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A Companion to Philosophy in Australia and New Zealand



Robert Nola

Whatever they might mean by the term ‘naturalism’, many philosophers around the world (but by no means all) regard themselves as philosophical naturalists. Several philosophers in Australia (for example, J. J. C. Smart and D. M Armstrong) but fewer in New Zealand, were leading advocates of naturalism during the second-half of the twentieth century in conjunction with philosophers in the U.S. such as W. V. Quine or in a qualified way David Lewis. Naturalists tend to concur with the somewhat vague slogan that philosophy is, or ought to be, continuous with science and that there is no first, or a priori, philosophy, contrary to the view of many earlier philosophers that there is a privileged, a priori role for philosophy in our understanding of the world as a whole. Either philosophy is to work hand in hand with science or it stands in some relation of deference towards science, including its methods and ontology.

Naturalists refine their position by distinguishing two varieties. The first is ontological naturalism, which claims that what the world contains will be a matter for science to discover, with philosophy playing a secondary role of outlining the ontological framework of science. In this sense naturalism stands in contrast to a supernaturalism which says that there are gods, spirits, souls, thinking substances and other ‘spook’-like entities or properties in the world. One of the significant tasks that a philosophical naturalism must face is to give an account of the non-‘spooky’ but not obviously naturalistic items such as philosophical abstracta like universals and possible worlds, mathematical abstracta like numbers or sets, mental items such as sensations and thoughts, and the status of the normative whether it be in logic, methodology or ethics.

The second variety is methodological naturalism. This concerns the very methods that are to be used in determining the content of ontological naturalism. Thus it is said that the methods to be used in investigating the world are those of science; a stronger version of this claim is that there is no way of obtaining knowledge of the world other than using the methods of science, whatever they be. Even granting this, there remains a further aspect to methodological naturalism driven by the concerns of ontological naturalism. Traditionally the classical conception of knowledge has contained a justification condition which has been understood to have normative force. But from whence this normative force? Naturalistic accounts of knowledge have been proposed in which such normativity is to be replaced by, for example, some reliability condition or causal condition linking beliefs and the world; in the case of Armstrong (1973) it is argued that there is a law-like connection between beliefs and the world. Again, there are accounts of the very methodological principles that govern the scientific enterprise, including any principle of induction, which cash out their normativity in terms of reliability, for example the reliability of the connection between the means prescribed in methodological rules and the ends or goals of science itself. An alternative approach would be to take an expressivist view of the norms of scientific rationality.

Either version of naturalism invites two questions: first, what is the ontological picture that naturalism wishes to frame, and second, what account can it give of the non-‘spooky’ but not obviously naturalistic? Here naturalism comes into its own as an adventurous and exciting philosophical program which attempts either to find a place for all items within its framework, using some notion of reduction or broader notions of location or placement, or to eliminate them as items not to be countenanced in the naturalistic framework, the classic case being that of the ‘spooky’ which is to have no place at all. Once an item has been located within naturalism, naturalists take themselves to have provided an ‘analysis’ of what that item is. Failure to either locate or eliminate certain kinds of abstracta or normativity would set limits to the success of the program. But if it were to turn out that science itself found certain abstracta indispensable (such as numbers or sets), then these would arguably have to be included as part of the ontology contained in ontological naturalism, thereby leading to issues concerning its scope.

One of the earliest books to be systematically ‘naturalistic in temper’ is J. J. C. Smart’s 1963 Philosophy and Scientific Realism. Though naturalism takes a realist view of science, not all realisms need be naturalistic (e.g. Platonism or the alleged sui generis character of the flow of time). One important theme for Smart is the location of humans in the scientific picture of the world. For example, he argues for the replacement of certain hidden anthropomorphisms about time, such as our use of tenses to characterise the flow of time, by a de-tensed view which appeals only to temporal relations of earlier, later and being simultaneous with. Another aspect of his naturalising project draws on his own work in the late 1950s, and that of U. T. Place, which led to the identity theory of the mind. Sensations are located within brains simply because, on this theory, sensations just are identical with certain neurological processes within brains. Armstrong’s A Materialist Theory of Mind is a systematic working out of the identity theory by supplementing it with a causal analysis of many of our mental concepts.

In Armstrong (1978) ontological naturalism is ‘the hypothesis that nothing but Nature, the single, all-embracing spatio-temporal system, exists’ (1978: 138). This system is populated by particulars, their properties and relations (construed as universals), though in later work Armstrong replaces this by Factualism, an ontology of facts or states of affairs. This differs from yet another position, that of Keith Campbell (1990), which is naturalistic but advocates tropes or abstract particulars as basic rather than embracing objects and universals. Perhaps with the advance of science some further theory of yet unknown items emerges which explains our spacetime system. However the spacetime system is not to be eliminated but located within the items of the new theory; otherwise this conception of naturalism would run into extreme difficulties. Granted this conception of naturalism, Armstrong’s main task is to give an account of properties and laws of nature as relations between higher order universals that does not admit abstracta, such as uninstantiated Platonic universals, but favours a more Aristotelian theory of imminent universals. Armstrong (1989) is also an attempt to give an account of modality in terms of his version of naturalism. For Armstrong physicalism, or old-time materialism, is a sub-species of naturalism and is not to be identified with it.

Many naturalists have been attracted by what is known as the ‘Canberra Plan’, a style of analysis which takes its cue from David Lewis’ development of the Ramsey sentence. This involves a two-step procedure. First, a number of uncontested platitudes or common assumptions are collected about some philosophically interesting domain, e.g. colour, the mental such as sensation or belief, or the moral such as goodness or rightness. These are expressed in a language containing (i) terms which have their meaning already fixed (these can be collectively denoted by ‘O’), and (ii) ‘theoretical’ terms ‘t1’, ‘t2’, …, ‘tn’ which refer to the putative entities of the philosophically interesting domain (e.g. ‘red’, ‘green’ etc., or ‘good’, ‘right’, etc.). The platitudes can then be conjoined to form the long-ish sentence ‘Θ(t1, t2, …, tn, O)’. This determines the meaning of the ‘theoretical’ terms by specifying the role they play in the context of ‘Θ(t1, t2, …, tn, O)’. Second, the sentence is ‘Ramsified’ along the lines suggested by Lewis to become, schematically, ‘(Image!x1)(Image!x2) … (Image!xn)[Θ(x1, x2, …, xn, O)]’; that is, there is a unique n-tuple <x1, x2, …, xn> of ‘somethings’ that play the various roles in the context [Θ(x1, x2, …, xn, O)]. What are the ‘somethings’ that play these roles? Typically naturalists turn to science to tell us what entities play the various roles, or in the case of norms of ethics or methodology, they look for the descriptive properties that play the roles. If the roles can be uniquely realised by some scientific, or respectively purely descriptive, entities then the ‘theoretical’ entities t1, t2, …, tn have been located within the framework of scientific naturalism—otherwise they are to be eliminated. Though the details of this program cannot be set out here (see Jackson 1998 or Braddon-Mitchell and Nola 2009), it affords a new, broad approach to naturalism within many different domains.

