John Leslie Mackie was born in Sydney, Australia, on 25 August 1917, the son of Alexander Mackie and Annie Duncan. Alexander Mackie, an able and aspiring young Scotsman, had emigrated from Edinburgh in 1906 to become Principal of Sydney Teachers College. He became an eminent educationist, from 1910 combining his role at the Teachers College with the Chair of Education at the University of Sydney. John grew up in Wahroonga, on Sydney’s North Shore, and educated at Knox Grammar School, maintaining the Scottish connection. At the University of Sydney, which he entered in 1935, his main interests were initially in classics and mathematics, with philosophy coming to the fore a little later, as he studied under the celebrated, formidable and charismatic John Anderson.
A stellar career in classics and philosophy won him a scholarship to Oxford, where he entered Oriel College to read Literae Humaniores in 1938, graduating with a First in 1940. At that point he undertook war service, training in radar and then radio maintenance, being commissioned in the REME, and serving in the Middle East and in Italy, including at Monte Cassino—experiences he rarely spoke about in later years.
After the war, he returned to a lectureship in Alan Stout’s Department of Moral and Political Philosophy at the University of Sydney, although the title of the department did little to restrict the range of topics on which he researched and taught. In 1947 he married Joan Meredith, herself an outstanding graduate of the university. Their family eventually comprised three daughters—one of whom, Penelope, is herself a professional philosopher—and two sons. In 1955 he took up the chair of philosophy at the University of Otago, in Dunedin, New Zealand, where, although remaining for just four years, he made enough of an impact to be serving as Dean of Arts and Music at the time of his return to the University of Sydney to take up the Challis Chair of Philosophy on John Anderson’s retirement. In 1963 he left for Great Britain, going first to fill the foundation chair of philosophy at the new university in York. In 1967 he became Fellow of University College, Oxford, and university reader in 1978. He was elected Fellow of the British Academy in 1974, and remained at Oxford until his death on 12 December 1981.
Meticulous, courteous, industrious, with a degree of devotion to duty striking in one who held that moral values lack any objective foundation, he was universally admired as an outstandingly capable and committed philosopher’s philosopher. An undoubtedly apocryphal anecdote captures his character: while Alasdair MacIntyre, P. F. Strawson, and Mackie were Fellows together at University College, the authorities circulated a memorandum asking all dons to keep a record for a week of the proportions of their working hours spent on research, teaching, and administration. MacIntyre sent back a blistering missive instructing them not to waste his time. Strawson looked at the form, wrote ‘One third, one third, one third’, and went back to what he was doing. J. L. Mackie went out and bought a stop watch.
Mackie was a realist empiricist in the Lockean mould. Although influenced by Anderson, and retaining his teacher’s naturalism and rationalist approach, he was never a disciple. Nor was he ever tempted by any of the notions according to which philosophical issues are not genuine problems, but merely conceptual confusions. His work is characterised by patient and always dispassionate analysis of specific questions, striving first for a clear statement of the problem, then proceeding by careful exploration and appraisal of the arguments available in support of alternative proposed solutions. Mackie applied this analytic style of reasoning across a broad range of issues. He made contributions to, among other topics, the understanding of logical paradoxes, the nature of conditionals, the theory of causality, the interpretation of counterfactual conditionals, the theological problem of evil, the theory of ethics, the interpretation of Locke’s epistemology and metaphysics, and of Hume’s ethics.
In the first part of his career, Mackie published a succession of important articles, but no books. This pattern of publication changed in 1973 with the appearance of Truth, Probability, and Paradox, a collection of essays on logical themes. This was followed in rapid succession by The Cement of the Universe (1974), which presents his views on causation, and Problems from Locke (1976). This latter work tackles characteristically Lockean themes, including primary and secondary qualities, perception, substance, universals, identity, and innate ideas, but its focus is on contributing to contemporary discussion of these issues. In Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong (1977), Mackie presents a sustained argument for a distinctive account of moral thinking as a mistaken projection of subjective attitudes onto objective situations. His position in ethics has some affinities with Hume’s moral theory, which he discussed in a book of that name appearing in 1980. Lastly, posthumously, The Miracle of Theism was published in 1982. This burst of productivity propelled Mackie to the forefront among British philosophers of his generation, and his relatively early death, while still at the height of his powers, was keenly felt.
Of his many contributions, Mackie’s importance as a philosopher rests principally on his championing of four main theses. In philosophical theology, he maintained over many years of patient argument that all the attempts to reconcile the existence of evil with the classical Christian conception of God as omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent are failures, and that any plausible variations on them will fail also. In philosophical logic, he claimed that, despite appearances, counterfactual conditionals are not actually propositions at all, but condensed and elliptically expressed arguments. The conditional’s antecedent is the argument’s premise, and its consequent is the conclusion. The counterfactual conditional is to be accepted if the condensed argument is a good one as it is, or can be made good by the supply of plausibly understood additional premises. In metaphysics he advanced a particular account of causation. In almost every case, the whole cause of an event involves multiple factors, so we need an account of causal factors. These, Mackie held, are INUS conditions, that is: Insufficient but Non-redundant parts of Unnecessary but Sufficient conditions for the occurrence of the effect.
In ethics, Mackie’s fourth distinctive thesis is that although the semantics of ordinary indicative moral discourse apparently require that there be moral facts in virtue of which moral claims are true or false, there are in reality no such moral facts. Moral discourse must therefore be explicated as arising from widespread error. Mackie argued that people’s attitudes and feelings when considering their own or other people’s behaviour and its effects leads them to assume, falsely, the existence of objective features of right or wrong, good or bad, in human situations, which correspond to, and validate, those attitudes and feelings. As there are no such validating properties, people must take upon themselves responsibility for the judgments they make.
In the years since his death, Mackie’s philosophy has continued to attract attention, with a steady flow of articles discussing his work. The INUS treatment of causal conditions now seems to have been accepted as part of a consensus on causal factors. But his account of counterfactual conditionals has few adherents, in large part because it cannot comfortably accommodate the way in which such sentences can be nested with others in compounds which have truth values in much the same way as nested indicatives. Mackie’s views on ethics and in the philosophy of religion are more controversial. Papers in both criticism and defence of his ethical theory, his response to the problem of evil, and his view of miracles continue to appear. There has yet to appear a demonstration that his anti-objectivist ethical theory does nothing to undercut his critique of Christianity by way of the problem of evil.
The Department of Philosophy was founded in 1967 at the same time as Macquarie University. At the time of its founding, the department had two full-time members of staff: Max Deutscher and Leonard Carrier. Deutscher was the foundation professor of philosophy, having come from a post as senior lecturer at Monash University. He had taken a B.Phil. in philosophy at Oxford University, where he was much influenced by his supervisor Gilbert Ryle. For two years he lectured in philosophy at Trinity and Exeter Colleges at Oxford before returning to Australia. Carrier, who had been a student of Donald Davidson, was recruited from the University of Miami to teach logic and language. In the next few years many of the longstanding staff were recruited. In 1969 Jim Baker, Vic Dudman, Robert McLaughlin, and Alan Olding joined the staff. In 1970 John Kleinig and Tony Palmer were appointed as lecturers. In 1971 Michael Stocker and Ross Poole joined the staff as did San MacColl in 1973. Many of these staff members worked in the department until their retirement in the mid-to-late 1990s (except for Stocker who moved to the University of Sydney in 1970, Kleinig who moved to CUNY in New York in 1988, and MacColl who moved to UNSW in 1991). After the retirement of these longstanding staff, the department went through a period of reconstruction when several new members of staff were appointed. Catriona Mackenzie was appointed in 1991, Peter Menzies in 1996, Greg Restall and Caroline West in 1997, Nicholas Smith in 1998 and John Sutton in 1999. In subsequent years, the department has had a regular turnover of staff, with a number of new staff and postdoctoral scholars taking up positions.
The research of the department is best surveyed in terms of four main areas, where the research has been concentrated.
Logic and Language
The department has had a long tradition of scholarship in the area of logic and philosophy of language. As noted, Carrier was appointed first to teach in this area. Other people to work in the area were Doug Busch (1977–87), San MacColl (1973–90), and Vic Dudman (1969–95). Dudman’s work on conditionals and the philosophy of language has achieved considerable prominence in the literature. He was also instrumental in setting up a strong undergraduate program in critical reasoning and introductory logic. The tradition of scholarship in this area has been continued by recent appointments in the area: Greg Restall (1997–2002), Alexander Miller (2004–6) and Albert Atkin (2007– present). Restall’s work on logic during his time at Macquarie culminated in his book, An Introduction to Substructural Logics (published in 2000).
The department is well known for its pioneering development of European philosophy in Australia. Deutscher started his academic career as an analytic philosopher but also had longstanding interests in Sartre. His early publications on remembering, inferring and physicalism led to work on Husserl’s phenomenology, an interest already whetted by Ryle (see Deutscher 1983). Deutscher’s interests in French philosophy deepened through his career with books on Michele le Doeuff (2000) and Sartre and Beauvoir (2003). Many other members of the department contributed to the tradition of scholarship in European philosophy. Ross Poole’s longstanding interests in Marx and Nietzsche culminated in the publication of Morality and Modernity (1991). Luciana Dwyer (1978–89) was steeped in the Husserlian tradition. Robyn Ferrell (1992–2004) was an active presence in the department promoting research in contemporary French Philosophy. The department also benefited from the presence of a number of scholars on short-term contracts who contributed to this area: Elizabeth During, Paul Redding (1989–90), and Moira Gatens. In recent years the focus of research in this area has shifted to German Philosophy, and in particular to Hegel and critical theory, through the work of Nicholas Smith (1998 – present), Jean-Philippe Deranty (2003 – present), and Robert Sinnerbrink (2003 – present).
Feminism, Ethics, and Applied Ethics
For many decades the department had a strong tradition of scholarship in the areas of ethics, and social and political philosophy. Some highlights of this scholarship include Kleinig’s work on paternalism (1983) and valuing life (1991) and Poole’s work on nationalism (1999). For a number of years (1985–89) Val Plumwood was a tutor in the department, enhancing its profile in the areas of feminism and environmental ethics. The area of feminist philosophy was further strengthened with the appointment of Catriona Mackenzie (1991 – present) and of Robyn Ferrell. The recent appointments of Cynthia Townley (2004 – present) and Mianna Lotz (2006 – present) have consolidated the tradition of research in ethics and applied ethics. The department now has very active teaching and research collaborations inside and outside Macquarie University in the areas of professional ethics, bioethics and biotechnology, neuroethics and moral psychology. A Research Centre on Agency, Norms and Values, headed by Mackenzie, was established in 2007 to focus research in these areas. In 2009 Wendy Rogers and Jeanette Kennett were appointed to research professorships to consolidate the department’s existing research excellence in medical ethics, neuroethics and moral psychology.
Several long-serving members of staff had active interests in metaphysics and the philosophy of science. For example, Alan Olding’s 1990 book examined the tenability of natural theology in the light of the theory of evolution. During his short tenure as a lecturer in the department, David Papineau (1978–80) produced two books on the philosophy of the social sciences (1979a, 1979b). In the post-1990s period Peter Menzies’ influential series of publications on causation and John Sutton’s (1998) work in the history of cognitive science contributed to the tradition of scholarship in the philosophy of science. Recent members of staff have tended to focus their research in the philosophy of mind and cognitive science, establishing strong research links with the Macquarie Centre for Cognitive Science. Tim Bayne (2003–07) and Sutton have made important contributions in this area. Bayne has since taken up a position at Oxford University in 2007 and Sutton moved in 2008 to the Macquarie Centre for Cognitive Science.
In conclusion, if the department has had some central guiding spirit throughout its history, it has been a spirit that questions philosophical orthodoxies and standard ways of doing philosophy. Early members of the department, especially those who worked in European philosophy, felt certain exclusionary pressures from other Australasian departments. However, with the greater acceptance of European philosophy, the department has taken the lead in Australia in developing a pluralist ethos that encourages philosophers from analytic, European and other traditions to work harmoniously together. It continues to go from strength to strength with increasing staff numbers, flourishing undergraduate and postgraduate programs, and a strong research focus.
The history of Maori philosophy embraces three overlapping phases. First, Polynesian foundations can be traced to a lengthy sojourn in the Pacific; second, subsequent settlement in Aotearoa (New Zealand) gave rise to tribal traditions; and third, as a consequence of progressive urbanisation, a philosophy that values ‘being Maori’ as much as belonging to a tribe has emerged. The three phases are progressive, each premised on earlier worldviews, customs, and values.
Although there is some debate, almost certainly the Polynesian migration started in Africa, and over a period of several thousand years progressed across the Indian Ocean, to the west coast of India, thence to Southeast Asia. From Taiwan there were migrations west to Madagascar and east to the Bismarck Archipelago (east of New Guinea) and then into central East Polynesia (McKinnon 1997: 9–10). Where suitable land was reached settlements were established and wherever that occurred cultural elements were left behind. Over time and over distance, unique characteristics emerged to give distinctiveness to each new settlement though without entirely severing the connecting, but increasingly tenuous, thread that was to remind later generations of a common starting point. The thread is still evident in aspects of language, art, histories and biological markers, and has been grouped by historians into artefact/activity trails, biological trails, and linguistic trails (Howe 2003: 71–88).
