The First Fifty Years: 1911–1961
Elton Mayo was appointed to a lectureship in 1911. He became the foundation professor of mental and moral philosophy in Queensland following the publication of his monograph Democracy and Freedom in 1917. Mayo took up positions in North America in 1923 where he became a seminal figure in industrial psychology from his chair at the Harvard School of Business. A theologian, Michael Scott-Fletcher, replaced Mayo, and Marquis Kyle was appointed to lecture in philosophy. Kyle published two articles on eighteenth-century British moral philosophers before his appointment to the chair following Scott-Fletcher’s retirement in 1938. Douglas Gasking, then a recent graduate from Cambridge, was appointed to a lectureship. His widely discussed article, ‘Mathematics and the World’, was published shortly thereafter. Gasking moved to Canberra and later to a chair in philosophy at the University of Melbourne. Until Kyle’s retirement in 1961, philosophy in Queensland was mainly focussed on the subject’s history.
C. F. Presley succeeded Kyle when he retired from the chair of Philosophy in 1961. At the time of Kyle’s retirement, the Department of Philosophy listed five Reverend gentlemen as staff who serviced the sub-departments of Theology and Scholastic Philosophy. Presley shed the sub-departments and oversaw the appointments of recent philosophy graduates from leading anglophone universities in Australasia, Great Britain, and North America. By the mid 1960s, the research programs, curriculum, and publications of staff were continuous with the wider anglophone philosophical community.
The annual meeting of the Australasian Association of Philosophy was hosted by the University of Queensland for the first time in 1964. This event marked Queensland’s emergence into the wider philosophical community. A series of papers on the identity theory of mind were the centrepiece of the 1964 meeting. These were collected and edited by Presley who also wrote an introduction to them. They were published under the title The Identity Theory of Mind in 1967. Each of the essays explores the prospects and problems of a materialist account of mental states and experience.
The staff numbers in the department remained small by comparison to philosophy departments in Sydney and Melbourne. They peaked at nine, but averaged seven staff over the decades between the 1960s and 2000. In the areas of metaphysics and epistemology, Andre Gallois published two books, Occasions of Identity and The World Without, the Mind Within. The first argues that identity statements are contingently true and there can be temporal gaps in the existence of objects while the gaps do not perturb their continuing identity. In the latter he argues that there is no fundamental asymmetry between self-knowledge and knowledge of others. In the area of philosophy of science, Ian Hinckfuss published The Existence of Space and Time. There he argues for the ontologically deflationary thesis that space and time do not exist independently of the spatial and temporal relations that objects stand in to each other. Hinckfuss was also deeply interested in ethics, despite being a self-described moral nihilist. His defense of moral nihilism is developed in his monograph, The Moral Society. Roger Lamb’s edited collection Love Analyzed contains his essay that looks at the question, ‘Why would people take different attitudes to a loved partner and an exact duplicate of the loved partner?’.
Studies in the foundations and applications of logic have been a core area of research and teaching in Queensland. Staff who developed its programs include Brian Medlin, Malcolm Rennie, Rod Girle, Graham Priest, Dominic Hyde and Ian Hinckfuss. Most of the research by them appeared at least initially in the form of journal articles. Rennie and Girle published an introductory textbook, Logic: Theory and Practice, and Girle published a text for use in secondary schools that offered logic as part of their curriculum. The dominant view of the scope and limits of logic during the latter half of the twentieth century was that developed by the Harvard philosopher, Willard Van Orman Quine. Quine took the natural sciences to be the final arbiter of what there is and what logical resources are required to reason about the world. By Quine’s reckoning, quantification theory and set theory were all the logic required for the formulation and application of scientific theories. Extensions of quantification theory, e.g. modal logics, were at best based on equivocations between using sentences and mentioning them, and at worst they were committed to an essentialist view of the relations between natural kinds that echoed an obsolete Aristotelian metaphysics. Further, formalisms that purported to be alternatives to or rivals of classical logic, Quine argued, simply changed the subject or were unintelligible. (C.f. Presley’s entry on Quine in the Encyclopedia of Philosophy.) Rennie, Girle, Priest and Hyde disagreed. Reasoning about possibilities and necessities, the subject matter of modal logics, raised issues on which classical logic was silent. In their research papers, Rennie and