St James Ethics Centre was established in 1989. The clear intention of its founders, a group of business and professional leaders working in association with the Anglican parish of St James, King Street, Sydney, was that the centre should be an apolitical and independent charity—open to people of good will from all faiths (or no faith at all). The founders’ purpose in establishing the centre was to provide an active and accessible forum for the promotion of business and professional ethics in the city of Sydney. That objective has since been expanded to include an attention to ethics in all aspects of life and beyond Sydney—to include people throughout Australia and, as required, abroad. Philosophy has always been and remains the core discipline informing the centre’s work. Although drawing to some degree on the canon of ‘Eastern’ philosophy, the core intellectual framework at work within the centre is predominantly ‘Western’ in character. The Socratic notion of the importance of an ‘examined life’ is especially influential within the centre. The centre is also strongly inclined to the traditional role of philosophy as a public activity—inviting active engagement with the widest possible selection of people. As such, it is often the task of the centre (where possible) to ‘translate’ the insights of philosophy into language that is meaningful to the wider population. Thus, the centre aims to advocate the ‘examined life’, stimulating popular reflection on issues of the day. Contributing disciplines include: psychology, law, economics, social ecology and management. The mission of the centre is to help people to include the ethical dimension in their lives. To that end, the centre provides practical assistance to individuals and organisations, focussing particularly on building their capacity to deal with the issues and dilemmas they confront from time to time. To this end, the centre developed and continues to offer the world’s only free, confidential, national counselling service for people needing assistance with ethical issues and dilemmas. At a more proactive level, the centre provides education and training for individuals and organisations with its national, ‘flagship’ program, the Vincent Fairfax Fellowship, aiming not only to develop the generic skills of leadership, but also to foster the knowledge, skills and dispositions required to exercise ethical leadership. The breadth and depth of the centre’s work is distinctive, with its practitioners actively engaging with issues ranging from ‘stem cells to soldiers’. For example, across this span, the centre: works with the military in Australia and its wider region, provides support to decision-makers in hospitals, participates in the design and review of ethical frameworks for the development of new technologies (specifically gene technology and nanotechnology), and is engaged with issues arising in almost every aspect of life in Australia—sport, commerce, the professions and so on. The centre has also played a formative role in promoting the concept and practice of corporate responsibility in Australia. In recent years, the centre has been invited to contribute to work internationally, most notably in the establishment of the Military Leadership Forum and through the centre’s involvement with The Genographic Project. It is planned that the next stage in the centre’s development will see the appointment of individuals specialising in particular fields of applied ethics who are willing and able to take on the task of engaging with the widest possible audience.
Udo Schuklenk & Christopher Lowry
Peter (Albert David) Singer is best known for his work in applied ethics on the moral status of animals, the obligations of citizens of the developed world to the global poor, and issues in medicine at the beginning and end of life. His ability to write on timely topics with philosophical rigour and far more accessibility than is common within the academy, combined with his tenacity in defending controversial positions on these topics, has earned him considerable influence within and beyond professional philosophy, evidenced by his inclusion in Time Magazine’s 2005 list of the world’s 100 most influential people. He has authored or edited forty books and has published over 200 articles. His principal publications, many of which have been translated into multiple languages, include Animal Liberation (1975, 2nd ed. 1990), Practical Ethics (1979, 2nd ed. 1993b), How Are We to Live? (1993a), Rethinking Life and Death (1994), A Darwinian Left (1999), One World (2002a, 2nd ed. 2004), and The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty (2009b). Critical discussion of his views can be found in, for example, Jamieson (1999), Uniacke (2002), and a special issue of Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 26, no. 3 (2005).
He was born on 6 July 1946 in Melbourne, Australia to parents of Jewish descent who had fled Vienna eight years earlier to avoid Nazi persecution. He was educated first at the University of Melbourne (B.A. 1967, M.A. 1969), where his interest in ethics was awakened by H. J. McCloskey, and then at Oxford (B.Phil. 1971), where he was strongly influenced by his mentor R. M. Hare. He spent most of his career at Monash University in Melbourne (1977–99), although he also taught briefly at La Trobe University (1975–76). At Monash, he founded the Centre for Human Bioethics in 1980 and served as its director until 1991. He was also the co-director of the Institute for Ethics and Public Policy (1992–1995). In 1987 he co-founded (with Helga Kuhse) the journal Bioethics and served as its co-editor until 1999. He was a leading force in establishing the International Association of Bioethics in 1992, serving as its first president. In 2004, he was named Humanist of the Year by the Australian Humanist Association. He is currently Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University’s Centre for Human Values (since 1999) and Laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics (since 2005).
