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A Companion to Philosophy in Australia and New Zealand


Philipa Rothfield


‘The language-game of legitimation is not state-political but philosophical …’

(Lyotard 1984, 33)


Although postmodernism is also associated with art and architecture, its philosophical roots are more closely aligned with poststructuralism and the events of May 1968 in France. These movements—in turn, philosophical and political—have made an impact on the way in which philosophy conceives itself, raising important questions about rationality and the nature of subjectivity. Postmodernism is one way of framing that shift.

Postmodernism has often been characterised as against modernism, against the enlightenment and against modernity. The postmodern cultural condition is famously said to involve what we might now call the globalised experience of consumer capitalism—the monetary access to a simultaneous diversity of products and experiences from all corners of the globe. But for all its oppositional rhetoric and cultural criticism, postmodernism can also be construed as a sustained critique of philosophy’s meta-discursive role.

This can be elaborated in relation to Jean-Francois Lyotard’s distinction between two philosophical fields—speculative and emancipatory—which were nominated in connection with his oft-cited remark that the ‘grand narrative has lost its credibility, regardless of what mode of unification it uses’ (Lyotard 1984, 37). Speculative philosophy pertains to metaphysics, ontology and epistemology, that is, the way in which philosophy deals with the big questions of reality and knowledge. The emancipatory label refers to discourses of liberation; ethical and political projects that aim to put an end to oppression or domination. Marxism and feminism have been the prime interlocutors of Lyotard’s political critique.

The attribution of a fictive element (‘narrative’) alongside the moniker of speculation captures Lyotard’s suggestion that philosophy is less about truth than it is a kind of production of ‘truth’. Lyotard’s comment, originally published in 1979, represents the accumulated impact of several philosophers, notably Foucault, Irigaray, Derrida and Deleuze, many of whom built on the twentieth-century interpretations of Nietzsche inaugurated by Bataille. Irigaray, Derrida and Deleuze, each in their own way, read the classical texts of philosophy, jointly provoking the legacy which Lyotard addressed. Taken together, their work could be said to have undermined the key tenets of Enlightenment thought. Although better known for his allegiance to pragmatist philosophy, Richard Rorty’s (1980) book, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, resonates with this trajectory in also questioning the nature of truth.

The ‘grand’ part of ‘grand narrative’ can be elaborated in relation to notions of universalisation and totalisation. What entitles philosophy to make universal claims that speak for everybody and everything? Is it legitimate or desirable for philosophy to attempt to cover the entire field, that is, to totalise? To what extent is philosophy able to furnish the epistemological bases of other disciplinary practices? These questions concern the character and role of philosophical discourse. Indeed, some would argue that this calls into question the very identity of philosophical thought: abstraction, argument, meta-thinking, logical form. The controversy addresses the scope and nature of philosophical thinking, and more generally, the legitimacy of universalised forms of theory.

These arguments have been conducted in a number of fields. In the philosophy of science, for example, one could imagine that universalisation and totalisation were accepted norms. Yet postmodern philosophers of science have rejected these concepts. Nancy Cartwright’s (1983) book, How the Laws of Physics Lie, illustrates an attempt to account for the laws of nature in a non-universal, non-totalising manner. Latour and Woolgar (1979) have weighed into the debate through treating science as a form of social construction. The universalism of scientific theory has also been discussed in epistemological terms: Joseph Rouse (1987) developed a notion of ‘local knowledge’ as an alternative to the universality of science, whilst Donna Haraway (1988) replaced the ‘God’s eye view’ of science (the ‘view from nowhere’) with a situated conception of knowledge. In these examples, the universal dimension of science has been reformulated so as to conceive it as a practice that is specific, situated, localised and particular. The question then becomes: how does science generalise or adapt local forms of knowledge in order to achieve its breadth of scope?

Feminist and Marxist philosophers have also engaged with postmodernism, largely via the politics of enlightenment thought. Here the argument clusters around the implied subject of political discourse. To what extent do emancipatory narratives presume a universal subject of oppression/emancipation? Inasmuch as universalism prevails, the emancipatory subject is conceived in humanist terms: ‘humanity as the hero of liberty’ (Lyotard 1984, 31). This also has feminist implications. Having exposed the inherent masculinity of the humanist subject (for example, Lloyd 1984), some feminist approaches sought to ‘restore’ universal subjectivity via egalitarian means, whilst others denied the feasibility of such a move. Many of these debates have been framed around the status and desirability of the universal, woman. Ought feminism to pursue the liberation of women in universal terms? What theoretical implications accrue from the marginalisation of women of colour, third world women and other minority groups? Does the existence of hegemonic feminism suggest that universality itself is the problem?

Some feminists have expressed skepticism towards the apparent disinterestedness of postmodernism, speculating that its critique of the category ‘woman’ has arisen just as women are making real gains as citizen-subjects. Is postmodernism a (white, male) ruse concocted to deflect women from their political goals? Meaghan Morris (1988) argues that feminism is not external to postmodern thought but is equally found within postmodernist forms of discourse. Other feminists have further embraced the postmodern critique of enlightenment universality, claiming that feminist discourse has never adequately represented the entirety of women, and that difference is a better figure around which to organise (Young 1990, Yeatman and Gunew 1993).

The question of difference within the political arena owes a great deal to the work of the French feminist, Luce Irigaray. Irigaray (1985) posed the question of sexual difference in relation to a number of key philosophical texts, arguing that each in its own way reduces (sexual) difference to a version of (masculine) sameness. Irigaray argued the point with respect to discourses overtly concerned with sexuality and sexual difference (Freud, Lacan) but also with respect to philosophical texts that purport sexual neutrality (Plato, Merleau-Ponty). Phallocentrism pertains to (philosophical) systems of representation which manifest a certain kind of patriarchal structure organised around sameness. Sameness, in this context, refers to an economy (order) of representation based upon the primacy of masculine subjectivity (whether explicit or not). However elaborated, whenever ‘the two sexes are conceived as identical, as opposites or complements, one of the terms defines the position of the other’ (Grosz 1989, 105). Universalism and totalisation are manifestations of phallocentric thought inasmuch as they are forms of representation which are organised around a univocal perspective. Feminists have drawn on Irigaray’s work to articulate a feminism which resists the urge to erase differences amongst women, whilst feminist philosophers have taken up her critical account of phallocentrism in relation to philosophical systems of representation.

Michel Foucault is also a key figure of postmodernist thought. Although Foucault (1985) resisted any simplistic opposition to the Enlightenment as such, the breadth of his work poses a sustained, critical engagement with notions of rationality, knowledge and subjectivity. His work on sexuality and subjectivity casts doubt on the sense that there is a universal, ahistorical human subject beyond the specificities of time and place. His writings on the discourses of biomedicine, sexuality, the prison system and the rise of modern psychiatry traced the contours of a variety of knowledges, each with its embedded, institutionalised forms of truth. By teasing out the very different understandings that permeated different epochs, Foucault promoted the view that epistemological difference produces truth-effects rather than refers to external grounds which supply what might be called truth conditions. His work marks a break with structuralist linguistics which tended to focus upon relations of language, moving towards a complex elaboration of power, discourse and the body.

Along with Irigaray, Foucault emphasises the body’s role within the social formation, a mark of difference from classical Marxism. Where Marxism might have emphasised ideology as the means by which social subjects take up their place in the world (via false consciousness or ideological subject-production), Foucault looked to the ways in which human bodies come to be socially inscribed as the means by which subjectivity is produced. For Foucault, like Irigaray, the body-subject needs to be approached in socio-cultural terms. Consciousness is no longer regarded as a universal, unmarked facility whose transcendental structure can be analyzed a priori (Kant) or by bracketing the empirical world (Husserl). Their common emphasis on the body as a site of social elaboration enters the postmodern critique of (in this context, disembodied) universal, totalised knowledge.