Maori philosophy has its roots in the Pacific. There is abundant linguistic, anatomic, genetic, oral, archaeological, navigational and cultural evidence that Maori have close affinities with other Pacific peoples, and reached Aotearoa around 1300 AD after voyaging from more northern islands within the Polynesian Triangle. Maori language has much in common with languages of Hawaii, Rarotonga, and Tahiti; throughout Polynesia the vowels are consistently the same while the consonants are always followed by a vowel. Similarly there is a widespread Polynesian tradition of personifying the environment, linking human origins to the natural world, and drawing on the landscape to cement personal identity (Te Rangi Hiroa 1958).
Like many Pacific narratives, Maori accounts of creation attribute bio-diversity to the separation of the sky (Rangi) and the earth (Papatuanuku). Reluctantly forced apart, the separation enabled their offspring, among whom were the forerunners of forests, ferns, fisheries, oceans and the elements, to reach maturity and establish their own identities while retaining affinity with each other. Human evolution was part of the saga; as participants in an ecological network, close relationships existed between people and the natural environment.
Other aspects of Maori philosophy also reflect the Pacific connection, including the marae—a tribal meeting place also found in Tahiti and Rarotonga—and a centre for the elaboration of culture and dialogue (Dansey 1971: 8–23). The concept of tapu similarly had its origins in Polynesia and remains integral to a Maori philosophy. Early missionaries and anthropologists placed considerable weight on tapu as a spiritual phenomenon associated with retribution. In their views, popularised in written form, the laws of tapu were seen to be derived from higher powers and mortals were expected to fall into line, or suffer serious consequences (Best 1924: 175). The spiritual connotation equated tapu with sacredness and it was used as a translation for ‘holy’. Tapu was also linked with chieftainship, ‘high birth’ and the discretion of tohunga (healers) to demarcate people and places of special significance (Philips 1954: 174–98). But a more utilitarian view of the purpose of tapu was discussed by a Maori scholar, Te Rangi Hiroa (1949). He drew a connection between the use of tapu and the prevention of accidents or calamities; a dangerous activity or location would be declared tapu in order to prevent misfortune. More earthly than a divine message from the gods, or the recognition of status, the conferment of tapu was a precautionary measure to reduce risks associated with the realities of social engagement, wellbeing, and environmental protection.
Some anthropologists consider that Maori arrived in Aotearoa more or less by accident, having been blown off course while fishing (Sharp 1957: 128–43). But DNA studies confirm that a significant colony of Maori settlers was firmly established in Aotearoa some 800 or more years ago (Murray-McIntosh, Scrimshaw, Hadfield, Panny 1998) and modern scientific findings endorse the conventional view that a planned migration to Aotearoa took place around 1300AD, probably from Tahiti, through Rarotonga (Te Rangi Hiroa 1949: 36–64).
Less clear, however, is whether the legend of a single Great Fleet was actually a story invented and made popular by Percy S. Smith (Smith 1913, vol. 4: 72). Although based on Mäori oral traditions, principally the Whatahoro manuscripts, Smith heavily edited the material and added elements from other sources so that the original Maori accounts became distorted in favour of an amalgamated tribal version that had both simplistic and romantic appeal to European scholars (Simmons 1976: 315–21). More likely, instead of a great and organised fleet, there were a series of disparate migrations that subsequently led to the development of discrete tribal groups.
The point is a further reminder of the doubtful reliability of early European authors who depended on Maori informants but introduced their own cultural paradigms to analyse and reinterpret the material. In transferring oral tradition into written form, integrity was often lost when linear histories and synchronic approaches were superimposed on Maori worldviews (Binney 1987: 16–28). Instead of validating local knowledge and perspectives, the main purpose of oral tradition, historians and anthropologists all too frequently dismantled the bond between event and human experience for the sake of chronological logic. Concerned about authenticity, Simmons identified five conditions against which validity might be tested: occurrence in a number of sources; occurrence in songs and chants; persistence to present times; occurrence in early sources; genealogical validation (Simmons 1976: 10–12).
In any event, once settled in New Zealand tribes began to form their own customs and worldviews, not entirely divorced from the Polynesian base, but distinctive in language, protocols and histories, and shaped by the realities of landscape and climate.
Transposing the Oral Tradition
Based on some five thousand years in the Pacific and then elaborated to accommodate new experiences in Aotearoa, Maori knowledge, matauranga Maori, evolved in parallel with changing ecological and social circumstances. There was no written record but tribal experts used oral narratives and symbolic art forms to transmit information and understanding, to ponder the future, and to study connectedness. As in the Pacific, human existence was essentially contextualised as part of a wider environmental framework within a timeframe that extended over a score or more generations. Metaphor, allusion and the juxtaposition of past and future added depth and meaning to oral literary explanations, contributing to the emergence of a tribal worldview within which knowledge and its application had a genealogy of its own, and appointed guardians were entrusted to safeguard the integrity of the learning process.
The advent of a written language in the nineteenth century added a further option for the dissemination of knowledge but also a new level of complexity. On the one hand the printed word greatly expanded avenues for recording and distributing information, but on the other it diminished the role tribal experts had played as guardians of authenticity and relevance. Tribal distinctiveness, for example, could be readily overlooked by authors who sought to convey understandings of Maori philosophies as undifferentiated endeavours that transcended tribe and community.
It was not until the early twentieth century that a new generation of Maori scholars began to face the task of disseminating and verifying knowledge in ways that accorded with both oral methods and written literary traditions. By virtue of university and tribal educational experiences they were able to act as conduits between two centuries and between different modes of scholarship. Raised in tribal societies and retaining close tribal affiliations, they were inevitably answerable to critical Maori readers, and were not able to avoid marae standards of proof. But nor were they immune from the standards demanded of serious academic writers. In short, they lived and worked at the interface between two systems of knowledge and two sets of accountabilities.
Their seminal publications contained essential elements of tribal philosophies. Reweti Kohere, for example, published a collection of proverbs that neatly captured tribal perspectives, attitudes and values such as collective strength, resource sustainability, tribal authority, and ecological connectedness (Kohere 1951). In Nga Moteatea, a collection of tribal songs edited by Apirana Ngata, not only were historic markers recounted but there were fresh insights into ways of thinking and understanding the world, including tribal genealogical pride, the significance of place, and the rich use of imagery that compared the relationship of human encounters to natural phenomena (Ngata 1950). Writing as an insider in English and Maori, Ngata demonstrated that it was possible to transpose oral transmission to the written medium without losing meaning, context, or impact. Moreover, he was able to demonstrate that tribal songs were more than words set to ancient music; they were also rich sources of history, literature and philosophy.
Maori scholars who wrote tribal histories based their narratives on tribal dynamics, politics, and relationships. Interweaving song, linguistic nuance, genealogical connections, and geographical significance into stories about battles and leadership, their descriptions uncovered a holistic understanding of human encounters and territorial attachment (Jones and Biggs 1995: 170–6). More recently, tribal philosophies have been rehearsed in submissions to the Waitangi Tribunal (Byrnes 2008: 88–103). Established in 1975 as a Commission of Inquiry to investigate claims against the Crown for breaches of the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, the Tribunal accepted oral evidence from older witnesses. Recurring themes of land alienation, environmental despoliation, and unjust laws were associated with reduced access to tribal land, dismissal of tribal guardianship over the natural environment, and diminished authority. The themes also confirmed the ecological perspective adopted by tribes and the fusion of human identities with landscape so that resource alienation was perceived not only as a loss of an economic base but also as a cause of spiritual impoverishment (Waitangi Tribunal 1983).
After World War Two, and largely for economic reasons, Maori moved away from rural villages and tribal society to live in larger towns and cities. Second generation urban migrants grew up in environments where Maori language was seldom spoken and Maori culture was absent except in crude form to satisfy tourist expectations. By the mid 1970s increasing numbers of Maori were concerned about an apparent assimilatory policy and students protested about the failure to have Maori language available in schools. A decade later the Waitangi Tribunal found that the Government had been in breach of the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi for failing to protect Maori language (Waitangi Tribunal 1986).
Even before the Tribunal had completed its inquiry, however, a cultural revitalisation was underway. Urban Maori wanted to ‘live as Maori’ and to participate in the Maori world (Durie 2003: 197–211). But the world they lived in was not the same as the world of their parents and grandparents. First, a gap had been created between place of residence and turangawaewae—the traditional home to tribe and family. Second, a major consequence of urbanisation had been a shift in the foundations for identity. No longer exclusively dependant on tribe, customary lands or rural lifestyles, identity was increasingly a function of being part of generic Maori networks and participating in those aspects of culture that were shared by all Maori.
‘Being Maori’ was possible in urban environments. Despite the urban context Maori language, for example, remains a major marker of identity. Although tribes have distinctive dialects, a common Maori language has become the province of thousands of second-language learners, reinforced by a Maori language television channel, Mäori language immersion schools and Maori language print media.
Greater mobility and improved technology have also made it possible to retain links with extended families and with tribe—even though the links may be electronically mediated and visited, rather than lived. Some tribes have established tribal marae in metropolitan communities, while in other centres urban collectives have established their own marae that have significant but attenuated tribal links. Ironically, perhaps, urbanisation has strengthened tribal resolve. Maori continue to identify themselves according to tribal affiliations; five-yearly census takes record tribal affiliation; a wide range of health and social services are delivered by tribal authorities; and tribes are organised along corporate as well as customary lines.
It seems clear that being Maori in the twenty-first century will reflect tribal and urban realities (McIntosh 2008: 38–51). At the same time the influence of a global philosophy will impact significantly on indigenous worldviews. Some Maori will reject the wider sphere and create an identity that is exclusively reinforced by Maori culture and custom, even at the risk of denying inevitable worldwide trends. More likely, at least if past trends are any guide, Maori will adapt to new environments, retaining cultural markers that are portable, and refashioning others to accommodate new places and new times. In that respect Maori philosophy is likely to be in a state of continuous evolution.
Charles Burton Martin (1924–2008) is one of those philosophers whose influence outstrips his reputation. Martin’s early, unwavering opposition to Oxford-style ‘linguisticised’ philosophy and to philosophical theses tinged with verificationism helped set the course of work in metaphysics and the philosophy of mind in the second half of the twentieth century.
Born in Chelsea, Massachusetts in May 1924, Martin entered Boston University in 1944, graduating with an A.B. in philosophy in 1948. He earned admission to Emmanuel College, Cambridge partly on the strength of an undergraduate Honours thesis on Spinoza that had impressed A. C. Ewing, who was instrumental in Martin’s becoming a Member of the College. At Cambridge Martin studied under John Wisdom, but remained impervious to the seductions of ‘ordinary language’ philosophy, which had begun to make inroads among his contemporaries. He was awarded a Ph.D. in 1959. His thesis, Religious Belief, was published the same year.
Martin spent two years (1951–53) in Oxford, attending Ryle’s lecturers and seminars before joining J. J. C. Smart and U. T. Place at the University of Adelaide in 1954. In Adelaide Martin participated in discussions that culminated in Place’s and Smart’s seminal articles on Central State Materialism—the mind-brain identity theory. In 1966, Martin accepted a post at the University of Sydney alongside D. M. Armstrong, who had moved from Melbourne to Sydney in 1964 as J. L. Mackie’s successor in the Challis Chair of Philosophy. Martin was professor of philosophy at Sydney until 1971, when he accepted a professorship at the University of Calgary. He retired to Medicine Hat, Alberta, in 2001.
Although he came of age in a philosophical climate dominated by Wittgenstein and Ryle, the influence of these philosophers on Martin appears to have been wholly negative. In an era obsessed with conceptual analysis, Martin insisted on ontological seriousness. From the 1950s Martin pushed for the importance of causality in accounts of the mind (functionalism’s core thesis), insisting that perception, memory, and belief were causally loaded some years before the appearance of Grice’s famous defense of a causal theory of perception in 1961 (see Martin 1959: 109). In 1966 Martin published, with Max Deutscher, an influential paper, ‘Remembering’, defending the idea that memories were, of necessity, linked causally to the past.
Attitudes toward publication today are very different from those prevalent in the 1950s and ’60s. Like many of his contemporaries, Martin preferred to work out ideas in lectures and discussions with students and colleagues, rather than seeing them through to print (see both Smart and Armstrong, in Heil 1989). One result is that Martin’s philosophical influence has been largely indirect, coming by way of other philosophers—in Australia, the U.S., Britain, and Canada, and a battery of high-powered philosophical correspondents, including D. M. Armstrong, David Lewis, and the neuroscientist Rodolfo Llinas. Philosophers today whose views reflect positions originally championed by Martin are often oblivious to their source (Grave 1984: 111).
A longstanding opponent of dualism, Martin never embraced the reductionist component of Australian Materialism. States of mind are internal states that play certain causal roles, but they are, as well, qualitatively distinctive. Indeed their causal roles depend on their qualitative nature. A common mistake, according to Martin, is to imagine that qualities are uniquely mental: every property is both a power and a quality, both dispositional and qualitative. Martin was, at first, inclined to regard properties as ‘two-sided’: every property has a qualitative and a dispositional ‘face’. This would require a brute connection between qualities and powers, however, an ontological anomaly. More recently Martin has defended a ‘surprising identity’ of qualities with powers: properties are powerful qualities (Martin 1997, 2008; see also Armstrong et al. 1996).
