would become instrumental in establishing the Australasian Society for Continental Philosophy (ASCP) in 1995 and the Melbourne School of Continental Philosophy (MSCP) in 2003.

The first phenomenology conference in Australia was organised in 1975 by Maurita Harney, who had also introduced existentialism and phenomenology to the ANU in 1973 (Harney 1992: 142–3). Growing out of these conferences, the Australian Association of Phenomenology and Social Philosophy (AAPSP) emerged in the late 1970s, organised by figures including Max Deutscher, Bill Doniela (University of Newcastle), Maurita Harney, Luciana O’Dwyer, and Marion Tapper. The group was originally called the ‘Australasian Association for Phenomenology and the Social Sciences’ but later changed its name. The AAPSP was the first Society for European philosophy in Australia, and continued to conduct regular conferences until its demise in the early 1990s, at which time it was reborn as the Australasian Society for Continental Philosophy (ASCP). This transition from the AAPSP to the ASCP symbolised the generational shift from phenomenology and existentialism to French poststructuralism, a shift that had already been occurring in some departments from the late 1970s.

Marxism, French Feminism, Poststructuralism

The University of Sydney was the scene of a famous split and formation of two separate departments (General Philosophy and Traditional and Modern Philosophy) in 1973 (see Franklin 2003: 281–312; Franklin’s informative account of the split, however, is marred by his dismissive approach to Continental philosophy). The split began already in 1971 over whether Marxism should be taught in the department (by Michael Devitt and Wal Suchting); it then intensified, in 1973, over whether feminism should also be taught (by Jean Curthoys and Liz Jacka), which precipitated the division into two separate departments (Traditional and Modern, and General Philosophy). The split occurred while French Marxism (particularly Althusser) was making a strong impression in Australian political and philosophical circles. Indeed, the Department of General Philosophy was for a time a hub of Althusserian Marxism (particularly the work of Wal Suchting), as evident in the 1978 anthology Paper Tigers, based upon the first-year General Philosophy ‘Counter-ideology’ course (Franklin 2003: 303). The Department of General Philosophy soon developed a more ‘Continental’ orientation, however, including specialities in French poststructuralism (Paul Patton), French feminism (Grosz and Mia Campioni), and psychoanalysis (Grosz and Campioni).

Elizabeth Grosz had been an undergraduate during the split, and went on to become a key figure lecturing in the Department of General Philosophy from 1978 until 1991. Having worked on Lacan and feminist theory during the late 1970s, she later published influential books on these topics (1989, 1990) and became an internationally recognised authority on French feminism. Genevieve Lloyd (who became professor at University of New South Wales in 1985) produced path-breaking research on the history of philosophy from a feminist perspective (1984) that inspired a generation of Australian feminist scholars. Penelope Deutscher, Rosalyn Diprose, Robyn Ferrell, Moira Gatens (now professor at University of Sydney), Vicky Kirby, Marguerite La Caze, Cathryn Vasselu, and Elizabeth Wilson have all contributed to Australian ‘corporeal feminism’ by exploring the intersections between French feminism, psychoanalysis, poststructuralism, and political philosophy (Franklin 2003: 361–73).

Another key figure in the dissemination of poststructuralism during the 1980s was Paul Patton, now professor at the University of New South Wales (UNSW). As a postgraduate Patton had travelled to Paris in order to write a doctoral thesis on Althusser, and while there he attended Foucault’s lectures and Deleuze’s famous seminars (between 1975 and 1979). The impact of encountering Deleuze and Foucault prompted Patton to then embark upon a series of important translations. Upon his return to the Department of General Philosophy in 1979, he taught an Honours/postgraduate course on Foucault, and translated two Foucault interviews that were published in a volume edited with Meaghan Morris, one of the earliest English-language books on Foucault’s work (1979). This was followed by translations (with Paul Foss) of Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘Rhizome’ (published in 1981), several Baudrillard texts in 1983–84 (co-translated with Foss and Ross Gibson), another Foucault interview published in Art and Text (1984), and Baudrillard’s keynote address for the massive 1984 Futur*Fall conference at the University of Sydney (organised by Alan Cholodenko, Elizabeth Grosz, and Edward Colless), papers from which were later edited into a book (1987). While the Futur*Fall conference focussed particular interest on Baudrillard’s work, Gayatri Spivak, celebrated translator of Derrida’s Of Grammatology, was the other international keynote speaker. Patton taught a number of courses on French philosophy during the mid 1980s (at UNSW), an Honours/postgraduate course on Deleuze in 1989 (in Department of General Philosophy), undergraduate courses in French philosophy in 1990–91 (at the Australian National University), and then regular courses on French philosophy in the Department of General Philosophy from the early 1990s. He was also responsible for the long-awaited English translation (in 1994) of Deleuze’s 1968 magnum opus, Difference and Repetition.

