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A Companion to Philosophy in Australia and New Zealand

Philosophy of Mathematics

A. P. Hazen

Australia is a small country, with roughly a tenth the population of anglophone North America, but it has consistently ‘punched above its weight’ in some areas of analytic philosophy, notably the philosophy of mind. Australian contributions to the philosophy of mathematics have not been as influential, but the historical reasons for this disparity are not clear. It is tempting to think that institutional factors, such as the deeper split between arts and science faculties in Australian universities as compared to American, has something to do with it, but such an explanation is unsatisfying for a number of reasons. The barriers between faculties would only prevent Australia from playing a prominent role in the philosophy of mathematics if it kept Australian philosophers ignorant of mathematics, and many leading Australian philosophers (including, as would be expected, some of the logicians, but not only logicians) have had extensive mathematical training. Again, if the impermeable barriers between faculties are supposed to have prevented Australian philosophers from making major contributions to the philosophy of mathematics, the rich Australian tradition of work in the philosophy and history of natural science becomes a mystery.

Perhaps a more relevant factor has been the dominance, in Australian academic philosophy, of empiricist and physicalist or naturalist approaches. Now, it may be that empiricism and physicalism are right, and that the best hope of philosophical progress lies in working from empiricist and physicalist premises: I certainly don’t wish to mount any general attack on them here. But mathematics is an embarrassment to empiricism and physicalism, an area of human intellectual life which is particularly difficult to accommodate in a generally empiricist or physicalist framework: after all, mathematical statements seem (at least on a naive and superficial analysis) to describe non-physical objects, and our grounds for accepting them are not (in any straightforward way) sensory! So perhaps it is only natural that Australian philosophers have, by and large, chosen other topics to concentrate on.

Let me adduce one anecdote in support of this explanation. A simple (perhaps simplistic) statement of Gödel’s (first) incompleteness theorem is: mathematical truth is not the same as proof from stated axioms. The laborious technical part of Gödel’s paper establishes that the notion of a provable sentence (or, if one is fussy, that of the Gödel number of a provable statement) is definable in arithmetic. The lesson of the semantic paradoxes (distilled, by Gödel’s trick for establishing self-reference, as Tarski’s theorem), on the other hand, is that a notion of true sentence of arithmetic, with logical features we would naively expect such a notion to have, is not so definable. So the two notions cannot be identified. In the 1980s I heard a talk by a well-known Australian philosopher of science (now retired) that made very heavy weather of this. It was as if his empiricist or physicalist faith that mathematical truth had to be something empirically recognisable like formal provability made it impossible for him to grasp the simple logical point!

This is not to say that there have been no Australian contributions to the philosophy of mathematics. A noteworthy early paper is Gasking (1940), reprinted in the classic anthology of Benacerraf and Putnam (1964). In it Gasking, a former student of Wittgenstein, attempts to defend a conventionalistic account of arithmetic laws: it would be possible to adopt a ‘deviant’ arithmetic and even, if we made compensating changes in, e.g. our habitual procedures for measuring things, use it successfully in application. Gasking’s paper was criticised by Castañeda (1959), also reprinted in Benacerraf and Putnam (1964): working out the compensating conventions that would allow successful application of deviant arithmetic is not as easy as it initially looked! Oral tradition records that Gasking came to recognise Castañeda’s criticisms as just. (Conventionalism is a recurrently tempting position for empiricists: it promises an explanation for mathematics with no appeal to non-empirical facts. Gasking’s version of Witttgensteinianism was very Australian in spirit.)

One very influential empiricist account of mathematics that avoids the conventionalist trap is that of W. V. Quine. Quine’s response to the philosophical puzzle presented by mathematics is to emphasise the systematicity of scientific knowledge. A statement gains its content by being part of an articulated body of theory, and a statement that describes non-empirical objects can be a part of a theory which, as a whole, is empirical. Mathematics, for Quine, is raised from the status of a jeu d’esprit to that of a science by (and only by) being an indispensable part of empirical science: acceptance of the existence of mathematical objects becomes an aspect of scientific realism, akin to the acceptance of the unobservable physical objects mentioned in atomic theory. It is not surprising, then, that there is a long tradition of Australian Quineanism. J. J. C. Smart, for example, was both a personal friend and a philosophical ally of Quine’s, and has for several decades, in print and in discussion, defended broadly Quinean positions on a variety of philosophical issues, including Quine’s conjecture that the part of set theory that really deserves to be thought of as part of science is represented by Zermelo set theory: it postulates the sets needed for the definition of numbers and other mathematical objects mentioned in physical theories (and a bit more, but is simple and coherent in its axiomatic structure in a way a system of more strictly limited ontological commitment wouldn’t be), but avoids the postulation of the seemingly useless larger infinite sets that can be proven to exist in Zermelo-Fraenkel set theory. This particular line between set theory as science and set theory as ‘recreational metamathematics’ is probably not one to which either Quine or Smart is strongly committed, but it neatly illustrates Quine’s general philosophical stance. It limits set-theoretic ontology to what gets mentioned in empirical theories (letting in other sets only if this simplifies the axiomatic theory). Most set theorists prefer the stronger, Zermelo-Fraenkel, axioms, and philosophers sympathetic to them allow purely mathematical considerations greater autonomy from empirical science in suggesting axioms.

Central to Quine’s philosophy of mathematics is what is called his indispensability argument: abstracting from the particular choice of axiomatic system, some part of set theory ought to be accepted as true and as part of science simply because mathematics forms an essential part of what are more generally empirical theories. In the 1980s this argument was criticised from several standpoints. Even when a physical theory mentions both atoms and numbers (would, that is, quantify over them if formalised), the roles played by the two sorts of empirically unobservable objects differ (numbers, for instance, aren’t seen as causing observable phenomena, or as being parts of macroscopic objects), weakening the analogy Quine draws between scientific and set-theoretic realism. Again, it was argued that the fact that something is the best available scientific theory in some domain is not always sufficient ground for believing in the existence of the objects it postulates: a number of scientists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries seem to have agreed that no better theory for explaining the gas laws was available than molecular theory while still wanting to deny the reality of molecules. The discussion on these points is international in scope, but one of the strongest defences of the Quinean viewpoint has been from an Australian: Mark Colyvan (see Colyvan 2001).

Quine’s student David Lewis, who visited Australia annually for the last two decades of his life and had many Australian friends, almost deserves to be deemed an ‘honorary Australian’ for his active participation in, and influence on, the philosophical life of the country. His major essay in the philosophy of mathematics is the monograph, Parts of Classes (1991); partly summarising it and somewhat extending its argument is Lewis (1993), which is reprinted in Lewis (1998). Most of the content of this monograph was first presented at Australasian Association of Philosophy conferences, and one of the co-authors of a technical appendix was a University of Melbourne philosopher who had heard these presentations and discussed them with Lewis. Standard systems of axiomatic set theory are formulated in first-order logic; higher order logics can be construed naturally as very weak subsystems of Zermelo set theory, too weak (if not supplemented by axioms of infinity) by themselves to serve as foundations for mathematics. Lewis argued that what was in effect a weak higher order logic (approximately equivalent to monadic third-order logic) could be understood and justified (by appeal to the mereological notions of part and fusion, and to a logic with irreducibly plural quantification) independently of general set theory. Working in this stronger logic, he was able to give an elegant re-axiomatisation of (a strong version of) standard set theory, using as his only properly set-theoretic primitive a special case of the set-theoretic membership relation: the relation of an object to its unit set. Since the higher order logic he endorsed allows the interpretation of quantification over relations, he was further able to ‘Ramsify’ this primitive, yielding a formulation with no set-theoretic primitives: the new axiomatisation says merely that there is some relation organising the objects in its field in the way the original one says membership organises sets. The Ramsey sentences formed from a series of successively stronger variants of standard set theory can be shown to be equivalent to sentences in the higher order logic making successively stronger claims about the size of reality (= total number of objects of any kind existing). The final vision of mathematics is reminiscent of the logicism of Whitehead and Russell: no specifically mathematical concepts need to be taken as primitive, since mathematical theories reduce to theories formulated in a purely logical (though not first-order) language, and the content of mathematics consists of (higher order) logical consequences of hypotheses analogous, in that they make claims about the population of the universe, to the Infinity Axiom of Principia Mathematica.

For all its consonance with Australian empiricism and physicalism, Quineanism is a northern hemisphere school in origin. A more native tradition stems from the work of David M. Armstrong, and particularly from his efforts to develop a theory of universals. Many philosophers have thought of the theory of universals as a field for a priori theorising, and as closely related to semantics: properties are postulated as items designated by predicates. Armstrong, in contrast, wants to make the question of what universals there are a matter for empirical science (broadly conceived) to decide, and his program for a sparse theory of universals—one postulating no more universals than needed—explicitly rejects the link with the semantics of predicates: one can define a complex predicate as the disjunction of two simple ones, but Armstrong and his followers deny that the disjunction of two properties corresponds, in general, to a genuine property. In seeking to ground the ontology of abstract universals in empirical science, and in its concern for ontological economy, Armstrong’s approach parallels Quine’s, even though the details of the resulting theories are very different. Perhaps the best worked out application of Armstrongian ideas to philosophical concerns about mathematics is in John Bigelow’s The Reality of Numbers (1988). Numbers and other fundamental mathematical objects are construed as universals, and it is argued that these universals should be thought of as physical entities since the particulars instantiating them (or related by them, since the universals in question are sometimes relational) are physical objects. This argument for the physicalistic acceptability of mathematical universals iterates: ratios and real numbers are construed as relations between relations (harking back to parts of Frege’s work and of Principia Mathematica not often read by modern students), but a higher-order relation is physical if the relations it relates are physical.

It is, I think, worth comparing this argument to one which might be given on behalf of standard set-theoretic Platonism. Assume a version of standard set theory that allows for urelements, and stipulate that the urelements are some sort of physical things: atoms, perhaps, or subatomic particles. It is trivial to reformulate the system so it no longer postulates the existence of the null set (or other ‘pure’ sets), and with minor changes the standard textbook development of mathematics within set theory can be retained. A set theoretic Platonist, therefore, might try to argue that the ontology of the resulting system was physicalistic, on the grounds that a set should be considered physical if its members are, so that the sets postulated all inherit the physicality of their ultimate grounding particles. I think this argument would be treated as a joke! Bigelow’s version, assuming an Armstrongian conception of universals, seems more compelling: the distinction is hard to formulate precisely, but it seems more intuitive to say that the nature of a physical object is constituted by the universals it instantiates than by the sets to which it belongs, and so more plausible to claim that a universal with physical instances is physical than that a set with physical members is.

Bigelow’s analysis in terms of (Armstrongian) universals is an attempt to answer one of the deep, recurring philosophical puzzles about mathematics: in what sense can mathematics be true, be about the real world, given that the objects mathematical theories are about don’t seem to be found in the physical or empirically given world? Something analogous to Bigelow’s proposed solution can be seen in earlier logicism: sets are not postulated in Principia Mathematica, but set-theoretic notation is explained as a system of ‘incomplete symbols’, defined ultimately in terms of quantification over properties. How successful this kind of program will be in providing a physicalist philosophy of mathematics depends, of course, on the theory of properties needed to carry it out. Bigelow’s discussion of a number of elementary case studies is quite convincing. (One of the delights in reading his book is his loving description of a variety of constructions in geometry and elementary algebra.) Extending the story further may, however, be problematic. In Principia Mathematica much of advanced mathematics depends on the Axiom of Reducibility (giving the effect of postulating sets that cannot be defined predicatively) and the Multiplicative Axiom (a form of set theory’s notorious Axiom of Choice). The prospects of defending these assumptions on the basis of an Armstrongian ‘sparse’ theory of universals seem dim. (Allen Hazen, along with a number of logicians outside Australia, has investigated the mathematical strength of Principia Mathematica without the mentioned axioms, with mixed results. Grade-school arithmetic can be obtained, along with limited forms of mathematical induction, but even full first-order Peano arithmetic, asserting the principle of mathematical induction for conditions containing quantification over numbers, cannot. Cf. Burgess and Hazen 1998.)

Logic in the twentieth century has been closely associated with the philosophy of mathematics: not surprisingly, given that modern formal logic was developed by Frege and others specifically in order to allow the precise formulation of foundational systems for mathematics, and the metatheory of formal logic was developed by Hilbert’s school, Gödel and others largely with the aim of investigating mathematical axiom systems. It is surprising, therefore, that Australia’s flourishing tradition of logical research has had so little connection with the philosophy of mathematics. This can, perhaps, be explained historically. The modern logical tradition in Australia dates only from the 1960s, a period in which activity in the philosophy of mathematics was at a temporary ebb. (Subjects titled ‘Logic’ taught in Australian philosophy departments before that tended to be informal, or to cover a wide range of epistemological topics, with only minimal mention of modern symbolic logic.) In addition to this general, environmental, condition, there was a more specific ‘founder effect’ (to borrow a term from population genetics): the most creative researchers (and inspiring role models) as Australian logic was getting underway—notably Richard Routley (later known as Richard Sylvan) and Robert K. Meyer, who were the dominant figures in the Logic Group in the Research Schools of the Australian National University—were primarily interested in topics in logic that were not closely connected to research in the foundations of mathematics. Much, though not all, of their work, and that of their postgraduate students, was in the area of Relevance/Relevant logics: systems of formal logic which were designed to avoid the so-called paradoxes of material implication, but which were not initially employed in the formalisation of mathematics. (It can be argued that work in this field represents a return to an older tradition of logical research, one temporarily eclipsed by the enthusiasm of Frege and others for mathematical foundations: theories of implication were central topics of research and debate among the ancient Stoic logicians!)

Connections were, however, ultimately made between Relevant logic and mathematical foundations. Meyer, for example, investigated a series of axiomatic systems for arithmetic based on Relevant logic, and discovered that their metamathematical properties were strikingly different from those of systems based on classical logic: contrary to what one would expect from Gödel’s second incompleteness theorem, for example, the consistency of Relevant arithmetic (in the sense of the unprovability within it of 0=1) has an almost trivially easy finitistic proof! For several years in the 1970s and 1980s there seemed to be hope that these results would lead to new avenues of attack on open questions in classical mathematics, but much of this excitement has since died down: Relevant and classical Peano arithmetic are different enough that unprovability results about the first do not automatically carry over to the second. There is a brief, not overly technical, account of this work in section 72 of Anderson, Belnap and Dunn (1992).