What do naturalists say about abstracta such as mathematical entities like numbers or sets? In not being realists about such entities they might bite the bullet and adopt an error theory of mathematics, or a fictionalist account. But others might play down the strong constraints that some place on an ontological naturalism that refuses to admit abstracta and in contrast play up methodological naturalism which requires us to take the posits of science seriously and not patronise them. Our best sciences posit not only items such as quasars and quarks but also mathematical entities; insofar as they do then methodological naturalism bids us to admit all these posits into science. Such a Quinean approach which adopts a broad methodological naturalism is defended in Colyvan (2001).

In a quite different vein Huw Price (2004) challenges the standard account of naturalism given above (which he dubs ‘object naturalism’) by claiming that science has a differential bearing on the philosophical concerns that give rise to naturalism in the first place. The prominence of object naturalism has obscured subject naturalism, viz., what the sciences tell us about ourselves as natural entities in the world and the representational, semantic and psychological relations that we bear to the world of the object naturalist. He argues that object naturalism must carry with it much semantic and other representational baggage that is not eliminable. From this Price concludes that there is an important priority of subjective over objective naturalism in the sense that the claims about the latter require validation from the stance of the former. This opens the real possibility that the latter might not receive validation from the point of view of the former. Price’s position is that object naturalism is considerably compromised and that subject naturalism needs to be given the kind of philosophical prominence that brings naturalism closer to some classical versions of pragmatism.

Newcastle, University of

Cliff Hooker & David Dockrill

Pre-History, 1954–65

Philosophy was established in 1954 as part of the Division of Arts, Newcastle University College, itself founded in 1951 as part of the University of Technology, later the University of NSW (UNSW). Initially, the University of New England provided teaching assistance in Arts subjects until they were introduced at UNSW. This period was focussed on establishing the regular activities of normal university departmental life. A traditional, British-framed and (John) Anderson-inspired, curriculum developed.

Appointments in this period, in temporal order, were Alexander (‘Sandy’) Anderson 1954, Charles Presley 1955 (resigned 1959), Alec Ritchie 1957, Bill Doniela 1959, David Dockrill 1962, all of whom (except Presley) had studied under John Anderson at the University of Sydney and were influenced by his teaching.

Traditional Period, 1966–79

The autonomous University of Newcastle was formed in 1965 with Alec Ritchie its initial professor of philosophy. John Lee was appointed in 1966, Ralph Robinson in 1970 and Bill Sparkes in 1974. Robinson, supervised by Ritchie, obtained his doctorate in 1975. Ritchie retired in 1978.

The teaching curriculum expanded without changing form, adding religious studies in 1979. Under initiator and mentor Bill Doniela, the student Philosophy Club was formed in 1966 with its staff-student journal Dialectic and remains the oldest such institution in Australia; special issues included Greek Philosophy (#24, 1985, Lee ed.), Hegel (#28, Doniela ed.) and Anderson Papers (#30, 1987).

Both research and departmental governance were conducted within a broadly British tradition.

Modernising Period, 1980–93

Cliff Hooker succeeded Alec Ritchie as professor in 1980, following a decade at the University of Western Ontario, Canada. The first Australian philosophy professor to hold a doctorate in science (Physics, Sydney, Australia) as well as philosophy (York, Toronto, Canada), at appointment his published research included twelve edited books and fifty-plus journal articles. Other appointments in this period were Raoul Mortley 1992–95 (while Vice-Chancellor) and John Wright 1989. Doniela retired in 1987, Anderson and Robinson in 1988 and Lee 1993.

An outward orientation, expressed in various university societies, was strengthened by Hooker in two key areas. Firstly, in interdisciplinary research engagement: the department held a national conference, Law and Social Incompetents in 1982, organised by Hooker and the then deputy chancellor Justice Michael Kirby, and it hosted an international research seminar on Evolutionary Epistemology in 1986, which Hooker organised. And secondly, in interdisciplinary teaching: a special course for Engineering students, Technology and Human Values, was developed by Hooker based on a systems approach; and later, comparable courses for Commerce, Social Work and for student groups were also developed. In the profession, Hooker, for Newcastle, held the Australasian Association of Philosophy presidency, and Newcastle hosted the annual conference in 1981 for the first time.

An open, self-initiated, consensual approach to curriculum and teaching, governance and financial support was introduced and a planned, project/grant-oriented approach to research was encouraged. Hooker obtained the department’s first Australian Research Council (ARC) major project grant (Evolutionary Epistemology) with Kai Hahlweg as postdoctoral researcher, 1985–89, followed by a second ARC grant (Reason and Science) with Bill Herfel as postdoctoral researcher, 1991–94. Hooker (1998) also founded the Complex Adaptive Systems Research Group (CASRG). During this first period Hooker published three books and forty-two research papers.

Doctoral student supervision expanded in this period. Dockrill supervised Lindsay Porter, 1988; Doniela supervised Ray Williamson, 1979, David Sergeant, 1981, Glen Albrecht, 1987 and Bill Warren, 1988; Hooker supervised Michael Simpson (physics), 1987, John Alexander (Humanities), 1988, and Jane Azevedo (Sociology), 1991; and Lee supervised Sparkes, 1983, and Leila Cumming, 1989. The theses of Azevedo, Sergeant and Williamson were published as well-regarded books (Azevedo 1997, Sergeant 1985, Williamson 1984).

The same period saw research books published by Hooker (Hooker et al. 1981, Churchland and Hooker 1985, Hooker 1987, Hahlweg and Hooker 1989) and Sparkes (1991) and several conference proceedings were published (Dockrill and Mortley 1981, Dockrill and Tanner 1985, 1986, 1994).

Continuing Survival Period, 1994—

The period since 1994 has been marked by increasingly stressful university change and further staff turnover. The following appointments were made: Chris Falzon, 2001; Bill Herfel, 1994 (left 2004); Joe Mintoff, 1994; Colin Wilks, 2002; Yin Gao, 2006. This deliberately created a multi-disciplinary staff with Gao, Herfel, Hooker, Mintoff and Wright all possessing degrees in mathematics, physics or engineering as well as philosophy. Sparkes retired in 1996, Dockrill in 2000 and Hooker in 2006.