Postmodernism was initially introduced to the Department of General Philosophy at the University of Sydney in the late 1970s, when Foucault, Lacan, Habermas and Derrida were first discussed by Wal Suchting, Paul Crittenden, John Burnheim and Michael Stocker, amongst others. From 1974 onwards, a ‘Working Papers’ collective formed under Feral Publications to publish the work of many French philosophers associated with postmodernism, including and especially Foucault. This group consisted of Paul Foss, Graeme Tubbenhauer, Terry Bell, Andrew Benjamin, Meaghan Morris and Elizabeth Grosz. A Sydney-based publication, entitled Local Consumption, also published on questions of representation, semiotics and sexuality.

Postmodernism made a palpable splash in the Australian philosophical scene in the shape of the ‘Futur*Fall, Excursions in Postmodernity’ conference which was held at the University of Sydney, in July 1984. More than 700 people attended this event, which featured international speakers, Jean Baudrillard and Gayatri Spivak, and disseminated the work of Foucault, Deleuze, Irigaray, Kristeva, Derrida and Lyotard (Grosz 1986a).

Between them, Elizabeth Grosz, Moira Gatens, Paul Patton, Julian Pefanis, Meaghan Morris and Terry Threadgold wrote on many of the central authors associated with postmodernism. Grosz and Gatens were key figures in circulating French feminism. Gatens’ (1996) work on Spinoza, ethics and corporeality was influential, as were Grosz’s engagements with Irigaray, Kristeva, Foucault and Derrida. Paul Patton’s (1993) edited collection, Nietzsche, Feminism and Political Theory, brought to the fore Nietzsche’s influence on postmodern thought. Ros Diprose and Robyn Ferrell (1991) and Penny Deutscher (1997) have likewise published on the work of Nietzsche, Derrida and Irigaray. It is difficult to contain postmodern theorising within the confines of philosophy, as many other disciplines have engaged with its debates and contributed in theoretical terms. Several of the above philosophers participated in or provoked these debates. For example, Patton’s (1988) Deleuzian critique of ‘the will to totalise’ confronted Marxism with questions regarding the character of Marxist theory, while Grosz’ ‘Conclusion: What is Feminist Theory?’ (1986a) could be viewed as a postmodern reformulation of feminist theory in strategic terms.

These academics have since forged their own intellectual pathways in a diversity of directions. There is now a generation of younger philosophers who are heir to these discussions and the work of the philosophers, here and abroad, who engaged in them. Ultimately, postmodernism functioned as a catalyst for critical debates regarding the status and nature of philosophy, theory, politics and knowledge. And although it drew on the work of many important philosophers, it did not exhaust their relevance.


Jack Reynolds

While it is difficult to precisely define poststructuralism, we can begin ostensively by noting some of the philosophers who are most consistently and famously associated with the term. This includes Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Derrida, and Jean-François Lyotard. As such, poststructuralism refers primarily to those philosophers working in France who contested and problematised the reigning orthodoxy in the humanities and social sciences in the early 1960s, which at that time was structuralism. Before positively considering their work and the way in which their overlapping but not univocal interests came to form what we today refer to as poststructuralism, it is important to consider their immediate predecessor on the French scene, structuralism.

Structuralism was both a methodological mode of analysis as well as a more thoroughgoing metaphysical and ontological position, and it was widespread in the 1950s and ’60s, whether it be Roland Barthes employing structuralist techniques in literary theory, Claude Levi-Strauss in anthropology, Jacques Lacan in psychoanalysis, or Louis Althusser in relation to Marxism and class analysis. The linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure was also garnering renewed attention. Structuralism sought to arrive at a stable and secure knowledge of a system or a structure, by charting differences within that structure, and it sought to do so without any references to subjectivity and consciousness.

Philosophers like Foucault (at least in his middle and later work), Lyotard, Deleuze and Derrida, along with some of the major French feminists including Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva, were all important in challenging the ‘centrist’ assumption of structuralism that an understanding of one key element of the structure—whether it be kinship laws, the workings of language, the educational system, or the devices employed in a literary text—allows for an explanation of the entire system. Many of these poststructuralist thinkers also cast into question structuralism’s rather strict determinism (for Althusser, for example, subjects are ‘interpellated’ or produced to fit certain socially defined roles). Rather than reinvent a philosophy of freedom in order to challenge this, they instead insisted upon the role of unpredictable forces in the genesis of any structure, law, or norm. Opposing structuralism’s quasi-scientific claims to objectivity, rationality and intelligibility, poststructuralists tended to point to certain moments, or ‘events’, that disrupt any stable and secure sense of meaning and identity. The student revolutions in Paris in May 1968 were an enduring and formative influence upon their work, but for all of them some kind of rupture is a transcendental necessity for the event and not merely a contingent fact. Although they could not be said to be irrationalists, their work consistently pointed to the limits of rationality, reason, and knowledge. On their view, these limits are not merely peripheral but come to constitute and problematise any so-called core, and the sometimes polemical debate between Derrida and John Searle on the Austinian distinction between normal and parasitic speech (i.e. playful, theatric speech) is exemplary in this regard (for Derrida’s version of events, see Limited Inc.).

To briefly provide a couple of further examples, we might also think here of Lyotard’s concept of the differend and Derrida’s thematisation of the undecidable (his more famous neologism, différance, requires more explanation than space allows here). The differend is Lyotard’s term for a dispute in which two (or more) parties cannot agree on a common rule of judgement, or a metanarrative which would act as a tribunal of arbitration. This may seem a rare occurrence, but, for him, differends are in fact ubiquitous, prevailing whenever one phrase is linked onto another, and where language is used in mutually exclusive ways (e.g. denotative vs. prescriptive). For Derrida, so-called ‘undecidables’ are part of each and every text, and some of his most famous examples include the motif of the ghost in Marx, the pharmakon in Plato, and the hymen in Mallarmé. An undecidable cannot conform to either polarity of a dichotomy (e.g. present/absent, cure/poison, and inside/outside in the above examples) and this kind of oscillation between two determinate possibilities breaks open the meaning that an author seeks to impose upon their work, exposing it to alternative understandings that undermine the explicit authorial intention. While meaning has a context that saturates it, on this view it is nonetheless never secured once and for all. As would be apparent, philosophies of language played an important role in these two thinker’s work.

Genealogical, archaeological, dialectical, and deconstructive analyses of the history of Western philosophy were also important to all of the poststructuralists in their efforts to transform and make new. These engagements were never intended to constitute simple critiques of this tradition, however, but as sustained efforts to inhabit from within and to open up space for new possibilities by showing possibilities that have been covered over. While appropriations of their thought have sometimes resulted in a monolithic treatment of this history, it is important to note that a revaluation of difference and an ongoing concern with marginality also characterised their work. This helps to explain why poststructuralism has often been allied with leftist causes, despite retaining a more critical relation to doctrinaire Marxism, which is yet another ‘grand narrative’ according to Lyotard. Drawing on structuralism, psychoanalysis, phenomenology (especially Heidegger), and a Kantian-inspired preoccupation with transcendental arguments, poststructuralists have continued to endorse the structuralist idea of ‘the death of the subject’, and have continued to highlight problems with, and the limits to, humanism. This simply means that it is spurious to begin from the assumption that consciousness and subjectivity are fundamental when they are in fact socio-culturally produced, albeit not in as over-determined a way as the structuralists might have thought.

Poststructuralism in Australasia

Having schematically defined poststructuralism, we cannot consider the history of this movement within Australasia without simultaneously considering the history of Continental or European philosophy in the Antipodes. In this regard, as with most English-speaking countries, Continental or European philosophy has not been the dominant kind of philosophy taught in Australasian universities and it has, sometimes, been treated with disdain. Nonetheless, phenomenology and existential philosophy became increasingly popular in the late 1950s and ’60s (and organisations like the Australasian Association for Phenomenology appeared, later to become the Australasian Society of Continental Philosophy). Shortly after, the student revolutions around the world began—May 1968 in France, just afterwards in Australia. These events had a profound influence upon academic philosophy, as did the Vietnam War, which likewise polarised the academic philosophical community. Indeed, in the early 1970s the structuralist Marxism of Althusser (who taught Derrida and Foucault) was one of the major factors behind a rather acrimonious split of the philosophy department at the University of Sydney into the Department of General Philosophy and the Department of Traditional and Modern Philosophy. But it was not just adherence to the tenets of Althusser’s Marxism that was responsible. It also involved a dispute between those who thought that feminism, Marxism, and Continental philosophy were worth pursuing, and those who did not, or at least did not think that they were appropriately classified as philosophy, which on the analytic understanding ought to be bound up with a respect for clarity and a commitment to argumentation conforming to various logical or probabilistic norms—suffice it to say that the poststructuralist concern with style and manner of expression often meant their work contravened these norms, notwithstanding the difficulties of translation.