Work in Relevant logic has inspired a largely Australian-based project in the foundations of set theory. A characteristic feature of these logics is that the principle ex falso quodlibet—that from A and ~A an arbitrary B may be inferred—fails in them. As a result, an inconsistent theory based on one of these logics is not necessarily trivial in the way an inconsistent theory formulated in classical or intuitionistic logic is. (Trivial can be given a precise technical meaning in this context: a theory is trivial just in case every sentence of its language is provable in the theory.) Quite early in the history of work on Relevance logics this led to the dream that an interesting (or at any rate nontrivial) set theory based on the inconsistent naive comprehension axiom could be developed on the basis of one of these logics. This turned out not to be a simple exercise. There is a variant of Russell’s Paradox (known as Curry’s Paradox) that does not involve negation, and as Routley, Meyer and Dunn (1979) showed, it suffices to render trivial any set theory based on naive comprehension in the standard Relevant logics. This trivialisation depended, not on ex falso, but on the principle of contraction,


(P → (→Q)) → (P→Q),


which was provable in the Relevance logics most studied at the time (in particular the standard systems E and R). Turning, then, to ‘naive’ set theories based on weaker logics without contraction (or similar principles), a number of positive results have been obtained, most notably by Ross Brady. Brady’s first paper in this area (Brady 1971) is perhaps best thought of as showing that the quest for a non-trivial naive set theory isn’t completely hopeless: as Solomon Feferman pointed out in a review comparing Brady’s work with similar results obtained by many non-Australian logicians, no operator in the three-valued logic has the logical properties one expects in an implication connective, with the result that ‘nothing like sustained ordinary reasoning can be carried out’ in it (Feferman 1984). Brady has since gone on to explore a variety of Relevant logics without contraction (but containing implication connectives well-enough behaved to look useful), and by the early 1980s had proved the consistency of naive set theory formulated in one: details and discussion may be found in his book Universal Logic (2006).

Philosophical arguments commending the virtues of set theory based on the naive comprehension principle saved from triviality by a non-classical logic have long been prominent on the Australian philosophical scene: cf. Priest (1983). Comparatively few set theorists and philosophers of set theory in the rest of the world have been converted. The formal development necessary to show that a mathematically interesting set theory is genuinely forthcoming on the new basis has been very slow: proof even of elementary results while reasoning within the limits of a restricted logic is hard! (The strongest results so far are in the 2008 Melbourne Ph.D. thesis of Priest’s student Zach Weber, who—somewhat alarmingly—made use at some points of a logic somewhat stronger than that proven safe by Brady.) Although Brady has argued that his chosen logic has an independent motivation (showing that the meaning of the conclusion is in a precise sense contained in that of the premise in an implication it deems valid), many logicians and set theorists would probably see it as an ad hoc response to the paradoxes. On the other side, defenders of naive set theory claim that the axiomatic restrictions placed on logically classical set theory in an effort to avoid the paradoxes—Russell’s theory of types, or its liberalised version, the iterative conception of set implicit in Zermelo’s set theory—are equally ad hoc attempts to escape paradox. There is a clash of intuitions here. The classical logician and set theorist can point to the intuitive semantic naturalness of classical logic, but their opponents can hope that with additional experience (so far only a tiny minority of the world’s logicians have worked with logics like Brady’s) their logic will come to seem more natural: intuitions can and must be schooled. The classicist can insist that the iterative conception of set is not ad hoc, that it provides assurance that work in classical set theory is an exploration of a structure that is independent of the linguistic particulars of their axiom systems, but the friends of naive set theory can remain sceptical.

The interrelationships of paradox, contradiction and logic are complex. The project of developing set theory on the basis of naive comprehension and a weakened logic is historically associated with Graham Priest’s thesis of dialetheism, the view (itself largely motivated by reflection on the paradoxes) that there are true contradictions. This connection is not necessary, however: Brady has shown that naive set theory in his favoured logic is negation-consistent: it has no theorem whose negation is also a theorem. (By a similar proof, however, he has also shown that naive set theory in a slightly stronger logic is, though negation-inconsistent, non-trivial.) Again, the main effort of fans of naive comprehension in the Relevance logic tradition has been to find a logic weak enough that comprehension is safe in it, but there is a bit of evidence suggesting that no logic can support a naive set theory. Set theories have traditionally had, in addition to comprehension or some other set existence principle(s), an axiom of extensionality: if every member of a set x is also a member of a set y and vice versa, then x and y are identical: x = y. (Property or attribute theories formalised in modal logics often have a weaker but analogous intensionality principle by which necessarily equivalent formulas, if they express properties at all, express the same property.) Greg Restall (2010) has recently discovered a variant of Curry’s Paradox containing no logical connectives which seems to threaten most naive set or property theories containing extensionality or intensionality principles with triviality.

One can, of course, believe that there is a role for logics without ex falso quodlibet in mathematics, without committing oneself to a foundational system of set theory based on such a logic. Mortensen (1995) presents a number of plausible grounds for adopting such a position. A computer used as part of an automatic control system, for example, calculates an appropriate response to conditions reported to it by sensing devices; the algorithm embodied in its program for doing this can be thought of as representing deduction in some mathematical theory. It is practically important for control systems to be fault tolerant: we do not want one defective sensor (one, perhaps, of many) to ‘delude’ the computer so as to cause catastrophic failure of the whole system. It is, however, easy to imagine sensors providing inconsistent data to the computer, and so, perhaps, control computers should be programmed with algorithms representing deductions in a logic in which contradictions don’t imply arbitrary conclusions. It seems a pity that Mortensen’s book hasn’t attracted more attention: its examples might do more than manifestoes about naive set theory to convince the mathematical community of the value of Relevance logics.

As the title of Priest’s 1983 paper cited above suggests, the naive set theory program is most at home with a general anti-realist stance in the philosophy of mathematics: put bluntly, if reasoning by classical logic can lead from axiomatic premises to contradictory conclusions, then the axioms must not be true descriptions of objects that exist in any straightforward ordinary sense. Priest has made his anti-realism abundantly clear: one particularly strongly worded statement is in section 10.4 of Priest (2006), where he characterises the mathematical realism of, e.g. Gödel as mystification in the Marxist sense of the term. Realism and anti-realism, however, come in many varieties, so we should try to be more specific. Realism about perceived material objects, or about the postulated micro-particles of physical theories, sees the objects as outranking our beliefs about them: our beliefs don’t determine what the objects are like, but rather our beliefs are justified—to the extent that they are—by events of perception which are termini of causal processes starting with the objects. (The water molecules jiggle the dust-motes, their jiggling causes variations in the light reflected from them, these variations lead to chemical processes in the retina of the eye looking into the microscope … and that is why we are right to believe that the molecules exist. Roughly.) On the account of set theory described above, things are the other way around. Sets are not thought of as objects that can in any way influence our beliefs about them, but rather their nature is determined by certain beliefs—the comprehension and extensionality axioms, which, in Priest’s words, ‘characterise our intuitive notion of set’. Sets—to which Priest denies ‘existence’—have something like the status of fictional characters: their properties are what the story says they are (or at least what statements somehow inferred from the story say they are). If the story turns out to be inconsistent, then the characters just have inconsistent properties: Priest’s view is that the Russell set both is and is not a member of itself. At a high level of abstraction, then, Priest’s philosophy of mathematics attempts to explain away traditional puzzles about mathematical objects by assimilating them to a broader category of nonexistent items.

Starting in the 1970s a number of logically-trained philosophers, including Routley and, following him, Priest in Australia, but also Terence Parsons and Edward Zalta in the U.S., have revived Meinong’s idea of a domain of nonexistent objects, giving it a more rigorous formulation than Meinong did in order to defend it from Russell’s (plausible, given Meinong’s less than formal presentation) charge of logical incoherence. Neo-Meinongianism does not necessarily require a non-classical logic: the American writers have generally kept to classical logic, allowing for objects with contradictory properties by a general stipulation that the properties a Meinongian object has (in the relevant sense of ‘have’: the theories differ in their details) need not be closed under logical consequence. Having a contradiction-tolerating logic handy, however, gives a Neo-Meinongian theorist additional flexibility. Routley presented a version of Neo-Meinongianism in his mammoth Exploring Meinong’s Jungle and Beyond; Priest develops such a theory in Towards Non-Being.

To a philosopher raised in a Quinean tradition, however, Meinongianism can seem to have a basic incoherence that no adjustments to the logic or other provisions within the theory can eliminate. Never mind what Shakespeare said about Hamlet or what the naive set theorist said about the Russell set: the Meinongian theorist, analyzing their discourses as referring to nonexistent Danes or sets, has to talk about nonexistent objects, and will use quantificational constructions in doing so. But, the Quinean will think, ‘to be is to be the value of a bound variable’: how can the Meinongian quantify over these objects and still say they don’t exist? ‘Some things don’t exist,’ the Meinongian says, but to the Quinean the ‘don’t exist’ simply contradicts the ontological commitment undertaken with the quantificational ‘some’. Routley and Priest have attempted to pre-empt the objection by saying that their quantifiers are not to be understood as ontologically committal (and, to emphasise the point, called the dual of their universal quantifier particular rather than existential). It is not clear how successful this response to the Quinean’s objection is (wouldn’t it be too easy to avoid unpleasant commitments if all you had to do was to say that the—ordinarily committal—things you say are intended in an ontologically neutral sense?), but it also not clear that any such response is needed. David Lewis, having distinguished in the context of his own metaphysics between a narrow sense of ‘exist’ (in which talking donkey’s don’t exist) and a totally unrestricted sense (in which they do: just not in our possible world), argued that Routley’s denial that the Meinongian ‘items’ he quantifies over exist and Lewis’s own affirmation that sets and unactualised possibilia do exist (but are abstract or otherworldly) differ only verbally (see Lewis 1990a). There are certainly what seem to be substantive differences between Routley’s and Lewis’s philosophies—Lewis, who followed Quine in thinking classical logic canonical, did not countenance objects, even in non-actual worlds, with contradictory properties—so a change in vocabulary would not be enough to eliminate the disagreements between them, but once it is made clear that Lewis’s preferred sense of ‘exist’ does not imply any sort of physical or empirical or causal or spatio-temporal reality, it is not clear why Meinongians should be concerned to deny that all of their items exist in this sense. Perhaps we can characterise Lewis’ (and Quine’s) general sense of ‘exist’ by saying that an existent is something it would be a lacuna, in a supposedly complete philosophy, to leave unmentioned. Routley and Priest think the analysis of intensionality is a serious philosophical task, and that a theory of Meinongian objects (or ‘items’—Routley preferred the latter term as less suggestive of ontological commitment) is the right way to give such an analysis, so they are committed to the existence of such objects in this (perhaps unnaturally attenuated) sense.

Returning to the vague statement two paragraphs back, we can now say that Priest gives an account of the ontology of mathematics on which mathematical objects have exactly the same status as fictional characters: mathematical theories are about objects, but they are Meinongian objects. Such a view can obviously accommodate the sets of naive set theory, but it is more inclusive than that. There are different fictions, and a Meinongian will say that Sherlock Holmes and Oliver Twist, say, are both (nonexistent) Londoners, though (since they get their properties from different stories) perhaps not related to each other in the ways two existent Londoners might be. A Meinongian view of mathematical objects is similar: some items are the sets of naive set theory, others are the sets of Zermelo-Fraenkel set theory, others again the sets of Quine’s New Foundations. Perhaps the greatest weakness of the position (and of similar accounts of mathematical objects developed in recent years by philosophers outside Australia) is the reverse side of its greatest strength. Meinongianism is catholic, providing objects for all mathematical theories to be about, but by the same token it is uncritical: it provides no standpoint from which to evaluate the theories, no grounds for preferring one system of axioms to another. Mathematicians in fact have strong preferences among systems: these preferences might, of course, be mere fashions and historical accidents, but if they are not, one could hope for a philosophy of mathematics that had more to say about the grounds for them than Meinongianism does.

Finally, a surprising absence. One of the major traditions in the philosophy of mathematics in the twentieth century was that of Brouwer’s intuitionism (and related forms of constructivism). My personal impression is that the philosophy of mathematics was not a very active field in the 1960s and early 1970s, and that its revival since was stimulated by Michael Dummett’s writings on intuitionism and related topics. A number of Australian logicians have done technical work on intuitionistic logic, but intuitionism or constructivism as philosophies of mathematics have not been much discussed in Australia. This is particularly surprising since a number of Australian philosophers (notably Barry Taylor and Karen Green) have been strongly influenced by Dummett. Their interest, however, has been more in Dummett’s general ideas, including his efforts to apply concepts originally inspired by intuitionistic ideas to the semantics of non-mathematical language, than in mathematical intuitionism itself.

Philosophy of Mind (Analytic)

Steve Matthews

What explains the nature of our conscious minds, and what is the relation between minds and the physical world? These questions are prompted by the sense that what goes on in minds and what goes on in nature are irreconcilably different. Yet, science tells us that the universe is causally closed, and governed by a single set of laws, and minds and physical bodies seem subject to these laws; they interact, and the neurosciences do not discover anomalies in the physical laws governing brain processes. The history of the central debate in the philosophy of mind is the attempt to reconcile a seemingly impossible difference between the mental and the physical. The contribution to this debate through philosophical work done in Australasia, and by Australasian philosophers, has been striking, to say the least. It has been striking for its influence, its originality, and its variety, especially given its ‘per capita’ philosophical resources.

One well known strand of thought, dubbed Australian materialism, properly begins in the mid 1950s with U. T. Place and J. J. C. Smart. It continues to resonate today. The last forty years have been equally famous for the influence of a non-materialist suite of positions characterised early on by the epiphenomenalism of Keith Campbell and (the early) Frank Jackson, and more recently by David Chalmers’ denial that materialist theories really address what’s at the core of the problem of the nature of human minds.

The work of Place, Smart and Armstrong emerges from the realist and empiricist stirrings in Australasian philosophy in the early part of the twentieth century. Samuel Alexander was an Australian philosopher who, after studying at the University of Melbourne in 1875, moved to Britain, taking up a scholarship at Oxford. His career culminated in the publication of Space, Time and Deity in 1920, earlier presented as the Gifford Lectures in Glasgow. It was a work of speculative metaphysics, yet, set against the predominantly Idealist trend at the time it was, he thought, part of a widely spread movement towards realism in philosophy. Alexander represented an early antecedent of realist and materialist thinking in Australia, and almost certainly came to influence Sydney’s John Anderson, who had attended the Gifford Lectures and made transcriptions of them. Clearly, Anderson had internalised some of this material, later giving lectures on Alexander. Anderson’s realism was so thoroughgoing that Ralph Blake (1928: 623), commenting on a paper by Anderson, said he was ‘determined to be a realist until it hurts’. This certainly had a bearing on Armstrong’s approach, as did Anderson’s advice to ‘have a position’. Of Anderson’s influence in regard to questions of the mind, Armstrong notes that ‘[m]ental pluralism … the struggle of different desires and tendencies in the one mind, has remained permanently with me’ (Jobling and Runcie 2001: 324).