Reducing financial support has seen staff/student teaching ratios climb to ~30 (2.5 x 1980 levels), and often the highest in the faculty. Continual administrative rearrangement replaced departments by multi-discipline schools, then re-branded faculties as (super-)schools and absorbed them into (super-)faculties; philosophy became one disciplinary group among many others in a School of Education and Humanities. Administration itself became more formal, time consuming and distant but more rewarded as work load. In consequence, teaching became less immediate and less individualised, with less time for casual discussion, all distinct deficits for any foundationally focussed discipline, especially one not on a recognised employment path. Research support shifted from individuals to larger groups.

Through all this interdisciplinary teaching was of necessity expanded; the Technology and Human Values course was praised by Engineering assessors and became a required component for all Engineering students (including in Singapore, 2000–2007), a first in Australia; Applied Ethics now included Design and Nursing students; a new required Philosophy of Psychology course, focussed around the art/science methodological debate, was initiated by Herfel and Hooker in 2000.

Hooker developed the CASRG program with postdoctoral researchers Wayne Christensen 1998–2001 (Bio-cognitive Organisation) and John Collier 1994–95 (ARC grant: Reason and Science) and 1998–2000 (ARC grant: Reduction/Emergence in Complex Systems), achieving nearly continuous ARC major project grants for 1985–2000 (leave periods aside). Hooker then became a program leader with the Co-operative Research Centre for Coal in Sustainable Development (CCSD), postdoctoral fellow Thomas Brinsmead, 2002–2007 (Adaptively Resilient Sustainability and Energy Policy). In the period he contributed fifty-four published papers and two books.

Now professor emeritus, Hooker is currently editing vol. 10, Philosophy of Complex Systems, of the Elsevier Handbooks in Philosophy of Science, completing books on the CCSD work (with Brinsmead) and on process models of reason and ethics (with Barry Hoffmaster, Canada), and extending published work on bio-cognitive dynamics, including of scientific research, with Robert Farrell, postdoctoral researcher 2008–2009.

CASRG-supervised doctoral students included Scott Muller, 2004, supervised by Collier; Yin Gao (Shenyang, China), 2004, supervised by Herfel; Barry Hodges, 1997, Christensen, 1998, Yanfei Shi (Beijing), 2000, John White, 2000, and Karel Grezl, 2007, supervised by Hooker. Christensen and Hodges are Newcastle University Medallists, Gao, Grezl, Muller and White also hold engineering degrees, and Shi came from the Beijing Academy of Social Science. Non-CASRG doctoral students included Keith Joseph, 2001, and Colin Wilks, 1996, supervised by Dockrill and Kenneth Pringle, 2005, co-supervised by Dockrill; Bruce Anthony 1997, supervised by Sparkes and Alex Arposio, 2006, supervised by Wright. The theses of Muller, Shi and Wilks were published as well-regarded books (Muller 2007, Shi 2001, Wilks 2002); Christensen and Hooker published nine joint research papers.

Research books published in this period included Falzon (1998), Falzon (2002/2007); Farrell (2003); Hooker (1995); Sparkes (1994); and Wright (1997), Wright (2003a), Wright (2003b) plus published conference proceedings, Hayes et al. (1999).

New England, University of

R. L. Franklin

Philosophy at the University of New England (UNE) has been sometimes pioneering and sometimes typical of Australian universities. A major pioneering aspect lies in its origins. Till well into the twentieth century, Australia had one university in each of its six State capitals, and education elsewhere was often limited, poor and brief. Yet a group of citizens in the little country town of Armidale in New South Wales was advocating the radical notion that tertiary education could exist there. At first they met amused if polite refusals from the NSW government (the notion that the Commonwealth might be involved in education would have been more amusing still). But persistent pressure, aided by the Minister for Education who was their local State MP, achieved in 1928 a Teachers College awarding a two-year certificate for primary school teachers. In 1989, after much change, it was to merge into the UNE.

Meanwhile, local ambition in the 1930s grew. If a Teachers College, why not even a university? After intense lobbying and fundraising, including an offer of the vast homestead Booloominbah as a first home, a rather hesitant University of Sydney agreed to establish in Armidale a New England University College (NEUC) of the University of Sydney, which opened in 1938.

Five lecturers were appointed. Each was to teach a pair of disciplines for the first year, and to be joined by a second lecturer the next year so that the disciplines could separate once they had a first and a second-year class. The lecturers lived and worked with their students in Booloominbah, and their library was initially little more than the books they brought with them. The University of Sydney set and marked the exams, using its own syllabuses. This could be difficult for the isolated lecturers, but at least it put the results beyond question. The close personal contact led to great success. Apart from producing many distinguished alumni, the average NEUC intake mark over its lifetime was lower than that of the University of Sydney but the average results were higher.

In the 1950s a radically new issue emerged: could a university education be achieved through correspondence and books, with at most some personal contact with teaching staff? Many politicians were sympathetic to external teaching, though the University of Sydney and some staff at NEUC were opposed. In 1954 NEUC became the independent UNE, on condition that it began external teaching in 1955. The pioneering was again successful. External students had the same lecturers and courses as internal ones, and their greater maturity and enthusiasm produced results at least as good.

Pioneering is less evident in the content of the philosophy courses. Teaching at NEUC had echoed the idiosyncratic views of Sydney’s then immensely influential professor, John Anderson. After independence, content has generally been typical of Australian departments, with one exception. In the 1960s the then professor aimed to make Armidale a postgraduate centre for his own speciality of formal logic. But when he left for an overseas chair this exotic bloom proved impossible to tend in the Australian bush, and it was abandoned. On the whole, the dominant influence has been the Oxford/Cambridge tradition; but there has been a continuing capacity for formal logic, and significant emphasis at different times on other traditions from scholasticism to Continental philosophy. Today’s themes include issues such as feminism, political freedom and the needs of the environment.

Australian philosophy departments play two major roles. The professional goal is to produce postgraduate students who eventually contribute to the discipline. But for the bulk of their students philosophy is not a major study. So the second role is to acquaint those students with the long tradition of Western (and increasingly other) philosophy, and to encourage critical thinking that can be applied to any difficult issue. In addition, philosophy at UNE originally played a third role. In response to the local efforts that had made the University possible, it was active in reaching out to the general public through non-degree lectures and discussion groups.

While passing on their cultural tradition, philosophers also extend it by research and publication in their chosen fields. When they face new developments they have three options: to ignore them; to endorse and work within them; or to critically question them. The first option ultimately abandons the search for new insight, but the tension between the other two is the creative heart of that search. There have been elements of all three attitudes in UNE philosophy, but the latter two have predominated. It has been open to, but critical of, new philosophic approaches. It also has a tradition of collaboration with other disciplines such as the social sciences and religious studies. This has extended both to joint courses and to research.