Girle explored the properties of modal logics then on offer and the systematic relations between them. Rennie also began work on representing systematic features of syntactic and inferential structures of natural languages within a formal theory. His monograph, Some Uses of Type Theory in the Analysis of Language, was published in 1974. Priest and Hyde focussed on rivals of classical logic. It is a well known feature of classical logics that inconsistent premises entail every proposition: e.g. ‘A & ~A’ entails B, for all B. This has no parallel in reasoning, and a range of Relevant logics were developed that blocked inferences to conclusions that bore no relevance to the premises from which they were derived. Some of the systems of Relevant logic allowed some contradictions to be true (as well as false). Priest took this to be a strength of them insofar as they provided a novel and elegant way of managing logical paradoxes, i.e. the conclusions of at least some logical paradoxes were true (as well as false) and some arguments that entailed inconsistent conclusions were sound. Priest mounts a spirited and widely discussed defence of this view in a series of articles and books that include his book Beyond the Limits of Thought. Hyde’s focus has been on the sorites paradox and the roles that vague terms play in generating paradoxical arguments. He has recently published his book, Vagueness, Logic, and Ontology (2008). In it he codifies and refines the views he developed in a series of papers. As well as looking to the roles Relevant logics can play in reasoning with vague terms, Hyde proposes that the world itself is vague and systems of representation and their underlying logic need to mirror the vagueness of the world without lapsing into intolerable inconsistency.
While research in logic is located at the theoretical end of the philosophical spectrum, research in environmental philosophy joins public debate and sentiment concerning survival, flourishing, or more generally, humankind’s place in nature. In 1979 the university funded a conference on environmental philosophy that Don Mannison organised. Papers from the conference were published under the title Environmental Philosophy, edited by Don Mannison, Michael McRobbie and Richard Routley (later known as Richard Sylvan). The following year a three-year program was funded that brought William Grey (nee Godfrey-Smith), Robert Elliot, and Arran Gare into the Environmental Philosophy program of research and teaching. As well as Mannison, Grey, Elliot and Gare, Roger Lamb and Gary Malinas published research papers and contributed to the teaching of courses devoted to issues in environmental philosophy. This concentration produced a steady flow of journal articles, conference papers, and book chapters. Elliot and Gare organised and edited a collection of new essays that was published in 1983 under the title Environmental Philosophy as well. The issues that were canvassed ranged from the general question of whether Western culture needs a new environmental ethic that supersedes anthropocentric theories of value to comparatively specific issues about the use of pesticides in agriculture and the role of the Precautionary Principle.
From the 1960s to the mid 1980s most of the staff at Queensland pursued questions and employed methods that were located within the traditions of analytic philosophy. Beginning in the mid 1980s, Tuan Nuyen, Marion Tapper, and Michelle Walker introduced courses on Continental philosophy and feminism. Their courses brought students into contact with French and German writers who are largely neglected by the analytic tradition. Tuan’s articles reflect a sympathetic, yet external, standpoint toward the texts and their treatment of themes by philosophers in the Continental tradition. Walker’s (1998) book, Philosophy and the Maternal Body, explores the theme of males’ co-option of pregnancy. Recent publicity of a male pregnancy in the U.S. lifts the theme from the realm of biological science fiction or metaphor into the realm of public debate. Dean Wells also discusses the possibilities of male pregnancy in his book (co-authored with Peter Singer), The Reproduction Revolution.
2001 – Present
The Department of Philosophy at the University of Queensland ceased to exist on 1 January 2001. Its members were amalgamated into a School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics. It occupies the position of a discipline within the newly formed school, but it has lost much of the autonomy regarding academic decisions that it had in the previous forty years. Of its staff on continuing appointments in 2008, three work mainly in the areas of Continental philosophy, one in logic, one in philosophy of science, one in social and political philosophy, one in history of philosophy and philosophy of mind, and one in environmental philosophy and metaphysics. In 2004 the philosophy program was ranked with the best in Australia by the Leiter Report. (The Leiter Report is a peer-based survey of philosophy programs across the anglophone world.) It has not been ranked since, mainly due to the loss of staff whose positions have not been filled.