The surprising identity evokes Martin’s hero, Locke, as does Martin’s (1980) account of substance, and his acceptance of Locke’s maxim that ‘all things that exist are particulars’. Properties, Martin holds, are ‘tropes’, particular ways particular objects are. Unlike most contemporary friends of tropes, however, Martin favours a two-category ontology. Objects are not bundles of tropes. Properties are had by, modifications of, particular substances. Following Locke, he characterises substances as substrata, but denies that this requires a notion of bare, propertyless particulars. Properties are ways particular substances are; every substance must be some way or other. As ways substances are, tropes are ‘non-transferable’. Socrates’ whiteness is Socrates’ whiteness, a way Socrates is. Martin thus rejects ‘trope transfer’ accounts of causation according to which causal relations involve a property’s migrating from a cause to its effect. Such views, he argues, belong to a tradition of ‘pipeline’ theories of the kind espoused by Descartes who, in Meditation Three, contends that whatever is in an effect must be present in its total efficient cause.
Martin holds that causation is best understood by reference to manifestations of dispositions—powers. Causation is not a temporally extended external relation between distinct events, but a fully mutual manifestation of reciprocal disposition partners. Salt’s dissolving in water is a mutual manifestation of dispositions present in the salt, the water, and the enveloping atmosphere. The world is not a linear sequence of causal chains but a ‘power net’ encompassing manifestations of dispositions which are themselves dispositions for manifestations with particular kinds of reciprocal disposition partners.
Martin’s conception of power or dispositionality is best understood in contrast to attempts to analyze dispositions counterfactually (see Martin 1994, a paper written in the 1950s). We deploy counterfactual locutions to pick out dispositions defeasibly by reference to their ‘typifying manifestations’. A fragile vase would shatter were it struck or dropped. An object can possess a disposition, however, even though the counterfactual is false. A vase swathed in bubble wrap might fail to shatter when dropped, yet would nevertheless retain its fragility.
Counterfactuals, then, cannot easily be used to distinguish cases in which an object lacks a disposition from those in which the object possesses the disposition, but its typifying manifestation is inhibited. They fail, as well, in ‘finkish’ cases, those in which conditions that would normally yield the manifestation of a disposition result in an object’s acquiring or losing the disposition in question. A wire is live if, were it touched by a conductor, current would flow from the wire to the conductor. But consider the electro-fink (Martin 1994: 2–4). An electro-fink incorporates a wire that is dead, but which becomes live when touched by a conductor. The counterfactual holds of the electro-fink, but the wire is not live.
Attempts to bolster the counterfactual analysis have missed an important element of Martin’s treatment of dispositions. One and the same disposition would manifest itself differently with different reciprocal disposition partners. The disposition responsible for a vase’s shattering might also, in concert with other reciprocal partners, be responsible for the vase’s maintaining its shape, or reflecting light in a particular way, or liquefying when heated. This feature of dispositionality is obscured when the focus is on ‘triggering events’ eliciting manifestations. Manifestations are mutual affairs that depend equally on complexes of reciprocal disposition partners.
Dispositional reciprocity has been ill appreciated by philosophers writing on powers. The individuation of a power involves ways the power would manifest itself with a variety of actual and possible reciprocal disposition partners. This provides indirect support for Martin’s contention that a property’s qualitativity and dispositionality are non-contingently related. You might think that a ball’s sphericity is only contingently connected to its rolling (rather than tumbling) down inclined planes. We can easily imagine balls failing to roll. But balls are complex objects that include countless dispositionalities that shape their behaviour with different reciprocal partners. A steel ball would fail to roll down a magnetised inclined plane or in the absence of gravitational pull. What is much more difficult to imagine is a ball’s sphericity not at all disposing it to roll, to make a concave impression in soft clay, to reflect light so as to look spherical. In the absence of a theory, we would, Martin thinks, find it altogether natural to identify the quality of sphericity with a disposition that would manifest itself in these ways with these reciprocal partners.
Martin’s brand of Australian realism reflected in his rejection of counterfactual analyses of dispositions, is reflected as well in extended criticisms of Dummett and Davidson (1984a, 1984b), his insistence on ‘ontological candor’ (1993), and most especially in his defence of a robust truthmaking principle: truths need truthmakers, a doctrine Martin has promoted tirelessly since the 1950s (see Armstrong 2004; C. Martin 1992, 1996, 2000). More precisely, truths require truthmakers and truth bearers. Truth bearers are not propositions but representations the significance of which stems from the use to which they are put in intelligent systems, another doctrine discernible in Locke. Use is grounded in dispositionalities of users (Martin and Pfeiffer 1986; Martin and Heil 1998). Mental representations are imagistic (Locke again). These can be verbal, but most are not: the importance of language to thought has been overrated by philosophers (Martin 1987).
Martin’s The Mind in Nature (2008) provides a synoptic view of his mature thinking on topics in metaphysics and the philosophy of mind. Mental properties differ from physical properties, not in being immaterial, but qualitatively. Because every property is qualitative and dispositional, qualitativity permeates the physical and mental realms as does dispositionality. Nature includes both. Although it is convenient to talk of the world as comprising objects—particular substances—possessing properties and interacting in various ways, such a view ultimately leads to an unacceptable conception of objects as possessing indefinite boundaries. We can resolve these difficulties in a way that comports nicely with the world as physicists tell us it is by embracing a conception of the world as a single substance. Ordinary objects, then, are ways this substance is—tropes! Martin has come full circle from an undergraduate thesis on Spinoza, through Locke, and back to Spinoza.
Charlie Martin died peacefully in Medicine Hat, Alberta, on 23 October 2008.
Contributions to Marxist philosophy in Australasia have continued from the 1960s to the present. The twenty-year period from 1975 to 1995 represented a maturation of a renewed intellectual acquaintance with Marxist philosophy, following upon a revival of interest in it in the 1960s and early 1970s. This overview is not a personal history of Marxist philosophers, nor will it dwell on personal foibles and political conflicts around Marxist Australian philosophers—that sort of thing is already more than amply covered in the case of the University of Sydney by James Franklin’s (2003) sometimes entertaining history of the 1970s ‘split’ in its philosophy department.
After the Cold War began in the immediate aftermath of World War Two, an extensive critique of Marxism was developed in Western philosophy. Questioning of the credibility of the role of the U.S. in Vietnam during the 1960s (Horowiz 1971) led to questions about the sources of political power and distrust of public media in capitalist societies, which is nicely captured by Noam Chomsky (1969) and Ed Herman and Noam Chomsky (1988, 2002). This in turn led to questions about the nature of capitalism and attempts by more powerful, developed capitalist countries to exercise control over less developed countries. This prompted a revival of interest in Marxist philosophy. New contributions engaged with the Cold War critiques of Acton (1955), Plamenatz (1954, 1963) and Popper (1960, 1966). They also engaged with interpretations and developments of Marxist philosophy grouped into the three main schools of Analytical Marxists, Althusserians, and Hegelian Marxists.
The Australasian part of this new wave of interest in Marxist philosophy was peripheral but worth noting for its grounding in scientific method. All but one of the contributions discussed in this overview has engaged with and developed the relationship between Marxist philosophy and philosophy of science taken broadly as including logic and philosophy of logic. More recently, the relationship of Marx’s social theory to ‘actually existing’ socialism brought about a lull in contributions to Marxist philosophy, although it has revived somewhat in Australasia in recent years.
The High Point of Marxist Philosophy in Australasia: 1975–1995
The period of most intensive activity in Marxist philosophy in Australasia was preceded by an important contribution from Eugene Kamenka, who had come with his parents to Australia as a refugee from Nazism in 1937. With the publication of his Australian National University (ANU) Ph.D. thesis, he advanced the idea that Marx rejected normative ideas in favour of a science of ethics, which Marx nevertheless failed to establish. Kamenka (1972: 101) attempts to sketch a basis for such a science, relying on John Anderson’s ideas on morality and causality. He also rightly stresses free cooperation as the basis of Marx’s revolutionary project and a key value to which Marx is committed. However, Kamenka’s analysis fails to provide a viable basis for the idea of free cooperation. It emerges as a kind of ‘authentic’ or ‘self-sufficient’ cooperation, free from subordination to ends other than those ‘intrinsic’ to that kind of activity. The circularity inherent in defining free cooperation as that which does not require ‘censorship, punishment and protection’ (1972: 104) leaves unresolved as many questions as it answers.
In positing free cooperation as Marx’s key good, Kamenka anticipates the important contribution of György Markus (1978). Markus, who was one of Lukacs last students, first published an English translation of an earlier work in Hungarian and later published in English an even more important work, which he titled Language and Production: A Critique of the Paradigms (1986). This relates Marx’s project of taking production as the exemplary instance of social organisation to subsequent theories that have used processes of communication through meaningful language as the exemplar of social relationships. Markus argues that social life cannot be understood in terms only of a paradigm of language. A stronger case can be made for the paradigm of production, as it has implicit in it shared consciousness and thus language as one essential means for the collective organisation of production and transmission of productive culture (1986: 34–8).
In his earlier work, Marxism and Anthropology, Markus’ original move is to claim that two opposing interpretations of human nature (the humanist and anti-humanist or structuralist) fail to grasp that human nature is not a fixed datum concerning individuals but is constituted by developing ensembles of social relationships, which may be assessed against a standard of what is ‘most worthy and appropriate for … human nature’ (Marx 1976: 959) rather than merely against standards set by any given social formation. Since the human essence is not a biological given, this socio-historical genesis of human life is simultaneously the genesis of its essence.
Markus’ position is interesting because he takes account of the Hegelian antecedents of Marx’s thought but differentiates Marx’s view of human nature and history from both traditional materialism and Idealism by stressing the role of practice in the self-constitution of human life and the shape of history. To my mind, though, he sometimes makes arbitrary extrapolations from Marx’s text. For example, he maintains that the spheres of necessity and distinctively human freedom must be institutionally separated in a communist society (1986: 70–3, 83). This makes Marx’s view needlessly implausible, however much followers of Marx may have used this idea to rationalise the oppressive productive relationships of the sphere of necessity within ‘socialist’ societies.
Wal Suchting, also of the University of Sydney (in the Department of General Philosophy), made another important contribution to Marxist philosophy with the publication of his slim book, Marx and Philosophy, in the same year as Markus’ critique of the paradigms of language and production was published in English. Suchting too stresses the overriding importance of the notion of ‘material practice’ in Marx’s philosophy but is more influenced than Markus by Althusser’s reading of a ‘break’ in the direction of a ‘scientific Marx’, which for Althusser occurred with the drafting of The German Ideology in collaboration with Engels.
In a number of articles leading up to his book (including, especially, Suchting 1983), Suchting provides a critique of traditional epistemology. He claims that it poses a philosophical problem, whose philosophical solutions inevitably collapse into either scepticism or dogmatism. Suchting proposes that we should instead dismiss the philosophical problem of knowledge as a ‘scholastic question’. We can then simply replace the problem of knowledge with the view that knowledge develops from practical relations through which the agent transforms objects as intended. However, it is not clear that this does not give rise to a similar question: if we may ask what characterises reliably true observation of objects, may we not ask what feature marks out reliably true interventions on objects?
In his discussion of the issue of materialism, Suchting claims that ‘practical materialism’ is once again a stance or position taken rather than a claim about the nature of the world. It amounts to a practical refusal to entertain ‘Idealist crotchets’ or interpret the outcomes of practice and theory in their light. It is a program of enquiry into the material world, taken as independently existing, which is not limited by assumptions of the unknowability of its object or assumptions that there are boundaries beyond which these objects are unknowable.
Suchting justifies the materialist ‘line’ or stance by claiming that the Idealist line produces cognitive and practical effects that are contrary to emancipatory interests, while the materialist line has cognitive and practical effects that further such interests. This justification turns on being able to identify what forwards or constrains emancipatory interests. The difficulty in this is illuminated in Suchting’s (2004) essay, published after his death, on Althusser’s late thoughts about materialism. In this essay, Suchting recommends a form of practical materialism, which Althusser terms ‘aleatory’ or ‘chance dependent’ materialism, because it maximises ‘openness’. This form of materialism recommends philosophical ‘interventions’ directed against ‘untested—even untestable—assumptions about the possibilities for emancipation, assumptions either about what forwards or what constrains it’ (2004: 66). Suchting’s ‘practical materialism’ here seems to fall upon its own sword, since it relies on but also rejects assumptions about possibilities for emancipation.
Suchting follows Althusser in distinguishing between analyses of social change within a social system (‘synchronic’ analyses) and changes of social system (‘diachronic’ analyses). He accepts the former but rejects the latter entirely. In his discussion of historical materialism, Suchting (1993: 150–1, 154) distinguishes between real objects and ‘theoretical’ objects. Since historical materialism employs theoretical concepts such as ‘mode of production’, ‘relations of production’ and ‘productive forces’, amongst others, Suchting claims that it is not about real history at all. It does not assert even ‘a teensy-weensy degree of directionality’ in history (1993: 153). While historical materialism abstracts from the specific circumstances and other causes of social change, it is not clear that it cannot assert a direction to history, albeit non-quantitatively, similarly to the way the second law of thermodynamics asserts a direction for change of entropy with respect to closed systems.