In 1950, J. J. C. Smart, a student of Ryle’s in Oxford, took up the chair in philosophy at the University of Adelaide. He appointed U. T. Place and C. B. Martin; the former also had come under the influence of Ryle, but was unsatisfied with Ryle’s scepticism about the inner causes of our mental life. Martin’s influence cannot be underestimated here. For Martin is credited with the truthmaker principle: a statement requires the existence of some fact, event, or property in order that it should be true. This clearly sits ill with Rylean behaviourist analyses of mental concepts, for statements explaining mental goings-on in physical terms are conceptually ruled out—that would be a ‘category mistake’ according to Ryle—and so such statements, it turns out, are really just ways of speaking about dispositions to behave or patterns of behaviour. The Adelaide philosophers wanted a theory that de-bunked the Cartesian myth; they wanted a theory that was scientifically respectable; and they wanted a theory that, contra Ryle, acknowledged the reality of inner causes. Place was the first one out of the blocks. In 1954 he published ‘The Concept of Heed’, which was a refutation of the dispositional account. The final sentences of the article included the following, for-the-time, fabulously tantalising and veiled promissory note. It read:


‘What are these curious occurrences within ourselves on which we can give a running commentary as they occur?’ Lack of space precludes any discussion of this fascinating problem here. It is my belief, however, that the logical objections to the statement ‘consciousness is a process in the brain’ are no greater than the logical objections which might be raised to the statement ‘lightning is a motion of electrical charges’.


Place then published, in 1956, ‘Is Consciousness a Brain Process?’ The view put forward there, as with the 1954 article, accepted some Rylean analyses of cognitive and conative states, but the great advance was the suggestion that notions like consciousness, experience, sensation and mental imagery had to involve internal processes. The sticking point was finding a way of explaining the identification of something like a mental image with a neural state that did not sound instantly absurd. Cartesians in particular, wedded to the idea that such mental items as these are always fully transparent, could hardly take on board the identification. Am I aware of a brain process when aware of a mental image? Place thought that this assumption would constitute what he called a phenomenological fallacy.

J. J. C. Smart, in ‘Sensations and Brain Processes’ (1959b), carrying further this line of thought, said we needed a distinction between what we mean by statements involving, e.g. reports of sensations, and the facts lying behind such identities. Here we encounter the famous and controversial idea of contingent identity statements. The strategy was to point to other examples of natural identities, as Place had intimated in 1954. The task was then to offer a positive account of how the identities could be explained. Smart famously interpreted the seeing of a certain orange after-image as ‘something going on which is like what is going on when I have my eyes open, am awake, and there is an orange illuminated in good light in front of me’ (1959b: 149). A feature of this analysis, important for what lay ahead as Central State Materialism, is the topic neutrality given by the description. What is going on is neural activity; but what might have been going on was some other kind of activity, or causal pattern, associated with the same mental phenomena; or so it is argued by causal theorists of the mind.

Smart had argued for the view that, as a matter of contingent fact, sensations were strictly identical to brain processes, and in the acknowledgements to A Materialist Theory of the Mind Armstrong cites Smart as the person who converted him to this view. He goes on: ‘for the most part I conceive myself only to be filling out a step in the argument to which [Smart and Place] devoted little attention: the account of the concept of mind’ (p. xi). This modesty, however, disguises what in Armstrong was a more ambitious program. Although both Smart and Armstrong were keen in their philosophical analysis on topic-neutral specifications of what was to play the empirical role in that analysis, Armstrong diverged in two ways from his predecessor. First, he wanted to move away from Rylean behaviourism which featured in the analysis, at least in limited form. Second, he wanted a more general account of mental states, not one focussed on a subset of the mental such as sensations.

Armstrong thanks C. B. Martin for making him aware of the importance of the role of causality in the characterisation of mental concepts. At this point in the history of the philosophy of mind a shift was taking place away from dualistic ontologies, and simultaneously away from behaviourist accounts of the analysis of mental terms. 1959 was an important year, for it spawned two important works. One was Smart’s account of sensations as brain processes. The other was Chomsky’s famous review of B. F. Skinner’s Verbal Behaviour, in which he attacked scientific behaviourism. The move ‘inside the head’, ironically, was now going to make understanding the nature of mind simultaneously more and less comfortable for the dualist. More, since analyses of mental concepts could now eschew the restrictions of behaviourism; less, since identifying the mental with physical brain states squeezes the ghost out of the machine.

Armstrong took his brief, then, to be an analysis of mental concepts in which it was assumed that mental states were identical with brain states; hence the name Central State Materialism. Armstrong’s main argument has two steps. First, he offers a ‘logical or conceptual analysis of the mental concepts’, as he likes to put it. This is a causal analysis to the effect that mental states are states apt for producing a range of behaviour and states apt for being the outcome of a range of stimuli. Second, the question arises as to what in fact plays the causal roles assigned within this functional analysis, and that is a matter of empirical discovery. Armstrong’s view, then, can be taken as an early expression of what is sometimes called multiple realisability. (David Lewis had almost simultaneously (1966) arrived at the same conclusion.) For as a philosophical treatment of the mind-body problem it retains elements of the topic-neutrality evident in Place and Smart, since, in theory, causal realisers besides brain states would also be apt to play the mental functional roles.

Armstrong qualified various aspects of his view. He emphasised the contingency built into the account: physical descriptors of mental states are non-rigid designators of those states. This led him away from a type-type identity theory to a view in which mental types are correlated with a disjunction of physical types. The view thereby avoids what is regarded as an implausible humanistic chauvinism. He softened the philosophical account by downgrading its a priori status, preferring it perhaps as a ‘theory of the mental’ rather than a set of conceptual truths. Also, he made clear his theoretical priorities, claiming in 1992 that were he ever to have doubts about his materialism he would then be drawn, reluctantly, to dualism, as opposed to eliminativism. The existence of pains, beliefs, etc., he thought too much a part of bedrock, Moorean commonsense.

Epiphenomenalism is a kind of dualism, but one which tries to accommodate the dualist intuitions while retaining a largely scientific view of a causally closed universe. It denies that aspects of consciousness are causally efficacious. My feeling itchy does not cause me to scratch; rather, my scratching and the feeling are distinct outcomes of a single physical cause, presumably some neural event. The trouble is: it sure doesn’t seem like the itchiness is causally impotent; it looks like the clearly obvious candidate for the cause of my scratching. Keith Campbell, writing in 1970, recognised the problem, distinguishing between mental states and mental properties. The mind-brain events implicated in the causal nexus between the mosquito’s biting me and my scratching remain, just as the best scientific accounts would have them. However, riding above the fray is a certain quality given off at the neural stage—the quality of its feeling itchy. Campbell’s new epiphenomenalism required the efficacy of mental states, and so the state of pain (a brain state) had a causal role. One could take what one wanted from the Central State Materialism of Armstrong, and add in phenomenal properties. Campbell appears to get the best of both the scientific and dualistic worlds. Pain states cause and are caused; pain qualities cause nothing but are caused. We seem to have a nice reconciliation between science and intuition.

As Campbell still acknowledges, his choice to go epiphenomenal was in a sense forced upon him, for on the one hand a commitment to a causally complete physics seems unavoidable, while on the other, the attempted reductions of sensations and emotions were unconvincing. This time there just isn’t enough room for safe passage between Scylla and Charybdis. But the forced alternative path is epiphenomenalism, ‘with all its problems’, as Campbell still recognises. Woodhouse (1974: 166) writing at the time noted: ‘… to insist that pains are causally efficacious generates the appearance of an advantage only if the same sense of “pain” is at issue [as state and as quality]’. If so, contradiction looms, since our evidence of pains points to a single phenomenon, not split phenomena in which one aspect occupies the physical universe, the other does not. How, for example, are pains with the second aspect known, and how are judgements regarding their quality made and reported?

In 1982 Frank Jackson published ‘Epiphenomenal Qualia’. His central argument is that the existence of qualia—the qualitative aspects of certain experiences—remains as items that a complete physical science cannot capture. No amount of physical information furnishes an individual with complete information about the mind. In Jackson’s words,


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


This position was motivated by what has become one of the most well known arguments in analytic philosophy of mind in the twentieth century, the so-called Knowledge Argument. Jackson’s central rhetorical devices are the characters Fred and Mary. Fred experiences a colour the rest of us do not; yet no amount of physical information can give us his experience. Mary sits in a black and white room and comes to know all the physical information there is to know explaining the human experience of seeing red; yet only upon leaving the room and experiencing for herself the quality of a red tomato does she complete her knowledge of seeing red.

Jackson’s argument has been influential and persuasive, and has formed part of a suite of arguments resisting physicalist positions by appeal to phenomenological irreducibility. The paper contains a focus on the incompleteness of physicalism given such irreducibility vis-à-vis qualia. Yet Jackson, like Campbell, was acutely aware of the need to defend the epiphenomenalism built into the position, arguing that certain properties of mental states, the qualia themselves, and only the qualia, are caused but inefficacious.

Jackson is no longer persuaded by the view set out in 1982, abandoning the position in 1998. In a recent article he wrote:


Although I once dissented from the majority [by going against science] I have capitulated and now see the interesting issue as being where the arguments from the intuitions against physicalism … go wrong. (2003: 251)


Jackson now thinks there is a ‘pervasive illusion’ involved in thinking about what it is like to have a colour experience. He now argues that once we have a full understanding of a representational state’s content—such as the state Mary finds herself in after her release from the black and white room—‘we get the phenomenology for free’ (2003: 265). Mary’s problem is to confuse ‘seeing red’, an intensional property, with an instantiated property, regarding the former as absent from the inventory of physical properties that fully characterise the world. But this is an illusion. Mary does not learn any new proposition about how things are; rather, by representing to herself the state of seeing red she acquires a procedure for the recognition, memory, or imagination of that very state. Thus, Jackson now accepts a well known response to the knowledge argument based on the distinction between knowledge-that and knowledge-how, but it is accepted via the more complicated route of representationalism.

David Chalmers (1996) proposed a challenge to those offering physical or functional explanations of consciousness, or conscious experience. He claimed that virtually all attempts to explain consciousness failed because they were aimed at a different problem, the problem of awareness, which included such notions as discrimination, integration of cognitive information, reportability of mental states, and so on. A typical paper on consciousness might imply it was tackling the very difficult issue of how experience seems to the subject, but turn out to supply a mechanism constituting a function related to, e.g. reports of the self-concept. The problem he thinks is there has been a consistent error resulting in a gap between the explanadum—conscious experience—and the explanans.

Chalmers is not impressed by those who deny there is a problem of consciousness, and he suggests those who think our minds too limited to understand a solution to the problem have given up too soon. Chalmers’ naturalistic dualism is motivated by the thought that we are not facing up to what is centrally puzzling about conscious experience. Using three strategies—arguments from conceivability, epistemology, and analysis—the case is made against reducibility. A well known centrepiece of the strategy is the thought that a physically identical world to ours might have contained my zombie twin, someone bereft of phenomenal feel.

Is Chalmers’ dualistic stance a rejection of the sciences of the mind? Not for a second; his point is simply that the current resources of science are ill-equipped to account for conscious experience.

The Australasian contribution to the world debate in the philosophy of mind really cannot be overstated. Open almost any reputable collection in the field and it will contain articles from the authors discussed here. Of course, these contributions arise also from institutional support, a rich intellectual tradition, and many philosophers whose names are far too numerous to list here. I originally thought I might finish this entry with such a list, but the impractical nature of that idea quickly became obvious after assembling over thirty names. That in itself says something about philosophy’s strength in Australasia on questions about the nature of mind.


(My thanks to David Armstrong, Stuart Brock, Keith Campbell, David Chalmers, Steve Clarke, and Charles Pigden.)

Philosophy of Mind (Continental)

Max Deutscher

Introductory Historical Remarks

There is now in Australia a strongly established use of ‘Continental’ or ‘recent European’ philosophy at work within the area that analytical philosophy calls ‘theory of mind’. From about the later 1960s there has been a revival of interest in the recent tradition in Europe that is defined roughly as Husserlian and post-Husserlian. This article will concern primarily the issues about a subject (whether transcendental or bodily), experience (whether ‘intentional’ or not), consciousness (whether a key concept or not), and being (whether a metaphysical cast-off, or a point of reference for thought and experience).

Speaking of the scene post World War Two, one can observe three more or less distinct groups. Some of the Australian philosophers concerned with ‘recent’ Continental philosophy were immigrants who had their intellectual origins in Europe. Others chose to go to a European university for their doctoral work. Still others were already established in the philosophy of mind that is now called ‘analytical’. For a couple of decades after the War, the almost automatic choice for postgraduate study was a British university, typically Oxford. In consequence, those with that background found it a difficult experience to read, for professional purposes, the work of Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, or Merleau-Ponty. It was both a help and a hindrance to be imbued with techniques of reading and of thought developed in dealing with Wittgenstein, Ryle and the other ‘conceptual analysts’.

Concurrently with this revival of interest, closer connections were being made between analytical philosophy in Australia and the U.S. It was many years, however, before there was a full recognition of the contemporary resources of European-oriented philosophy in English available from the U.S.—and from some countries of Europe itself. The extent of these resources became evident as teaching courses became established and library searches revealed to those of us who were newcomers to the ‘European’ scene what we had to take account of as already achieved. And yet this greater contact with the U.S. by both analytical and European-based philosophers did nothing to improve relations between ‘analytical’ and ‘European’ philosophy in Australia. With rare exceptions, a situation of incomprehension at best and at worst a scene of outright antagonism persisted until very late in the twentieth century.

Philosophical change and progress does not wait upon any resolution of such antagonisms, of course. There was such a delay in the reception of European philosophy within analytical circles that phenomenology was being supplanted by new developments even as it began to bear fruit in its new country. This became evident with the arrival of translations of acerbic feminist critiques within France of Sartre (and of Beauvoir)—signs of how philosophy had progressed in European countries such as France and Italy. And then there was the intense interest—particularly in departments outside philosophy ‘proper’—in the work of Foucault, then Derrida, Deleuze, Le Dœuff and Irigaray (to cite a few illustrious names). So it has become part of the tradition of ‘European’ philosophy of mind to come to terms with the work of such figures, too, though they would not style themselves as philosophers of ‘mind’. To choose just one (in)famous example: Jacques Derrida takes himself to be ‘erasing’ and ‘writing over’ that very area of concerns that used to be called ‘mind’ (‘esprit’, ‘Geist’). Like an eliminative materialist in the analytical tradition, he attempts to replace notions of a ‘mind’ and of ‘consciousness’, not with equivalents, but with other figures that do the necessary conceptual work. So we find his well-known tropes of the ‘trace’ and of ‘différance’ as a fused act of differing and deferring, and of ‘repetition’. Such philosophy engages in a ‘deconstruction’ of concepts rather than a search for the ‘necessary and sufficient conditions’ that is typical of the ‘analytical’ ambition.