Indeed, at the same time the first breaths of French poststructuralism were also beginning to have an influence. Although many of the canonical texts were written during 1966–69 (think of Derrida’s Speech and Phenomena, Of Grammatology, and Writing and Difference, Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition and Logic of Sense, and Foucault’s The Order of Things and Archaeology of Knowledge), it took some time for these texts to be translated and to begin to make an impression in Australasia. Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s provocative experimental text, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, had also just come out (1972 in French, 1977 in its English translation) and brought the authors immediate fame. Meaghan Morris and Paul Patton edited and translated pieces on Foucault and Deleuze in the late 1970s, inspiring all kinds of people, including the film critic Adrian Martin. Various independent publishing houses cropped up and briefly flourished (Intervention Publications, Feral Publications), and Lyotard’s highly influential book, The Postmodern Condition, was published in French in 1979.

Much of this growth happened in and around Sydney. Indeed, despite the fact that W. R. Boyce Gibson (University of Melbourne) translated the work of Husserl, historically it is difficult to deny that Sydney has been the centre of Continental philosophy in Australasia, and this is arguably particularly so in regard to poststructuralism. The input of philosophers like Max Deutscher and Genevieve Lloyd was very important in this regard, but so also has been the work of Ross Poole, Max Charlesworth, György Markus and others coming from Marxist and critical theory traditions. Since the 1970s, the University of Sydney, the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and Macquarie University have all had programs that were strong in Continental philosophy for substantial periods of time. In relation to poststructuralism, Paul Patton (UNSW) translated one of the most important books of this period, Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition, and has done influential work on both Deleuze and Foucault. Lloyd (UNSW), Moira Gatens (Sydney), Elizabeth Grosz (Sydney, then Monash University), Rosalyn Diprose (UNSW), Rosi Braidotti (Australian National University (ANU)), Penelope Deutscher (ANU) and Robyn Ferrell (Macquarie, then Melbourne), among others, have all been highly influential both here and overseas, with their diverse feminisms. These Australian feminists, drawing on the insights of poststructuralist philosophers (particularly their complication of either/or, oppositional logics) and focussing upon the body, have been major players in enumerating a difference feminism that avoids the weaknesses of first and second wave feminism, egalitarian feminism and social constructionist feminism respectively.

These days, most major philosophy departments in Australia (although not New Zealand) have one philosopher who teaches material related to poststructuralism, or the broader term of which it is a specific philosophical manifestation, postmodernism (many who accept the term ‘poststructuralism’ are reluctant to be designated as postmodernists). More recently, the University of Queensland and La Trobe University have become stronger in this regard. Murdoch University has had a presence in this area since its inception, through the work of Horst Ruthrof, Niall Lucy, Jeff Malpas and others. Marion Tapper and Chris Cordner have been stalwarts at the University of Melbourne, ensuring that Continental philosophy receives fair treatment, although one could not call either of them card-carrying poststructuralists. The University of Auckland has been one of the few institutions in New Zealand to accord any attention to either Continental philosophy or poststructuralism (through Julian Young, Robert Wicks, Stefano Franchi, Lisa Guenther, Matheson Russell and others), but it has generally been ignored by the rest of the New Zealand academic philosophical community.

Excepting a brief period in the mid 1990s, the prestigious journal that represents philosophy in this country, the Australasian Journal of Philosophy (AJP), has been focussed on analytic philosophy. Nonetheless, as Foucault would have us believe, forms of resistance will always be produced within any given social system and there have been several interesting journals concerned with poststructuralist thinkers and themes that have come to flourish in the gap left by the AJP’s apparent reluctance to publish such material. These include: Foucault Studies (Queensland University of Technology), Contretemps (University of Sydney), Colloquy (Monash, CCLCS), and Parrhesia (affiliated with University of Melbourne and the Melbourne School of Continental Philosophy). Many of these journals and organisations have been effectively run by postgraduate students of philosophy, and are evidence of an ongoing passion for poststructuralist philosophy in Australasia that has managed to flourish somewhat rhizomatically, to borrow the term that Deleuze and Guattari have made their own, in that they have often been promulgated without major publishers, or major academics, behind them. Indeed, it should also be noted that some important work on poststructuralism has been done outside of those employed to teach philosophy. Recently, Justin Clemens has done important work translating and speaking about the philosophy of Alain Badiou, as has Julian Pefanis in relation to Lyotard, Ian Buchanan in regard to Deleuze, and Kevin Hart on both Derrida and Maurice Blanchot.

While poststructuralist philosophy remains popular with students in Australia, it is interesting to note that many influential Australian philosophers with expertise in this area have moved to overseas positions (including Braidotti, Grosz, Deutscher, Buchanan, Claire Colebrook, and Andrew Benjamin—before his return to Monash University). While some of these may have gone for promotional reasons, young academics in this area are also moving overseas. It is hoped that they can one day return to a philosophy community with more space for them. With all of the major poststructuralist philosophers now dead, and the French nouveaux philosophes not garnering anywhere near the same critical purchase and attention internationally, questions abound about what is post-poststructuralism. While phenomenology, critical theory, and poststructuralism will all remain powerful theoretical forces on the Australasian philosophical scene, let us hope that the next ‘new philosophy’ manages to both engage with, and problematise, the enduring analytic/Continental divide.

Price, Huw

Cathy Legg

Huw Price did not plan to go into philosophy originally—as an undergraduate at Australian National University (ANU) he hoped initially to become an astronomer. However his interests turned to pure mathematics then to philosophy, and he completed his B.A. with Honours in both subjects. During his philosophy Honours year he encountered both the philosophy of time, which was to become a long-term interest, and Hugh Mellor (then visiting ANU), who was to become his Ph.D. supervisor at Cambridge. Moving to Cambridge after an M.Sc. in Mathematics at Oxford, he wrote his Ph.D. thesis on the question of factuality versus non-factuality in talk of probability, leading to a series of published articles (including Price 1983; Price 1984b; Price 1986). By this stage, he had held a Rothmans postdoctoral fellowship at ANU, and an Australian Research Council (ARC) research fellowship at the University of New South Wales (UNSW).

Price’s work divides into two main areas. The first is a cosmological inquiry into the asymmetry of time and related issues. His key work here is his book, Time’s Arrow and Archimedes’ Point (1996). There he argues that our thinking about time (not only in armchair philosophy but even in theoretical physics) is crucially and inappropriately anthropocentric. We experience time as asymmetric because we act into the future, not the past, which leads us to project this asymmetry onto reality in ways which are not warranted by the facts. For instance, we like to think of time as ‘flowing forwards’, we fail to see that some of the arguments which support a Big Bang at the ‘beginning’ of the universe would equally support a Big Crunch at the ‘end’, and we fail to consider the possibility of backwards causation where it might be helpful. As a remedy for such anthropomorphism, Price advocates a position which he calls the ‘view from no-when’.

Somewhat controversially, he uses a commitment to backwards causation (earlier broached in Price 1984a) to frame an interpretation of quantum theory which he claims solves the problem of non-locality, whereby particles widely separated in space appear to be causally entangled. Many philosophers have praised this book for its provocative originality and rich and complex discussion. Some physicists, however, have claimed that it makes controversial empirical claims that are insufficiently worked out in actual physical equations to yet deserve credence. After publication of the book Price has further pursued its themes in many papers, including Price 1997b, 2002, and 2006.