Ian Hunt from the discipline of philosophy at Flinders University has made a continuing contribution to Marxist philosophy and Marxist economic theory. A former student of Wal Suchting, Hunt did not fall in with the fashion of interpreting Marx from the standpoint of Althusser, which was established at the University of Sydney, or with the fashion of Analytical Marxism. However, Hunt shared with Markus and Suchting a commitment to understanding Marx’s scientific methodology, coupled with an attempt to understand its Hegelian roots.
Hunt (1986) restates Marx’s theory of exploitation in ‘A Critique of Roemer, Hodgson, and Cohen on Exploitation’, published in the same year as Markus’ and Suchting’s major books. It provides a basis for a general theory of forms of class exploitation, based upon three forms of classification corresponding to the three aspects of exploitation: its social foundation, manner of appropriation of the surplus product, and forms of coercion involved. This enables an account of the contrast between slavery and the wage slavery that Marx discovers within the capitalist mode of production. On this account, slavery and wage labour are similar in that they both involve direct appropriation of the product of labour, with no recognition of any prior claim. However, they differ in that wage labourers belong to themselves and may only be subject to the discipline of need, while slaves belong to their masters, and may thus be subject to physical coercion (Hunt 1986: 155).
Ian Hunt’s major contribution to Marxist philosophy is his book Analytical and Dialectical Marxism, published in 1993, in which he used a model of dialectical relations in Marx’s theory of society to resolve issues in the interpretation of historical materialism, Marx’s theory of capitalism and his theory of revolution. The chapters on Marx’s theory of capitalism and his theory of revolution are based on earlier articles (Hunt 1982; Hunt 1983) and arguably refute some glib critiques of Marx’s theories of capitalism and revolution. However, they have two shortcomings. The analysis of the capitalist mode of production focusses on capitalism as a form of commodity production rather than on its central feature for Marx, which is that it is a system of exploitation. The account of Marx’s theory of revolution employs an intuitive theory of free collective action. A more developed account of free collective action might have highlighted the significance of this concept.
The book’s interpretation of historical materialism is more developed. This account (Hunt 1998) was republished in a revised form to address the issues raised in Levine, Wright and Sober (1992), which could not be taken into account in the analysis of historical materialism in Analytical and Dialectical Marxism.
Australasian philosophy has also accommodated unfashionable developments in logic. One of these involved a contribution to Marxist philosophy by Graham Priest, who is currently professor of philosophy at the University of Melbourne. Priest argues in a number of articles and in his book In Contradiction that Marxian dialectics should be interpreted as a commitment to what Priest dubs ‘dialethic’ or non-classical logics that accommodate the truth of contradictions (see Priest 1981, 1985, 1987, 1990, 1991).
There have been fewer contributions to Marxist philosophy in Australasia since the fall of the Soviet Union. György Markus has turned away from a position sympathetic to Marxism but still engages with it in some of his publications. Some of Wal Suchting’s papers have been published posthumously. Ian Hunt has continued to work on the theory of the legal and political superstructure, engaging with theories of freedom and of justice. He is now developing positions in Marxist philosophy on the basis of this work (e.g. Hunt 2007).
Scott Mann, in Heart of a Heartless World: Religion as Ideology (1999), has provided one interesting contribution during the recent past. Mann attempts to fuse Marx’s theory of society with Freudian psychoanalysis in order to explain the enduring appeal of religious illusions, much as Chodorow (1978) similarly attempted a fusion of psychoanalysis with feminism in order to explain the enduring relationship of domination and subordination between men and women.
More recently, Scott Mann and Michael Head (2005) have written an introduction to the law as a system of ideas and institution, using Marxist ideas to put law in its social context. Michael Head now has a more direct contribution to Marxist philosophy in his book, Evgeny Pashukanis: A Critical Reappraisal (2007). After canvassing reasons why Marxist philosophy of law developed soon after the Bolshevik revolution by authors such as Pashukanis, Head argues that Marxist philosophy of law should engage with ideas of the law written from a Marxist perspective, from which, he suggests, legal institutions are regarded as a form of social regulation viable only in class societies.
These developments suggest that a resurgence of Marxist philosophy may be underway in Australasia, whose focus is on institutions of the legal and political superstructure and concepts such as freedom and justice connected with these. Marxist philosophy in Australasia has made useful contributions to debates within Marxist philosophy in the past, especially in relation to the implications of a proper understanding of science to the credibility and interpretation of Marx’s theory of society. There will no doubt be useful contributions in the future.
Massey University is the pioneering provider of extramural (distance) education in philosophy in New Zealand and is still today the largest and preeminent such provider in the country. Instruction in philosophy has been offered there, both extramurally and internally, since 1969. The foundation professor of philosophy was the Canadian Ross Robinson (epistemology, philosophy of science). Over the next few years three new lectureships were successively taken up by John Patterson (logic), James Battye (philosophy of science) and Tom Bestor (philosophy of mind, Plato). Undergraduate student numbers grew steadily, particularly due to the introduction of a successful critical thinking course.
After Robinson’s retirement the second incumbent of the chair of philosophy was New Zealander Graham Oddie (metaphysics, ethics), appointed from the University of Otago. Oddie served as chair during 1988–94, before departing to take up a professorship at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Under his leadership the department expanded significantly to include two new lecturers: Roy Perrett (ethics, metaphysics) and Andrew Brien (ethics). Student numbers increased steadily and a more even balance between extramural and internal enrolments was achieved. Staff research productivity increased significantly at this time with work being published in a variety of fields, including metaphysics, ethics, philosophy of science, philosophy of mind and Plato. A unique feature of the department’s research profile during this period was a serious concern with traditional Maori thought and its implications for social and political philosophy in Aotearoa/New Zealand, a concern reflected in a collection of essays edited by Oddie and Perrett (1992) and in work by Patterson (1992).
Oddie’s successor to the chair of philosophy was Peter Schouls (Descartes, Locke), appointed from the University of Alberta. In 1998 the philosophy department was absorbed into the School of History, Philosophy and Politics, and Schouls was appointed Head of School. In 1997 Andrew Brien left and, in a time of university retrenchment, his position was not reopened. Perrett left in 2001, replaced by Adriane Rini (Greek philosophy, logic). Patterson retired and then so too did Schouls (in 2001). The chair of philosophy was not reopened.
Instruction in philosophy continued to be offered, however, by a succession of lecturers, including Bestor, Battye and Deborah Russell (political philosophy), until their retirements or resignations. New appointments were made, including Bill Fish (philosophy of mind and perception) and Glen Pettigrove (ethics, political philosophy), though Pettigrove left for the University of Auckland in 2008.
At the time of writing (November 2008) teaching responsibilities for the Philosophy Programme at Massey are shouldered by Rini, Fish and two senior tutors (Stephen Duffin and Stephen Chadwick). There continues to be a heavy emphasis on extramural teaching. The chair of philosophy has not been refilled, notwithstanding two unsuccessful professorial searches in recent years. However, Massey University is reportedly still committed to reviving the chair of philosophy, which has been unoccupied since Schouls’ departure in 2001.
By ‘Australian materialism’ I mean the physicalist theory that J. J. C. Smart (1959b) inspired by U. T. Place (1956), and D. M. Armstrong (1968) inspired by Smart (1959b), argued for in the 1960s. It was significant in three ways: as a misunderstood and now under-rated philosophical thesis, as one important instance of the resurrection of metaphysics, and as marking the glory days of Australian philosophy.
Australian materialism, Central State Materialism or the identity theory, as it was variously called, was based upon two ideas. The first was to give a ‘topic-neutral’ description of mental states in terms of their causes and effects. Thus itches are that kind of state, whatever it might be, that tends to result in scratching and is caused by certain kinds of irritation. This may be contrasted with the Rylean behaviourist account, dominant until then, according to which the statement ‘I have an itch’ is to be analysed in terms of various conditionals, such as ‘If it were socially appropriate I would scratch furiously’. It may also be contrasted, though not so starkly, with the functionalist account of David Lewis (1970), according to which all the mental states are jointly analysed in terms of their causes and effects, without circularity. Lewis’ account was accepted by Armstrong as a friendly amendment.
The second idea was to argue that the types of states characterised in this topic-neutral fashion were in fact types of brain processes, so that types of mental state are identified with types of brain process, rather than being treated as special mental types as they would on, say, property dualism.
Central State Materialism was largely abandoned as a result of two objections. The first is that the same topic-neutral description might in fact pick out more than one mental state; the second is that the same topic-neutral description might be realised by more than one brain process. The first objection, pressed home by Michael Bradley (1963), is that in the case of vision the topic-neutral description only specifies colour contrasts, and so cannot distinguish what normal humans see from the case of an inverted spectrum where red appears to the abnormal person as green and vice versa. Technically this objection fails because the abnormal person would fail to distinguish very dark green from very dark blue, but would instead wonder why we call two quite different colours brown. But that detail does not matter. For those of us, the vast majority, who lack perfect pitch, the topic-neutral account of pitch leaves nothing out, but it does for the minority with perfect pitch. This objection shows the wisdom of retaining Smart’s position that the topic-neutral description should include causes of mental states as well as effects: it is contingently the case that many tomatoes turn from green to red when they ripen but none that I know of turn from red to green. That serves to tell us which is red and which green. And if Central State Materialism is correct it follows that observing patterns of brain activity is in principle enough to discover whether we harbour inverted spectroids in our midst.
The other objection, due to Hilary Putnam (1975), is that the same mental state might be realised by different types of brain process. Colour vision has evolved at least three times, among cephalopods, among insects and among vertebrates. While we might doubt that there is something it is like to be a bee, it is plausible enough that there is something it is like to be a squid. But when squids see colour it is not likely that the same type of brain processes occur as in a human being seeing the same colour. Moreover, although close encounters with them are not reported by philosophers when sober, most of us think it likely that there are or have been many extraterrestrials out there, a long way away. They might have brain-analogs quite unlike our brains. This, the Multiple Realisation Problem, pushed most physicalists into the rather weak token-token identity thesis that merely states that any particular mental state is the same as some particular physical process. Unless persuaded by Donald Davidson’s case for anomalous monism (1980), this reaction seems too extreme. For, regardless of whether physicalism or dualism is correct, it is plausible that there is some correlation between physical processes and mental states. So even if there is a Multiple Realisation Problem the proper response is the sub-type/sub-type identity thesis that Lewis and Armstrong came to hold, namely, that the one mental type is realised by a variety of physical types. The differences between type-type identity, token-token identity and sub-type/sub-type identity may be illustrated using Frank Jackson’s example of vitamins. Vitamins may be characterised functionally as chemicals needed in small amounts in the diet. There is no one type of chemical that is a vitamin, but it would be silly just to identify some token smallest possible vitamin intakes with token chemical molecules because we deny that vitamins fall into a fairly small number of sub-types, A, B1, B2, etc. Even when a given sub-type, say Vitamin A, comprises many inter-convertible sub-sub-types, we can still list the total of types of molecule that are vitamins.
In any case, identity theorists were too quick to surrender, I say. Why suppose that an octopus or an extraterrestrial has the same type of experience a normal human being has when looking at a ripe tomato? Lewis’ Martians may well experience something they dislike when we carelessly tread on their suckers, but why think it anything like a human pain? Why be so reluctant to admit mental states that we cannot imagine? The answer, I suspect, has nothing to do with materialism or physicalism as such, but with scientific naturalism: the language of science is colourless, soundless and scentless. That a certain pattern of frequencies (in a human brain) is the very same property (of the mind/brain) as sensing tomato-red may well be true, but if so it is not part of completed science but rather part of incomplete metaphysics. Moreover, the materialism that the identity theory was intended to support is compatible with Idealism, for maybe every physical property is also a way of appearing.
Australian materialism was part of a more general revival of metaphysics. The rather different influences of W. V. Quine and Roderick Chisholm, as well as the rise of scientific realism, also owing a lot to Smart, and in addition Armstrong’s later defence of universals were other noteworthy influences. Metaphysics had been flourishing earlier in the twentieth century but among English-speaking philosophers it had been thought outmoded by positivist, Wittgensteinian, and linguistic philosophers. The identity theory was shocking not because it was materialist (Gilbert Ryle was, I guess, a closet materialist) but because it was explicitly metaphysical.
In the early decades of the twentieth century, debates in Australasian medical ethics focussed on issues such as the permissibility of advertising by individual practitioners and the setting of standard fees to prevent undercutting by competing practitioners. After World War One, Australasian medical schools began to include brief instruction in the ethical obligations of physicians. There was also some public discussion of issues such as abortion, methods of birth control, and confidentiality in relation to patients with sexually transmitted diseases.
In the late 1940s the Labour government in Australia tried to introduce a national health scheme, which would have provided universal access to health care for the first time. However, these plans were defeated in parliament in 1949, after legal challenges and a campaign by the local branch of the British Medical Association, many of whose members saw these plans as a step towards the ‘socialisation of medicine’ (Gillespie 1991). Under subsequent Liberal governments, access to publicly-funded health care was available only to old-age and invalid pensioners. In 1975, the Labour government introduced Medibank, which provided universal access to government-subsidised health care. Although the Liberal/National coalition government gradually dismantled this program during the late 1970s, it was reinstated as Medicare in 1983 by the Labour government, and it has continued to operate until the present.