Some Main Issues of ‘Mind’ in the ‘Continental’ Style

The proceedings of the Australian Association for Phenomenology and Social Sciences, formed in 1976, exemplify the themes and controversies typical of the Australian scene in its first phase after World War Two. A number of papers in A Hundred Years of Phenomenology (2001) were developed directly from the work of that first conference and a subsequent one in 1980. Luciana O’Dwyer plumbed the issue of ‘reality and ‘realism’ in Husserl’s ‘transcendental’ phenomenology, arguing that Husserl was displacing that empiricist framework of Locke, Berkeley and Hume within which the relation of our ‘ideas’ or ‘impressions’ of reality to reality itself is posed as the prime problem about ‘mind’ and its apparent ‘objects’. It is from experience itself that we get the idea of the reality of what we experience. It is not as if we have some separate access to ‘reality itself’ so that we could compare that with ‘what we experience’ and decide how well they fit. We do not come to Berkeley’s conclusion, however—nor to some position that remotely resembles that. It is from experience that we understand, partially, the very idea of reality, along with the distinctions we make between ‘how it seems’ and ‘how it is’. In understanding experience, we understand a reality revealed in experience. Indeed, we could not understand some ‘experience in itself’, were there such a thing. That experience is intentional is not merely some formal point, as it tends to be interpreted within linguistically oriented philosophies of mind. It is a declaration that what is fundamental about the reality and structure of experience is that it is of something not itself. O’Dwyer argued:


There was no question for Husserl of denying the reality of the world [merely because] we cannot find the ground of our experience of what is real in a reality which is conceived of as an external object. (O’Dwyer 2001: 45)


The point is not, as Berkeley had taken it, that our idea of reality is that of an object ‘within the mind’. We do not have to take some impossible leap ‘outside experience’ to gain the idea of reality as not itself experience. Rather, we dispense with the metaphysical metaphor of ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ as a way of indicating the ‘merely experiential’ as against what is ‘concerned with things as they are’. It is only by locating thought and experience within a framework that derives from the dualism of a Descartes or Locke that we think of the mind and its experiences as a sort of ‘inner’ place. Only within that framework does the denial of the externality of reality amount to Idealism. It is in the face of that dilemma for empirical dualism that Husserl challenges the idea of perception as an ‘inner’ process concerned with its ‘inner’ objects, and claims that, consequently, reality is not something external to it, either. Perception is the achievement we can make as a perceiving body-subject that locates and interconnects the intentionally comprehended objects of its various sensory organs and modalities. This helps Husserl in explaining his problematic notion of our ‘constituting’ what we perceive:


In this regard we speak of the ‘intersubjective constitution’ of the world, meaning by this the total system of givenness … Through this constitution … the world as it is for us becomes understandable as a structure of meaning formed out of elementary intentionalities. (Husserl 1970: 168)


O’Dwyer was a particularly rigorous Husserlian, and determined not to deny or to trivialise Husserl’s ‘transcendental’ turn. In reading him as taking this direction, the vital clue she notes is his disagreement with Descartes’ interpretation of the results of his ‘radical doubt’. Her critique shared a point with the physicalism then current in Australia. Descartes mistakenly inferred that in attending to his own experiencing being he had discovered a special substance. O’Dywer saw Husserl as correcting that error. Descartes’ method of ‘doubting’ what he perceives becomes a ‘bracketing out’ of the ‘natural objects’ of perception. Husserl turns not towards some immaterial substance that projects a material world, but to a change in attitude by which we attend to the logical structure of our modes of experience. Descartes’ error was to reify his discovery of a new field of exploration.

William Doniela joined in this debate about the status of Husserl’s ‘transcendental’ turn (Doniela 2001: 29–42). Like O’Dwyer, he suggested that Husserl’s position is still a kind of realism. He saw a threat of relativism in Husserl’s emphasis on the ‘transcendental ego’ as conferring sense on a multitude of intentionalities, but attempted to meet Kolakowski’s reservations about Husserl’s method, as ‘[yet] another example of the logical hopelessness of … start[ing] from subjectivity and try[ing] to restore the path to the common world’ (Kolakowski 1975: 79). There are new problems about perceptual knowledge within phenomenologies with origins in Husserl’s system. To meet these requires new ideas about what philosophers still tend to reify as ‘mind’. The very word ‘mind’ does not reside comfortably within phenomenology, whose first aim is to dispel Cartesian dualism, even while resisting what analytical philosophy would call ‘reductive’ materialism.

Robin Small (2001: 53–69) pointed out that Husserl’s phenomenological approach had appealed to Ryle early in his career. Ryle agreed with and built upon Husserl’s critique that in shifting attention to the structure of our experience of objects, Descartes had taken the wrong turning in reifying mind. Max Deutscher (2001: 3–24) further argued for this Rylean interpretation of Husserl’s ‘transcendental’ move. In speaking of a ‘transcendental’ dimension to the ego and its experience, Husserl claimed to be not speculating metaphysically, but naming a hitherto ‘anonymous’ attitude to experience and the ego that subtends it. Deutscher pointed out that in the Crisis, Husserl on occasions states outright that his ‘transcendental ego’ is the functioning human body itself, in its capacity to stand aside from its experience.

If this issue is settled then the spectre of solipsism that haunted Husserl’s ‘ego-logy’ is banished, and it becomes possible to synthesise his attention to immediate experience and his ideal of a ‘communalisation’ in which ‘occurs an alteration of validity through reciprocal correction … an intersubjective unity’ (Husserl 1970: 163). In The Life of the Mind, Hannah Arendt works out this tension in terms of the ‘privacy’ of thinking and the publicity of involvement in shared action. Deutscher has developed this in contemporary terms, drawing upon phenomenology, Arendt’s mutation of it, and analytical philosophy (Deutscher 2007).

In a response to a naturalising emphasis on the transcendental as an imaginative detachment found within experience rather than a speculative metaphysical construct, Maurita Harney took up a new consequence for Husserl’s philosophy. Particularly in earlier formulations, Husserl’s language had suggested an image of the transcendental ego as a pure point from which it practised an absolute detachment from natural objects and events. As a natural process, however, it is an exchange of an involvement with the natural objects of perception for an involvement with one’s modes and structures of experience of them. If detachment may be radical without being absolute then Husserl is relieved of his most pressing theoretical difficulties. Harney and Deutscher argued that to take Husserl’s approach in this direction amplifies and enriches it, in fact. Small argued not only that Ryle’s Concept of Mind helps us elucidate and amplify Husserl’s phenomenology, but that reading Ryle back from Husserl gives us a richer philosophy than is usually read in Ryle’s work (Small 2001: 53–69).

Both Harney and van Hooft concentrated on intentionality, emphasising how Husserl and Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology could enrich the linguistic interest concerning intentionality within analytical philosophy. Recent work by Vladiv-Glover (2007) has traced the post-war development of Husserl’s thought in Eastern Europe. She thereby renews our understanding of Descartes’ ‘dualism’. In another line of attack, Semetsky (2006) has approached phenomenology’s innovations through the work of Deleuze and Peirce. She argues that the phenomenological approach is important in recognising that intentionality must exist pre-linguistically, and may be described in terms of the world that a child structures before and during the formation of language.

An important part of the later ‘European’ work as from the last decade (about) of the twentieth century has been done within feminist philosophy. Behind that feminism lies a critique of dualism found in Beauvoir’s The Second Sex—a critique that is part and parcel of feminist philosophy’s attack on the dualism of the sexes. Institutionally, there is a strong tendency to regard feminist critique as moral, social and political rather than as epistemological and ontological. But the ‘European’ side of feminist philosophy has taken a lead in attacking dualist pictures and theories of ‘mind and body’. Rather than using the language and category of ‘mind’ and then reducing or identifying it with brain function, these feminists have produced various kinds of philosophies of the body. This is not a reversion to reductive behaviourism, but a consideration of the body in its mindful behaviour and social relations.

Many Australian philosophers now work with an eye on the legacy of phenomenology (Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre/Beauvoir and Merleau-Ponty), and have also followed poststructuralist ‘deconstructive’ trends. This work is a recognisable alternative to the preoccupation with a dilemma that has beset physicalist theories of mind. Cartesian arguments for a separation of mind and body have been refuted decisively, but the spectre of ‘mental properties’ has hung over every variety of physicalist theories of mind. The language of mind that ‘ascribes’ those properties is not reducible in meaning to that of physiology, let alone physics.

Within post-phenomenological contemporary philosophy there is, deliberately, no single word for what is still called ‘mind’ within the analytical tradition. Rather, one speaks of the capacities, skills and activities—both socially expressed and personally contained—of the perceptive, thoughtful and sensitive human body. ‘Body’ includes ‘brain’, of course, but the brain is not the metaphysical site of the mysterious operations of a ‘consciousness’ that seems forever irreducible to the ‘merely physical’ properties of the brain—if one may for the occasion thus compress the conundrums of analytical physicalism and its neo-dualist doppelganger.

Certainly, the metamorphosis, in 1995, of the Australian Association for Phenomenology and Social Sciences into the Australasian Society for Continental Philosophy signified a change in how recent European philosophy was viewed and used. A new generation of philosophers use classical phenomenology as but one of the forms of discourse in European philosophy. In the proceedings of the old Association one could already observe, in the various approaches to the themes of ‘mind’, an increasing shift of interest to include the work of Beauvoir alongside Sartre, and to go beyond phenomenology into the new movements, deconstructionist and otherwise, represented by such names as Derrida, Deleuze and Le Dœuff.

Feminist philosophers with intellectual origins in the phenomenological tradition have already done a great deal that can be deployed against various forms of dualism. Within the high tide of phenomenology, Beauvoir already had written against the mystification of others (including women) that made them appear as ‘Other’. This work against dualism has been broadened in concept and intensified in method in recent and contemporary works by philosophers such as Genevieve Lloyd (1994), Rosalyn Diprose (1994), Moira Gatens (1996), Vicki Kirby (1997), Catherine Vasseleu (1998) and Penelope Deutscher (2008). The aim is to find new directions for philosophy that will take us clear of the morass that dualism and its antagonists co-inhabit. Sartre, Merleau-Ponty and Levinas may have come close to escaping the old dualism but an ‘Other’ haunts their systems. Descartes’ mind would steal content from matter in not being material: phenomenology’s ‘Other’ tries vainly to gain content as what is ‘not-myself’. A ghost outside the machine, perhaps.

Jack Reynolds has attempted to co-ordinate phenomenology and deconstruction (Reynolds 2004). He couples Derrida’s ‘de-minded’ language (my neologism) of writing and différance with Merleau-Ponty’s language of the self as embodied and essentially inter-related with the ‘Other’. Reynolds uses a Derridean language of inscription and difference in co-ordination with Merleau-Ponty’s attempt to ‘flesh out’ both self and other. He is looking for new directions out of phenomenology.

Events in the late 1990s through to the 2000s indicate a more active co-ordination of European-based philosophy and philosophy based in cognitive science. For instance, in the 1990s Gerard O’Brien and Rosalyn Diprose prepared an annotated bibliography on the interface between philosophy of mind and philosophy of body. On another front of the interaction between phenomenology and cognitive science, email (and live) discussion groups on cognitive science and Continental philosophy that ran from 1997 to 2000 issued in a double symposium on that issue at the conference of the Australasian Society for Continental Philosophy in 2000.

Philosophy of Politics

Fred D’Agostino

Philosophy of politics in Australia stands in an uneasy relationship with Australian politics properly speaking. In particular, while political philosophy has flourished in Australia during the post-War period, both intellectually and, especially since the 1980s, institutionally, while Australian political institutions present many notable features, and while Australian academic philosophy has been politicised in several striking developments, especially during the 1960s and 1970s, very little of the political philosophical work of Australian and Australian-based thinkers has engaged with the specificities of their cultural and institutional locale.

Australian Political Philosophy since World War Two

Intellectual Developments

Already in 1955, P. H. Partridge, in inaugurating the chair of social philosophy at the Australian National University, laid out an agenda for political philosophical enquiry that has a good claim to anticipate most subsequent developments. He asked (quoted in Muschamp 1992: 84):


What is the function which the State ought to fulfil? What is the rational basis for the supreme authority the modern State claims to exercise over us? Why, therefore, have we a moral duty to obey the State and its laws? What are the proper limits to the function and to the authority of the State? What are the rights which individuals ought to possess in a properly constituted State?, and how can the validity of these rights be demonstrated?


While the questions posed by Partridge were and remain a standard list, they were posed, at this time, in opposition to a dominant philosophical movement—i.e. ordinary language philosophy in the specific form of T. D. Weldon’s destructive critique in The Vocabulary of Politics (Weldon 1953)—from which, say, American political theory was only rescued, somewhat later, by the work of John Rawls and others of his ilk. Partridge, in any event, had the wit and wisdom to see the value of substantive political philosophising rather than the meta-philosophical backwaters into which political philosophy was elsewhere led by a dominant paradigm. Australian political theorising has, ever since, taken this robustly substantive form and has made many important contributions to anglophone philosophy of politics, tackling the sorts of questions which Partridge articulated.

Selwyn Grave anatomised much of this subsequent discussion in this way: ‘Two themes have prominently engaged philosophical social thought in Australia, liberalism—both ethical and political—and Marxism’ (Grave 1984: 156). Indeed they have.

Perhaps more subtly, many Australian contributions to the understanding of Marxism themselves reflect a broadly liberal concern with freedom and individualism. Exemplary in this regard are: Eugene Kamenka, whose The Ethical Foundations of Marxism (1962) was an early re-reading of Marxism in terms of ‘the early Marx’; Graeme Duncan, whose Marx and Mill (1973) represented a daring and widely admired (and debated) attempt both to undermine a too-easy dichotomisation of these key thinkers and to more clearly identify their unresolvable points of difference; and David Tucker, whose Marxism and Individualism (1980) seeks a reconciliation between the Marxist critique of capitalism and Rawlsian concerns with individual liberty.

On the broadly liberal side of Grave’s taxonomy, the key contributors are more numerous and even more influential in world philosophy of politics. Of H. J. McCloskey, especially his ‘The Problem of Liberalism’ (1965), David Muschamp (1992: 85) later said: ‘No political philosopher in, and very few outside, Australia has done more to develop a careful and consistent analysis and appraisal of liberalism’. Partridge himself achieved a wide, cross-disciplinary and probably largely undergraduate readership with his Consent and Consensus (1971), a useful, historically inflected discussion of these two key concepts for liberal thinking about the state. Robert Young’s Personal Autonomy (1986) and Stanley Benn’s A Theory of Freedom (1988) gave accounts of personal autonomy which nicely complemented one another in their approaches.