In recent times, UNE, like all Australian universities, has faced increasing pressure to teach more students without increased staff. One administrative response has been to revise the traditional faculty/department structure. In 1998 philosophy became a Section of the School of Social Science in the Arts Faculty. In 2007 it has become a sub-department in a School of Humanities in a Faculty of the Arts and Sciences. Such reorganisations absorb immense time and energy, at the same time as academic pressures have increased.

Despite this, philosophy at UNE is vigorous. The non-degree activities, being unfunded, have inevitably shrivelled, but teaching and research thrive. UNE as a whole consistently gains high recognition for its concern for students. While the reorganisations have reinforced the tradition of collaboration with other disciplines, they have not eliminated work in more traditional areas. In the period 2001–2007 UNE philosophers have published six books, twenty-one chapters in edited books and forty articles. The areas include mainstream issues in metaphysics, philosophical logic, epistemology, history of philosophy and philosophy of religion, as well as cross-disciplinary work in applied ethics and social political and economic philosophy.

New South Wales, University of

Stephen Cohen

The University of New South Wales came into existence with an Act of Incorporation in 1949. At that time, there were six professors and others, whose formal affiliation was identified as the Sydney Technical College (Willis 2003: 36–7). In 1958, the university changed its name to the University of New South Wales (UNSW). Prior to there being an Arts Faculty, philosophy was incorporated in a School of Humanities, whose role was to teach arts subjects to science and engineering students—what would later come to be called a ‘general education requirement’. The School of Humanities included departments of Philosophy, English, History, and Politics; and the Head of School was Max Hartwell, a professor of economic history.

A Faculty of Arts came into existence in 1960, and Jack Thornton, who had been at the university since 1952, and whose interests were in the area of scientific thought, became the professor of philosophy. During the next two years, a School of Philosophy was created (Thornton was the foundation professor) and six appointments were made, all but one of whom were from the University of Sydney and had been taught by John Anderson. These were identified by Thornton as ‘seeds for the future’. The non-Sydney person was Charles Hamblin.

For reasons most closely related to his interest in the history of science and his desire to develop a program in this area and to contribute to a robust General Studies program, Thornton was instrumental in founding a new School of History and Philosophy of Science in 1967. Thornton left the School of Philosophy and became the foundation professor of the School of History and Philosophy of Science. Hamblin became the professor and Head of the School of Philosophy. Hamblin, a peculiar and a brilliant man by anyone’s standards, remained in this position until his death in 1985.

In the early 1970s, Hamblin, whose strength was formal and informal logic, appointed a logician, Frank Vlach, fresh from the University of California. Vlach was the first overseas appointment of the school. It appears that the idea was to build on the strength in logic, particularly in the area of teaching, in the UNSW environment of science and engineering students. Philosophy courses became, and continue to be, a stream, or major sequence, of courses available to science students, as well as to arts students. It is, perhaps, surprising that strong strands in logic and the philosophy of science were not, in fact, developed, even though individual courses in those areas were being taught within philosophy. There appears to have been impetus—beginning with the appointment of Hamblin—for development of these areas and serious involvement in the science and engineering faculties in those areas. But this did not eventuate.

Rather than development in any specific area, the school was more concerned to offer variety and to cover the major areas of philosophy. It has taken a more generalist approach to teaching and research, in its course offerings and in its subsequent academic appointments, including for the first time in an Australian philosophy department an appointment specifically in Chinese philosophy. In the late 1970s and early ’80s, as with other Australian universities, there were serious discussions and arguments over how much the school wanted to steer in the direction of, or emphasise, the areas of Marxism and feminism. These were more heated discussions than table-banging, line-drawing differences of ideology, and did not result in anything like the departmental split that occurred at the University of Sydney. But there did become ‘camps’.

With the demise in 1989 of the University’s Professorial Board (replaced by an Academic Board) and of the appointment of Professor-Heads (as permanent positions), as with other Australian universities, the position of professor within a school became a different matter from what it had been during Charles Hamblin’s tenure. An appointment of a chair was (and is still) a very big deal; but it no longer had the administrative, future-direction-determining, empowering-one-person’s-view significance that it previously had.

In 1988, Genevieve Lloyd was appointed professor of philosophy, coming to UNSW from the Australian National University (ANU). This was significant not simply because Lloyd was a woman and, whether she wanted it or not, carried the mantle of women in philosophy and feminist philosophy in Australia; but also because she was the first professor appointed to the school under the new regime. For the first time, a professor was in the role as leader not by fiat or authoritarian pronouncement, but rather by strength of persuasion. Lloyd struggled with the role.

With Lloyd’s resignation/retirement in 2000, the appointment of Paul Patton as professor was made in 2001. Patton had been at the University of Sydney. In reaching a decision on this appointment, views of the executive of the faculty, members of the school, as well as views from the university’s central administration steering the appointment, varied from ‘oil needs to be poured on troubled waters’ of divisiveness within the school, to ‘there is no problem that needs fixing’.

Philosophy at UNSW continues to view itself as generalist, although it recognises that it has particular strengths. In 1994, in addition to its complement of degree programs in philosophy, the school introduced Australia’s first graduate programs (coursework and research) in Professional Ethics. These separately named degree programs continue to be housed in philosophy and attract an international cohort of students. Since the early 1990s, the school has had a significant international presence in the area of Philosophy for Children. Philosophy at UNSW bills itself as having


specialist expertise in a range of key issues and subject matters including Chinese philosophy, ethical theory and applied ethics (including business ethics and professional ethics), 19th and 20th century European philosophy (including Kant, German Idealism, Nietzsche, Heidegger, existential phenomenology, and French post-phenomenological and post-structuralist thought), Gettier problems, philosophical skepticism and varieties of non-absolute knowledge, and the rights of indigenous peoples. (from UNSW Philosophy website)


Throughout its history—certainly for at least the last twenty-five years—the academic staff numbers in philosophy have remained relatively constant (at ten to twelve full-time academic staff).

With changes in the structure of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences in 2007—diminishing the number of schools in the faculty from eleven to five—philosophy at UNSW is no-longer a school in the faculty, but is rather one of three disciplines within the School of History and Philosophy (the others being History and History and Philosophy of Science).

New South Wales, University of, School of History and Philosophy of Science

Phillip Staines

After almost forty-two years at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) as a fully independent school in the Faculty of Arts, History and Philosophy of Science (HPS) has very recently merged with Philosophy and History, forming part of the new School of History and Philosophy. For most of that time it has been the largest unit in any Australian university addressing itself generally to the meaning of science. This entry gives a brief account of its formation and trajectory through those years.

UNSW had the first chair of HPS in Australia (1966) and was the second Australian university to establish a department of HPS. How did this come about? Many factors were causally operative but three were crucial—a university policy and two people.