Price has done much related work on causation, arguing that causal asymmetry also is merely an artifact of the agent-perspective with which humans view the world (Price 1991; Price 1992). In Price and Menzies 1993, he defends a general theory of causation defined in terms of agency—a version of the so-called ‘manipulability’ view of causation (albeit probabilistic rather than deterministic). This work on causation connects to the second major strand of Price’s research, which developed from his early defence of a non-factualist account of single-case probability—the nature and tenability of the general distinction between factual and non-factual uses of language. In his first book, Facts and the Function of Truth (1988), he argued that the distinction is ungrounded, and began to propose in its place a kind of global expressivist pluralism about the uses of declarative language, reminiscent of the later Wittgenstein. These researches then sparked an interest in pragmatism. Price’s pragmatism is derived much more from Ramsey, Blackburn and the later Wittgenstein than from James, Dewey or Peirce (though lately he does react against and discuss the American pragmatists Rorty and Brandom). It may be characterised by a strategy which he applies to a wide variety of philosophical problems. The strategy involves taking traditional questions of the form, ‘What is X?’, which he often characterises as ‘metaphysical’ questions, and arguing that our focus should be shifted to ‘non-metaphysical’ questions of the form, ‘What use is the concept of X to creatures like us?’. He characterises this approach as producing explanations of the use of terms, rather than philosophical analyses.

He has applied this strategy most sustainedly to truth, initially in Price (1988). In answer to the question, ‘What use is the concept of truth to us?’, he suggests that the concept encourages speakers to resolve their disagreements. In later work (including Price 1998a, 2003), he distinguishes three ‘norms of assertion’ which he claims generate increasing levels of objectivity in discourse. The first norm, ‘subjective assertibility’, merely recommends sincere avowal of assertions, resulting in a community which expresses mere opinions of equal apparent value. The second norm, ‘objective assertibility’, recommends that assertions be justified by reasons, but if two people make assertions which disagree this is unproblematic if they both have reasons for them. Only the third norm, seeking the truth, requires that disagreements be resolved (although at this point providing a non-question-begging account of what might constitute ‘resolution’ of a disagreement will be crucial).

As already noted, Price has also applied his pragmatist strategy to causation, thus connecting his pragmatism to his interests in such issues as time-asymmetry. Thus in Price (2001), he writes that a philosophical account of causation ‘needs to begin by playing close attention to the role of the concept concerned in the practice of the creatures who use it’. These ideas are developed at greater length in Price (2007a). In Price (1998b), he makes use of pragmatism in discussions of response-dependence, arguing that the biconditionals used by response-dependence theorists to define concepts do not give content-conditions but usage-conditions. As an example he discusses the difference in ethics between self-descriptivism, the view that when we make moral claims we are talking about our own attitudes of, say, approval or disgust, and expressivism, the view that we can explain moral claims as expressions of, say, approval or disgust.

As a pragmatist he positions himself as something of a renegade against mainstream Australian analytic philosophy. He does retain a strong commitment to naturalism, though he is adamant that it is not a metaphysical claim. It does however lead him to problematise any normative claim which is not derivable from current scientific theory. Thus in Price (1997a), he singles out ‘morality, modality, meaning and the mental’ as ‘threatened by the rise of modern science’. He attempts to rescue them by claiming that ‘these descriptive utterances are functionally distinct from scientific descriptions of the natural world … ’ Rather than ceding these ‘M-worlds’ any ontological status, however, he invokes Carnap’s claim in ‘Empiricism, Semantics and Ontology’ that judgments of ontological status cannot be made from an epistemic stance independent of choices to participate in a given theoretic framework (such as contemporary physics, ethics, and so on). This view is presented again and related to Quine’s naturalism in Price (2007b). As noted earlier, Price contrasts himself with his fellow-pragmatist Rorty. One key point of difference is that (as noted above) he wishes to retain the idea that truth is a normative constraint on assertion. At the same time, however, he contrasts himself with Brandom insofar as he does not wish to ‘build a substantial notion of representational content from expressivist and pragmatist raw materials’ (Price 2008).

Price has worked at the University of Sydney since 1989, except for a brief period as professor of logic and metaphysics at the University of Edinburgh. He is now an ARC Federation Fellow and Challis Professor of Philosophy, and heads the Centre for Time in the Department of Philosophy. This centre was established in 2002 in association with his Federation Fellowship, and awarded continued funding in 2007. He is a Fellow and Member of Council of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, and a past president of the Australasian Association of Philosophy. He was consulting editor for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy during 1995–2006, and is an associate editor of the Australasian Journal of Philosophy and a member of the editorial boards of Contemporary Pragmatism, Logic and Philosophy of Science, and the Routledge International Library of Philosophy. A collection of his essays on pragmatism and naturalism is forthcoming from OUP, and he is also co-editor (with Richard Corry) of Causation, Physics and the Constitution of Reality: Russell’s Republic Revisited (2007).

Priest, Graham

Greg Restall

Graham Priest (born 1948 in London), currently the Boyce Gibson Professor of Philosophy at the University of Melbourne, and distinguished professor of philosophy at the Graduate Centre of The City University of New York, is a philosopher active in the fields of logic, metaphysics and the history of philosophy.

Priest is most famous for his radical view that some contradictions are true. This view is radical because it offends both standard logical theory and common sense. It has been a fundamental tenet of logic since the time of Aristotle that if a statement (say, there will be a sea battle tomorrow) is true then its negation (there will not be a sea battle tomorrow) is not true (Priest 1979). Priest’s straightforward claim is that this fundamental tenet is wrong.

According to Priest, the logic of truth, of sets, of reference—and of many other fundamental notions besides—forces us to concede that some contradictory pairs of statements are true. Consider the paradoxes of self-reference, such as Epimenides’ liar paradox:


This sentence is not true.


Priest reasons as follows: if that sentence is true, then it is not true, for that is what it says of itself: that it is not true. So the supposition that it is true is self-defeating, and as a result, it is not true. Notice that this is exactly how that sentence describes things to be. So, since matters are how the sentence says they are, the sentence is true. If it is true, it isn’t, and if it isn’t true, it is.

Most agree that this reasoning shows that something in our everyday understanding of logic and truth needs revision. Priest’s radical proposal is that the argument I just presented is perfectly acceptable, and that the contradictory conclusions—that Epimenides’ sentence is true, and that it is not true—are both to be accepted. Our principles of logic should not prohibit true contradictions. Insofar as the dominant theories of logic do not allow for this, they are to be revised. In the monograph In Contradiction (1987, 2006), Priest argues that a ‘paraconsistent’ approach provides the right way to deal with a range of phenomena difficult to handle consistently.

If Priest is right about this, logicians have a great deal of work to do, because the idea that contradictions cannot be true has been logical orthodoxy for over two thousand years. Overturning orthodoxy and developing an understanding of how truth and logic work in the presence of true contradictions is not straightforward. Much of this hard work has been done—starting with the work of logicians such as da Costa in Brazil, and Anderson and Belnap in the U.S.—but a great deal of it was Priest’s own labour. The new field of paraconsistent logic has found its place in the vocabulary of logicians, largely due to Priest’s work, and that of his friends and collaborators, many of whom work in Australia and New Zealand. (Collaborators and fellow-travellers include Richard Routley (later known as Richard Sylvan), Robert K. Meyer, John Slaney, Ed Mares, Greg Restall and J. C. Beall.)

It is one thing to defuse paradoxes and reform the shape of logic. Priest’s recent targets have broader significance. Beyond the Limits of Thought (1995, 2002), is a tour through the history of philosophy from the Pre-Socratics and Nagajurna to Wittgenstein and Heidegger. Along the way, Priest shows that the generation of contradictions is not a trifle, restricted to puzzles which we can safely ignore. Instead, the kinds of contradictions forced on us by the paradoxes are littered throughout philosophy, to be found wherever a theory talks of particular totalities, like all statements, all ideas, all numbers or all meanings. A tempting response may be that of Wittgenstein’s quietist, according to whom one must refrain from making these general claims: ‘Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent’. Priest rejects quietism, because it doesn’t avoid the problem. One should always refrain from making general claims—isn’t this another general claim? For Priest, all general approaches to the world, or to meaning, or to truth—even quietist ones—are tied up in contradictory knots. Instead of seeing these knots as to be untangled or cut away, we should accept these knotty contradictions as an inevitable aspect of our thought.