Ethical issues in reproduction became a major concern in Australasia in the early 1980s, following pioneering IVF research by a team led by Carl Wood and Ian Johnston at Monash University Queen Victoria Medical Centre and the Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne during the 1970s. This research led in 1983 to the world’s first live IVF births from frozen embryos and donated eggs. Victoria also introduced the world’s first legislation (the Infertility Medical Procedures Act 1984) to deal specifically with these new reproductive technologies. Among other provisions, this legislation allowed IVF to be carried out at approved hospitals, for married couples who have already sought infertility treatment for at least twelve months prior to attempting IVF.
Care for the terminally ill became another widely debated issue in Australia during the 1980s and 1990s. South Australia and Victoria passed legislation in 1983 and 1988, respectively, which allowed competent patients to refuse medical treatment in certain circumstances. In 1995 the Northern Territory became the world’s first jurisdiction to legalise active voluntary euthanasia, with the passing of the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act (1995). This legislation permitted doctors to carry out voluntary euthanasia for terminally ill patients with unbearable suffering who had repeatedly requested assistance in dying, under certain specified conditions. The lives of several patients were lawfully ended under this Act before it was overruled by the commonwealth Euthanasia Laws Act in 1997.
Australasia’s first research centre in bioethics, the Monash University Centre for Human Bioethics, was established by Peter Singer, together with colleagues in medicine, science and law, in 1980, while several smaller research centres for bioethics were set up over the next two decades. Research in medical ethics has also been carried out by philosophers at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics (CAPPE), which was established by Charles Sturt University in both Canberra and Melbourne in 2000. The interdisciplinary Australasian Bioethics Association was formed in 1990, and its inaugural conference was held in Melbourne in 1991.
Australia’s National Bioethics Consultative Committee was established in 1988 as an expert advisory committee to the federal government on issues such as access to information about their origins for children born from IVF, artificial insemination by donor, surrogate motherhood, and embryo experimentation. This committee was superseded in 1991 by the Australian Health Ethics Committee.
Australasia’s first institutional ethics committee was established by the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital in Melbourne in 1957 (McNeill 1990). In the 1980s, Australian universities began forming ethics committees to oversee medical and other research carried out at those institutions. Following wide community consultation and a 1996 federal government review, the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Research Involving Humans was issued in 1999, as a guide for all human research ethics committees in Australia. The basic principles in the National Statement are integrity, respect for persons, beneficence, and justice, which are developed in more detail through their application to a variety of different types of research. The revised edition of the National Statement appeared in 2007.
In New Zealand, the Medical Research Council decided in 1968 that all research must adhere to the Declaration of Helsinki, which stressed the need for informed consent by research participants. In 1987, there was widespread public outrage after revelations of research involving clandestine selective nontreatment of women with cervical cancer, carried out at the National Women’s Hospital in Auckland from 1966 to 1981. The subsequent government inquiry resulted in an amendment to the New Zealand Human Rights Commission Act of 1977, to include a statement of patients’ rights to proper standards of care and adequate disclosures to enable genuinely informed consent (Campbell 1989).
During the 1990s there was much discussion in Australia about patients’ legal rights to treatment information, prompted by the Australian High Court decision in Rogers v Whitaker (1992), which gave legal recognition to a patient-centred standard of disclosure of medical information.
In recent years, Australasian medical schools have increased their teaching of ethics to medical students. The University of New South Wales and the University of Newcastle began teaching ethics courses to medical undergraduates in the 1970s, and the University of Adelaide’s medical school introduced ethics into the undergraduate curriculum in the early 1980s. Following the recommendations of the 1988 National Inquiry into Medical Education, many other Australian medical schools included ethics as part of their undergraduate programs. These developments in medical ethics education should help to promote vigorous discussion of medical ethics issues in Australasia into the future.
The Melbourne School of Continental Philosophy (MSCP) is a not-for-profit teaching institution housed within the University of Melbourne’s philosophy department.
The MSCP was founded in 2002 by a group of Melbourne philosophy graduate students and friends (Jon Roffe, Ashley Woodward, Jack Reynolds, Cameron Shingleton, Craig Barrie, Matthew Sharpe and David Rathbone). Without being bound by a shared commitment to any single philosophical doctrine or method, the school’s animating concern was that Continental or European Philosophy (roughly, continentally located philosophers since Kant) was not being widely taught within philosophy departments in Victoria—or else that it was being taught with insufficient analytic rigour in other disciplines, thereby discrediting the work of important thinkers.
With this concern in mind, the central activity of the MSCP is to run annual summer and winter schools, open to students and the general public. These schools involve courses on key topics and thinkers in Continental Philosophy, and classes in which ideas from German Idealism, phenomenology, poststructuralism, psychoanalysis and critical theory are used to analyse contemporary issues and events.
The immediate precedent for the school was a two-week lecture course by Matthew Sharpe on ‘Psychoanalysis and German Idealism’ as part of the University of Melbourne’s Summer Study Program in January 2002. Given the success of this course, shortly afterwards the founders established an organising committee to be headed by a School Convenor, and a working constitution. The MSCP’s aim would be to run a program of courses on modern European Philosophy each summer and winter vacation period, and to promote the wider teaching and learning of European philosophy in Melbourne and Australia more broadly.
In December 2002, the MSCP co-hosted the Australasian Society for Continental Philosophy (ASCP) conference with the University of Melbourne Department of Philosophy. In January 2003, the first MSCP Summer School was held. It involved courses on W. G. F. Hegel, Friedrich Nietzsche, Gilles Deleuze, Jean Baudrillard, and Slavoj Zizek. The first winter school followed in July 2003. From the summer of 2003–2004, the MSCP has added an ongoing series of classes on the history of ideas to its regular curricula.
Courses in MSCP Schools involve five two-hour lectures, one per day over a week, held by one or several lecturers. Students are not assessed. Nor, unless this is stipulated on the school’s website (<http://www.mscp.org.au>), do students require prior knowledge of the philosophical topic in question. As the MSCP is a not-for-profit organisation, registration costs are minimal in comparison with similar teaching institutions, and lecturers earn around half of the standard academic lecturing rates. Courses typically attract an eclectic mix of undergraduate and graduate students, as well as members of the wider community.
Since its inception, the MSCP has expanded considerably: in terms of membership, teaching staff, and the school’s initiatives.
During 2004, founding MSCP Convenor, Jon Roffe, formally established a continuing institutional relationship between the MSCP and the University of Melbourne’s Department of Philosophy, with the assistance of Chris Cordner (then Head of the Department of Philosophy). This relationship gives the MSCP an office and a base in the department, as well as access to University of Melbourne resources and teaching spaces. In late 2004, the MSCP invited Marion Tapper of the University of Melbourne Department of Philosophy to become an honorary member.
New MSCP members are usually philosophy Honours or graduate students. To join, they need to be recommended by current MSCP members and then to win the consensual support of existing school members. Since 2004, the school has attracted a new generation of teachers (including Bryan Cooke, James Garrett, Marc Hiatt, Alex Murray, and present School Convenor Paul Daniels), and hosted courses by a number of external lecturers, including Geoff Boucher, Andy Blunden, Fiona Leigh, and George Duke.
Following the success of the 2002 ASCP conference, the MSCP has also hosted academic conferences commemorating the 200th anniversary of Kant’s death (February 2004); ‘Sensorium’, a conference on philosophy and aesthetics (June 2005); ‘200 years since Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit’ (July 2007); and co-hosted colloquia on Jean-Paul Sartre and Jacques Derrida.
The MSCP is an evolving institution, and debate continues within it about its goals, whether the school should remain primarily a teaching organisation, and the degree to which its activities should be formalised.
Non-teaching initiatives undertaken by the MSCP to date include a Research Day on ‘Spinoza and the Infinite’ (2005); Parrhesia, an online refereed journal (<http://www.parrhesiajournal.org>) edited by Alex Murray, Matthew Sharpe, Jon Roffe and Ashley Woodward, launched in 2006; and a very successful lunch-time lecture series at the University of Melbourne on ‘The Lives of the Philosophers’. In 2008, the school began a series of courses taught by Dr Cameron Shingleton on issues surrounding global warming, and contributed support to a conference on the analytic-Continental philosophy divide held at La Trobe University. In 2009, the school co-sponsored the ASCP conference, and initiated two new events on the School calendar: annual autumn and spring workshops on particular topics (such as ‘What is philosophy?’ and ‘What are universities for?’) open to the general public.
C. A. J. Coady
Academic philosophy in Australia began at Melbourne University in 1881 with the appointment of the first lecturer in logic in the person of Henry Laurie. For more than seventy years it was home to the only philosophy department in Victoria. The Scottish-born Laurie had been editor and owner of The Warrnambool Standard, and five years after his initial appointment he was appointed to the newly created chair in philosophy, thereby becoming the country’s first professor of philosophy. Nothing so vulgar as advertising the position had been considered by the university and the process by which Laurie slipped smoothly into the chair aroused some controversy (Blainey 1957: 102, Selleck 2003: 227–8). Longevity in office has marked the occupants of the chair since Laurie who was twenty-three years in his position. At the time of writing, there have been only seven professors in the department in its 120 years, and it has always been a single professor department. Nonetheless, it has had a powerful influence upon the development of Australian philosophy and, often enough, a significant impact upon philosophy internationally and a cultural impact on the life of the state.
Academic philosophy in Australia in the late nineteenth century was an infant phenomenon and seems to have made had no impact on a well-known American philosopher who visited the country in the late nineteenth century. The Idealist, Josiah Royce, took leave from his position at Harvard to sail to the Antipodes in 1887, seeking recovery from a bout of depression that seems to have left him close to a nervous breakdown. Though greatly impressed by the civic spirit of Melbourne and particularly by its Public Library, Royce made no comment on the fledgling state of Melbourne academic philosophy, though he was greatly taken with the philosophical powers of the Victorian statesman and politician, Alfred Deakin. ‘Affable Alf’, as he was affectionately known, was to be one of the ‘founding fathers’ of the Federated Commonwealth, and eventually Australia’s second Prime Minister. Deakin seems to have drawn his own philosophical inspiration mostly from overseas, though he later developed a close relationship with one of Laurie’s star pupils, Edmund Morris Miller, whom he met in 1907. I’m told (by Bill Garner) that Miller wrote speeches for Deakin. I have been unable to discover whether Laurie himself had any contact with Deakin, but it seems unlikely since Laurie was a shy man who famously founded a monthly discussion dinner club and then was too inhibited to attend any of its meetings! (Scott 1936: 131). He had, however, considerable influence as a teacher: he was described by his former student John Latham (later Sir John, Attorney-General of Australia and then Chief Justice of the High Court) as ‘the best of the profs and the most beloved of the dons’ even though Latham as an atheist rationalist would not have been impressed by Laurie’s strong religious Presbyterian faith (Selleck 2003: 501). In spite of his reputation for shyness, Laurie was very active in the wider community; he wrote leaders for the Australasian newspaper and was particularly active in the art world. He also supported the emerging Heidelberg school and bought a number of their pictures even when they were unpopular. He was in fact the original owner of Frederick McCubbin’s now famous Lost and Tom Roberts’ Blue Eyes and Brown, and the two boys in Roberts’ The Violin Lesson are Laurie’s sons. There exist two portraits of him by outstanding artists in the Ian Potter Museum of Art at the University of Melbourne, one by Tom Roberts and one by Violet Teague.
Laurie, though an excellent teacher, had no distinctive philosophy to impart, and was content to introduce his students to the mainstream of British and European philosophy, with some emphasis on the Scottish tradition—indeed, Laurie wrote a book on Scottish Philosophy in Its National Development (published in Glasgow in 1902). Aside from the Scottish influence, there were also sources from Continental Europe—Hegel, of course, but subsequently Bergson, Husserl and Eucken. These later influences were notably present in Laurie’s successor at Melbourne, W. R. Boyce Gibson. Just as there were two (unrelated) Andersons in the University of Sydney’s philosophical tradition, so there were two (closely related) Gibsons in the Melbourne tradition. The older Gibson assumed the chair in 1911 and his son Alexander followed him in 1935. The Gibson dynasty lasted fifty-four years from 1911 to 1965.
Gibson senior was an Oxford graduate who studied in Europe and, at Jena, came under the spell of Rudolf Eucken. Later, he attended Husserl’s seminars, as did the Oxford-trained philosopher William Kneale, then 21, who was to became White’s Professor of Moral Philosophy at Oxford and wrote, with his wife Martha, the landmark The Development of Logic (1962). Gibson knew Kneale but seems to have quite misunderstood his criticisms of Husserl (Spiegelberg 1971, see esp. pp.66 and 78n25). It is a curiosity of the history of thought that Eucken (now almost utterly forgotten) should have so influenced the older Gibson in Jena when there was in that same university at the time a European philosopher at the height of his powers, who was destined to exert a massive influence upon modern analytical philosophy. This was Gottlob Frege, who was in the process of revolutionising logic and inspiring a new approach to the philosophy of both logic and language. Of course, Frege was in the mathematics department and relatively unacknowledged, but what a difference it might have made to the development of Australian philosophy had Gibson brought Frege rather than Eucken to Melbourne! Although Gibson had a mathematics background and was to co-author a logic textbook, he seems to have known little of Frege, though he was aware of Frege’s critical review of Husserl’s Philosophie der Arithmetic, and would not have found Frege’s realism as sympathetic as Eucken’s highly rhetorical personal Idealism. It is also worth noting that Gibson’s admiration for Eucken was not at the time idiosyncratic. Eucken had after all been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1908 for vindicating and developing ‘an Idealist philosophy of life’. His subsequent disappearance from intellectual history is perhaps a salutary warning about the vagaries of intellectual fashion and the ephemeral nature of illustrious prizes.