Singer explains his approach to ethical analysis in Practical Ethics as preference utilitarian. He follows Hare’s proposal, in Moral Thinking (1981), that we should distinguish between an everyday, common sense, intuitive level and a reflective, critical level of moral reasoning. The intuitive level is more or less what should guide us in our daily lives, and is perhaps what we might teach our children. However, there is also a need to reflect more critically on what is the best thing to do (Singer 2002b). Like all utilitarians, preference utilitarians aim to maximise the good and minimise the bad. In addition, preference utilitarians essentially remain neutral with regard to what the best good would be for particular individuals. What they are certain about is that we should seek to maximise the satisfaction of individual preferences and minimise the frustration of preferences. Simply put: a world in which preferences are maximally satisfied and minimally frustrated is preferable to a world where the opposite is the case. Singer has argued in favour of an impartialist stance in ethics, requiring us to treat our own interests or those of our loved ones no different than the comparable interests of others, even others in a far-away corner of the world. This has been criticised most prominently by virtue ethicists as an undesirable, overly demanding standard (Wolf 1982). Singer responded in Practical Ethics to this charge with his now famous suggestion that we should aim for ‘more than a token donation, yet not so high as to be beyond all but saints’ (Singer 1993a: 246).
The Moral Status of Animals
Singer is arguably best-known for his book Animal Liberation. He takes a strong stance against ‘speciesism’ (the view that moral status is based on membership in a particular species) in favour of the claim that moral consideration is owed to beings in virtue of whether (and in what degree) they possess morally relevant characteristics. He argues that sentience, self-consciousness, rationality and autonomy are important in this regard. Since many non-human animals possess the relevant characteristics to a sufficient degree (and some to a greater degree than some humans), Singer concludes that the interests of non-human animals deserve moral consideration. He argues that what matters is the kind of interests at play, rather than whose interests they are. Human interests will tend to outweigh animal interests only insofar as most humans have more diverse and complex interests than most non-human animals. Critics of his approach to defending animal ethics include Tom Regan (1983) and Martha Nussbaum (2006).
In writing Animal Liberation, Singer was especially concerned to condemn the practices involved in factory farming, as well as animal experimentation that proceeds without any reasonable expectation of significant benefit to humans or non-human animals. As in many of his writings, he demonstrates an aptitude for bringing the tools of philosophy to bear on decisions that many people face in modern life, and an evident desire to persuade a broad range of people to question the conclusions of ordinary morality. His book has been credited with largely launching the animal liberation movement, and thirty years after its publication it remains an essential text in the debate.
One of Singer’s earliest articles, and probably his most widely read one, is ‘Famine, Affluence, and Morality’ (1972), in which he argues that anyone who can afford to purchase luxury goods has a moral obligation to instead assist the global poor by donating to international organisations that provide emergency relief and development aid, such as Oxfam and UNICEF. This paper has strongly influenced many other works on world poverty (Unger 1996). Singer’s aim is to challenge the ordinary view that such donations are supererogatory acts of charity. His position follows from his commitment to the claim that competing interests should be weighed via a comparison of the kinds of interests in play, rather than by whose interests they are. The locations of and distance between donors and recipients of aid has little or no moral importance compared to the kinds of interests at stake. Since the suffering and premature deaths caused by extreme poverty frustrate major interests, whereas only comparatively minor interests are furthered by luxury goods, Singer concludes that people who choose luxury goods over poverty reduction are morally blameworthy. With this article and his other efforts to promote international aid organisations, he has succeeded in generating debate within academic philosophy and has persuaded many people to adopt more globally responsible patterns of giving.