More recent still, Priest’s work has concentrated on issues in metaphysics and the nature and logic of being. His Towards Non-Being (2005) is an contemporary recovery of Meinong’s view that descriptions purporting to characterise an object (say, the golden mountain) actually do describe an object, which does not exist. This is a difficult view to maintain, for though we may agree that the golden mountain is indeed golden, and is a mountain (while also maintaining that it also fails to exist), it is less clear that we should happily agree that the round square is both round and not round (thereby being contradictory), or that the shortest proof that 2+2=5 is indeed a proof that 2+2=5, albeit a nonexistent one—since the only way that anything can be a proof that 2+2=5 is when 2+2 actually does equal 5. So it seems that not all descriptions purporting to characterise an object actually describe the object so characterised. Priest’s ingenious solution to this problem in Towards Non-Being is to conceive of the object as literally satisfying the characterising condition (so the proof that 2+2=5 is indeed a proof that 2+2=5, and hence, from that proof it follows that 2+2 does equal 5), but not here in this possible world. Instead, when I think of the golden mountain, I am thinking of something that is gold and is a mountain. However, since there are no golden mountains, there is no golden mountain in this world, but there are plenty in other possible worlds. Proofs that 2+2=5 are perhaps harder to come by, since it appears to be necessary that 2+2≠5, and so a proof that 2+2=5 is not to be found in any possible world. Here, however, Priest’s previous work comes to the fore, since he holds that not only are there possible worlds, but there are also impossible worlds in which the laws of logic break down. This means that for any characterising conditions, there will be some world (possible or not) in which those characterising conditions are satisfied, and so there is an object characterised by those conditions.

Priest’s current research has focussed on the metaphysics of the One and the Many. Here, he connects themes from Buddhist philosophy with contemporary Western logic and metaphysics, to address longstanding issues on the nature of identity, objecthood and individuation (Priest 2001b, Garfield and Priest 2003).

Priest’s insights into logic and the nature of reality are not only challenging and exciting, providing much grist for the philosophical mill, they are also a contemporary example of the healthy dialogue between logic and philosophy. From Aristotle’s pioneering logic and its influence on his metaphysics, to Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, to the work of Frege and Russell at the start of the twentieth century, ushering in what we know think of as analytic philosophy, different views on the nature and structure of our judgements have both influenced, and been influenced by, the great questions in philosophy. Priest’s work stands within this tradition, and is a prime exemplar of the fruitful connections between logic and philosophy for the new century.

While Priest’s positions on these issues are by no means mainstream, he is not isolated in the discipline in Australasia. On the contrary, he has been an influential figure in philosophy in Australasia in the 1990s and beyond, not only through his philosophical contributions in research and teaching (Priest 2000, 2001a) but also by serving as chair of council of the Australasian Association of Philosophy from 1996 to 2009, a period of great change and development in the Association.

Princeton University and Australasian
Philosophy, Links Between

Michael Smith

When people talk about the links between philosophy in Australasia and philosophy at Princeton University, they usually have in mind the influence that David Lewis, the great metaphysician who taught at Princeton from 1970 until 2001, had on a host of Australasian philosophers, and the influence that they in turn had on him. In fact, however, the links are more extensive, and they begin not with David Lewis, but with J. J. C. Smart in the 1950s.

Just after publishing ‘Extreme and Restricted Utilitarianism’ (Philosophical Quarterly, 1956), Smart, then at the University of Adelaide, went to Princeton as visiting professor. It was the Fall Semester of 1957 and he was in the throes of developing his own version of the identity theory under the influence of his colleague, U. T. Place (‘Sensations and Brain Processes’ appeared in The Philosophical Review two years later [1959b]). Though advertised as being about Wittgenstein and Ryle, his graduate seminar inevitably ended up being about the identity theory. Jerry Fodor and Jerry Katz, both graduate students, were in attendance. Years later, when delivering the Jack Smart Lecture at the Australian National University, Fodor paid tribute to Smart’s seminar at Princeton. Carl G. Hempel and Hilary Putnam, the latter still a junior professor, were on the faculty and sympathetic. Both subsequently visited Adelaide to deliver the Gavin David Young Lectures, as did Donald Davidson when he taught at Princeton some years later. Richard Brandt and R. M. Hare were visiting professors too: Smart remembers long conversations with Brandt about act vs rule—in Smart’s terminology, ‘extreme’ vs ‘restricted’—utilitarianism and with Hare about their mutual opposition to cognitivism in metaethics.

It was Smart who was later responsible for introducing David Lewis to Australasian philosophy. They met in 1963 when Smart spent a semester at Harvard as visiting professor. Lewis, at that time a second-year graduate student, attended his graduate seminar, as did Lewis’ wife-to-be and sometime co-author, Stephanie, then a sophomore at Radcliffe majoring in mathematics. Smart later famously remarked that he ‘learned much more from [Lewis] than he did from me’ at this seminar. Lewis’ first trip to Australia was at Smart’s invitation to deliver the Gavin David Young Lectures at Adelaide in 1971. From then on the Lewises visited Australasia during the northern summer nearly every year, and for longer stints when Lewis was distinguished visiting professor, first at Monash University and later at La Trobe University, and when he was visiting fellow at the Research School of the Social Sciences (RSSS), at the Australian National University (ANU). His final trip, shortly before his death in 2001, was to deliver the Jack Smart Lecture at ANU.

Though Lewis usually based himself at the University of Melbourne, he was well-known to many Australasian philosophers. Each year he agreed to give talks at many universities and contributed a paper to the annual Australasian Association of Philosophy (AAP) conference. The influence of Lewis on the likes of D. M. Armstrong, John Bigelow, David Chalmers, Alan Hájek, Allen Hazen, Peter Forrest, Frank Jackson, Philip Pettit, Denis Robinson, J. J. C. Smart, and Michael Tooley, and the influence of many of them on him, is clear from the bibliographies to their published work. But the more indirect influence that Lewis had on the way a whole range of Australasian philosophers do philosophy is just as profound. For example, the so-called ‘Canberra Plan’, despite being named after the philosophers at RSSS, ANU, who supposedly executed it, is thoroughly Lewisian in its inspiration.

Such was the affection of philosophers in Australia for Lewis that he was made an Honorary Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities; he was awarded an honorary D.Litt. by the University of Melbourne; and, after he died, a special issue of the Australasian Journal of Philosophy, edited by Frank Jackson and Graham Priest (2004), was devoted to his work. The definitive guide to his philosophy, David Lewis, was written by Daniel Nolan (2005), an Australian philosopher working in the U.K. There are plans to publish the extensive correspondence between Lewis and D. M. Armstrong, the subject of a presentation by Stephanie Lewis at the annual AAP conference in 2005. It is thus no surprise that people have Lewis in mind when they talk of the links between Princeton and Australasia. But he isn’t the only Princeton faculty member with such links, and there are links in the other direction as well, as many Australasian philosophers did their graduate work at Princeton.

Mark Johnston, a University of Melbourne undergraduate, entered the graduate program at Princeton in 1981. He was appointed to the Princeton faculty in 1984, serving for some years as its chair (1999–2005). Johnston’s early work on response-dependence and personal identity also had an influence on Australasian philosophers from the periods he spent as visiting fellow at RSSS, ANU in 1989, and visiting professor at Monash University in 1991. Michael Smith, an undergraduate at Monash University, was on the Princeton faculty 1985–89. He subsequently taught at Monash and RSSS, ANU, but returned to Princeton in 2004. Peter Singer joined Princeton in 1999 after spending many years at Monash. Philip Pettit, formerly RSSS, ANU, joined Princeton in 2002. Frank Jackson, after several visits to Princeton—to give the Three Lecture Series (now known as the Hempel Lectures) in 1987–88; as visiting fellow with the Humanities Council in 1989–90; and to give the Inaugural David Lewis Lecture in 2006—joined Princeton on a part-time basis in 2007. Others with links to Princeton include Martin Davies, now at Oxford but formerly at RSSS, ANU, who gave the Hempel Lectures in 2004, and Lloyd Humberstone, currently at Monash, who was visiting professor in 2007.