From the middle of the 1980s, and reflecting Benn’s influence, both institutionally and intellectually, the Australian National University’s Research School of Social Sciences became a key centre, internationally, of political philosophical thinking and in nuanced opposition to a broadly liberal tradition. Gerald Gaus’ The Modern Liberal Theory of Man (1983) provides a nice historicising counterpoint to the work by Young and Benn, while his Value and Justification (1990) represents a sustained attempt to cash out two key elements in broadly Rawlsian liberalisms. Later, Fred D’Agostino’s Free Public Reason (1996) takes up the theme, from McCloskey, but now in a different idiom, that liberalism is best understood as a family of theories rather than a discrete and definite position.

Casting himself in good-natured opposition to these developments, Philip Pettit’s Republicanism (1997a) gave solid intellectual foundations to the historicising work of Quentin Skinner and W. G. Pocock, and delineated an alternative to mainstream Rawlsian liberalism that, as with the earlier work of Duncan and Tucker, though in a quieter way, engaged with themes more often discussed in Marxist than in liberal contexts. In this respect, he follows earlier, perhaps less good-natured criticism of the prevailing liberal position by, for example, Carole Pateman, especially in her The Problem of Political Obligation (1979). This latter work shares some thematic elements with Peter Singer’s Democracy and Disobedience (1973), which brought Singer’s argumentative abilities to international notice at the start of his career. Pateman’s earlier work on participatory democracy (Pateman 1970) codified important practical political developments and anticipated and influenced much subsequent discussion. Her book The Sexual Contract (1988) represented an important contribution both to contract thinking, then very much in vogue, and to feminist philosophy.

Institutional Developments

In 1992 David Muschamp could write: ‘Every one of the established 20 Australian Universities offers political philosophy as a part of at least one undergraduate degree. It is also offered in many of the 35 (at the time of writing) degree awarding colleges’ (1992: 81). Very little has changed in the meantime, except for the institutional structure of the Australian academy. Political philosophy, and political theory (as political philosophy is sometimes denominated in Political Science or Government departments), is a mainstay of respectable university curricula.

The Journal of Political Philosophy has been edited at the Australian National University (ANU) by Bob Goodin since 1993 and the journal Politics, Philosophy and Economics, founded by sometime Australian-based philosopher Gerald Gaus and now edited by Fred D’Agostino, is about ten years younger and reflects the broadly interdisciplinary interests of Australian philosophers of politics, as is also evident in the ANU’s Social and Political Theory Program, which is headed by Goodin, Geoff Brennan, and John Dryzek. Indeed, Goodin is a key figure, institutionally, as General Editor of the Oxford Handbooks of Political Science and, with Philip Pettit, of the Blackwell Companion to Contemporary Political Philosophy (Pettit and Goodin 1993) and of the Blackwell Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Anthology (Pettit and Goodin 1997), both of which have had recent second editions.

The Politics of Australian Philosophy

Perhaps to a degree which is unusual elsewhere in the English-speaking academy, Australian philosophy has been both a provocation to and a site of direct and sometimes highly charged political action. Key elements are described in Grave (1984: ch. 11) and in James Franklin’s widely-read Corrupting the Youth (2003). These include, in particular: ‘The Knopfelmacher Case’, as Grave (1984: 209ff) calls it, in which, in 1965, the anti-Marxist Frank Knopfelmacher was denied appointment to a position at the University of Sydney despite the recommendation to appoint of the selection committee; Maoism at Flinders University, under the leadership of Professor Brian Medlin, culminating, as Franklin (2003: 291) reports, ‘at the Australasian philosophy conference of 1970, when Medlin draped a red flag over the lectern before giving his talk on “The onus of proof in political argument”’; and, especially, the ‘Sydney split’, or rather splits, when Wal Suchting and Michael Devitt’s 1971 proposal to introduce courses on Marxism-Leninism led in due course to the establishment of two departments, General Philosophy and Traditional and Modern Philosophy (see Grave 1984: 213ff, and Franklin 2003: ch. 11).

Later developments encompassed lively debates, and occasional institutional rearrangements over feminist philosophy, notably marked in the Spring 2000 issue of Hypatia, devoted entirely to Australian feminist work in philosophy, in the formation of a Women in Philosophy stream often run as part of the annual conference of the Australasian Association of Philosophy, and, of course, in the influential publications of feminist writers, especially in political philosophy, some of which is well represented in the collection edited by Carole Pateman and Elizabeth Grosz, Feminist Challenges (1986).

Untheorised Aspects of the Australian Polity

One of the most puzzling features of Australian philosophy of politics is the degree to which Australia’s key, and somewhat peculiar, political institutions have received so little philosophical attention. David Farrell and Ian McAllister (2003: 287, 301) make a very persuasive case for, if you will, the ‘genius’ of the Australian electoral system:


Australia has made a long and distinguished contribution to the development of electoral institutions … Australia is also the home of the preferential electoral system … Preferential voting is perhaps the most distinctive and innovative characteristic of the electoral systems of Australia …

Australians have been more willing to experiment with democracy than many of their contemporaries: in no other liberal democracy, it seems safe to say, have the permutations and combinations of electoral reform been as great.


Notwithstanding the interest and importance of these developments, there is little contribution by Australian philosophy to their analysis, justification, or critique. On this basis, the political scientist Graham Maddox (2005: 327) concludes that ‘Australian society is pragmatic, lacking in principles and instructed by no great philosophies … [t]he charge of pragmatism … [being] supported by the dearth of great political writings in this country’. This is, of course, not quite right, as the survey of worthy political theoretical writing sketched here clearly shows. What is right, arguably, is that the best political philosophy written in Australia has not, to any significant degree, engaged with the specificities of Australian political institutions, despite their distinctiveness and inherent interest.

Philosophy of Religion

N. N. Trakakis

Australia and New Zealand are often portrayed (by secularists and church figures alike) as godless nations where materialism, in both its philosophical and sociological guises, runs rife (see, e.g. Frame 2009). Census reports on religious identity are sometimes used to substantiate this image (e.g. the ‘No Religion’ category rose in Australia from 0.3% in 1947 to 18.7% in 2006, and in New Zealand from 0.7% in 1945 to 29.6% in 2001). Despite this, it has been argued—by, e.g. Bouma (2006) and Matheson (2006)—that religion has not died out in Australia and New Zealand, but shows signs of renewal and revitalisation. In Australia in particular, a distinctive religious and spiritual ethos seems to have emerged. Borrowing the phrase ‘a shy hope in the heart’ used by Manning Clark to describe the ANZAC spirit, Bouma writes that this phrase aptly expresses the nature of Australian religion and spirituality: ‘There is a profound shyness—yet a deeply grounded hope—held tenderly in the heart, in the heart of Australia’ (2006: 2). Perhaps something similar can be said about the way in which the philosophical study of religion tends to be approached in Australasia: a spirit of openness and tentativeness, as opposed to one that is doctrinaire and dogmatic, has prevailed.

Early Contributions

If Samuel Alexander can be considered an Australian philosopher, despite leaving his home town of Sydney at the age of eighteen for Oxford, and never to return, his Space, Time, and Deity (1920) would count as the first substantial Australasian contribution to the philosophy of religion. Alexander developed a grand system of speculative metaphysics, one of the last of its kind, that was part of the widespread movement towards realism, and against Idealism, in philosophy. In Alexander’s system the basic reality is spacetime, out of which everything evolves. This evolutionary system is marked by an ongoing process that is driven towards the production of new and increasingly complex qualities, particularly one that has yet to be realised, called ‘Deity’. As in the process theism developed by his contemporary, A. N. Whitehead, Alexander thought of God as both existent and forever in process of realisation: ‘God as actually possessing deity does not exist but is an ideal, is always becoming; but God as the whole Universe tending towards deity does exist’ (1921: 428).

On the Idealist side, W. R. Boyce Gibson arrived in Victoria in 1912 having already published God With Us (1909), a work heavily influenced by the German Idealist philosopher, Rudolf Eucken, and advocating a theistic version of ‘personal Idealism’ in opposition to both Absolute Idealism and naturalism. (See also Gibson’s four-part series on ‘Problems of Spiritual Experience’ in the 1924–25 issues of the Australasian Journal of Psychology and Philosophy [1924a, 1924b, 1924c, 1925b]). Alexander (‘Sandy’) Boyce Gibson succeeded his father in the chair of philosophy at the University of Melbourne in 1935 and also took a strong interest in the philosophy of religion, publishing after his retirement one book on the interplay between religious faith and doubt in Dostoevsky’s life and novels, and another on becoming empirically acquainted with the non-empirical and thus overcoming the divide between theism and empiricism (Gibson 1970; 1973).

Although John Anderson had little to offer the philosophy of religion, his atheism played an important role in setting up naturalism as the dominant paradigm in subsequent Australasian philosophy. Anderson rejected the traditional arguments for the existence of God (e.g. in a 1935 paper he discusses, and seeks to strengthen, the critique of the design argument offered in Hume’s Dialogues concerning Natural Religion, though curiously he makes no appeal to evolutionary theory), but he did not attempt to derive his atheism from any arguments in the philosophy of religion, such as the argument from evil. Rather, his atheism was the product of a thoroughgoing empiricism and realism, according to which there is only one way of being, that of ordinary things in space and time, and hence there are no supernatural beings such as God. But it was Anderson’s resolutely secular conception of education that was to give him greatest notoriety. Education, Anderson argued, is essentially concerned with free inquiry and critical thinking, whereas religion promotes dogmatism, servility and indoctrination, and so the two are flatly opposed. After public addresses espousing such views, Anderson was condemned by the Sydney press and church officials, and was even censured by the NSW Parliament (Baker 1979: 118–21).

Natural Theology and Atheology

Over the last few decades Australasian philosophers have made significant contributions to the projects of natural theology and atheology, where the case for and against the existence of God is assessed on the basis of rational argumentation alone, unaided by religious faith or divine revelation. A case in point is Peter Forrest (1996a), who under the banner of ‘scientific theism’ has attempted to show that belief in God is the best explanation of various features revealed by, or implicit in, modern science. Forrest engages in what he calls ‘the apologetics of understanding’, the project of defending theism by showing that it enables us to understand or explain various things (such as the world’s beauty and its suitability for life) better than its rivals, especially naturalism. But the explanations posited by Forrest are not supernatural explanations: ‘I am an antisupernaturalist without being a naturalist’, he writes (1996: 2). Forrest’s theism avoids the supernatural insofar as its eschews any violations of the laws of nature and any entities that do not have a precedent in well-confirmed scientific theories. More recently but more controversially, Forrest (2007) has defended a highly speculative and unorthodox conception of divinity where God (and not simply our conception of God) develops over time. On this view, God initially is neither personal nor lovable, but is pure will and unrestricted agency. A series of events, however, results in God becoming a community of divine love, the Holy Trinity, with one of the Persons of this Trinity becoming fully human to show us divine love.

Important contributions to each of ‘the big three’ arguments for the existence of God have been made by Australasian philosophers. Barry Miller (1992) defends a version of the cosmological argument, relying not on the principle of sufficient reason, but on the premise that the existence of the universe or any of its parts (logically) could not be a brute fact. Subsequently, Miller went on to argue that the creator of the universe whose existence his earlier work attempted to demonstrate is not to be identified with the anthropomorphic God of perfect-being theology, but with the Thomistic God conceived as Subsistent Existence (identical with his existence) and thus as radically different from any other being, possible or actual (Miller 1996). In the final part of his ‘trilogy’ (Miller 2002), he defends the view, presupposed in the idea of Subsistent Existence, that existence is a real property of individuals and ‘exists’ is a first-level predicable.

Graham Oppy, on the other side of the theist/atheist divide, engaged in prolonged debate in the journals during the 1990s with William Lane Craig and others over the kalam cosmological argument. A useful but neglected question in debates of this sort is: When should someone who presents a philosophical argument be prepared to concede that their argument is unsuccessful? Oppy (2002) takes up this topic, and argues that Craig ought to admit that his kalam argument is a failure. Oppy has also considered and criticised some new versions of the cosmological argument advanced by Robert Koons, Richard Gale and Alexander Pruss.

Mark Wynn (1999), at the time at the Australian Catholic University, offered a defence of the argument from design. But unlike traditional formulations of this argument, Wynn’s argument is rooted in features of the world that are charged with valuational significance (e.g. the world’s beauty and its tendency to produce richer and more complex material forms) and attempts to break away from anthropomorphic conceptions of God as a human artisan writ large. Nowadays, however, design arguments usually make appeal to fine-tuning, the fundamental structure and properties of the universe that are finely adjusted to allow for the existence of life. Fine-tuning arguments have come in for some heavy criticism at the hands of Australasian philosophers, including M. C. Bradley (2001) and Mark Colyvan, Graham Priest and Jay Garfield (2005).

Somewhat peculiarly for a nation that takes pride in the empirical, Australia has witnessed a flurry of activity over the a priori ontological argument. Max Charlesworth (1965) led the way with a new translation of, and a running commentary on, Anselm’s Proslogion and the texts of the subsequent debate between Anselm and Gaunilo. Soon thereafter Richard Campbell (1976) presented a new interpretation of Anselm’s argument, and defended it against the objections of Gaunilo, Kant and others. But it was Graham Oppy’s Ontological Arguments and Belief in God (1996) that raised the discussion to new heights, providing the most detailed and rigorous examination of the ontological argument to date. In this work Oppy develops and defends a general objection that is intended to apply to all formulations of the argument (though this general objection was later recanted in Oppy 2001 and 2006), and concludes that ‘ontological arguments are completely worthless: While the history and analysis of ontological arguments makes for interesting reading, the critical verdict of that reading is entirely negative’ (1996: 199). An equally negative conclusion is reached in Oppy’s follow-up study, Arguing about Gods (2006a), where he examines classical and contemporary arguments for and against the existence of God, and concludes that ‘no argument that has been constructed thus far provides those who have reasonable views about the existence of orthodoxly conceived monotheistic gods with the slightest reason to change their minds’ (2006a: 425). The meticulous and thorough scholarship that lies behind these verdicts justifies the remark Paul Helm once made that, ‘an “oppy” is clearly a creature with the eye of an eagle and the pen of a ready writer’ (Helm 1997: 477).