In One World Singer extends his discussion of international morality to address climate change, humanitarian intervention, and globalisation. With this broader discussion, he aims to challenge even more forcefully the ordinary view that a person’s moral obligations are greatly lessened outside of her nation’s borders. In line with his preference utilitarian thinking he argues in favour of a cosmopolitan ethic that promotes a global conception of community. The most urgent problems we now face, such as climate change, are global problems that require, he argues, investing greater power in international institutions and demanding greater democratic accountability from them. His most prominent critic on this topic is Thomas Pogge (2002).
Life and Death Decisions in Medicine
Many of Singer’s writings are controversial, but none more so than his arguments about euthanasia. In defending women’s abortion rights, he concludes that a being should be considered a person with a right to life only if it is both sentient and aware of itself as having a life of its own. Since foetuses (when moderately developed) are sentient but not self-conscious, they are owed moral consideration, but do not have a right to life. So if, because of some defect, the foetus would have a life not worth living (e.g. it would never develop self-consciousness or would almost exclusively experience suffering), then, all other things being equal, it should be killed. Furthermore, if the lives of persons (especially the mother) would be improved by killing the foetus, even if it would have a satisfying life, then the mother can morally choose to abort. Singer follows this line of argument to justify infanticide in certain cases. He argues that parents, in consultation with their physician, are morally entitled to decide to kill an infant less than a month old who, due to severe disability, would have a life not worth living. He also argues that in cases of less severe disability, in the absence of willing adoptive parents or robust state support, parents are morally entitled to choose (on the basis of the impact on their lives and/or the lives of their existing children) to kill an infant less than a month old, especially if doing so would prompt them to try to conceive a healthy child in its stead. Although Singer insists that many parents can, with faultless rationality, choose to raise children who have disabilities, and although he argues that everything feasible should be done to make the life of every person, whether disabled or not, as satisfying and as rich as possible, his defence of euthanasia for disabled infants has raised tremendous controversy. Prominent critics include Eva Feder Kittay (2005) and Adrienne Asch (1999). Singer has also received fierce political protest. In 1989 and for several years thereafter, he was prevented from publicly speaking on these issues in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, where several of the conferences to which he was invited, and even the courses that used Practical Ethics, were forced to be cancelled. His appointment at Princeton in 1999 was greeted initially in much the same way for similar reasons. In the end, this publicity likely served his objectives better than silence, as it lead to a much wider discussion of his views.
Defending the Ethical Life
Reconciling prudential considerations with moral ones was an early topic of interest to Singer (his 1969 Master’s thesis is entitled Why Should I be Moral?) and it is one that he has repeatedly revisited during his career. Appealing to the paradox of hedonism and other considerations, he argues that choosing an ethical life provides the best chance, all things considered, for having a satisfying life. He concedes that this will not convince everyone, but he contends that it should have force for those with at least moderately reflective tendencies. His concern to draw connections between self-interest and ethics is very much in line with the practical outlook of his theorising more generally. This desire to defend ethics in a way that is fully connected to concrete reality also prompted him to draw on evolutionary psychology, which is most evident in A Darwinian Left. He explains that understanding the evolutionary forces that have largely shaped our tendency towards selfishness and our capacity for reciprocity and altruism is crucial to creating a credible defence of the kind of radical social progress—on our view of animals, of distant others, of the global community, and so on—that he has urged throughout his career. Although his views are hotly contested and often very controversial, it is fair to say that more than any other ethicist of his generation, he has succeeded in encouraging, even forcing, large numbers of people to reflect on what the ethical life requires and to bring their behaviour to a closer approximation of what that reflection yields.
John Jamieson Carswell (‘Jack’) Smart was born in Cambridge, England, in 1920. His father, William Marshall Smart (1889–1975) was then the John Couch Adams Astronomer at the University of Cambridge. From 1937 until 1959, William Smart was Regius Professor of Astronomy at the University of Glasgow; he was also president of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1950. Jack’s mother was born Isabel Carswell; like his father, she was a Scot.
Smart was the oldest of three brothers, all of whom became university professors. Alastair Smart (1922–1992) was professor of art history at Nottingham University; and Ninian Smart (1927–2001) was professor of theology at the University of Birmingham (1961–67), professor of religious studies at the University of Lancaster (1967–92) and professor in the comparative study of religions at the University of Santa Barbara (1988–98).