Australasians with Princeton Ph.D.s who have gone on to careers in philosophy include Stuart Brock, John Collins, Fiona Cowie, Antony Eagle, Alan Hájek, Richard Joyce, Simon Keller, Fred Kroon, Rae Langton, Jonathan McKeown-Green, Michaelis Michael, Graham Oppy, Nicholas J. J. Smith, Natalie Stoljar, and the late Richard Sylvan (originally Richard Routley). Princeton Ph.D.s not from Australasia, but currently working here, include John Campbell, Jennan Ismael, Chris Martin, Cei Maslen, and David Lumsden.

Prior, A. N.

Per Hasle

Arthur Norman Prior was born in Masterton, New Zealand, on 4 December 1914. His mother died shortly after his birth. His father was a doctor and served as a medical officer during World War One. Hence, Prior’s early years were spent in the care of his aunts and grandparents. Both of his grandfathers were Methodist ministers, and he was brought up as a Methodist.

Prior went to the University of Otago at Dunedin in 1932. He set out to study medicine, but after a short time he instead went into philosophy and psychology. During this time, Prior left Methodism in favour of the Presbyterian denomination, whose intellectual systematicity appealed more to him than the Methodist emphasis on religious experience. During his B.A. studies he also took courses at Knox Theological Hall, with a view to entering the Presbyterian ministry. This intention was never realised, but he was for many years a practising member of the Presbyterian community. In particular, he became a very active member of the Student Christian Movement (SCM), and was attached to the student periodicals The Student (the SCM magazine), The Review and The Critic.

Prior was influenced by socialism and pacifism. Major theological influences on him were Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, and to some extent Søren Kierkegaard. Another crucial intellectual influence was the New Zealand philosopher John Findlay. In 1934 Prior attended Findlay’s courses on ethics and logic. Through Findlay he became interested in the history of logic and was introduced to Prantl’s textbooks.

In 1937 Prior was awarded his M.A. in philosophy and psychology, and the same year he married Claire Hunter. The years 1937–40 were spent in Europe. Prior had various minor jobs, but he hoped to make a living out of religious journalism. In 1938 he attended the 4th International Congress of Calvinists in London, and he wrote proceedings for various journals. During this period he studied and commented on several theological issues, especially a proposed revision of the (Presbyterian) Westminster Confession. In 1940 he returned to New Zealand.

Early in the 1940s he found himself in a crisis of belief, not least because of his reading of Freud’s theories around this time. This found expression in ‘Can Religion Be Discussed?’ (1942), Prior’s first paper to be published in a major philosophical journal. However, he continued to be a practicing Presbyterian and wrote a considerable number of papers for The Student. Later in the 1940s he again wrote papers in defence of predestinarian theology. His last contribution to this magazine was written as late as 1955. In the long run, the decisive challenge to Prior’s Christian beliefs proved to come neither from Freudianism (in which he entirely lost interest) nor from socialism, but from the very core of Presbyterian theology, namely its teaching of predestination and its rejection of free will. He became agnostic. But he continued to treasure his theological library and he often made reference to theological problems in his work on logic, time and ethics. A crucial example of this is his 1962 paper ‘The Formalities of Omniscience’, which makes theological, logical and philosophical considerations bear on each other. In fact, Prior’s preoccupation with questions concerning predestination, determinism and free will became central also to his development of tense logic and thus connects his early theological interests with his later logical and philosophical work.

In March 1943 he was divorced from Claire Hunter, and in October 1943 he married Mary Wilkinson. Nazism and World War Two led Prior to give up his pacifist leanings, and from 1943 till the end of the war he served in the Royal New Zealand Air Force.

In February 1946 he became employed at Canterbury University College, (now the University of Canterbury) filling a vacancy opened by the departure of Karl Popper. In 1952 he became professor of philosophy there and retained this position till 1958.

In March 1949 the Priors’ house burned down. At that time Prior was working on a book on the history of Scottish theology. However, after the fire in which some of his drafts perished he gave up the project. His main intellectual interest from then on veered towards philosophy and logic.

In 1949 Prior was appointed senior lecturer at Canterbury University College, and the same year he published his first book, Logic and the Basis of Ethics. During 1950–51 he wrote a manuscript for a book with the working title, ‘The Craft of Logic’. This book was never published as a whole, but P. T. Geach and A. J. P. Kenny later edited parts of it and published it as The Doctrine of Propositions and Terms (1976). In the first chapter of the book, ‘Propositions and Sentences’, the author among other things analysed Aristotle’s view on some of the problems concerning time and tense. Prior found that according to the ancient as well as the medieval view a proposition may be true at one time and false at another, an insight into the relation between time and logic that was to become central to Prior’s later development of tense logic.

Around 1953 Prior realised that it might be possible to develop a calculus which included temporal operators analogous to the operators of modal logic. Mary Prior has described the first occurrence of this idea: ‘I remember his waking me one night, coming and sitting on my bed, and reading a footnote from John Findlay’s article on Time, and saying he thought one could make a formalised tense logic’. This must have been some time in 1953. A major inspiration in this process was apparently Benson Mates’ 1949 paper on Diodorean logic. Mates’ paper was concerned primarily with Diodorus’ definition of implication. Prior realised that it would be possible to relate Diodorus’ considerations to contemporary works on modality by introducing tense operators analogous to the classical modal operators.

From 1952 to 1955 Prior published seven articles on the history of logic. Four of these were concerned with medieval logic and one with the logic of Diodorus. His interest in the history of logic is also evident in his Formal Logic, published in 1955. According to Mary Prior, his resurging interest in the history of logic (and Polish logic) was very much due to the fact that the university library acquired Bochenski’s Précis de Logique Mathématique (1949).

The whole year of 1956 was spent in Oxford, where Prior had been invited to give that year’s John Locke Lectures. These lectures formed the basis of Prior’s book Time and Modality (1957), wherein modern tense and temporal logic was for the first time presented systematically.

In 1958 Prior received a letter from Saul Kripke who suggested the idea of branching time, where time is conceived not as a linear but rather as a branching structure, allowing for numerous different temporal courses of events. Prior took up this idea and developed it in great detail. Branching time proved to be a conception particularly well suited to discussions of philosophical issues, allowing for instance a significant formalisation of Peirce’s ideas regarding possibility, necessity and human freedom.

In December 1958 Prior left New Zealand in order to take up a professorship at the University of Manchester. In 1960 he became one of the editors of the Journal of Symbolic Logic, a position he held till his death in 1969.

In the early winter of 1962 Prior was visiting professor at the University of Chicago. In 1963 he was appointed Fellow of the British Academy. In July–August 1965 he was British Council Visiting Professor at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. During this period Prior gave talks at all New Zealand universities (Auckland, Hamilton, Otago, Victoria, and Canterbury). From September 1965 to January 1966 he was Visiting Flint Professor at the University of California, where his most famous book Past, Present, and Future was drafted. It was published in 1967.

In 1966 Prior was elected Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford, and appointed as a reader in the University of Oxford. Prior’s last years were characterised by an increasingly abstract interest in and use of formalism; but at the same time, he was developing a generalised interest in the philosophical questions of Worlds, Times, and Selves (1977). In 1968(b) he also published his book Papers on Time and Tense.

As a teacher Prior was very inspiring. He was always able to find nice and understandable illustrations of the logical systems he wanted to introduce. It seems clear that he very much liked teaching and lecturing. He was not ‘the Oxford type’, but it appears that he almost immediately built up a reputation as one of the best lecturers in Oxford.

Prior died on 6 October 1969, whilst on a lecture tour in Scandinavia. On the day of his death he was visiting Trondheim in Norway. Prior had by then accomplished an impressive production. His philosophical works comprise more than 150 titles. Prior’s greatest contribution to philosophy and logic was without doubt his development of tense logic, which has proved to be of considerable and lasting importance. However, other aspects of his work such as his early theology and his studies of the concept of the proposition have also gained increasing attention in recent years.