HPS and the School of Philosophy from which it emerged at UNSW owed, in similar but importantly different ways, their origins to the university’s policy of giving a general education to its students. UNSW began its life as the New South Wales University of Technology, established in 1949. From its earliest days the university required students to do subjects outside their faculty to broaden their education.

The foundation professor of HPS, John (‘Jack’) B. Thornton, began work at UNSW as senior lecturer in philosophy in 1952, this being the university’s first appointment in philosophy. Thornton had a B.A. Honours in philosophy and a B.Sc. Honours in physics with the University Medal, both from the University of Sydney. There was no arts faculty at UNSW at the time and his appointment effectively established the Department of Philosophy within the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. This school’s brief was to give compulsory general education courses in the humanities to all the University’s undergraduates.

1952 saw another significant university decision for HPS. Professor Philip Baxter was chosen to head the new university. In setting up the Faculty of Arts late in 1959, Baxter wanted Arts students to do some compulsory courses in general science, just as students in the other faculties were doing compulsory general education courses in the humanities. He proposed that the foundation professor of philosophy in the new faculty should be ‘a person with special interests in the History and Philosophy of Science’ (Willis 1983: 101). Thornton, who had been teaching courses in Logic and Scientific Method and Philosophy of Science in the Department of Philosophy, was appointed.

UNSW’s requirement was that arts students either do two science subjects in their degrees or where this proved impractical for them (e.g. lacking the prerequisites) a subject called ‘Scientific Thought’ taught by the philosophy department. Most arts students opted for the latter, thus leading to very large enrolments as the faculty grew. So, in 1960 the new School of Philosophy began teaching HPS to Arts students.

‘Scientific Thought’ was offered in successive years as three main courses: History of Astronomy, The Darwinian Revolution, and the Social History and Sociology of Science. The first two were effectively required for those without science prerequisites. The last, taught by R. (Bob) Gascoigne, was the first Australian course on social aspects of science and one of the earliest in an area that was to become increasingly influential.

In 1964 the School of Philosophy separated into two departments: Philosophy and HPS, and in 1966 this new department became the independent School of HPS, headed by Thornton as its foundation chair and the first Australian professorial appointment in HPS. In the meantime (1965) the ‘Scientific Thought’ subjects had been renamed as HPS I, II and III (Oldroyd 1974: 3).

Over the next several years the Faculty of Arts reduced the requirements for its students to do science and/or HPS until they were gone in 1971. Compulsion gone, the numbers dropped dramatically to about 100 for HPS I, and the school needed to rethink its teaching position to make its undergraduate subjects more attractive to arts students and bring in others from outside the faculty as well as introduce postgraduate teaching. In the same period the number of full-time members of staff had grown to around 10, a figure that was maintained with small fluctuations from then on.

George Seddon, the second professorial appointment in the school, joined in late 1971 replacing Thornton who had moved into university administration. He saw the first offering of HPS to science students with entry at Level 2 and some introductory science subjects as prerequisites. Numbers took some time to build up but twenty-five years later, although numbers in and from science were declining, they still exceeded the intake from the Faculty of Arts.

Postgraduate teaching was successfully established in 1977 in the Faculty of Science with the Master of Science and Society degree. It was interdisciplinary but co-ordinated and largely taught from HPS.

1977 also saw the second and final external professorial appointment—Jarlath Ronayne. He brought specialisation in science policy. The 1979 school entry in the Arts Faculty Calendar heralded some of the changes coming with the following inclusion: ‘In recent years there has been a subtle redefinition of the boundaries of the discipline brought about by the demand for knowledge of the social dimensions of science and technology’ (p. 104).

Randall Albury, an internal appointment, was the next professorial head of school following Ronayne’s departure in 1983. Albury had contributed new courses in the history of medicine and the social studies of science and technology.

In the next five years there were two major additions to the school’s teaching responsibilities: HPS began a continuing commitment to teaching in environmental studies with a number of important appointments, and another masters program, the Master of Cognitive Science, was set up and co-ordinated by the HPS philosopher Peter Slezak. This interdisciplinary program in the Faculty of Arts was the first of its kind in Australia.

During this period in 1988 the school changed its name to Science and Technology Studies. The change proved contentious within the school, with some strongly dissenting views. Fourteen years later, after a faculty review, the school unanimously rejected the new name and returned to the old. The last appointment to the school was in 2000.

The school has had a strong research profile across a wide range of areas. Its most prolific researcher has been the historian of science, David Oldroyd. Within the philosophical arena an early publication was W. Leatherdale’s monograph, The Role of Analogy, Model and Metaphor in Science (1974). Since then the main philosophical contributions have been papers, with Peter Slezak the main contributor.

For a small school HPS contributed disproportionately to university administrations through its first four professors. All served as deans, with three becoming pro vice-chancellors and one, Ronanyne, also deputy vice-chancellor and vice-chancellor at Australian universities. Other members of the school have served as sub-deans in arts, and most recently with the amalgamation of the departments of philosophy and history in 2007, HPS’s Paul Brown became its head.

The former School of HPS continues work now as one of the three disciplines located in the School of History and Philosophy.


(For written material and discussions thanks to Katie Bird, Assistant University Archivist, and to former school members David Miller, David Oldroyd, John Schuster and Peter Slezak; and thanks to Paul Brown, Tony Corones, Susan Hardy, Stephen Healy, John Merson and Nicolas Rasmussen, also former members of the school, for their contributions.)

New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists

Bill Cooke

The New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists is the oldest and largest association representing non-religious viewpoints in New Zealand. Freethought organisations date back to the 1850s, though few lasted long. One of these, the Canterbury Freethought Association, formed in 1881 and became the NZ Rationalist Association in 1909. In 1923 the Auckland Rationalist Association was formed, which in 1929 became the NZ Association for the Advancement of Rationalism and in 1931 the Rationalist Association and Sunday Freedom League. In 1954 it took over the name of NZ Rationalist Association from the now-moribund Christchurch group. In 1997 the NZRA became the NZ Association of Rationalists and Humanists. The association has published the Examiner (1907–1917) and the Truth Seeker (1927–1939), afterwards becoming the NZ Rationalist, adding and Humanist in 1964. In 1997 it became the Open Society.

The term ‘rationalist’ was adopted in deference to the Rationalist Press Association (RPA), which had formed in London in 1899. ‘Rationalist’ was meant in the sense of honestly submitting to the dictates of reason, at the time not thought either impossible or controversial. With the name came the RPA’s definition of rationalism as ‘the mental attitude which unreservedly accepts the supremacy of reason and aims at establishing a system of philosophy and ethics verifiable by experience and independent of all arbitrary assumptions of authority’. Despite the difficulties with this definition, it remained in place until 1997 as it satisfied the two main trends within contemporary freethought: those who wanted to accept unreservedly the supremacy of reason were more inclined to emphasise the criticism of religion, while those who thought of rationalism as a mental attitude were more interested in providing a secular replacement. Since 1997 the aims of the association have emphasised stimulating rational, humane and secular views of life and promoting the open society.