After boarding at the Leys School in Cambridge, Smart commenced undergraduate studies—in mathematics, physics and philosophy—at the University of Glasgow. Smart’s undergraduate studies were interrupted by five years of military service during World War Two; nonetheless, in 1946, he completed his B.A., and moved on to the Queen’s College in Oxford. After the completion of his B.Phil. in 1948, Smart became a junior research fellow at Corpus Christi College. His first published work—‘The River of Time’—appeared in Mind in 1949. At Glasgow, Smart thought highly of C. A. Campbell, D. R. Cousin, and M. J. Levett; at Oxford, he was much influenced by Gilbert Ryle, G. E. Moore, Friedrich Waismann, George Paul and J. O. Urmson.
In 1950, Smart was appointed Hughes Professor of Philosophy at the University of Adelaide. Honours students whom Smart taught while at Adelaide include: Brian Ellis, Graham Nerlich, Michael Bradley, Brian Medlin, Ian Hinckfuss and Max Deutscher. Staff who had important influences on Smart’s philosophical thought included U. T. Place and C. B. Martin. The Gavin David Young Lectures also brought a host of significant figures to Adelaide from the mid 1950s, including: Gilbert Ryle, W. V. O. Quine, Anthony Flew, Herbert Feigl, Donald Davidson, David Lewis, Peter Hempel, Daniel Dennett and Hilary Putnam.
In 1972, Smart moved from Adelaide to a readership at La Trobe University (where his colleagues included Frank Jackson, Peter Singer and John Fox); then, in 1977, Smart moved on again, to a chair in the Philosophy Program in the Research School for the Social Sciences at the Australian National University. Although he retired from this chair in 1986, Smart remained an active ‘visiting fellow’ in the Philosophy Program until 1999, when he moved to Melbourne, and became—as he presently remains—an honorary research fellow in the School of Philosophy and Bioethics at Monash University.
As Philip Pettit noted in his introduction to the Inaugural Jack Smart Lecture—an annual lecture in the Philosophy Program at the Research School for the Social Sciences, first held on 15 October 1999—one can think of Smart’s overall philosophical orientation as turning on three fundamental assumptions. First, that the theories of natural science, under serious and metaphysically realist interpretation, offer our best account of the fundamental constitution of reality. Second, that our ‘commonsense’ views about the world cannot all simply be dismissed as errors or illusions, since they provide the foundations for the successful carrying out of our day-to-say projects. And, third, that it is not a straightforward matter to reconcile our ‘commonsense’ views about the world with the theories of natural science. Along with Quine, Sellars, Davidson, Armstrong, and others, Smart was in part responsible for developing a conception of philosophy on which the primary philosophical task is the development of a comprehensive theory that effects the best possible ‘rounding out’ of commonsense and natural science. This conception of philosophy is articulated in Smart’s Philosophy and Scientific Realism (1963), and updated—as least in some respects—in Our Place in the Universe (1989).
In philosophy of mind, Smart is perhaps best known for his paper ‘Sensations and Brain Processes’ (1959b), in which he argues for a version of the view that mental states are identical to brain states. Under the influence of Ryle, Smart had been a philosophical behaviourist; however, as the result of a three-cornered discussion with Place and Martin, Smart eventually came to adopt a variant of Place’s identity theory. While some critics have disagreed, Smart has always held that his version of the identity theory is compatible with a functionalist account of mental states, and that the identities that hold between mental states and brain states are contingent in nature.
In metaphysics, Smart is widely known as a defender of a constellation of controversial views about the nature of time. On Smart’s account, the best interpretation of physical theories of time—in particular the special and general theories of relativity—should lead us to accept the view that the past and the future exist, that reality is framed by a four-dimensional manifold with three spatial dimensions and one temporal dimension, and that the belief that time really passes is a mistake that can be explained in terms of facts about human psychology (or—on an earlier view that he subsequently discarded—in terms of facts about the use of human temporal language). These views about time might be thought to comport well with what Smart took to be one of the principle objectives of metaphysics, namely, to try to see the world ‘under the mirror of eternity’.