Alan Hájek

The philosophy of probability has been alive and well for several decades in Australia and New Zealand. Some distinctive lines of thought have emerged, resonating with broader themes that have come to be associated with Australasian philosophers: realist/objectivist accounts of various theoretical entities; an ongoing concern with logic, including the development of non-classical logics; and conceptual analysis, rooted in commonsense but informed by science. In this article I concentrate on work by philosophers on the interpretation of probability, its logical foundations, and its philosophical applications (thus, for example, I will not discuss the pioneering research of R. A. Fisher in statistics at the University of Adelaide).

My nomination for the earliest major Australasian philosopher of probability may surprise some readers: Karl Popper. He counts as Australasian by dint of his employment at the University of Canterbury from 1937 until the end of World War Two; he counts as a major philosopher of probability by any estimation. Two of his contributions have initiated research programs in the foundations of probability that are still thriving: his (1959a) axiomatisation of primitive conditional probability functions (so-called ‘Popper functions’), and his ‘propensity’ interpretation of probability (1959b), intended to illuminate single-case attributions of objective probabilities, as are putatively found in quantum mechanics.

David Lewis’ place in this article is also beyond dispute, although it too may surprise some readers—while American, and based for most of his career at Princeton University, he paid annual visits to Australasia over a period of almost thirty years, and he embraced and enormously influenced its philosophical culture. During this time he produced such classic papers as ‘Why Conditionalize?’, ‘Causal Decision Theory’, and ‘Desire as Belief’ (and its sequel, ‘Desire as Belief II’). Arguably, his most seminal contribution was ‘A Subjectivist’s Guide to Objective Chance’ (and its sequel, ‘Humean Supervenience Debugged’), whose Principal Principle famously codifies a certain harmony between a rational agent’s subjective probabilities (degrees of belief) and her opinions about objective probabilities (chances). See Lewis 1986, 1998, and 1999 for reprintings of these articles.

Hugh Mellor has been another regular visitor to Australasia, and indeed his robustly realist conception of single-case chance and its relationship to rational credence (1971) anticipates some of Lewis’ work. By contrast, Mellor’s doctoral student at Cambridge, Huw Price, has argued for non-factualism about single-case chance (1983). Price has also contended that conditional probability should be taken as a primitive notion (1986). This view has been further defended by Alan Hájek in a number of papers (especially 2003a).

Perhaps the most important trend in Australasian philosophy of probability has been the rehabilitation and defence of broadly logical conceptions of probability. According to this interpretation of probability theory, advocated by Keynes and Carnap, deductive logic and its notion of entailment can be generalised to inductive logic and a notion of partial entailment; probabilities capture strength of entailment, or degree of confirmation. This interpretation lends itself naturally to an account of rationally constrained degrees of belief in propositions that suitably incorporate the bearing of one’s evidence on those propositions. For example, in his ‘Subjective Probability’, Douglas Gasking (1996) argues that probability judgments reflect the exercise of skilled judgment, the tenability of any given judgment consisting in a (possibly partial) consensus among independent judges in accord with that judgment.

David Stove’s (1986) conception of probability comes closer still to that of Carnap, and it has proved to be influential on a number of Australian authors. Stove insists, for example, that the premise ‘x % of F’s are G’s’ bestows logical probability x% on the conclusion ‘a randomly chosen F is a G’. He has also argued that the problem of induction can be solved by a combinatorial argument (inspired by D. C. Williams) that is tacitly probabilistic: most samples from a given population of F’s are representative—that is, their proportion of G’s approximates that of the population—and so it is rational to believe that an inference made on the basis of sampling is reliable. In the background there is an appeal to the principle of indifference, a cornerstone of logical interpretations, which assigns equal probabilities to evidentially balanced alternatives. John Bigelow and Robert Pargetter (1997) apply a version of the principle of indifference to the problem of induction, arguing that an inductive argument becomes deductively valid when augmented by a premise encapsulating one’s total evidence, and when the conclusion asserts what it is reasonable for that person to believe on the basis of that evidence. Patrick Maher, a student of Stove’s at the University of Sydney as an undergraduate, maintains that the so-called ‘interpretations’ of probability are best understood as attempts to explicate probability concepts of ordinary language, and that there are two such concepts: inductive probability and physical probability. He argues that the usual objections to inductive logic rest on a failure to grasp this conception (2006). Stove’s doctoral student Peter Forrest has proposed an intuition-based account of rationality constraints on otherwise subjective probability (1986b), building on the work of Brian Ellis. Later in his career, Forrest has subscribed to a theory of logical probabilities similar to that of Richard Swinburne, who has appealed to them in the service of theism.

This brings us to another important strand of probability-based research in Australasian philosophy: probability theory’s application to problems in the philosophy of religion. J. L. Mackie (1982) and Hájek (2003b, 2008) view Pascal’s Wager and Hume’s miracles argument through the lens of Bayesian decision theory and confirmation theory. Bruce Langtry also employs probability theory in his work on miracles (e.g. 1988), and in his discussion of the problem of evil in his book on divine providence (2008). Mark Colyvan, Jay Garfield and Graham Priest (2005) argue that probability theory is misused in various design arguments for theism.

The relationship between probabilities and the logic of conditionals has preoccupied various Australasian philosophers. In his path-breaking ‘Probabilities of Conditionals and Conditional Probabilities’ (and its sequel, ‘Probabilities of Conditionals and Conditional Probabilities II’), Lewis offers ‘triviality results’ against the hypothesis (associated with Ramsey, Stalnaker, and Adams) that


P(A→B) = P(B | A) (P(A) > 0),


where ‘→’ is a conditional connective. (Reprinted in Lewis 1986 and 1998 respectively.) These results have subsequently been strengthened and generalised in Hájek (1994) and in Peter Roeper’s co-authored book (Roeper and Leblanc 1999). Bigelow and Pargetter (1991) argue that ‘probably’ can modify the subjunctive conditional connective itself, rather than modifying either the antecedent or consequent or an entire ‘if-then’ proposition. Frank Jackson (1979) has used the fact that P(p→q | p) = P(q | p) to explain why the assertibility of an indicative conditional equals the probability of its consequent given its antecedent.

Non-classical logics have flourished in the antipodes, so it is only natural that probabilities based on such logics, and other heterodox accounts of probability, have been studied by Australasian philosophers. Ed Mares (1997) has written on paraconsistent probability measures—probability functions that sometimes give positive values to contradictory propositions—and he has discussed how they should be updated in that context. Brian Weatherson (2003a) has advocated a probability theory that is underpinned by intuitionistic logic. He has also argued (2005) that there are several philosophical applications of imprecise (also called ‘vague’) probabilities—for example, that imprecise probabilities, rather than indifference principles, offer the best hope for capturing the idea that a priori states of opinion should be symmetric over possible outcomes. Colyvan has contributed to debates on non-classical approaches to credence (2004), and he has appealed to imprecise probabilities in co-authored, interdisciplinary work in ecology (available at Colyvan 2009).

There are now several departments in Australasia with a serious interest in the philosophy of probability. Its continued flourishing Down Under is—probabilistically speaking—a safe bet.


(I am grateful to John Bigelow, Mark Colyvan, Peter Forrest, Frank Jackson, Patrick Maher, Ed Mares, Ralph Miles, Len O’Neill, and Brian Weatherson for their help.)

Psychoanalysis and Philosophy

Russell Grigg

Interest in psychoanalysis came quite early to philosophy in Australia. The first (1923) volume of the Australasian Journal of Psychology and Philosophy published no less than six articles on Freud, mostly critical. H. T. Lovell stresses that everything in Freud is expressed in vague and unscientific language, and anyway it can all be found in classical psychology. J. McKellar Stewart raises the already familiar objection that unconscious thought is a contradiction in terms: ‘the theory presents the unconscious as too nearly an imagined duplicate of the conscious’ (1923: 197). All but one of these articles are incapable of acknowledging the radical novelty of Freud’s work. The exception is J. P. Lowson, who displays a fine understanding of the details of Freud’s views and gives evidence of a close and interested reader.