Across the Tasman, John Bishop in Believing by Faith (2007a) also thinks that the arguments of natural theology and natural atheology are unsuccessful. Specifically, Bishop holds that the core theistic truth-claims are ‘evidentially ambiguous’ in the sense that our total available evidence is equally viably interpreted either from a theistic perspective or an atheistic perspective. Given the evidential ambiguity of theism, argues Bishop, it can under certain circumstances be morally permissible to ‘believe by faith’, or to ‘make a doxastic venture’ in the direction of theistic faith-commitment. Bishop thus defends a modest version of fideism that is inspired by William James’ 1896 lecture ‘The Will to Believe’, and defends it against various objections, including those put forward by ‘hard-line’ evidentialists, who insist that commitment to religious belief without evidential support can never be justified.

Arguments from evil, of course, often play a crucial role in the atheologian’s case against God, but since Australasian philosophers have made a quite distinctive contribution to this topic, it is dealt with under a separate entry.


Australasian philosophers have also been active in discussions of miracles. Bruce Langtry, for example, challenged the arguments Hume and Mackie put forward against miracle-reports as evidence for theism (Langtry 1972, 1975, 1985, 1988). Levine (1989) offers a more systematic explication of Hume’s argument against justified belief in miracles, showing how it follows from Hume’s analysis of causation. Hume’s position on miracles, according to Levine, has not been properly understood, since its connection to his views on causation has never been adequately examined. Levine also argues, against Hume, that a justified true belief in the occurrence of an event justifiably thought to be a miracle is possible. Stephen Buckle (2001) also takes up Hume’s case against belief in miracles as developed in Section X of the Enquiry (as well as Hume’s case against the design argument in Section XI). Buckle spends much time in contextualising Hume’s critique of religion, showing that the critique can properly be understood only if it is placed within the context of the wider sceptical argument of the Enquiry.

History of Philosophy of Religion

Apart from these studies of Hume, other historical studies in philosophy of religion include Julian Young’s Nietzsche’s Philosophy of Religion (2006). According to Young, Nietzsche’s early thought, or his ‘Wagnerianism’, is communitarian (in the sense that the highest object of its concern is the flourishing of the community as a whole), and religious (for it holds that a community cannot flourish without a festive, communal religion). Young argues that this religious communitarianism is not, as is often thought, something that Nietzsche went on to renounce, but persists through the entirety of Nietzsche’s writings. Young therefore interprets Nietzsche as a religious reformer rather than an enemy of religion, and as someone deeply concerned with community rather than an individualistic philosopher. Mention may also be made of the five-volume History of Western Philosophy of Religion (2009), edited by Oppy and Trakakis, and consisting of over 100 essays on philosophers and religious thinkers from ancient to contemporary times.

Continental Philosophy of Religion

A seminal publication in this area, in Australasia and beyond, is Kevin Hart’s The Trespass of the Sign (1989, reissued 2000). At the time of publication, Hart was lecturing in Literary Studies at Deakin University, though he was already well-versed in both philosophy (completing his Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of Melbourne in 1986) and theology. By this time, also, Hart had converted to the Catholic Church (having grown up in an Anglican family), and he had (as he put it) ‘gone continental’ in his philosophical orientation, ‘yet without repudiating what I had learned in the analytic tradition’ (2000: xii). In many ways, then, Hart was well-positioned to see past the misconceptions about deconstruction and religious faith prevalent at the time. Unlike those who saw deconstruction as directed against theology as such, or as a refinement of the Nietzschean doctrine that God is dead, Hart offered deconstruction as ‘an answer to the theological demand for a “non-metaphysical theology”’ (2000: xxxv) of the sort that is found in the mystical and apophatic traditions of Christianity, thus rejecting Derrida’s view that even mystical theology is embroiled in metaphysics.

Since leaving for the U.S. in 2002, Hart has authored or edited works on Blanchot and the sacred (Hart 2004), on Derrida and religion (Hart and Sherwood 2005), on the experience of God (Hart and Wall 2005), on Marion’s phenomenology and its relation to Christian theology (Hart 2007), and on the implications of Levinas’ philosophy for Jewish-Christian dialogue (Hart and Signer 2010). Hart’s students in Australia have gone on to make important contributions of their own, particularly Robyn Horner. In Rethinking God as Gift (2001), Horner looks at the two main protagonists in phenomenological discussions of the gift, Derrida and Marion, and the theological implications of the debate, particularly as it bears on the possibility of conceiving God as pure gift. (The ‘theological turn’ in phenomenology was made the subject of a special issue of Sophia in 2008, guest edited by Jack Reynolds.) Horner (2005) also wrote the first introduction (at least in English) to Marion’s phenomenology and theology, and she translated (with Vincent Berraud) Marion’s In Excess (2002).

Indigenous and Non-Western Religious Traditions

The leading voice in the philosophical study of indigenous (especially Australian indigenous) religions has been Max Charlesworth, formerly Professor of Philosophy at Deakin University. Through a series of influential studies and edited collections, Charlesworth has sought to make the study of Australian Aboriginal religions, and primal religions in general, an important area of research within philosophy of religion. Indeed, he has championed the idea that Aboriginal religions are belief-systems of considerable sophistication and seriousness, worthy of the same attention given by philosophers to the major world religions (see, e.g. Charlesworth, Kimber and Wallace 1990; Charlesworth 1997; Charlesworth 1998; Charlesworth, Dussart and Morphy 2005).

Asian philosophy of religion is also a growing field in Australasia, led by the work of Purushottama Bilimoria on Indian philosophy and religious thought (see, e.g. Bilimoria 2005), and Jay Garfield on Buddhist and cross-cultural philosophy (see, e.g. Garfield 1995, 2002).

Journals and Events

Australasia’s first (and only) journal dedicated to the philosophy of religion is Sophia. Although now published overseas (by Springer), the journal retains a strong connection with Australasian philosophy: its editorial office continues to be housed in Melbourne; its three editors-in-chief (Purushottama Bilimoria, Patrick Hutchings, and Jay Garfield) have affiliations with Melbourne institutions; and Australasian philosophers continue to regularly contribute to the journal. Another Australian journal that often publishes articles in philosophy of religion is Pacifica. First issued in 1988, Pacifica serves primarily as a forum for theologians in Australasia, though articles on Continental philosophy of religion are a regular feature: Martis (2005), for example, discusses the fact of death and its implications for religious faith, drawing on the work of Derrida, Heidegger, Blanchot, Lacoue-Labarthe and Caputo, while Curkpatrick (2004) examines the theological significance of the metaphor of insomnia as it occurs in Levinas’ philosophy.

The Australasian Philosophy of Religion Association (APRA) was established in 2008. Its inaugural conference was held the same year at St Mark’s National Theological Centre (Canberra), with keynote addresses delivered by Peter Forrest and Max Charlesworth. Also, a biennial conference in philosophy, religion and culture has been held at the Catholic Institute of Sydney since 1996.


(Thanks to Peter Forrest, John Bishop and Bruce Langtry for reviewing an earlier draft of this article.)

Philosophy of Science

Philip Catton

Philosophers look to the pinnacle of the human condition and of course see philosophers there. Yet, near-to-the-top they see others. The others may be artists, or moral and political leaders, or scientists. Philosophers are typically very different from one another who see pinnacle humans these three different ways. Are artists the top other people? In the minds of really very many philosophers in Australia-and-New-Zealand (hereafter, ‘Australasia’), they are not. Are moral and political leaders tops? Again, not. In the minds of really very many Australasian philosophers, the top other people are scientists.

Distinctive Australasian Accomplishments

Australasia has sported many distinguished philosophers who ruminate about science in a thus appreciative way, a lot of their work broadly metaphysical, a lot broadly epistemological, Australasian work typically sharply distinct from positivist-influenced philosophy of science of the Americas, typically sharply ill-disposed to the German Frankfurt School on one hand and to all varieties of postmodernism on the other, and often touched by particular Australasian penchants (for example, for vigorous realisms, and for an ontology-semantics-epistemology direction of investigation), yet always with break-away developments that defy these generalisations and sometimes establish new trends.

To pick some beginning dates we shall consider first Karl Popper’s arrival to Christchurch in 1937 and then Gerd Buchdahl’s to Melbourne a decade later. Those were heady days when scholars ruminated chiefly about what they took to be the whole defining nature of science. As philosophy of science has developed, its practitioners have generated ever more reason to be suspicious against the conception that there is one single-self-consistent-thing that science is, or indeed that similarly reductive accounts are possible of theory, commitment, evidence, explanation, cause, law, meaning, reduction itself, and so on, which were all key questions within the heady days of mid twentieth-century philosophy of science. The more so in recent decades, as much Australasian philosophy looks into abstruse reaches of specific theoretical sciences. While classical physics and relativistic spacetime theory (about which realism seems possible) eclipses quantum theory (about which realism seems impossible) as an Australasian preoccupation in philosophy of physics, there are exceptional Australasian philosophers who do both; biology has come on strongly as science of choice in the Australasian philosophical arena (philosophy of biology now a vibrant down-under subdiscipline very high in its international standing) and is a science which in its nuances pushes back in its way against philosophical-banner-carrying either for realism or for anti-realism; and distinctive Australasian forms of philosophical thinking about materiality, complex systems, mathematics, logic, universals, ontology, causality, time, possibility, meaning, mentation, and who is who in the history of philosophy, including in recent and contemporary philosophy, have all marked philosophy of science from these parts in ways that the rest of the world truly recognises and truly cares to know about.

Karl Popper

To defend reason is to champion philosophy, which philosophers are especially wont to do. One philosophical strategy in modern times is, in this pursuit, to champion science. Granted, if a philosopher champions science, then this surely comes from the heart; for philosophers generally are genuine in ways that go deep, it being deeply against a philosopher’s wont ever to be disingenuous. In any case, given nothing more than the evident might of science in modern times, philosophers will some of them of course have come to consider, among human pursuits, science to be pre-eminent. Still, when philosophy produces special love of science, this production partly epitomises clandestine self-love. Just as philosophy’s own pride consists (as Socrates’ did) in its humility before reason, philosophers oft construct scientist-heroes in the image of this pride of their own. Within the shores on either side of the Tasman Sea, the first appointed philosopher of science was Karl Popper. He is an illustration.

Propelled (in 1937) to Christchurch by a darkening Europe, Popper toted to these parts a clarion pen and an incandescent passion against human irrationality. Popper wrote in Christchurch The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945). In its idiosyncratic terms, it rails against Plato, Hegel and Marx. Yet its true target is Hitler. It is a war effort. And large it looms, certainly as one of the great literary accomplishments of the twentieth century.

If Popper is correct, then Plato, Hegel and Marx all are intellectuals in the style of artists. Their purpose is not so much to understand the world as to change it. Art that is any good transforms its audience without explaining itself at all let alone explaining in so many words that or how it does this. Art is in this way an insult to a certain kind of piety about reason. Popper chooses to see in his antagonists unreasoned manipulation of their audience. His contempt for this is visceral. A singular image of science is implied in his response.

A moral or political leader must inevitably mobilise inner conviction and unshakeable self-determination. Such would be the leaders whom Plato, Hegel or Marx would help set up. Popper effects to speak truth against such power. Where Popper had fled from, the Establishment was sick to the core. In Popper’s homeland, evil had permeated authority. However mighty his own inner conviction, however unshakeable his own self-determination, Popper stands passionately against authority-as-such. Again, a singular image of science is implied in his response.

Popper estimates to be scientists only persons who possess proper humility before reason. Scientists are, in Popper’s estimation, ever willing to criticise any of the convictions that they possess. They seek to explain, but they acknowledge the likelihood that they have as yet failed in this task. Scientists are worthy because they practise unworthiness. They stand not as authorities. They possess instead the mode of knowing-that-they-do-not-know. It is in this way only that reason shines forth from them. (At any rate, all this is what Popper insists is needed if a person should truly count as a scientist.)

Gerd Buchdahl

In Melbourne, an equally eminent philosopher of science—Gerd Buchdahl—arrived to Australasia ten years after Popper. There are many reasons to compare these two giants. Each understands that the very aspiration for science is coeval with philosophy and that, in the West at least, this aspiration is importantly defining of the philosophical spirit. Each proceeds from an admiration for science to a point of view upon the condition of Western philosophy quite generally. Each was (from his love for philosophy) manifestly unimpressed with positivism (an anti-philosophy philosophy) and was early within the community of philosophers to criticise it. Each explored certain kinds of connections between ‘metaphysical’ and ‘methodological’. With each there is his own particular understanding of Kant’s critical philosophy, and of its enduring significance.

But if Popper lambastes historicism and professes in his way the impossibility of truly reasoned conviction in any connection, Buchdahl explores instead how the connection historically between philosophy and science produces the potentiality for just such reasoned conviction. Metaphysics and reasonableness can coincide and the way that they can concerns the historical inseparability of philosophy and science. Buchdahl professes that history-of-philosophy and history-of-science wholly come together, so that indeed, in a certain sense, all history of philosophy and indeed all history of science broadly comprises history-of-philosophy-of-science.

Descendents, Mixed and Unmixed

Intellectual descendents of these two giant figures have much enlivened the Australasian academy. Stephen Gaukroger at Sydney advances, with prodigious effect, the approach of Buchdahl. In Dunedin, descendents of the opposing progenitors have even come together, in the coincidence there of Alan Musgrave (Popper) and Peter Anstey (Buchdahl).

Still, the rubric ‘philosophy of science’ as that has mostly been understood in Australasia has not ever quite accommodated Buchdahl. Although Buchdahl’s department at the University of Melbourne was the Department of History and Philosophy of Science (nearly the first such department in the world), in Australasia as in the world over (efforts of Buchdahl, Gaukroger, Anstey and their like notwithstanding), the two fields mostly mix like oil and water.

The issues here are two. First, history of science has been its own field, brought to professional standing initially by efforts of scientists turned historians (to the outstanding among whom would then be bestowed a professorship in history of science), and later through assimilation (of the units created to surround these figures) into the broader academic discipline of history. Since history mostly studies the past in socio-political terms, the study of the history of science consequently became steadily less as scientist-scholars would do it and instead ever more socio-political. Such is the fate of the field as it has been professionalised. Thus as time wore on the view of science among historians of science contrasted ever more acutely with that of philosophers, for philosophers’ interests in science little touched politics or sociology but rather chiefly included epistemology (methodology) and also metaphysics of science. (Indeed, the trend in history of science eventually brought its professionals mostly to view philosophers’ study of the history of philosophy as seriously lacking historiographical mettle. So, work like Buchdahl’s, which refuses to separate history of philosophy and history of science, has become quite exceptional.) Second, for quite contingent reasons the self-understanding of English-language ‘philosophy of science’ stretches not at all to political or ethical debate. Many concerns that the public expects should fall under such a rubric, in English-speaking academic contexts mostly do not. For example, in the English speaking part of the academy at least, professional philosophers of science are rare who sport much interest in ethics, and those who do, do so, when they do, with a different hat on. As the tendency advanced itself among historians of science to consider science critically in socio-political terms often with a seeming agenda to ‘knock science down to size’, philosophers of science were mostly flabbergasted and horrified. They were with Popper, to the extent at least that they conceived as their task to defend science and publicly vituperate those who would knock science down.