Australian philosophers such as Patton, Grosz, and Andrew Benjamin made an important contribution to the dissemination of French poststructuralism during the 1980s through their early English translations of, and commentaries upon, works by Foucault, Deleuze, Baudrillard, Irigaray, Derrida, and Lyotard. Some of these texts also had a more local, pedagogical function. From the late 1970s, Language, Sexuality, Subversion (1978), Michel Foucault: Power, Truth, Strategy (1979), and Beyond Marxism? (1983) had been used for teaching in General Philosophy by John Burnheim, Mia Campioni, Moira Gatens, Grosz, and Patton. Indeed, the 1980s and ’90s more generally were marked by intensive teaching of courses on recent French philosophy (Grosz at Sydney throughout the 1980s; Rosalyn Diprose at Flinders from 1991 to ’94 and later at UNSW; Robyn Ferrell at Macquarie from the mid 1990s; Michelle Boulous-Walker at UQ; Penelope Deutscher at the ANU, followed later by Fiona Jenkins).

Today, research into contemporary French philosophy continues with a younger generation of scholars exploring the intersections between poststructuralism, psychoanalysis, phenomenology, critical theory, post-analytic philosophy, and aesthetics. Indeed, in recent years, a flurry of books have appeared on key French thinkers and movements, with much attention now being focussed on work critically responding to poststructuralism, notably by Alain Badiou, whose magnum opus, Being and Event, was recently translated by Oliver Feltham (See Reynolds 2004a; Reynolds and Roffe 2004b; Diprose and Reynolds 2008; Colebrook 2001; Feltham 2008). Melbournians David Barison and Daniel Ross have even made an award-winning philosophical documentary, The Ister (2004), featuring interviews with Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Jean-Luc Nancy, and Bernard Stiegler. Responding actively to its institutional marginalisation, French philosophy in Australia has now established itself as a thriving area of diverse research.


William G. Lycan

Functionalism in the philosophy of mind is one species of the view that mental states are (nothing but) internal states of the brain. It was inspired, circa 1960, by three things: the identity theory of mind that had been put forward a few years earlier by U. T. Place and J. J. C. Smart of the University of Adelaide; a prominent objection to that theory, offered by Harvard philosopher Hilary Putnam; and the then emerging computer model of the mind. Functionalism continues to this day as a leading theory of mind. But it has never been popular in Australasia.

The Identity Theory

Place and Smart had begun as behaviourists, falling in roughly with Skinner in psychology and Carnap and Ryle in philosophy. On that view, to be in a mental state of type such-and-such is merely to behave in certain characteristic ways or to be disposed to do so; there are no such things as ‘minds’, and mental states are not occurrent or episodic or inside people’s heads. But doubters found it inescapable that there are, in some sense, inner mental episodes that we know from the inside—thoughts, feelings, experiences, that occur in real time and that are not constituted either by any actual behaviour or simply by the mere truth of a hypothetical ‘If X were to happen, you would do Y’.

While still primarily loyal to behaviourism, Place (1956) courageously granted that ‘there would seem to be an intractable residue of concepts clustering around the notions of consciousness, experience, sensation, and mental imagery, where some sort of inner process story is unavoidable’ (1956: 44). According to Place and Smart, and contrary to the behaviourists, at least some mental states and events are genuinely inner and genuinely occurrent after all. They are not to be identified with outward behaviour or even with hypothetical dispositions to behave. But, contrary to mind-body dualists of any sort, the inner mental items are not ghostly or non-physical either. Rather, they are neurophysiological.

More precisely, every mental state or event is numerically identical with some state or event occurring in their owners’ central nervous systems. To be in pain is to be in neuro-state such-and such (Putnam’s (1960) famous example was to have your c-fibres firing); to experience a yellowy-orange after-image is to be in a different characteristic neuro-state, and so on. The model here was that of empirical scientific identifications: lightning with electrical discharge, water with H2O, and genes with segments of DNA molecules.