Sydney philosopher John Anderson became interested in Freud early on (see, for instance, his 1936), and while critical of Freud he nevertheless understood the radical implications of Freud’s discovery of the unconscious. In later life he would still refer to a ‘Freudian revolution’, even advocating a ‘back to Freud’ as an antidote to contemporary ‘loose thinking’ about human affairs (Anderson 1953). Anderson never entered analysis himself and displayed little interest in or knowledge of the actual practice of psychoanalysis. There appears to have been no contact with analysts Roy Winn and Paul Dane practicing in Sydney at the time; for him, as for his students such as John Passmore (1936), philosophy was interested in psychoanalysis as a theory and body of knowledge. Nevertheless, Anderson took an interest in discoveries of a more personal kind that psychoanalytic practice can bring; for instance, his correspondence and personal records reveal extensive dabbling in analysis of his own and others’ dreams. Yet, when Anderson’s student D. M. Armstrong, not generally given to hyperbole, compares Anderson’s following to that of Socrates among the youth of Athens, he thereby suggests both the loyalties and resentments evoked by a man who understood the value of transference.

Anderson’s case touches on the two sides of psychoanalysis. As a theory, psychoanalysis is a challenge to the transparency of consciousness and raises questions about the wellsprings of human motivation, even as it opens up issues over the validity of the claims it makes. The philosophical Freud is a moralist who, in a lineage descending from La Rochefoucauld, raises uncomfortable questions for the narcissistic creatures that we are. There is, however, a second aspect to psychoanalysis, which is the sui generis practice, dubbed the ‘talking cure’ by one of Freud’s patients, from which its discoveries flow. That psychoanalysis is a dialogue or conversation was largely ignored by philosophers before Jürgen Habermas (1987).

By the 1950s the centre of interest in psychoanalysis had moved to Melbourne, no doubt as a result of the arrival of the Hungarian-trained psychoanalyst Clara Geroe and the establishment of the Melbourne Institute for Psycho-Analysis in 1940. Philosophy at the University of Melbourne was unusual for its exchanges with the psychoanalytic community, both Geroe and fellow psychoanalyst Rose Rothfield giving classes and papers there. The face of psychoanalysis was itself changing and, mirroring developments in psychoanalysis in Britain and Australia, interest in psychoanalysis broadened out to include the growing significance of object relations and the work of Melanie Klein. Several members of the Melbourne department introduced psychoanalytic ideas in courses on aesthetics, ethics and continental European philosophy, though this led to few publications.

The more serious and sustained turn to psychoanalysis started to take place in the 1970s. I think we can identify two currents to this. The first was theoretical: the influence of French feminism and the interest of a younger generation of philosophers in post-existentialist French thought necessarily confronted them with psychoanalysis, and the work of Jacques Lacan was crucial to the place that psychoanalysis came to occupy in these debates. Lacan’s own philosophically informed work interrogated philosophy directly, and was often cast in philosophical language, thus giving philosophers a familiar, even if difficult, entry into psychoanalysis. His ‘return to Freud’ produced a reappraisal of the philosophical significance of Freud’s work and thus produced a way of reading Freud that was both fresh and compelling. Also, for the philosophical exploration of feminism in France, post Beauvoir, Lacan became an essential, if contested, reference.

At the University of Sydney these currents came together in Elizabeth Grosz’s Jacques Lacan: A Feminist Introduction (1990), which gave an overview of Lacan’s contribution to psychoanalysis and its philosophical implications along with a critical analysis of Lacan’s ‘phallocentrism’ that was influenced by the French feminism of philosophers and psychoanalysts Julia Kristeva and Luce Irigaray. Whereas the first feminist response had initially considered Freud something of a bête noire, Lacan managed to reinterpret Freud’s position on, inter alia, female sexuality in a way that was important for feminist thinkers, even as they remained critical of his conclusions. Nevertheless, the light it was hoped Freud or Lacan would throw on these issues ended up proving elusive. Critiques of psychoanalysis had a way of resurfacing or echoing debates internal to psychoanalysis itself. For instance, Grosz criticises Lacan for his commitment to the Oedipus complex, apparently unaware of Lacan’s (2007) moves ‘beyond the Oedipus complex’.

The second current in this turn to psychoanalysis in the 1970s arose out of the interest in psychoanalysis particularly at the University of Melbourne. Contact between psychoanalysts and philosophers increased and, with clinical psychoanalysis no longer in its infancy in Australia, it is no surprise that philosophers entered analysis. Some philosophers even considered training as analysts, even if few ended up going down this path. At Melbourne the substantial clinical presence of psychoanalysis was both enriched and rendered more complex by the establishment of Lacanian psychoanalysis. The founding of the Psychosocial Group by Alan Davies, John Cash and Douglas Kirsner, who also ran the annual Freud Conference, provided a forum for academics from various disciplines and clinicians of different orientations to debate new, old and emerging ideas within psychoanalysis.

This more direct engagement with psychoanalysis at the University of Melbourne in the 1970s and 1980s is reflected in the work of several contemporary philosophers. Graeme Marshall has worked on what happens to issues in the philosophy of action when the motivation of actions is unconscious, in the Freudian sense of this term. Marshall (2000) dismisses the charge that ‘unconscious motivation’ is a contradictio in adjecto; the paradox of action that is both intentional and involuntary is merely apparent and results from an inadequate philosophical theory of action. The small number of analytic philosophers interested in Freud, of which Marshall (2000) is one, is well represented in the collection edited by Michael Levine (2000c). Several of the papers here address the difficult issue of unconscious intentionality in different ways. Pataki argues against the thesis that when unconscious wishes are fulfilled, as in dreams, the dream activity by means of which the wish is fulfilled cannot be fully intentional and must be ‘sub-intentional’. Michael Stocker (2000) argues that Aristotelian akrasia can be fruitfully understood as something like Freudian regression. Other themes in this collection are Marguerite La Caze’s (2000) contribution on sublimation, Michael Levine’s (2000b) analysis of love, in which it is claimed that what we love another for has hardly anything to do with what we think we love them for, and Paul Redding’s (2000) discussion of Freud’s theory of consciousness.

Tamas Pataki (2007) draws on psychoanalysis to explain the enduring attraction of religious belief, specially the content of religious belief, as a sign of an enduring unconscious need for attachment. The deep libidinal attachments that should be established in childhood have not been adequately instituted, and a later attachment to God provides the religious person with the secure attachment to a parent absent in their formative years. Pataki sees aggressive and destructive unconscious impulses directed at the figure of Christ in the split between Father and Son.

Mention should also be made of Malcolm Macmillan’s (1996) critical study of Freud’s theory and technique, which concludes that Freud’s method of free association can neither produce objective data about mental processes nor be used to turn psychoanalysis into an acceptable historical or humanistic discipline.

Since the 1980s philosophy at Deakin University has held a unique place for research in psychoanalysis in Australia. Douglas Kirsner’s Unfree Associations (2000) is a major study that examines four of the leading American training institutes of psychoanalysis. Kirsner arrives at the damning conclusion that psychoanalysis is an essentially humanistic practice that, at least in the U.S., has misrepresented itself as a science while adopting the organisational structure of the church. Deakin University is also strong in Lacanian psychoanalysis. Paris trained psychoanalyst and philosopher Russell Grigg, through his publications (see Grigg 2008), translations of Lacan’s seminars and involvement in psychoanalytic practice, has promoted the Lacanian orientation both within the clinical context and in the philosophy program at Deakin University. Matthew Sharpe, also at Deakin, has produced a critical study of Lacanian philosopher Slavoj Zizek (Sharpe 2004) and, with Deakin colleague Geoff Boucher, an edited collection on Zizek (Boucher, Glynos and Sharpe 2005).

A Companion to Philosophy in Australia and New Zealand

   by Graham Oppy, N. N. Trakakis