Against the Idealist trend, the University of Melbourne produced one influential anti-Idealist philosopher as a student in the late nineteenth century, in Samuel Alexander, but his fascinating career was entirely in England, especially as professor of philosophy at Manchester from 1893. I will merely note here that he influenced the philosophy of the first Gibson and of Sydney’s John Anderson; he was also on the selection committees that appointed both Gibsons and seems to have had a hand in Anderson’s appointment.
The heavily inflated language and often murky logic of much Idealistic discourse led inevitably to a powerful reaction in the realist and analytical movements in British philosophy, promoted in England by two giants of twentieth-century philosophy, Bertrand Russell and G. E. Moore, and in America by the New Realists and the Pragmatists, followed later in Europe by the Logical Positivists. But this reaction was a long while coming to Melbourne. It came much earlier in Sydney, where John Anderson brought his unusual version of realism and empiricism to the country on his appointment to the Sydney chair in 1927, but Melbourne philosophy remained largely immune to Anderson’s influence, though its commitment to Idealism faltered in the 1930s and had largely disappeared by the 1950s. The first Gibson was also interested in the phenomenological movement: he studied under Husserl, translated Husserl’s Ideen (1967), and rates more than a passing mention in Spiegelberg’s The Phenomenological Movement (1960). The elder Gibson’s orientation to current British and Continental debates established the cosmopolitan flavour characteristic of Melbourne philosophy in contrast to the more enclosed atmosphere of Andersonian Sydney. Although he wrote a lot and was well known in his day, the changing philosophical climate would not be kind to him as can be seen in the review of his early book on ethics, A Philosophical Introduction to Ethics (1904), by the emerging enfant terrible of analytical philosophy, G. E. Moore. Writing in the International Journal of Ethics for 1905, Moore devotes a ten-page review to a demolition of Gibson’s ideas, concluding with the sentence: ‘The book is a very poor book indeed’ (Moore 1905: 379).
A. (‘Sandy’) Boyce Gibson, W. R. Boyce Gibson’s son, was Christian and a traditionalist with Idealist leanings, but he initiated a great expansion in the size, intellectual scope and quality of the Melbourne department during his reign, appointing good people of all philosophical and ideological persuasions. He was also well known for his aphorisms, delivered with a slight lisp. (Both the older and younger Gibsons pronounced ‘r’ as ‘w’.) One I recall as characteristic: ‘Aristotle—mediocrity carried to the point of genius’. Either by design or by accident, he managed to achieve a balance of religious and irreligious in his staff appointments. When I joined the department on a full-time basis in 1966, after study in Oxford, there was a fascinating mix of Catholics, Protestants and agnostic/atheists. At one stage, after Gibson’s retirement, there were five Catholics amongst the fourteen full-time staff members, two Protestants and the rest unbelievers. When Max Charlesworth proposed a course in the Philosophy of Religion in the early 1970s, grave reservations were expressed at the Academic Board about how such a course could be given in a secular university. Even when the course was approved, a department rule was instituted (perhaps in response to such worries) that if a Christian was lecturing in the subject, it must be tutored by atheists or agnostics, and vice versa. This persisted for many years.
The 1940s and Beyond
In the 1940s the Melbourne department, partly because of Gibson’s ecumenical attitude to appointments, became an outpost of the new philosophical revolution associated partly with logical positivism and more significantly with the later Wittgenstein. A primary influence in this development was the arrival of G. A. (George) Paul in 1939, fresh from Wittgenstein’s Cambridge. Stranded in Australia by the outbreak of World War Two, Paul was another Scots-born philosopher to exert a great influence upon Australian philosophy (his early education had been at St. Andrews). When Paul returned to England to a fellowship in Oxford at the end of the war, he was replaced by his friend, Douglas Gasking, whom Paul had earlier encouraged to migrate to a lectureship in Brisbane. Paul and Gasking had both studied under Wittgenstein, as did A. C. (‘Camo’) Jackson, who went to Cambridge from Melbourne for Ph.D. studies in 1946 and returned to a lectureship in the Melbourne department in 1948. Paul not only brought the new philosophy to Australia, but had an immense influence upon the development of other disciplines in the university, most notably history. In one year, all the full-time members of the history department attended Paul’s lectures on logic. Like Anderson’s, Paul’s impact could be partly explained by his being a big fish in a small pond (an especially small pond, in Paul’s case, because of the drainage of intellectual talent caused by the war in the period of his greatest influence), but he clearly was a remarkable teacher. He published little, and that before he arrived in Australia; his paper ‘Is There a Problem about Sense-Data?’ (1936) is his best-known contribution, though he also wrote on the unlikely topic of ‘Lenin’s Theory of Perception’ (1938). After he returned to Oxford he made little public impact on the subject.
Paul’s slender output was similar to many others who had been subject to Wittgenstein’s severe influence. The Master was averse to publishing and discouraged his students from doing it, indeed from becoming professional philosophers at all. He seems to have had a morbid fear of their plagiarising his (unpublished) work. Gasking’s publication record was relatively slight, though several of his papers were influential, and Camo Jackson hardly published at all in his long academic career: a short review of Norman Malcolm’s memoir of Wittgenstein and a joint obituary notice of Wittgenstein (with Gasking) were the whole of it. Yet he was an inspiring teacher and had an international reputation that resulted in his giving the prestigious John Locke Lectures in Oxford; the only other Australian so far with this honour is his son Frank Jackson, a Melbourne University graduate who also succeeded his father in the chair at Monash University. (Camo’s wife and Frank’s mother, Anne, also taught in the Melbourne department, adding to its dynastic flavour.)
Camo Jackson and Gasking had very contrasting styles. Camo was given to oracular pronouncements and lectured in a broody, questioning style that gave an audience to understand that something very deep and important was under discussion, even when they had little idea of what it might be. Gasking was clarity itself; his teaching and writing bore no relation to Wittgenstein’s cryptic manner, though he was obviously influenced by Wittgenstein’s thought. Under the spell of Jackson, one could think that Gasking moved too much in the shallows, but he was a fine teacher who influenced many good students. I once interviewed the two of them about Wittgenstein for an ABC radio program I did on analytic philosophy, called ‘The Fly and the Fly-bottle’. (Incredibly the ABC gave me over seven hours of programming on successive Sunday nights for interviews with the likes of Isaiah Berlin, Noam Chomsky, Bernard Williams and Tom Stoppard.) Gasking was clear and poised, Jackson diffident, worried and somewhat opaque. Afterwards, Jackson, clearly relieved that the ordeal was over, said to me: ‘Thank God that’s finished; all through, I could sense him behind me, listening to hear if I got it right’.
George Paul’s interest in Lenin was an indication of something very distinctive about the politics of philosophy at the University of Melbourne. Just prior to and after World War Two, the Melbourne philosophers made a distinct shift to the political left. Sandy Boyce Gibson was conservative in politics and suffered definite discomfort all his life from the fact that his brother Ralph was a luminary in the Australian Communist Party. But Paul and his wife Margaret had left-wing sympathies, and some Melbourne staff and students played active roles in debates and intrigues about whether the university’s Labor Club should continue its association with the Eureka Youth League, which was communist-linked and so a problem for the club’s connection to the Australian Labor Party. One Melbourne philosopher, Peter Herbst, not at the time an Australian citizen, was offered a lectureship in New Zealand in the late 1940s, but had to decline when, apparently on the intervention of the Australian government, he was refused a visa on the surprising grounds that he was a well-known anti-fascist. (My source for this information is John Clendinnen, formerly of the History and Philosophy of Science Department at the University of Melbourne, who knew Herbst well at the time.) Amongst some of the staff, sympathy with the Soviet Union persisted long after it should have, even for instance well into the 1960s. But with this interest, some fascination with religion also persisted; I remember that Camo Jackson, in the 1960s, subscribed both to the liberal Catholic journal, The Catholic Worker, and the Communist Party paper, The Daily Worker.
The Wittgensteinian tradition that Paul, Gasking and Jackson established in Melbourne began with a somewhat positivist flavour, but later broadened under the impact of Oxford philosophy and the arrival of refugee intellectuals from continental Europe, some of whom had been absurdly deported from Great Britain in the ship Dunera and interned in Australia during much of the war. During the 1950s, the Melbourne department was host to a number of philosophers, both foreign born and locally educated, who later left to pursue philosophy overseas. These included such well-known names as W. D. Falk, Kurt Baier (his New Zealand wife Annette also worked in Australia), Alan Donagan, Brian O’Shaughnessy, Paul Edwards, and Michael Scriven. This established a trend for a later export industry, that included such Melbourne philosophers as Jenny Teichmann, Peter Singer, Mark Johnston, and Raimond Gaita, to name a few. Where Andersonian Sydney into the 1950s was confidently parochial and mostly contemptuous of recent developments in international philosophy, Melbourne stood for a more cosmopolitan and contemporary approach (though many of Anderson’s students later achieved considerable international recognition and even fame).
The influence of Wittgenstein in Melbourne was strong but not overwhelming, and indeed many of the best-known philosophers at the University of Melbourne in the 1950s and ’60s, such as H. J. (‘Honest John’) McCloskey and Max Charlesworth, were not Wittgensteinians. Charlesworth indeed was interested in what is nowadays called, after his coinage, ‘contemporary European philosophy’ and established a course of that name in 1968 that was highly popular with students. He was principally interested in phenomenology and existentialism but subsequently the course embraced Nietzsche, Heidegger and more recent French philosophers. Douglas Gasking succeeded Sandy Boyce Gibson in the Melbourne Chair in 1966 and the Melbourne department remained less metaphysically oriented than other departments in the country or indeed the new departments in the city of Melbourne, at La Trobe University and Monash University. There was less interest in the increasingly fashionable wave of ‘Australian materialism’ and later ‘Australian realism’ even though one of the pioneers, D. M. Armstrong, taught at Melbourne for several years before moving to the chair at the University of Sydney. The University of Melbourne philosophers tended to think of the mental in linguistic or social terms; they were suspicious of ontology, especially a radically simplifying ontology, though some were attracted to the ambiguous physicalism of Donald Davidson. Epistemology, philosophy of language and moral psychology were more to the fore. One product of the department who engaged with materialism directly was the expatriate Brian O’Shaughnessy, who spent most of his philosophical life in the University of London and developed a positive and original, if sometimes elusive, double aspect theory of the mind that was well reviewed internationally.
Melbourne was for a long time unsympathetic to the teaching of and research in developments in modern formal logic, preferring, under Gasking’s influence, to promote ‘informal logic’. That began to change with the creation of the new universities and changed more rapidly with the appointment of Len Goddard to the chair at the University of Melbourne in 1978. Goddard was a logician sympathetic to alternative logics, and this is a development that has been reinforced and extended under the present Boyce Gibson professor, Graham Priest, who is a leading figure in logic in Australia and internationally. His interests are complemented by his distinguished colleague, Greg Restall.
In ‘pure’ moral theory, two alumni of the Melbourne department who migrated to American universities produced significant books: Kurt Baier’s The Moral Point of View (1958) and Alan Donagan’s The Theory of Morality (1977). McCloskey published on fundamental moral theory, notably his book, Metaethics and Normative Ethics (1969), but his positive theories were basically intelligent refurbishings of intuitionism, then viewed as outlandish though in the early years of the twenty-first century becoming more fashionable. Another Melbourne product is Raimond Gaita, who lives partly in England where he is a professor at King’s College London and partly in Melbourne where he has a chair at the Australian Catholic University. His major book in moral theory, Good and Evil: An Absolute Conception (1990), was produced before he half-returned to Australia. He was a student at the University of Melbourne and then Leeds, and the book shows the influence of Wittgenstein and also other unusual influences like Simone Weil. Gaita’s thought is not always easy to follow, but he has the considerable virtue of a distinctive, somewhat non-conformist voice in moral philosophy in a country that tends to be dominated by more conventional outlooks. Gaita is well-known in the wider community, partly because of the huge success of his memoir, Romulus, My Father, as both book (published in 1998) and film (released in 2007).
In moral and political philosophy, McCloskey’s most influential work is found in his stern critiques and analyses of liberal political theory and his trenchant criticisms of utilitarianism, as, for example, in his John Stuart Mill: A Critical Study (1971) and his article, ‘An Examination of Restricted Utilitarianism’ (1957). In spite of McCloskey’s denunciations, one notable feature of Australian moral philosophy persisting into the present century has been the prevalence of utilitarianism. The Melbourne department had seldom been sympathetic to utilitarian thought: in the early years, Henry Laurie had condemned utilitarian thinking about education and the Wittgensteinian influence tended to see utilitarianism as too crude to account for the complex, even mysterious, nature of morality. Sandy Gibson would have endorsed Eucken’s view in his acceptance speech for the Nobel prize that utilitarianism, ‘which ever form it assumes, is irreconcilably opposed to true intellectual culture’.