The association has made a point of defending openness, as when in 1934 it funded publication of an influential pamphlet on academic freedom, then a contentious issue. It also led a long campaign for greater freedom on Sundays, including the right to attend films, for which, in 1931, it was fined £15 by the Magistrate’s Court and then the same amount again by the Supreme Court. Between 1935 and 1941 the association again ran films on a Sunday, before being shut down once more. Its Sunday evening events became known as an important venue to discuss matters of the day, and where views got a hearing denied them anywhere else. These years constitute the association’s most influential period. During World War Two the association defended the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who were banned by a government nervous of any criticism. More recently the association has assumed the role of advocate for the significant percentage of people who declare themselves in each census as non-religious.

Prominent members include Sir Thomas Hunter (1876–1953), long-time Vice-Chancellor of Victoria University of Wellington; John A. Lee (1891–1982), firebrand politician; R. A. K. Mason (1901–1971), poet; Sir Dove-Myer Robinson (1901–1989), long-time mayor of Auckland; and Maurice Gee (b. 1931), the country’s best-known novelist.


(Further reading: Cooke 1998.)

New Zealand Society for Legal and Social Philosophy

Jim Evans

The New Zealand Society for Legal and Social Philosophy was formed at Victoria University of Wellington in 1980. The aim was to bring together academics from law, political studies, philosophy and other relevant disciplines with members of the legal profession and students, to discuss theoretical issues relating to the law. (The society has always taken a broad view of its range of interests.) Central figures involved in the formation of the society in Wellington and in the progress of the Wellington branch during the 1980s and early 1990s were Paul Harris, Don Mathieson, Chris Parkin, Graham Taylor, Ian McDuff, Alan Cameron and, later, Maurice Goldsmith.

In 1982, Paul Harris persuaded John Hannan and Jim Evans from the Faculty of Law at the University of Auckland to establish an Auckland branch of the society. This was formed in June 1982, with Ted Thomas as chair, Jim Evans as secretary and John Hannon as treasurer. Other members of the committee in Auckland during the years up to 1997 included Raynor Asher, Jan Crosthwaite, Tim Dare, Margaret Lewis, Richard Mulgan, Andrew Sharp, Bob Stevens, Christine Swanton, Lane West-Newman, and Martin Wilkinson.

The society was incorporated as a charitable trust in 1986 and was granted charitable status for tax purposes in 1991. It still holds both these forms of status. Under the constitution, which was established in 1986, the primary object of the society is ‘to promote the study and informed discussion of philosophical problems of law and social organisation and of the relationship between law and society through meetings, publications and conferences’. The constitution provides for branches that are semi-autonomous, in any centre in New Zealand in which there is sufficient interest. The national executive of the society consists of the chair, secretary and treasurer of each branch.

Up until 1996, both the Wellington and the Auckland branches were active, holding between six to nine meetings a year on a varied array of topics. The speakers sometimes came from within the society, sometimes from the law profession, but were often visiting academics. Occasionally, panel discussions were held. Meetings were attended by a wide range of people, including quite a number of High Court judges or people who went on to become judges. However, around 1997, both branches ceased to be active.

In June 2006, the Australian Society for Legal Philosophy held its annual conference in Auckland, part of the purpose being to assist in re-activating the New Zealand Society for Legal and Social Philosophy. Jim Evans organised the conference, with Tim Dare organising a parallel conference of the International Society for Legal Ethics. Keynote speakers included Michael Lobban from the University of London, William Simon from Columbia University, and William Lucy from Cardiff University. At the conference, a meeting of interested people within New Zealand resolved to re-activate the New Zealand Society, and Jim Evans agreed to coordinate this.

Since that time an active branch has operated again in Auckland holding eight or more meetings a year. Jim Evans is chair, Stephen Winter, from Political Studies, is the secretary and Tim Dare, from Philosophy the treasurer. A new branch has been established at the University of Otago, organised by Michael Robertson. The Wellington branch has held an occasional meeting, but is currently struggling to re-establish itself after the death of Maurice Goldsmith.

The New Zealand Society maintains strong contacts with its sister organisation, the Australian Society for Legal Philosophy.

The New Zealand Society has a website at <> maintained by Steve Winter, the current secretary of the Auckland branch.

Non-Classical Logic

Errol Martin

This brief summary of the history of non-classical logic in Australia is more meta-history than history, for two reasons. In the first place, the history of logic studies in Australia has already been documented in Martin’s overview (E. Martin 1992) and Goddard’s personal recollections (Goddard 1992). Work in non-classical logic should be seen in the overall context described there. Secondly, and more importantly, several of the works on non-classical logic discussed in this entry are intended to be comprehensive accounts of their respective subjects. They therefore contain both detailed historical introductions and comprehensive lists of references (incidentally also serving to locate the work of the Australasian authors in the global context as well).

A. N. Prior’s Formal Logic (1955), written while the author was a lecturer at Canterbury College in Christchurch, New Zealand, appears to mark the beginning of detailed formal studies in logic in Australasia. This work was both influential globally and a starting point for studies in modal logic and non-classical logic in Australia and New Zealand. In the third section of this book, and among many other topics, Prior discusses alternative logical systems. Two sorts of alternatives are considered: modal logics—which can be seen as formed by adding new operators such as ‘It is necessary that …’ to a (presumably classical) logical base—and logical systems, such as many-valued logic and the intuitionist system, which Prior calls non-classical logic and which represent a variation rather than an addition to logical theory.

It is true that when modal logic is formulated as a theory of strict implication it can also be seen, particularly in the weaker modal logics, as a variation on classical logic rather than an addition to it. In practice also, the mathematical techniques used for understanding modal logics have proved to be of great value in non-classical logic as well. However, in this entry we will follow Prior’s example and restrict the discussion to systems which are primarily aimed at changing the fundamental deductive base of logic. Within Australia and New Zealand the concentration of work on non-classical logic in the last half-century, in a philosophical context at least, has been in the (related) topics of Relevant logic and paraconsistent logic. The remainder of this entry will mention and briefly discuss a number of works on these topics that have been written within Australia and New Zealand.

Relevant Logic

Classical logic is the familiar two-valued logic covering first-order predicate logic. This formal theory was developed in its present form in the fifty years around the turn of the nineteenth century. By the end of the revolution, traditional formal logic had been subsumed as a special case (so it was argued, in any case), an account of logical truth was available via the notion of tautology, and the formalisation of many of the arguments of mathematics was possible.