Place and Smart (1959b) applied this identity theory of mind only to sensations; only later did D. M. Armstrong (1968) generalise it to all mental states and events. Armstrong also supplied a direct deductive argument for the theory. He maintained that mental concepts are causal concepts like ‘poison’ or ‘sunburn’—more specifically, that a mental expression is defined in terms of standard causes and standard effects, e.g. pain = whatever state of a person plays role P (being typically caused by tissue damage, and in turn causing wincing, crying out, withdrawal, favouring, etc.). We know that a priori, in virtue of having the concept of pain. And it affords a role-occupant identification: neuroscientists find out empirically that what in fact plays role P is the firing of c-fibres (i.e. it is c-fibre firings that are typically caused by tissue damage, etc.). Therefore, pain is the firing of c-fibres, QED. (A very similar argument had been given independently by David Lewis (1966), later an honorary Australian.)

Putnam’s Objection

The identity theory of mind as understood so far entails that for every type of mental state/event, there is a corresponding physiological type of state/event (with which it is identical). But Putnam (1960) pointed out a presumptuous further implication: that a mental state such as pain has always and everywhere the neurophysiological characterisation initially assigned to it. If pain is itself nothing but the firing of c-fibres, then in order for any creature of any species to be in pain, the creature would have to have c-fibres. But there is no reason to think that anything so physiologically specific as c-fibres are required in order for any creature—mongoose, mollusc, or Martian—to feel pain; why should we suppose that any organism must have the same biochemistry as we, in order to have what can be accurately recognised as pain? This is a sort of species chauvinism. The identity theorist had overreacted to the inadequacy of behaviourism, and focussed too narrowly on the specifics of biological humans’ actual inner states.

Putnam advocated the obvious correction: What was important was not its being c-fibres (per se) that were firing, but what the c-fibre firings were doing, what their firing contributed to the operation of the organism as a whole. The role of the c-fibres could have been performed by any mechanically suitable component; so long as that role was performed, the psychology of the containing organism would have been unaffected. Thus, to be in pain is not per se to have c-fibres that are firing, but merely to be in some state or other, of whatever biochemical description, that plays the same causal role as did the firings of c-fibres in the human beings we have investigated. We may continue to maintain that pain ‘tokens’, individual instances of pain occurring in particular subjects at particular times, are strictly identical with particular neurophysiological states of those subjects at those times, viz., with the states that happen to be playing the appropriate roles; this is the thesis of ‘token identity’ or ‘token materialism’. But pain itself, the kind, universal or type, can be identified only with something more abstract: the role that c-fibre firings share with their potential replacements or surrogates.

The Computer Model

Putnam compared mental states to the functional or computational states of a computer: just as a computer program can be realised by any of a number of physically different hardware configurations, so a psychological ‘program’ can be realised by different organisms of various physiochemical composition, and that is why different physiological states of organisms of different species can realise one and the same mental state type. Where an identity theorist’s type-identification would take the form, ‘To be in mental state of type M is to be in the neurophysiological state of type N’, Putnam’s computational or ‘machine’ functionalism has it that to be in M is to be merely in some physiological state or other that plays role R in the relevant computer program—that is, the program that at a suitable level of abstraction mediates the creature’s total outputs given total inputs and so serves as the creature’s global psychology. The physiological state ‘plays role R’ in that it stands in a set of relations to physical inputs, outputs, and other inner states that matches one-to-one the abstract input/output/computational-state relations codified in the computer program.


Thus, the functionalist identifies types of mental state/event with functional roles, the psychological roles characteristically played in us by the physiological structures. The functionalist agrees with the identity theorist that every mental state/event token is identical with some physiological state/event token; but she denies the identity theorist’s implication that for every type of mental state/event, there is a corresponding physiological type of state/event. Functional roles, like mental states themselves, are multiply realisable; they can be played by different physiological structures in different creatures.

The Australian Reaction

Smart and Armstrong were not daunted or even much impressed by Putnam’s point. Smart has said (p.c.) that he never intended the chauvinist implication. Indeed, contrary to a widespread belief, he never spoke of c-fibres and never countenanced Putnam’s focussing on them, precisely because it conveyed the misleading impression of physiological specificity.

It is true that Smart argued for the identity theory from the premise that there are type-type correlations between mental states and neurophysiological states (the best explanation of the ‘correlations’ being that the mental states are simply identical with the neurophysiological ones). But he did not mean that the correlations extended past the human species. (For his current view of the relation between functionalism and the identity theory, see Smart 2007; also, Jackson, Pargetter and Prior 1982; and Braddon-Mitchell and Jackson 1996.)