Nonetheless Australia’s best known moral philosopher, indeed possibly the best known philosopher anywhere outside academia, the University of Melbourne educated Peter Singer, has been an enthusiastic utilitarian and has deployed the theory in his various writings and activities in applied ethics. Singer’s books, especially Animal Liberation (1975) and Practical Ethics (1979), are amongst the few books by professional philosophers in the latter part of the twentieth century to have achieved something like best-seller status, and to be widely read well beyond academic circles. Moreover, Singer is (I think) the only Australian philosopher to have stood for Federal Parliament, with, it must be said, conspicuous lack of success. Singer was in the forefront of developing applied philosophy in Australia by establishing the Monash University Centre for Human Bioethics, and there is now a very healthy movement in applied philosophy in Melbourne. In 1990, the first institution to concentrate wholly on applying philosophy across a range of public questions, the Centre for Philosophy and Public Issues, was established within the Department of Philosophy at the University of Melbourne, with the present author as Director. This Centre existed until 2000 when it was absorbed into a Special Research Centre, funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC), for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics (CAPPE), and jointly operating in Charles Sturt University (CSU) and the University of Melbourne, with Seumas Miller as Director at CSU and the author as Deputy Director in Melbourne. It is still running, and now involves the Australian National University as a division as well, though after 2008 its primary ARC funding ended. Peter Singer went to the U.S. to a chair at Princeton University in the late 1990s, but is now half-time in CAPPE Melbourne, and so like Gaita he spends half his time overseas.
Philosophy has always had a strongly technical element, as a cursory dip into Aristotle’s Metaphysics will show, and so its influence on public life is often indirect. Nonetheless, philosophy at the University of Melbourne from its earliest years has exerted a more direct influence than usual upon the broader community. Henry Laurie, in spite of his shyness, gave many public lectures on important topics, but the sensitivity of the university’s authorities to anything that seemed controversial, especially in the area of religion, created a crisis when Laurie sought permission in 1890 to deliver a lecture on ‘The Teaching of Morality in State Schools’ to the Melbourne Head Teachers Association. The University Council had some twenty years earlier refused permission to the Professor of Anatomy, Physiology and Pathology to give a public lecture on Protoplasm because the Bishop of Melbourne thought it might have undesirable political and religious consequences! In light of this, Laurie’s proposal clearly meant dynamite and the chancellor declared it ‘a very dangerous subject indeed’ (Scott 1936: 44–5). Laurie was at first forbidden, but he protested that it was surprising that ‘the Professor of Moral Philosophy is not to be allowed to lecture on the teaching of morality in the schools!’ (Scott 1936: 45). In response, the University Council lifted the ban on condition that Laurie didn’t ‘introduce either party politics or sectarian discussion’ (ibid.). (Such nervousness re-emerged, as noted earlier, in response to Charlesworth’s proposals in the 1970s for a course in Philosophy of Religion.) Laurie also gave a public lecture on art that urged local artists to reflect the beauty of the Australian environment and may have been influential in the development of the Heidelberg school (Selleck 2003: 363). Laurie was also a strong advocate for philosophy as an important factor in the cultural and intellectual life of the wider community. In 1881, just prior to his appointment as lecturer in logic at the university, he published a paper in the Victorian Review entitled ‘A Plea for Philosophy’, which argued the importance of the study of philosophy against the utilitarian spirit that he thought too influential in Australia. Laurie thought that this utilitarianism (which in its emphasis might better be called philistinism and was a clear forerunner of contemporary government attitudes to universities) was actually ‘as inimical to individual or national progress’ as it was to ‘the spirit of philosophical research’ (Laurie 1881: 15–16).
In fact, several of Laurie’s pupils were active in the cultural life of the city. One form of this activity was in the area of libraries. Both Morris Miller and another philosophy graduate, Amos Brazier, worked at the Victorian Public Library, and Miller published the first Australian monograph in librarianship, Libraries and Education (1912), as well as being influential in founding the Library Association of Victoria in 1912. Miller and Brazier were involved in lengthy internal disputes with the chief librarian La Touche Armstrong over many things, including the building of the famous reading room dome and the introduction of the Dewey decimal system. The philosophy graduates were hotly opposed to the Dewey system and much of their opposition seems to have sprung from the fact that philosophers were long regarded as the ideal people to classify and categorise books, and Dewey’s system would put most of them out of this enjoyable job because it could be applied fairly mechanically. Miller’s opposition was so strong that when he became Professor of Philosophy and Psychology at the University of Tasmania in 1928, and later Vice-Chancellor of that university, he used his influence to keep the Dewey system out of the university library until the 1950s.
The two Boyce Gibson’s were less involved in public life but the later one gave several ABC broadcasts on topics of the day. His tolerant encouragement of a mix of philosophical and ideological outlooks in the department contributed to the department’s impact beyond the classroom. The Rationalist Society and the Newman Society had many philosophy postgraduates and staff as members. Hot debates were held at lunchtime to packed audiences between Rashos and Catholics or other Christians. One of the most notable debaters and argumentative fraternisers in local pubs was the eccentric Catholic philosophy lecturer, Dr. Vernon Rice. Vernon professed stern Catholic orthodoxy and an idiosyncratic version of Thomism, and in spite of his orthodoxy was evidently homosexual at a time when this was not something openly declared. Vernon was not out of the closet, but neither was he altogether enclosed by it. Other Catholics in the department were less concerned with combating atheism and professed a brand of liberal Catholicism that was associated with the magazines Prospect and the Catholic Worker. The latter magazine, which notably opposed Santamaria’s movement, was co-edited for many years by Max Charlesworth and the present author (with unofficial help from the journalist Paul Ormond). This led some to declare that the journal should be renamed ‘The Catholic Senior Lecturer’.
These days, philosophers like other intellectuals are frequently quoted in or write for the media, undertake consultancies (especially in the area of professional ethics), and contribute more indirectly to the public culture. In today’s globalised world, there is much less that is distinctive of Melbourne, or indeed Australian, philosophy, though contemporary Australian work in philosophy remains impressive. A well-known German philosopher once expressed his amazement to me in Berlin that such a small country could produce so many outstanding sportsmen and also fine philosophers—he didn’t mean in the same persons. But like philosophy elsewhere in the English-speaking world, the University of Melbourne practitioners have acquired the polished professionalism that is part of a relatively homogenised international product. It is often technical and can seem remote to other thinkers and laypeople, but some local philosophers are adept at communicating with a broader public.
At the time of writing, the Department of Philosophy and CAPPE have been absorbed into a wider School of Philosophy, Anthropology and Social Inquiry and, partly through financial stringencies imposed by the Faculty of Arts and partly because of other funding problems, the two units have been drastically reduced in numbers with damaging effects on the program’s international reputation and its capacity to perform adequately. This dire situation became in 2009 a matter of regular media publicity and the university seems committed to remedial measures, but it is unclear how successful these will be and hence how far the proud tradition at the University of Melbourne can be sustained. It is to be hoped that future students will be able to say of their philosophy teachers what Walter Murdoch said of Henry Laurie over 100 years ago. Laurie, said Murdoch, sent out into the world ‘a little company of young men and women trained to receive with a large tolerance every idea that might be set before them; to accept nothing and reject nothing without a calm and dispassionate reflection’ (Selleck 2003: 501–2).
R. W. Home
History and Philosophy of Science (HPS) was introduced into the teaching program at the University of Melbourne after World War Two, to bridge the gap that was perceived to be growing in the modern world between science and the humanities. Those responsible wanted humanities students to gain an understanding of science as a process of discovery rather than an accumulation of facts. Similar concerns prompted developments at Harvard University that provided a model for Melbourne (Dyason 1977).
In late 1945, C. E. Palmer was appointed senior lecturer in ‘General Science and Scientific Method’, to teach courses in scientific method to Arts undergraduates. He taught the first course in 1946. His appointment effectively established what was to become the Department of History and Philosophy of Science.
There was also interest in the Faculty of Medicine, which in July 1946 agreed to include lectures in scientific method in the first year of the medical degree course. Unfortunately, while attendance at the lectures was compulsory until 1953, the subject was not examinable. Predictably, discipline problems emerged. The course continued to be taught, however, into the 1960s.
Meanwhile, the Arts program expanded into a three-year sequence of subjects within the B.A. degree, while in 1954 a subject was also introduced within the Science degree, directed primarily at intending science teachers. The first postgraduates enrolled in the late 1950s, while an Honours school followed in 1959. What began as a purely pedagogical initiative was thus transformed into a distinctive academic program with its own subject-matter and standards.
The growing teaching load had staffing implications. When Palmer departed in mid 1947, Gerd Buchdahl replaced him, being joined at the end of 1949 by Diana Dyason who transferred from the Department of Physiology, primarily to teach the medical course. John Clendinnen was appointed at about the same time. In the mid 1950s, Elizabeth Gasking and Brian Ellis joined the group. When Buchdahl took a year’s leave in 1954, Stephen Toulmin, visiting from Oxford, became Acting Head of department. Then, in 1958, Buchdahl left for Cambridge and Dyason became Head of Department.
As at Harvard, the discussions of scientific method that gave the department at the University of Melbourne its raison d’être were presented in the context of historical case studies built around the analysis of scientists’ original writings. Bulky collections of source materials—extracts from the original scientific writings—were assembled for use instead of textbooks.
Gerd Buchdahl had arrived in Australia in 1940 on Dunera, one of the famous shipload of Jewish refugees who contributed so much to national life. An engineer with a passion for philosophy, he studied the latter formally at the University of Melbourne before being appointed to teach HPS, and quickly began publishing papers in the leading philosophical journals. While his later international reputation rested largely on work published after his move to Cambridge, his historically sensitive concern with metaphysics in relation to science was already evident in papers written in Melbourne.
While Buchdahl was a philosopher who looked primarily to physics for his historical case studies, Dyason’s interests were chiefly historical and related primarily to biology and medicine, especially the history of public health. The seminar she developed in the 1970s on ‘Glorious Smelbourne’ became a local institution. Gasking also worked on the history of biology, eventually publishing two well-received books, Investigations into Generation, 1651–1828 (1967) and The Rise of Experimental Biology (1970). Her death in 1973 was a major loss for the department.
John Clendinnen taught almost every subject offered by the department before eventually confining himself to his primary area of interest, the philosophy of science. He, too, developed an international reputation, based on a series of publications on the problem of induction. The appointment of Brian Ellis in 1956 brought additional strength in philosophy of science. His ten years in the department before becoming foundation professor of philosophy at La Trobe University were capped by the publication of his book, Basic Concepts of Measurement (1966).
Three other long-serving staff members joined the Department in the early 1960s. John Pottage, a historian of mathematics, focussed on the creative process involved in reaching mathematical understanding, culminating in his book, Geometrical Investigations illustrating the Art of Discovery in the Mathematical Field (1983). Monica MacCallum was involved in the Department’s first-year teaching for many years and later also taught an upper-level unit on Darwinism. Leonard Trengove published a number of papers on eighteenth-century chemistry during his eleven years in Melbourne.
The 1960s witnessed increasing specialisation and a weakening of the focus on scientific method that had earlier held everything together. While the department’s historians found challenges enough in seeking an understanding of past science, its philosophers found issues to address in the philosophy of science that had little to do with scientific methodology.
In 1967, the vacancy created by Ellis’ departure for La Trobe University was filled by a historian of science, Roderick Home, a Melbourne graduate who had recently completed a Ph.D. at Indiana University. He, too, stayed for many years, becoming the university’s first (and so far only) Professor of History and Philosophy of Science in 1975 and serving until his retirement in 2003. He published two books on eighteenth-century physics, Aepinus’s Essay on the Theory of Electricity and Magnetism (1979) and The Effluvial Theory of Electricity (1981), and also numerous papers, many later reprinted in his Electricity and Experimental Physics in Eighteenth-century Europe (1992).
The early 1970s saw the appointment of Henry Krips, who had studied philosophy with J. J. C. Smart while pursuing a Ph.D. on the foundations of quantum mechanics. At Melbourne, he continued working on this topic, his book, The Metaphysics of Quantum Theory, being published in 1987. By this time, however, his interests had moved from philosophy of science to cultural studies; in 1992 he left to take up a position in this field in the U.S.
The department’s historical coverage was strengthened by the appointment in 1974 of Homer Le Grand, a University of Wisconsin graduate whose research focussed on the eighteenth-century ‘chemical revolution’ spearheaded by Lavoisier. In pursuit of his wider interest in theory change in science, Le Grand later investigated the rise of plate tectonic theory in geology, leading to his book, Drifting Continents and Shifting Theories (1988). He subsequently moved into university administration, serving as the University of Melbourne’s Dean of Arts before taking up an equivalent position at Monash University.
From the mid 1970s, the number of postgraduate students in the department grew rapidly. Theses dealt with a wide range of topics; with one exception, there was little sense of a research group forming around a member of staff and focussing on a particular area of inquiry. The exception was with respect to the history of Australian science, which in the 1980s Home developed as a second major area of research. The rich archival sources available locally underpinned the research projects of a number of students drawn into working on Australian topics.