Classical logic is, however, counterintuitive in permitting as logically correct deductions certain forms where the premises are independent or irrelevant to the conclusion. Well-known examples include, for propositions A and B, say: If both A and not-A, then B, and If A then if B then A. These classical theorems and others like them are a consequence of the extensional semantics and the classical approach to validity, and despite attempts to explain them away in terms of ‘smoothing out the theory’, ‘being harmless’ (in never leading from truth to falsity), they remain a problem for many, and an opportunity to find an improved account of deduction and logical consequence.

One approach to reinstate relevance is to consider how premises are used in a deduction. The relevance logics of A. R. Anderson and N. D. Belnap Jr. (1975) examined a range of such systems and defined this approach. Relevant logic (as the subject is generally known in Australasia, this being the exact same subject as relevance logic when studied or described in the U.S. and elsewhere!) has come to be studied in particular in Australia and New Zealand due to the influence of firstly Richard Routley (later known as Richard Sylvan ) and other workers in weak modal logics, and secondly Robert Meyer, a student of N. D. Belnap Jr., who arrived in Australia in 1974 to work with Routley.

Originally, Routley examined the concept of entailment from the point of view of weak modal logics. A new direction became apparent when Routley and his co-author Val Routley (later Val Plumwood) published their semantics for first-degree entailments (Routley and Routley 1972). The key to this semantics was the development of incomplete and possibly inconsistent ‘worlds’ (one cannot, presumably, say ‘possible worlds’, except in very informal discussions!) analogous in their formal role to the role of possible worlds in the semantics of modal logics.

Routley and Meyer then collaborated at long distance (having never met) on a series of papers entitled ‘Semantics of Entailment’ (Meyer and Routley 1973, 1972a, 1972b). However, for a number of years much of their joint work and collaborative work with other logicians remained unpublished. Eventually some of this detailed technical work (and not a little polemic) was made available in a volume of essays, Relevant Logics and Their Rivals (Routley, Plumwood, Meyer and Brady 1982). This volume is entitled ‘Part I’. Part II, which was expected to follow shortly afterwards, suffered delays. It was subsequently published by Ross Brady in a somewhat changed form (Brady 2003). Together, these two volumes provide many further results of Routley, Meyer and several of their students and co-workers, in particular Ross Brady. The publication in this book of part of the Routley and Meyer essay on ‘Extensional Reduction II’ is also very welcome, as it contains the authors’ thoughts on the philosophical significance of their semantics, and the possibility of providing philosophical clarity through worlds-style semantics.


Whereas Relevant logic is concerned with the general problem of the connections between premises and conclusion in valid argument forms, paraconsistency zooms in on the logical properties of inconsistent propositions, in particular when they are taken together (however ‘together’ is to be understood, which of course is part of the problem) and used as premises from which further conclusions can be drawn.

Several approaches to paraconsistency are possible. Within the Australasian context, paraconsistency has been extensively studied by Graham Priest, initially independently and then later in collaboration with Richard Routley. Priest’s collaboration with Routley has resulted in the volume of essays (Priest, Routley, and Norman 1989) which combines extensive scholarly and historical essays on philosophical thinking about inconsistency with detailed technical essays by the editors and other contributors. The approach favoured by Priest and Routley is to use Relevant logics as a means of working with inconsistency, rather than for example restricting logical rules or the context of deduction as is tried in other approaches. In this sense the two topics—Relevant logic and paraconsistency—of this brief account are related. However, for Priest, Routley and Norman it is not the relevance features of Relevant logics that are considered important in paraconsistent thinking; it is simply that relevance is a by-product of an account of a genuine implication. Other essays in the volume discuss the possibility of rebuilding parts of mathematics in a paraconsistent manner (Dialectical Set Theory), and there are several essays on the philosophical significance of paraconsistency.

Recent Work

In conclusion, here are three recent works which together give a sense of the direction that current research in non-classical logic is taking in Australia and New Zealand.

Non-Classical Logic Becomes Mainstream

Graham Priest’s textbook An Introduction to Non-Classical Logic (2001) is intended to showcase the fact that (in the author’s opinion) non-classical logics are now sufficiently well understood that one can take non-classical logic out of the research journals and use it as a tool in normal philosophical work. To this end the author introduces a range of non-classical logics, including but not limited to relevant and paraconsistent logics, starting from classical and modal logics. Each chapter has useful references and brief discussions and exercises covering both technical and philosophical questions.

Logic as (Sub-) Structure

In certain formulations of logics based on the ‘sequent calculi’ of Gentzen, a distinction is drawn between rules governing the introduction or elimination of the logical connectives (‘&’, ‘→’, etc.), and structural rules which govern the manipulation of groups of premises. In classical logic the structural rules are very simple because the premise groups are sets. In relevant and other logics it is possible to work with essentially fixed connective rules, and vary the structural rules, indeed even omitting certain rules in some cases. The resulting study is called ‘substructural logic’. Plausibly, the intention in this way of looking at non-classical logics is that it can be argued that the meaning of the logical connectives has not changed in non-classical logic, but the variation of the structural rules allows for more subtlety in the way in which premises are used to derive conclusions.

Greg Restall’s An Introduction to Substructural Logics (2000) provides an extremely thorough treatise of non-classical logic based on this approach, providing proof theory and formal semantics for a range of non-classical logics. Restall uses these ideas to put forward arguments for what he calls logical ‘pluralism’, the idea that appropriate logical rules depend on ‘what one is trying to achieve’, and it is to be expected that ‘different logics give you different norms’ (2000: 346–7).

Situations as Semantics

Routley and Meyer proposed that the worlds in the semantics for Relevant logics should be interpreted as theories, i.e. sets of propositions or even sentences, as is done in the canonical model. This interpretation is not only abstract, it fails to satisfy some philosophical positions that meaning must arise through association of syntax with things ‘in the world’.

Edwin Mares’ recent text on Relevant logic (Mares 2004) offers an important additional feature to the philosophical study of Relevant logics. Mares has adapted the semantic theory of situations to provide an interpretation of the worlds of Relevant logics. A situation is something like a partial description of the world. Situations are generally incomplete—situations only extend so far into the actual world, and they may also be inconsistent because the situation describers may not have access to all the information they need or may be confused about the information they do have. The strength of situations over Routley-Meyer theories is that situations are metaphysical constructs that have been discussed independently of Relevant logic and have a separate philosophical pedigree.