A very public late-1960s debate between Popper-the-philosopher-of-science (by then in Britain) and the (American post-positivist) historian-of-science Thomas Kuhn crystallised the tensions and radicalised the schism between those two communities. Australasian philosophers generally were disdainful of Kuhn’s views. Yet a lesson of Kuhn’s is important to ponder: that, pace Popper, science is much an establishment activity. Like the theory of moral development according to Aristotle, Kuhn teaches how new experts are made only when there are already-extant experts to emulate. Kuhn wrongly construes exemplary expertise narrowly as ‘puzzle-solving’, when in fact the creative, open-textured performance of ingenious, telling measurements is key. Yet measurement-making could come to nothing without established expertise. So, while Kuhn misconstrues and inadequately appreciates measurement and so wrongly concludes that establishment science will for the longest while be closed to substantial theory revision, still, even if in fact establishment science is typically open not closed, it carries a form that the anti-establishment Popper cannot begin to fathom.

Political Plot Lost

The Australian and New Zealand science establishments themselves grew enormously in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. In these decades the science establishment mostly comprised public science, unshackled by the public purse from private money interests. Like other parties to the Cold War, Australia and New Zealand sent public money into science with few but military, health and agricultural strings attached. This was the capitalist West’s way to demonstrate its superiority to the system on the far side of the iron curtain. Meanwhile communist nations, with the like goal of demonstrating superiority, likewise sent public money into science with few but military, health and agricultural strings attached. Support for pure science was a way to show off. In the West, Australasia included, even before the Cold War ended however, money was much speaking against curiosity-driven science, and much instead shackling science to profits. And by the present day, well into post-Cold-War conditions, the showing-off is altogether abated, so that science in Australasia and elsewhere is profoundly shaped either by corporate interests or by government estimations of how the economy best can grow. Philosophers of science in the English-speaking academy, the Australasian academy included, in their stance against the historians, who were themselves thinking seriously about sociology and politics of science, significantly flat-footed themselves in this connection. Australian science and New Zealand science have evolved palpably altered institutional forms at an extraordinarily rapid clip. The politics of science in these parts are impressively different from what they were one decade, let alone two or three decades ago. Whether its epistemic integrity remains up to snuff is a vastly important issue. Whether the morals within science remain kosher let alone any kind of ideal for us all is a further, vastly important issue. Philosophers of science in Australasia and elsewhere are insufficiently able to comment intelligently concerning this. This is because their approach has too much been to discover simply the best reasoned grounds to laud science. These philosophers have also inconveniently sidelined ethics, as not their job.

Worries about Analytic Dispositions

We will end with one further set of concerns about Australia and New Zealand. Analytic dispositions predominate in Australasian philosophy. Acknowledging the worth and interest of the many significant Australasian accomplishments of an analytic kind in the philosophy of science, still we must worry about the limits of such work. Are analytic dispositions consistently helpful, for fathoming what makes science work well (to the extent that that is what science does)?

Philosophy of science led philosophy into its analytic phase, and then, with developments post-positivism, has also significantly pulled upon philosophy to exit this phase. Setting-it-up questions have been steadily displaced in philosophy of science by getting-it-together ones. For instance, adequacy-to-evidence questions have been displaced by questions about harmonising phenomena. Picturing what evidence itself even is shifts, for this reason, to what is practical; that is, to what is through and through an achievement of getting-it-together. Phenomena that condition the theoretical intelligence of science mostly obtain in the practical circumstance of controlled experimentation and measurement. The need for synthetic-philosophical reflection upon science should not have come as a surprise: for science succeeds chiefly when it discovers concerted traction for the practical activity of measurement.

Analysis is a taking-apart and can come to rest only when it meets what enters our situation seemingly as elementary or given (thus from below). Analytic metaphysics thus explores the setting-up of things from those foundational starting-points. That is why analytic philosophers understand metaphysics as ontology. Admitting something to an ontology is like taking it aboard from below as a given. No other first move is possible for the setting-it-up approach.

Such novel ideas as that laws obtain because of extra plumbing in the universals-basement of reality, or that heavy things fall because there is something, space, that, in its own intrinsic geometry, tells them to do so, proceed from careful prosecution of reflection that has an analytic form and that therefore must thus achieve its resting point in ontology. From thence, the setting-it-up work for philosophical explanation reaches back to the level of our experience. Yet do we see, as a result of this effort, the way the world is, or rather mere exigencies of our own philosophical dispositions? Australasian philosophy of science can reflect upon the many enthralling chapters it has written during its six or seven decades. But by now it much owes attention as well to higher-order questioning of the analytic dispositions that have so far so significantly defined it.

Philosophy of Sport

Michael Burke & Dennis Hemphill



Most of Australia is desert. Closely matching its geographic desolateness, when it comes to the philosophy of sport, the land ‘down unda’ is at least as arid, bleak, and inhospitable. Apart from one major program … and a few lone individuals working in isolation, there are virtually no signs of life across its vast expanses. (Roberts 1993–94, 113)


While philosophy of sport clings for life, sport in Australasia has undergone a significant transformation since the early 1990s. Sport is now considered ‘more than a game’. That is, elite, high-performance sport is now big business that is also perceived as a powerful instrument for the expression of national identity and pride. This has resulted in a growing scientific and management focus in university level sport, exercise and physical education related courses (McKay et al. 1990). This reflects a similar trend in universities in North America and the U.K.

Moreover, the mounting pressure on Australasian universities to seek external research funding has meant that research strategies tend to concentrate on the science of elite sporting performance (Whitson and Macintosh 1990). The growing emphasis on science and management in sport studies affects not only the research foci and the content of the units of study offered in undergraduate courses, but also the staffing profile and budgets of faculties and schools in universities. This contributes to the inhospitable climate for humanities-based programs generally, and for philosophy of sport in particular within university programs in Australia and New Zealand.

Undergraduate Units of Study

Margaret Thornton (2002) laments the fact that certain undergraduate law courses in Australian universities can be completed in two years, made possible by stripping the sociological, cultural and philosophical content of law studies. This managerial version of undergraduate study in law has been mirrored in many undergraduate exercise science, sport management and, to a lesser extent, physical education related courses. Most students in these types of courses either have little or no contact with the social sciences and humanities. At best, students are offered an introductory unit that combines sociological and psychological content or a unit that combines law and ethics.

In recent years, unit offerings have been constrained by external accreditation bodies and by funding cuts to universities that have necessitated the ‘streamlining’ of courses. For example, the Australian Academy for the Exercise and Sport Sciences requires that undergraduate courses in exercise and sport sciences have considerable depth and breadth in biological science areas, as well as clinical practice. As a cost saving measure the typical three-year undergraduate degree program now requires 18–24 units of study, as compared to over 30 units a decade ago. In light of these developments, it is often the units in the humanities and social sciences that are the first to go.

Even the flagship programs at Victoria University have not gone unscathed. Up until the early 1990s, students had to complete three philosophy of sport units of study as part of the Physical Education course. The introduction of the generic Human Movement course in the 1990s, with streams in Physical Education, Exercise Science, and Sport Management, still required students to undertake two philosophy units. As each stream was converted into a course in its own right, there has been growing pressure to increase the discipline foundations in either science or management, limiting the ability of courses to offer more than one philosophy unit of study.

Apart from Victoria University, there are few philosophy of sport related units of study offered in Australasian universities. The University of Western Australia offers an elective unit, ‘Sport and Spirituality’, which combines ethical and religious viewpoints on sport. The University of South Australia offers an elective unit called ‘Philosophy of Sport, Play and Physical Education’. The University of Technology Sydney offers an elective unit called ‘Social and Philosophical Aspects of Secondary Education’. Many other teacher education Physical Education courses have a similar unit. The University of Ballarat offers a third-year core unit, ‘Philosophical and Contemporary Issues in Human Movement’. The Australian Catholic University offers a core unit in ‘Ethics, Law and Exercise Science Practice’ to its exercise science students. There appeared to be no philosophy of sport units of study offered in New Zealand, although the University of Otago has a stronger focus on sociocultural studies of sport than almost any other program we looked at.

Aside from these slim offerings, most other programs in sport and exercise sciences, human movement and physical education offer no philosophically-based units, or submerge ethics content within broad, thematically organised socio-cultural units. At the University of Newcastle and elsewhere, ethics is addressed in the context of research design and methods within exercise and sports science units. We could find no unit of study within mainstream philosophy departments in Australasian universities that investigates the philosophy of sport.

Research Outputs

In spite of the limited number of units of study related to philosophy of sport, the research output from Australasian academics within this area has been significant. The flagship publication within the area is the Journal of the Philosophy of Sport. This international, peer-reviewed journal is published for the International Association for the Philosophy of Sport by Human Kinetics. The journal has been published annually since 1972 and semi-annually since 2002. Since the article by Roberts appeared, there have been 19 issues of the journal, with Australasian based authors producing 17 of the 140 articles. The authors of these articles were Terence Roberts, Dennis Hemphill and Michael Burke from Victoria University, Christopher Cordner and Chuck Summers from the University of Melbourne, Adrian Walsh from the University of New England, Aidan Curzon-Hobson, Rex Thomson and Nicki Turner from the UNITEC Institute of Technology in Auckland, and John Hughson, who has since moved on from both the University of New England and University of Otago. Articles with a philosophy of sport focus have also appeared in other international, refereed journals, including Sporting Traditions; Sport, Ethics and Philosophy; and Sport in Society.

Other research concerning the philosophical and ethical dimensions of sport has been produced by Fred D’Agostino at the University of Queensland; Jim Daly, an adjunct scholar at the University of South Australia; the late Robert Paddick, who was at Flinders University of South Australia; John Sutton at Macquarie University; Damon Young at the University of Melbourne; Camilla Obel at the University of Canterbury; and Tara Magdalinski and Karen Brooks at the University of the Sunshine Coast. We should also continue to claim several prominent philosophers. Peter Singer, who is now at Princeton University, is a laureate professor at University of Melbourne, and has recently produced a commentary on the ethics of doping in sport. Julian Savulescu, now at Oxford University but previously at the Murdoch Institute, together with Bennett Foddy and Megan Clayton, from the Murdoch Institute in Melbourne, also write about doping in sport (2004).

Future Considerations

Exercise science, sport performance, and sport management related courses dominate the sport studies landscape in Australasian universities. At the same time, sport is rife with problems. There has been growing public concern about issues in sport such as drug use and drug control, gene doping, racial vilification, gambling, HIV/AIDS, homophobia, gender discrimination, violence and injuries, athlete rights, and the public subsidisation of sporting events. In spite of these glaring issues and problems, there are few educational programs in Australasian universities that devote serious critical attention to them.

The linking of sport and philosophy may be considered incredible by some, but sport resonates in Australasian culture like no other activity and is fertile ground for philosophical analysis. However, this will require a greater acknowledgement of the role of sport in human affairs and also the resolution of the traditional divide between those in the ‘pure’ and ‘applied’ areas of philosophical endeavour. While the situation for the philosophy of sport may seem bleak at times, there is no shortage of issues in sport that could benefit from collaborative work between philosophers and their sport philosophy colleagues.

Philosophy of Statistics

Neil Thomason

To the outsider, ‘philosophy of probability’ and ‘philosophy of statistics’ might appear to be almost synonymous. To the cognoscenti, however, they are strikingly different, although obviously covering some common ground. Philosophy of probability deals primarily with conceptual issues in probability theory, especially the meaning of probability statements (the so-called ‘interpretations’ of probability) and the philosophical underpinnings of probability theory’s formalism; it also shades seamlessly into various philosophical problems in decision theory ranging from Bernouilli’s St. Petersburg paradox of the early eighteenth century to Nover and Hájek’s recent Pasadena paradox.

Philosophy of statistics, on the other hand, deals primarily with conceptual and other difficulties involved in statistical inference; it deals with choosing the best hypothesis (‘indirect inference’). A major topic of philosophy of statistics is what one means by ‘best’, which in turn helps distinguish philosophy of statistics from statistics. Philosophy of statistics is controversial to its core and its convoluted metaphysical debates have considerable practical implications for how science should be done.

Arguably the world’s outstanding—certainly the most influential—contributor to the philosophy of statistics was the pipe-smoking polymath, Sir Ronald Aylmer Fisher. Fisher enters this article because he left his Cambridge professorship in the late 1950s to became a senior research fellow with the CSIRO in Adelaide. Among non-statisticians, he is perhaps best known during this period for his articles and letters questioning the causal link between smoking and lung cancer (Fisher 1957, 1958a, 1958b, 1958c, 1959).

While, as often, his rhetoric became a bit strident (‘ … surely the “yellow peril” of modern times is not the mild and soothing weed but the original creation of states of frantic alarm’), his methodological points remain interesting and ingenious: e.g. ‘Is it possible, then, that lung cancer—that is to say, the pre-cancerous condition which must exist and is known to exist for years in those who are going to show overt lung cancer—is one of the causes of smoking cigarettes? I don’t think it can be excluded’ (Fisher 1958a: 162).

In his The Design of Experiments, Fisher made the provocative, clearly overstated claim that, ‘Every experiment may be said to exist only in order to give the facts a chance of disproving the null hypothesis’ (Fisher 1935: 18). This claim for the centrality of null hypothesis testing, although strongly challenged by Bayesians among others, has been immensely influential. In Adelaide he continued his bruising battles with Jerzy Neyman, Egon Pearson and others over the nature of statistical inference and appropriate statistical techniques. Calling Birnbaum ‘a very bewildered type’ over the likelihood principle is a nice example of his rhetorical style during his Australian years (Fisher 1962). As Savage wrote, ‘[Fisher] was often involved in quarrels, and though he sometimes disagreed politely, he sometimes published insults that only a saint could entirely forgive’ (Savage 1976: 446). For Neyman’s side of the story, see Neyman (1961). Fisher died in Adelaide, not of lung cancer.

Much of Australasian philosophy of statistics has focussed on critiques of null hypothesis testing, to which Fisher contributed so much, and its complex relationship to Bayes’ Theorem, which he denounced so strongly. Bayes’ Theorem follows from the standard axioms of probability and is, in itself, more-or-less unproblematic. However, there are great debates about how to apply the Theorem and, indeed, whether it can or should be applied in virtually any practical cases at all. While all agree it can be used for urn and such cases, applying it to scientific theory choice has proven immensely difficult. Nonetheless, in recent years philosophies sympathetic to Bayesianism have been in the ascendancy in Australasia.