Home himself published extensively on Australian science, and also in 1984 became editor of the journal, Historical Records of Australian Science (a position he still holds). In addition, he edited three substantial collections of essays, Australian Science in the Making (1988), The Scientific Savant in Nineteenth-century Australia (1997), and (with Sally Gregory Kohlstedt) International Science and National Scientific Identity: Australia between Britain and America (1991). He has also led a team working on the life and letters of Australia’s most important scientist of the nineteenth century, Ferdinand von Mueller, that has generated numerous publications.
From the mid 1970s, the department witnessed a steady stream of postdoctoral research fellows, including Aharon Kantorovitch, Stephen Gaukroger, Keith Hutchison, Andrew Pyle, Richard Gillespie, Pierre Kerszberg and Robert Stafford. Unfortunately, in the early 1990s the University abandoned its scheme of competitively awarded fellowships and the flow of postdoctoral fellows ceased. Hutchison and Gillespie both joined the department’s lecturing staff. Gillespie later moved to the Melbourne Museum, but Hutchison continued in the department until his retirement in 2006, publishing highly regarded papers on early modern science, and others on the foundations of statistics.
The department also attracted many visitors. Some of these—including such well-known figures as Wesley Salmon, Richard S. Westfall, Larry Laudan, Bruno Latour, Sally Gregory Kohlstedt, Allan Franklin and John Henry—stayed for several months and contributed significantly to the teaching program. Others came for one of the numerous conferences hosted by the department or on study leave, often to undertake collaborative research with a member of the department.
In 1982 Home launched a monograph series, Australasian Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, published by D. Reidel (later, Kluwer Academic Publishers), in which individual volumes focussed on particular themes within the broader field of HPS. With Home as general editor and specialist editors for individual volumes, the series had extended to seventeen high-quality volumes by the time Home passed the editorship to Stephen Gaukroger in 2002.
Alarmed by the destruction of Australia’s scientific heritage, Home in 1985 established the Australian Science Archives Project (later the Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre). With Gavan McCarthy as archivist in charge, the project’s brief was to seek out historically significant collections of Australian scientific records and to secure their survival, sorting and listing them before transferring them to an appropriate long-term repository. The project became a world leader in providing history of science information online, while the archiving software it developed is used internationally. In 2007, it became the eScholarship Research Centre within the University Library, but retains a strong focus on the history of Australian science, technology and medicine.
Several long-serving members of the department retired in the mid-to-late 1980s, and some of their replacements took the department in new directions. The Canadian historian of twentieth-century biology Jan Sapp spent six lively years in the department, 1984–90, during which he published two notable books, Beyond the Gene: Cytoplasmic Inheritance and the Struggle for Authority in Genetics (1987) and Where the Truth Lies: Franz Moewus and the Origins of Molecular Biology (1990). Helen Verran was appointed in 1990. A belief in the social construction of scientific knowledge and a commitment to actor-network methodology have shaped both her teaching and her research, the latter being encapsulated in her book, Science and an African Logic (2001). Rosemary Robins and Anni Dugdale extended the department’s coverage to the sociology of contemporary science. Dugdale did not stay long, but Robins stayed for fifteen years. Her research focussed on public perceptions of the risks associated with scientific research and gave her a public role as a member of the Australian Government’s Genetic Manipulation Advisory Committee.
A coursework Master’s program was introduced in 1990, aimed at science communicators (including teachers) and managers. The program attracted strong enrolments until a change in government policy resulted in students being required to pay much higher fees. Enrolments collapsed and the program was phased out soon afterwards.
From the early 1990s, philosophy of science was in the hands of Neil Thomason and Howard Sankey. Sankey focussed on broad epistemological questions, notably the alleged incommensurability of competing scientific paradigms, leading to several edited volumes and his books Rationality, Relativism and Incommensurability (1997) and Scientific Realism and the Rationality of Science (2008). Meanwhile Thomason was more concerned to analyse instances of actual scientific practice, especially in using statistics, on which he published a number of papers and attracted a lively group of postgraduate students working on related topics.
Under Warwick Anderson, appointed in 1995, history of medicine remained an important part of the department’s activities. In 1997, the Centre for the Study of Health and Society (later the Centre for Health and Society) was established, with Anderson as director, as a joint initiative of the Faculties of Arts and Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences. Anderson was joined in the centre, and in the department, by Janet McCalman, a social historian with an expanding interest in medical issues. While Anderson later moved to the U.S., McCalman stayed. Her book, Sex and Suffering: Women’s Health and a Women’s Hospital (1998) won a number of awards.
The transfer of Don Garden from the History Department to HPS in 2003 added environmental history to the department’s offerings. Several students subsequently pursued higher-degree theses in this area. Garden’s book, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific: An Environmental History, was published in 2005. With his retirement in 2007, however, momentum in this area was lost.
From the mid 1980s, the department hosted several faculty programs including Social Theory, Anthropology, and Computer Applications for the Humanities and Social Sciences. In 1999, after an eight-year association, Anthropology was transferred elsewhere, but the other two programs remained linked to HPS. Profiting from this, the lecturer in computer applications, Michael Arnold, has pursued a vigorous research program in the sociology of modern computer technology.
In 2007, the Faculty of Arts was restructured, with the traditional academic departments being merged into larger Schools. The Department of History and Philosophy of Science ceased to exist at that time. HPS continues, however, as a teaching and research program within the new School of Philosophy, Anthropology and Social Inquiry. A further wave of retirements and resignations, at a time when the faculty’s budget was in serious deficit, saw the number of HPS staff decline as positions vacated were not always re-filled. Several promising young scholars have, however, been appointed, on whom the future of the discipline at the University of Melbourne now largely depends.
The story of metaphysics in Australasia is largely a story of defences and developments of realisms. This includes both the kind of realism that is opposed to familiar anti-realisms (eliminativism, projectivism, etc.) and stronger forms of realism that are opposed to projectivism.
The story starts with John Anderson’s arrival in Sydney from Scotland in 1927. Anderson defended a strong form of empirical realism, holding that everything exists in space and time. His views on many questions anticipated contemporary physicalism about mind and value, and many of his students at the University of Sydney became central figures in the development of Australian materialism.
More significantly for our story, Anderson developed a broadly ‘propositional’ view of reality, similar to the Tractarian view that the world is constructed of facts, not of things. This view heavily influenced his most important student, D. M. Armstrong, and in particular influenced four importantly related theories of Armstrong’s.
The first of these is the reality of universals (Armstrong 1978). Unlike Plato, and like Anderson, Armstrong denied that universals exist outside of space and time. Rather, he held, universals are ‘immanent’, they exist only in their instances. But unlike certain reductionists, Armstrong does not think that universals are merely sets or classes of particulars. Rather, they are a distinct and important part of ontology.
The second is the existence of states of affairs (Armstrong 1997). Again like Anderson, Armstrong held that whenever an individual a exemplifies a property F, there exists the state of affairs of a’s being F. Moreover, this state of affairs would not have existed had a not been F, and grounds a’s being F.
The third is the view that every truth has a truthmaker (Armstrong 2004). That is, for every truth p, there is some thing x such that x’s existence makes p true. When p is a simple subject-predicate proposition Fa, the truthmaker is the state of affairs of a’s being F. In more complicated cases, e.g. when p is a quantified or modal truth, it is more difficult (and hence more interesting) to say what p’s truthmaker is. Armstrong first deployed the idea of truthmakers to both point to the metaphysical deficiencies of Ryle’s theories of mind, and to point to a way to supplement the theory to make it more plausible.
The fourth is the view that laws of nature are in some sense necessary (Armstrong 1983b). Armstrong held that All Fs are Gs is a law of nature only if a ‘necessitation’ relation N holds between the universals F and G. The idea here is not to defend a strong form of scientific essentialism; Armstrong holds that it might be contingent that N holds between F and G. Rather, the idea is that N can explain (and indeed make true) some of the distinctive features of laws.
Although he primarily worked in the U.S., David Lewis became a central figure in Australasian philosophy, and especially Australasian metaphysics, through his extended annual winter visits to Australasia from the 1970s to the 1990s. While he joined Armstrong in rejecting various forms of anti-realism, and defending physicalism, Lewis attempted to articulate a systematic reductionism about many things Armstrong took to be primitive. Lewis called this view ‘Humean Supervenience’ (Lewis 1986b). It held that all the truths of the world supervened on intrinsic properties of very small entities, plus spatio-temporal relations between them. Within this framework Lewis attempted to locate universals (certain sets of individuals), laws (simple and strong regularities), chances (defined in terms of laws), counterfactual dependencies (also defined in terms of these laws) and causation (defined in terms of counterfactual dependencies), and then use that analysis to analyse many concepts that seem causal, such as content and perception.
Partially in response to Lewis’ work, much work in Australian metaphysics in the later parts of the twentieth century were about the metaphysics of the nomic, broadly construed. Some of this work accepted, or at least didn’t expressly reject, Lewis’ Humean framework but argued that Lewis’ accounts of particular concepts were faulty. For example, David Braddon-Mitchell (2001) argued that Lewis was wrong to hold that it was analytic to laws that they are true. But the majority of work has centred on causation. Peter Menzies (1996) has argued that Lewis was wrong to think that causation is an extrinsic relation. And Michael Strevens (2008) has recently produced a theory of causation that revives the spirit (but not the letter) of J. L. Mackie’s idea that C causes E just in case C is an Insufficient but Non-Redundant part of an Unnecessary but Sufficient set of conditions for E to obtain (Mackie 1974). Other work on the nomic expressly aims to reject Lewis’ Humean framework. Such work includes Armstrong’s work on laws. But perhaps the most comprehensive work in this tradition is by John Bigelow and Robert Pargetter, whose book Science and Necessity sets out a comprehensively realist, and especially non-reductive, metaphysics of the nomic.
Apart from his Humeanism about the nomic, David Lewis’ other most distinctive metaphysical theory was his account of modality (Lewis 1986a). Lewis held that for every genuine possibility, there is a concrete possible world where it obtains. This view didn’t meet with great enthusiasm among Australian metaphysicians, but it did spur a lot of research on what possible worlds might be. As with the Humeanism, some metaphysicians thought the project got off on the wrong foot. Daniel Nolan (2002) argued that it wasn’t obviously correct to analyse possibility in terms of possible worlds, whether those worlds were abstract or concrete. Many other metaphysicians agreed with Lewis about the need to explain possible worlds, but rejected the idea that these were concreta.
The theory of possibilities that D. M. Armstrong, along with Peter Forrest, developed led to one of the most striking developments in modern metaphysics (Armstrong 1989a, Forrest 1986c). Armstrong and Forrest argued that the role Lewis assigned to alternative concrete possible worlds could instead be played by kinds of universals, in particular by structured universals. Instead of thinking that each possibility matched up with a concrete, but non-actual, possible world, each possibility matches up with an uninstantiated structural universal.
But this raises an important problem for Armstrong’s metaphysics. For Armstrong universals are immanent, and hence all universals are instantiated. So it isn’t clear that universals can play the role of possible worlds, since the kinds of universals that would be (or at least play the role of) possible worlds are mostly uninstantiated.
Armstrong’s solution to this was to say that there is a fiction that these possibilities exist, and a modal claim (like There might have been talking donkeys) is true if, in such a fiction, one of the possibilities is one in which it’s true that there are talking donkeys. In the subsequent two decades there have been many attempts to apply fictionalist approaches to intractable metaphysical puzzles. Stuart Brock (2002) developed one of the most plausible such approaches—fictionalism about fictional characters—and is jointly responsible for the most famous puzzle for fictionalisms about modality. This puzzle concerns what to say about the modal status of claims made by the fictionalists’ own theory, and suggests the theory is self-undermining. Recently Daniel Nolan, Greg Restall and Caroline West (2005) outlined what a viable fictionalism about ethics might look like.
As well as working on the nature of possible worlds, Australasian metaphysicians have produced important work applying the concept of possible worlds to central metaphysical puzzles. Frank Jackson (1998) has argued that thinking about the nature of possibility undercuts the idea that there are two kinds of worlds—epistemically possible worlds and metaphysically possible worlds. And this in turn undercuts currently fashionable arguments that Kripke’s distinction between necessity and a priority undermines the traditional philosophical project of conceptual analysis.
One other important thread in Australasian metaphysics has been the insistence that metaphysics has to be scientifically, and especially physically, respectable. This idea traces back at least as far as John Anderson, and appears in Armstrong’s work as the idea that it is a scientific question which universals exist. But the most important figure in this tradition is J. J. C. Smart. Smart notably held that the idea of a passage of time is untenable (Smart 1949). The legacy of scientifically informed work on the metaphysics of time is continued in the present day at the work of the Centre for Time at the University of Sydney, founded by Huw Price in 2002.
Australian metaphysicians have also contributed extensively to debates over personal identity. In recent years, some of the most notable contributions have tended away from the kind of realism that has characterised so much of our story. So, for instance, Mark Johnston has defended a kind of relativism about personal identity, arguing that since our general concept of personal identity is indeterminate, individuals are free to some extent to adopt their own criteria for identity over time (Johnston 1989). Positions in the neighbourhood of this one have been popular in recent years, with important contributions being made by Denis Robinson (2004), who argues that we can have ‘no-fault’ disagreements about personal identity, and David Braddon-Mitchell and Caroline West (2001), who argue that this kind of relativism may require pluralism, the view that there can be a plurality of persons constructed by different person-stages.