Normative Ethics

Steven Curry & Maria Rodrigues

‘Normative ethics’ is that sub-set of philosophical ethics that seeks to ‘state and rationally defend [an ethic] in such a way that all rational men, after carefully reflecting on the considerations pro and con, would find it acceptable’ (Edwards 1967: 121). It can be distinguished from meta-ethics, for example, because it is not concerned with explaining what ethics ‘is’ but with how it is practiced. It is also to be distinguished from ‘applied ethics’, because it deals in the general principles that should guide action rather than with answering specific questions about how we are to live. Traditionally, analytic normative ethics has been dominated by deontology, consequentialism and virtue ethics, all of which have waxed and waned in importance. At the moment all three have a place in ethical debates, alongside other approaches, such as the ethics of care promoted principally in America by Carol Gilligan and Virginia Held.

Australian Contributions

Australian philosophers, including those born overseas but making their careers here, have made important contributions to debates of international significance, in particular in the debate between the supposedly incompatible theories of deontology and consequentialism.

Among the better-known deontologists, Alan Donagan and John Finnis advocated respect for human life as a fundamental rule that dictates a set of objective moral principles (Donagan 1977; Finnis 1980; Franklin 2003). In this they have been major exponents of a ‘natural law’ and ‘sanctity of life’ position common in deontology. Set very much against the argument with utilitarianism, the work of Raimond Gaita advances a broadly deontological program, but one which is less concerned with the establishment of rules than with the inculcation of a properly-calibrated moral sense. In arguing against a purely technical or abstract method in ethics he claimed that the advocates of a pure calculation of value ‘show no fear or even slight anxiety at the responsibility they have assumed … and [have] no sense of humility in the face of the traditions which they condescendingly dismiss’ (Gaita 1991: 326, as cited in Franklin 2003: 421).

Despite important contributions on the deontological side, Australians have been particularly prominent as consequentialists and especially utilitarians. This may in part be because of the influence of ‘Australian realism’ under the leadership of John Anderson, who while being a sceptic about moral value, certainly inculcated a generation of Australians with an empiricist, anti-Idealist ethos. H. J. McCloskey of the University of Melbourne rather controversially accepted the view that killing an innocent human being may be justifiable under certain circumstances, for example if it prevents the death of many more. He appears to have been the originator of an oft-cited thought experiment concerning a law enforcement official who executes an innocent black prisoner to prevent a racist lynch mob killing even more innocent people (McCloskey 1957). J. J. C. Smart advocated a hedonistic version of utilitarianism, defining ‘utility’ as ‘happiness’. In this version of utilitarianism, that reaches back to Bentham’s, people ought to choose the action that results in the greatest possible quantity of happiness in the world (Smart 1986; Franklin 2003). However, Australia’s best-known utilitarian, Peter Singer, defines ‘utility’ according to preference satisfaction, and argues that the most ethical action is the one that allows the greatest number of preferences to be satisfied (Singer 1979).

Australian philosophers have also made important contributions outside of the consequentialism-versus-deontology debate. J. L. Mackie argued for moral nihilism, rejecting normative ethical principles entirely (Mackie 1977). This sort of position belongs in a discussion of normative philosophy because it challenges the presumption behind the standard debates, that some kind of rational basis for moral decision-making must exist, even if we don’t know what it is.

It is slightly more difficult to determine whether the philosophy of Mackie’s notable teacher, John Anderson, would be included in the realm of normative ethics. On the one hand, Anderson believed that there was no way of arriving at objective moral judgements (Mackie 1962a; Franklin 2003). On the other hand, Mackie explains that Anderson also believed that ‘there is an ethical quality, goodness, which characterises certain human activities and social movements, but which is fully objective, natural, and non-prescriptive’ (Mackie 1962a: 273). ‘Goodness’, to Anderson, involved freedom and the ability to act with enterprise, and he particularly advocated thoughtful inquiry uninhibited by traditionalist constrictions such as religious doctrines and political coercion (Franklin 2003).

Anderson was a controversial figure who was censured in Parliament for his attacks on religion in schools, associated with the Communist Party, and later founded the Sydney University Free Thought Society, which in turn spawned the Libertarian Society, a major part of the Sydney Push that nurtured a wide range of thinkers, artists and academics including Germaine Greer, Clive James and Robert Hughes. Anderson also promoted an empirical approach to philosophy in a time when Idealism was the dominant approach, which had a distinctive effect on ethical thinking amongst his students.

Environmental Ethics

Perhaps the area in which Australian thought has most distinguished itself from the rest of the world has been the application of normative ethics to issues involving ecological sustainability. Reflecting on the ‘deeply and unselfconsciously anthropocentric’ views of Europeans such as Simone de Beauvoir, Freya Matthews writes:


Such a view could never … have emanated from Australia. Here in Australia, ‘nature’ is still bigger than ‘culture’, and on a subconscious level we Australians accordingly have no choice but to defer to it. (1999: 95)


She refers to the works of Australian Val Plumwood as tipping off an ‘international wave of radical ecophilosophy’ that began in the 1970s and continues strong today. Plumwood (1991, 1993, 2002) challenged normative paradigms that based ethical judgements on conventional conceptions of human rationality, which tend to create divisive dualisms such as ‘humanity’ and ‘nature’. She likewise rejected deep ecology movements that called for a merging of ‘self’ with ‘nature’, in favour of an ethic based on a relational account of self that admits both divisions and continuities between the human and natural worlds. John Passmore (1974) agreed that people ought to change their attitude towards the environment, but rejected claims that Western scientific rationalism would lead environmental ethics astray. H. J. McCloskey (1983) used the focus of environmental ethics to produce a normative philosophy that is ‘pluralist’ or ‘modal’, resolving normative questions by combining consequences with rights theory.


(Further reading: Anderson, J. 1943a; Goodin 1995; Singer 1976.)

Notre Dame (Australia), University of

Philip Matthews

The University of Notre Dame Australia (UNDA) was established in 1992 in the port city of Fremantle in Western Australia. Consistent with the liberal arts tradition in Catholic universities elsewhere, all undergraduate students are required to do core units in theology, philosophy and ethics as part of their degree program. The School of Philosophy and Theology is also responsible for providing service units to other schools. In the School of Law, philosophers teach critical thinking, legal ethics, and legal philosophy. In the School of Medicine, philosophers teach introductory units in philosophy and ethics. In the School of Business, philosophers teach ethics units required for the post-graduate courses. Commencing in 2008, UNDA now offers a (three-year) Bachelor of Philosophy course that requires sixteen philosophy units and eight electives. At present the school at Fremantle employs four full-time philosophers and a small army of tutors to provide support for the 1,000-plus students that take philosophy units at UNDA every year. As the Sydney campus continues to grow, no doubt the number of philosophers employed will also increase in order to meet the needs of the Sydney School of Philosophy and Theology and the other schools on the Sydney campus.

A Companion to Philosophy in Australia and New Zealand

   by Graham Oppy, N. N. Trakakis