Armstrong was especially well placed to resist the chauvinism charge, because nothing at all in Armstrong (1968) committed him to type identity. On the contrary: his causal theory allowed very generously for multiple realisation; just as for Putnam, all that mattered was the causal role, not what particular physiological structures played that role.

Place, interestingly, went on to defend type identity against multiple realisability, and did so throughout his distinguished career as both psychologist and philosopher (1967: 2004).

Comparison of the Causal Theory to Functionalism

Armstrong’s and Lewis’ theories have neologistically been called ‘a priori functionalism’ and ‘analytical functionalism’. That is entirely inappropriate, because neither Armstrong nor Lewis deployed any notion of function, either in the computational sense or any bio-/teleological sense (on which, see below). But there are important similarities.

As noted, Armstrong and Lewis too think in terms of roles, viz., of neurophysiological states being mental states in virtue of occupying the relevant causal roles. But there are two important differences between the causal version of the identity theory and functionalism. First, the roles appealed to by the causal theorists are characterised entirely in commonsense terms, while the functionalist imagines them as being described in some technical vocabulary following the appropriate research. That leaves Armstrong and Lewis open to objections based on the roles’ being insufficiently constrained (see below).

Second, in the same vein, the causal analysis of the mental was a priori, a conceptual analysis of the meanings of mental terms; functionalism, like the identity theory, is an empirical hypothesis or bet. That leaves Armstrong and Lewis open to fantastical imaginary counterexamples, in a way that a posteriori functionalism is not. We can imagine that pain is not the firing of c-fibres; so what? All that shows is that we can imagine the identity theory to be false. So too, of course, we can imagine that pain is not psychofunctional state type T3,057. (Though Chalmers (1996) argues that the genuine conceivability of these non-identities, combined with further premises based on a technical apparatus derived from two-dimensional intensional logic, does show that the identity theory and functionalism are false.)

Here is one example, due to Keith Campbell (1970), of an objection that succeeds against the commonsense causal analysis but fails against functionalism: A state of a creature, or for that matter of an assembly of Meccano parts or beer tins, could occupy the commonsense role of pain but without being mental at all, much less feeling like a pain. A commonsense causal analysis of pain contains very little information; see, e.g. Armstrong’s mature analysis (1968: 310–16). (Remember, the causal analysis is a conceptual or at least an a priori claim; purely imaginary cases are fair play.) The functionalist has a much richer set of concepts with which to constrain the roles in question, and is not answerable to merely imaginary scenarios.

Though Australasian philosophers have not defended functionalism as such, it is appealed to by some, e.g. Sterelny (1990) and Griffiths (1997).

The Teleological Turn

There is a subsequent version of functionalism, that appeals to ‘function’ not in the computational sense but in the biological sense. The relevant role with which a mental state is to be identified is now to be characterised teleologically, in terms of what the state, or its containing neurophysiological device, is for—what the state or device is supposed to contribute to the subject’s behavioural capabilities (Lycan 1981; 1987; Millikan 1984; Sober 1985; Neander 1991; Neander is Australasia’s leading proponent of the teleological perspective). In Sober’s phrase, it ‘put[s] the function back into functionalism’, by speaking of ‘proper’ function, what a thing’s job is. Pain, for example, has the proper function of signalling bodily damage and causing certain other inner states and motor outputs, leading to repair and to avoidance of the source of the damage. (That is probably what pain was selected for, if structures within our Pleistocene ancestors produced pain that played this role and thereby increased the average fitness of those ancestors.)

This teleological understanding of function has several advantages. First, it affords a more biological and more accurately multi-leveled view of the mind, and in particular a realistic picture of psychological explanation. The teleofunctionalist explains psychological capacities by means of a ‘function-analytic’ strategy (Fodor 1968, Cummins 1983). Such an explanation describes a system, such as a body or a brain, as a collection of nested components. Each component is identified, and its function is described, and the overall capacities of the system are explained in terms of their cooperative activity.