Perhaps the outstanding Australasian contribution to philosophy of statistics has been Minimum Message Length (MML), developed primarily by Monash University’s foundation professor of computer science, Chris Wallace (Ph.D., Sydney). The fundamental idea, to simplify wildly, is that data compression, when properly done, and Bayesian analysis, when properly done, are the same thing. Or, as Wallace put it colloquially in ‘A Brief History of MML’, a poignant, informal talk delivered not long before his death:


… it turns out that when you look at it, the strings which went into the computer which have most effect on making the predictions of future data are the strings which encoded the available data most concisely. In other words data compression. And the better the compression the more weight was given to that string in making the predictions as to what’s happening next. (Wallace 2003)


‘A Brief History of MML’ contains Wallace’s own view of the history, with an emphasis on the relationship between MML, data compression and Bayesianism. (For a description of Wallace and his work, see Dowe 2008.)

More technically, MML is an invariant Bayesian method of model selection and point estimation. ‘Invariant’ here means that MML will not change its answer (estimation, model selected) when the scale or co-ordinate system is changed. It is also a plausible information-theoretical reformulation of Ockham’s Razor, holding that the best explanation of the data is found in the shortest message, where the message length includes both the statement of the model as well as the data encoded most concisely in the model. For a far more technical working out of Wallace’s insight, its consequences and its applications, see the posthumous Wallace (2005).

I cannot help but believe that MML has been the victim of the tyranny of distance. I believe that if Wallace been at a major northern-hemisphere university, MML would be a major, perhaps the major, approach to statistical matters, at least in those areas where the appropriate data is available. Still, in recent years, it has been considerably developed, particularly at Monash University. (For some examples see Korb and Nicholson 2004: ch. 8; Dowe et al. 2007; and Twardy et al. 2005.)

Peter Walley’s (Ph.D. UWA) monograph, Statistical Reasoning with Imprecise Probabilities, is an influential extension of the Bayesian theory of robustness, focussing on that much-discussed Achilles heel of Bayesianism, prior probability distributions (Walley 1991). Walley gives many arguments for the need for ‘imprecise’ probability assignments, represented not with single real numbers but with ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ probabilities. He develops the philosophical and mathematical underpinnings of his theory in great detail.

Jason Grossman (Ph.D. Sydney) reformulated Barnard’s and Birnbaum’s likelihood principle and provided it with its most extended philosophical defence. On this basis, Grossman argued that one does not have to be Bayesian to show that central frequentist concepts such as p-values, confidence intervals, power, and bias are incoherent—or at least pragmatically incoherent (Grossman, forthcoming).

Claire Leslie (Ph.D. Melbourne; Swinburne) follows Cox’s 1958 demonstration that standard frequentist measures such as the p-value do not describe evidence, on any plausible understanding of evidence. She showed how frequentism can be modified to produce results that are evidentially optimal and that such results bear a greater resemblance to the likelihood measures of I. J. Good and Hacking than to the products of conventional frequentism (Leslie 2008).

Geoff Cumming (D.Phil. Oxford; La Trobe), working closely with Neil Thomason (Ph.D. Berkeley; Melbourne) and Fiona Fidler (Ph.D. Melbourne; La Trobe and Melbourne) to reform statistical practices in the social sciences, has done some interesting philosophical work on the way. His (2008) showed that the p value given by a replication experiment often is very different indeed from the original experiment’s p-value. For example, if your initial experiment obtains p=.05, then the 80% p-interval, meaning the 80% prediction interval for the p-value, is (.00008, .44). That is, there is a 10% chance that, on replication, p<.00008, and a 10% chance p>.44! This is true, regardless of sample size (Cumming 2008).

Kevin Korb (Ph.D. Indiana; Monash) applied causal protocol theory to computing likelihoods to Hempel’s paradox, and is working on extending this to a more general Bayesian account (Korb 1994).

Finally, Thomason and Elizabeth Silver (Melbourne) are critiquing the philosophical and empirical foundations of intention-to-treat (ITT) analyses of medical randomised control trials (RCTs). ITT analyses all (available) data from RCTs, regardless of whether the subjects followed the assigned protocol (i.e. took their medicine) or not. They (we) claim that the hegemony of ITT can seriously undermine medical progress by, inter alia, substantially understating the intervention’s effect size as well as substantially understating an intervention’s unfortunate side-effects. The alternatives to ITT have generally been almost completely neglected.

Esoteric though it is, philosophy of statistics is flourishing in Australasia.

Place, U. T.

David Armstrong

W. G. Lycan said, ‘In my considered opinion, “Is Consciousness a Brain Process?” [by U. T. Place] is the most important philosophy of mind article published in the 20th century’ (taken from the jacket of George Graham and Elizabeth Valentine’s very useful collection, Identifying the Mind: Selected Papers of U. T. Place). This article launched among philosophers the so-called identity theory (not mere correlation of mental and brain processes, but identity).

Ullin Thomas Place was born on 24 October 1924 in Northallerton, North Yorkshire and died in Thirsk, North Yorkshire, on 3 January 2000. In a very interesting intellectual autobiography he tells us of a Quaker heritage, leading to an early interest in mysticism and to conscientious objection in wartime (Graham and Valentine 2004). After an earlier year at Oxford devoted to social anthropology, he enrolled in 1947 for the new PPP degree, psychology combined with philosophy or physiology, his choice being philosophy. Place always remained both a psychologist and a philosopher, and a genuinely interdisciplinary one at that. An important influence was Brian Farrell, Wilde Reader in Mental Philosophy, who, incidentally, first raised the question what it was like to be a bat.

In 1951 the newly appointed young professor of philosophy at the University of Adelaide, J. J. C. Smart, needed a psychologist because his department was also responsible for that subject. Smart had known Place at Oxford and appointed him to fill the needed position. Place must be credited with introducing scientific psychology to the University of Adelaide, rats in mazes and all, and after his time psychology became a department in its own right.

But Place also continued with his philosophical thinking. Like Smart, Place had been greatly influenced at Oxford by Gilbert Ryle’s behaviourism or quasi-behaviourism, with its emphasis upon dispositions to behave in certain ways as the key to the mental. Place, however, was increasingly unwilling to allow that consciousness could be treated in the Rylean way. At the same time he was unwilling to accept a dualist position. Materialism about the mental seemed the only scientifically plausible position. Perhaps, then, consciousness could be identified with purely physical processes in the brain? Over time he converted Smart from his Ryleanism, and Smart always emphasised that it was Place that was there first. Place’s paper was rejected by Mind (personal communication of Place to Elizabeth Valentine) but then accepted by the British Journal of Psychology, appearing in 1956 (and reprinted in Graham and Valentine 2004). Even as a second-best, this was not a very happy outcome. Psychologists were, one supposes, not very interested, and philosophers did not even read the journal. (Smart, by contrast, signalled his own later conversion in The Philosophical Review, at that time read by most analytical philosophers.)

But there was a much more serious obstacle to the view’s gaining a degree of acceptance. This was that Place argued that the identification was a contingent matter. His model was ‘lightning is [is identical with] an electric discharge’, which was once a scientific hypothesis, though now established. In the same spirit, he was putting forward a hypothesis about the mental. (A few years later, under the influence of Kripke, many would come to think that the proposition about the nature of lightning was a necessary one, though one known only a posteriori.) But at the time Place was writing, analytical philosophers were treating contingency and knowability a posteriori as pretty much extensionally equivalent. Philosophers at that time, furthermore, tended to think that philosophical truths were established a priori or not at all, a tendency only strengthened by the widespread conviction that philosophy could not advance beyond linguistic or conceptual analysis. (Recall that the title of Ryle’s book was The Concept of Mind.)

In addition, many thought that Place’s contention could be refuted by the consideration that one could be aware of one’s own consciousness while totally unaware of one’s own brain processes. Taken by itself this is a patently invalid argument, but taken along with the submerged, and so largely unexamined, Cartesian doctrine of self-intimation (nothing in the mental is hidden from us) the brain process hypothesis could seem to be refutable a priori.

At any rate, Place’s hypothesis was met with widespread incredulity and incomprehension, not to mention rather indifferent jokes. He never resiled from his view, but he became for a number of years rather detached from the ongoing discussion of it. In part this was personal—he resigned his lectureship at the University of Adelaide in December 1954 to return to England largely for family reasons—and so did not participate in the vigorous debate going on in Australia, a country to which he returned only once for a brief visit. (He did, however, maintain a connection with Smart both as philosopher and friend. When Smart was in England they would walk on the North Yorkshire moors.) But the more important reason was that he was out of sympathy with the way that the identity theory subsequently developed.

The theory that Place put forward was a limited one, a mixture of central-state theory and a Rylean view. In his article he said:


In the case of cognitive concepts like ‘knowing’, ‘believing’, ‘understanding’, and ‘remembering’, and volitional concepts like ‘wanting’ and ‘intending’, there can be little doubt, I think, that an analysis in terms of dispositions to behave … is fundamentally sound. On the other hand, there would seem to be an intractable residue of concepts clustering around the notions of consciousness, experience, sensation, and mental imagery, where some sort of inner process story is unavoidable. (Place 1956: 44)


Smart went along with this in his 1959 paper, not adding very much to Place’s position. He did contribute a very important clarifying piece of terminology. Ordinary statements about the mental, he argued, were topic neutral between dualism and materialism. (The phrase came from Ryle, although Ryle used it to describe logical terms.) The having of an orangey after-image, for instance, was analysed as (roughly) the having of something going on in one like what went on when in good light an actual ripe orange acted on one’s eyes. If this style of analysis was correct, then it sets up a level playing field where dualist and material theories of what the actual nature of the ‘something going on’ was could be decided on empirical grounds, grounds which favoured materialism. Place accepted this idea, indeed he considered it was already present in his own paper (see Graham and Valentine 2004: 110–11).

Later work, however, by David Lewis (1966), D. M. Armstrong (1966, 1968) and Brian Medlin (1967) sought an identity or central-state theory for all mental states, events and processes. Furthermore, Smart quickly came to accept this widening of the scope of the theory. Place never did; see for instance his 1988 paper, ‘Thirty Years on—Is Consciousness Still a Brain Process?’ (reprinted in Graham and Valentine 2004). Place’s identity theory was always and only an identity with consciousness.

On his return to England Place worked for six years in the midlands as a clinical psychologist, touring in a caravan that doubled as a consulting-room. In January 1968 he joined the psychology department at Leeds University working on operant responses in manic-depressive psychosis, but in October 1969 he transferred to philosophy. Retiring in 1982 he came back as senior fellow in 1983.

He married twice, first to Anna Wessel, and in 1964 to Peggy Kay. He and Peggy drove in a camper-van all over Europe to philosophy conferences. When he knew he was dying he went on working steadily at his intellectual projects while he could, until the last two weeks. He left his brain to the University of Adelaide- where it may be seen in the Anatomy Museum with his own caption: ‘Did this Brain Contain the Consciousness of U. T. Place?’

Because his identity theory was an identity with consciousness only, he remained sympathetic to behaviourism, particularly the work of B. F. Skinner. Since mental dispositions were so important for his theory, his metaphysics of dispositions kept developing. He took from C. B. Martin the view that the marks generally given of mental intentionality may also be found in dispositions. This suggested that intentionality with its direction upon objects that need not exist (as in, say, false belief) can be explained as being no more than a certain sort of physical disposition (Martin and Pfeifer 1986). (Martin was a member of the philosophy department at the University of Adelaide during the period that Place was teaching there.) He retained to the end the view that philosophy was conceptual or linguistic analysis, but he thought that this analysis was an empirical matter. Blind-sight and other evidence convinced him of the existence of a second mental system within us, inaccessible to consciousness, which he felicitously called ‘the zombie within’. The sweep of his work may be surveyed in the Graham and Valentine collection.


(Thanks to Jack Smart, Graham Nerlich, Harry Lewis and Elizabeth Valentine for their valuable assistance.)

Plunkett Centre for Ethics

Bernadette Tobin

The Plunkett Centre for Ethics was the first research centre to be created by the Australian Catholic University. It grew out of two initiatives. The first was that the Catholic College of Education, Sydney (a predecessor institution of the Australian Catholic University) had begun to offer short courses in bioethics in the Catholic tradition to doctors and nurses, most but not all of whom worked in the Catholic health care sector. The second was the decision of the Sisters of Charity to appoint a hospital ethicist to the staff of St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney in response to the challenges occasioned by rapid technological advances in medical treatment and the worsening financial constraints on the availability of care in hospitals. The centre was formally opened in 1992. Location on the campus of the hospital meant that at least some staff of the centre would be able to make philosophically-trained contributions to the intellectual life of a teaching hospital, both at the level of what is now called ‘ethics consultations’ and at the level of institutional practice.

The centre’s aim, from the beginning, has been to promote intellectual excellence in ethics in the service of compassionate and equitable health care informed by reflective, critical engagement with the complex Catholic philosophical and theological tradition. Its primary focus is to realise these values in its reflection on some contemporary questions in moral philosophy and in the provision of health care. This is done through research, teaching, and community engagement. The centre conducts, publishes and promotes research; provides research training and supervision; develops and teaches courses and conducts ethical reviews of professional practice; offers an ‘ethics consultation’ service and participates in public discussions.

The aim has changed little over the years, although (as the publications of the staff reveal) the way that aim has been pursued reflects the intellectual interests of individual members of the centre. An early focus was on the contribution of virtue ethics to medicine, law and society (see, for example, Buckle 2002). This has recently evolved into an examination of the intellectual origins of, and challenges to, contemporary Australian consequentialism in ethics (see, for example, Tobin 2005). An abiding interest continues to be the study of what the Catholic philosophical and theological tradition can learn from, and offer to, contemporary moral philosophy, together with the study of the distinctive insights of the Judeo-Christian tradition (e.g. Gleeson 2002). Staff helped to write the first Code of Ethics for Catholic Health and Aged Care Services in Australia. And staff often collaborate with doctors, nurses, lawyers and administrators in multi-disciplinary considerations of difficult moral choices in health care (see, for instance, Isaacs et al. 2006).

The centre is named after John Hubert Plunkett, the first Catholic Solicitor-General and then Attorney-General of New South Wales. An Irishman by birth, and a great friend of the first five Irish Sisters of Charity to come to Australia to offer health care to the poor, he drafted Acts which abolished summary punishment and the administration of justice by private householders, extended the protection of the law to convicts as well as emancipists, and disestablished the Church of England. Today he should be remembered for extending the protection of the law to the aboriginal people: in 1838 he secured the conviction of seven white men for the killing of an aborigine—in fact a whole tribe had been massacred at Myall Creek. His sense of the common humanity of indigenous and non-indigenous Australians did not reflect the spirit of his times!

A Companion to Philosophy in Australia and New Zealand

   by Graham Oppy, N. N. Trakakis