Second, the machine functionalist treated functional ‘realisation’, the relation between an individual physical organism and the abstract program it was said to run, as a simple matter of one-to-one correspondence between, on the one hand, the organism’s repertoire of physical stimuli, structural states and behaviour, and on the other the program’s defining input/state/output function. But this criterion of realisation was seen to be far too liberal; since virtually anything bears a one-one correlation of some sort to virtually anything else, ‘realisation’ in the sense of mere one-one correspondence is far too easily attained (Block 1978; Lycan 1987: ch. 3). Lycan and Sober proposed to fix that by imposing a teleological requirement on realisation: a physical state of an organism will count as realising such-and-such a functional description only if the organism has genuine organic integrity and the state plays its functional role properly for the organism, in the teleological sense of ‘for’ and in the teleological sense of ‘function’.

Third, machine functionalism’s two-levelled picture of human psychobiology is, to say the least, unbiological. Neither living creatures nor even computers themselves are split into a purely ‘structural’ level of biological/physiochemical description and any one ‘abstract’ computational level of machine/psychological description. Rather, they are all hierarchically organised at many levels, each level ‘abstract’ or ‘functional’ with respect to those beneath it but ‘structural’ or concrete as it realises those levels above it (Lycan 1987).

Objections to Functionalism: Intentionality

Functionalism inherits some of the same problems that had plagued behaviourism and the identity theory. They fall into two main categories, respectively headed by philosophers, ‘intentionality’, and ‘qualia’ or phenomenal character.

‘Intentionality’ as used in this literature does not mean anything to do with people’s intentions. It is a technical term, and refers to the aboutness of ‘propositional attitudes’ such as beliefs and desires, those cognitive and conative states that are described in everyday language by the use of ‘that’-clauses. One believes that Helen Clark was born in Hamilton, NZ, and one’s belief is about Clark. One believes that rabbits are mammals, and that belief is about rabbits.

The objects and states of affairs upon which our propositional attitudes are directed may actually exist, in the real world. But equally they may not: beliefs are often false, desires can be frustrated, hopes may be dashed. The attitudes may also be about ‘things’ that do not exist: Sherlock Holmes, the Easter Bunny, the free lunch. Franz Brentano raised the question of how any purely physical entity or state could have the property of being about or ‘directed upon’ a nonexistent state of affairs or object; that is not the sort of feature that ordinary, purely physical objects can have.

Machine functionalists reply by appeal to some version of a ‘conceptual role’ theory. Sellars (1956) developed an analogy between mental states and sentences in a language, suggesting that both get meaning in the same way, by their inferential roles: the meaning of a sentence depends on what it can be inferred from and on what sentences people can infer when that sentence is uttered. Likewise, Sellars argued, mental states have intentionality in virtue of the inferential roles they play in their owners’ mental economies. Machine functionalists broaden this characterisation to include computational roles more generally, speaking of ‘semantic networks’.

Teleofunctionalists such as Millikan (1984), Dretske (1988), Fodor (1990), and Neander (1991, 2004) have argued that teleology must enter into any adequate analysis of intentionality. According to these theorists, a neurophysiological state should count as a belief that rabbits are mammals, and in particular as about rabbits, only if that state has the representing of rabbits as one of its psychobiological functions.

Objections to Functionalism: Phenomenal Character

The ‘quale’ of a mental state or event is that state or event’s feel, its introspectible ‘phenomenal character’. Many philosophers have objected that functionalism cannot explain or even acknowledge the notion of what it feels like to be in a mental state of such-and-such a sort. Yet those feels are quintessentially mental—it is they that make the mental states the mental states they are.

Block (1978) and others have urged various counterexamples—cases in which all the right functionalist conditions are satisfied, but in which the creature lacks mentality or its phenomenal aspect. For example, the population of China might be organised in such a way as to implement a program that is functionally equivalent to our brains when we feel pain, but the nation would not thereby experience pain.

Machine functionalists have replied either by denying that Block’s scenario is possible or by insisting that if it is possible, the Chinese giant does experience pain. Teleofunctionalists have an additional option: to point out that the population of China is not an organism and does not have the relevant teleological structure; its states are not for the right ends.

Nagel (1974), Jackson (1982), Chalmers (1996) and many others have argued that one might know all the relevant functional (and other physical) facts about the brain and the environment, yet not know the facts about what the corresponding experiences are like for their subjects. Here too some functionalists have replied by toughing it out and insisting that such a situation is impossible. Others have maintained that knowledge is perspectival and fine-grained: one could know that a pillar was made of salt without knowing that the pillar was made of NaCl, but that hardly shows that salt is anything but NaCl.

All these objections and replies remain very much up in the air.

A Companion to Philosophy in Australia and New Zealand

   by Graham Oppy, N. N. Trakakis