In metaphysics, Smart is also well known as a defender of a physicalist account of colours. On Smart’s reckoning, colours are identified by reference to the properties that explain the discriminatory behaviours of normal human percipients with respect to colour—and, as it turns out, the properties that in fact explain the discriminatory behaviours of normal human percipients with respect to colour are physical properties of the surfaces of objects.
In ethics, Smart is renowned for his role in the resuscitation of utilitarianism. Reworking material from An Outline of a System of Utilitarian Ethics (1961), Smart co-wrote Utilitarianism: For and Against (1973) with Bernard Williams. In this work, Smart argues for a version of act utilitarianism, and then Williams criticises the account that Smart offers. One of the distinctive features of Smart’s utilitarianism is that it gives primary place to satisfaction of preferences (and not merely to enjoyment of pleasure and avoidance of pain). This adjustment to classical utilitarianism helped to suggest more generic formulations of consequentialism, and to smooth the way for the view—recently defended by, among others, Frank Jackson and Michael Smith—that pretty much any ethical theory can be given a consequentialist formulation.
In philosophy of religion, Smart is perhaps best known for his co-authored ‘debate’ with John Haldane. Their book, Atheism and Theism, was first published in 1996, with an updated second edition appearing in 2003. In this work, Smart defends atheism, a position that he had accepted—perhaps initially with some feelings of regret—since the late 1950s. In 1955, Smart contributed two papers to the very influential New Essays in Philosophical Theology, edited by Anthony Flew and Alasdair MacIntyre. Subsequently, Smart said that he was ‘ashamed’ of these two papers, and that ‘emotional attachment to my parents … caused me to hang on to the church long after it was really incompatible with my philosophical and scientific beliefs’.
Under the influence of Quine, Smart had an antipathetic attitude towards ‘extensions’ of classical logic, including modal logic, tense logic, logic for counterfactuals, and so forth. While he had a great admiration for A. N. Prior, and while he learned a lot of logic in the course of extensive correspondence with Prior, he never came to share Prior’s ‘eclectic appreciation’ of systems that ‘extended’ classical logic (never mind appreciation of systems—such as intuitionistic logics, Relevant logics, quantum logics, paraconsistent logics, and so forth—that are in conflict with classical logic).
Of course, there are many other areas of philosophy in which Smart also made significant contributions. His other books include: Between Science and Philosophy: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science (1968), Ethics, Persuasion and Truth (1984) and Essays Metaphysical and Moral (1987a). The papers in Metaphysics and Morality: Essays in Honour of J. J. C. Smart (1987) give further indication of the range of his influence.
Smart has been a member of the Australian Academy of Humanities for many years. He has been invested in the Order of Australia for his services to Australian philosophy, and has received many other honours the world over. He held numerous appointments as visiting professor at other universities, particularly in the U.S.: e.g. Princeton (1957), Harvard (1963), Yale (1964), and Stanford (1979). He corresponded at length with many of the best philosophers of the age—including Quine, Lewis, and Sellars—and much of this correspondence has been preserved. On top of all this, he provided leadership for Australian philosophy, not only at the institutions at which he happened to have appointments, but right across the country. He is clearly one of the very greatest figures in the history of Australasian philosophy.
Michael Andrew Smith was born in Melbourne on 23 July 1954. He studied for both a B.A. and an M.A. at Monash University, finishing there in 1980. His subsequent studies at the University of Oxford led to him being awarded a BPhil in 1983 and a D.Phil. in 1989. As a graduate student in Oxford, he was supervised by Simon Blackburn. Smith taught philosophy at Wadham College in Oxford (1984), at Monash University (1984–85 and 1989–94), and at Princeton University (1985–89), before spending almost a decade at the Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University (1995–2004). He returned to Princeton University in 2004, where he is the McCosh Professor of Philosophy.
Smith’s most influential work is The Moral Problem (1994), but he has also authored or co-authored more than ninety papers, a selection of which were published in a second book, Ethics and the A Priori (2004). A number of the papers he co-authored with Frank Jackson and Philip Pettit were collected together in Mind, Morality and Explanation (2004). Smith has also edited or co-edited four volumes. In addition to his well-known work on metaethics and moral psychology, he has made important contributions to normative ethics, political philosophy, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of action. His contributions to philosophy led to him being awarded an American Philosophical Association book prize in 2001 (for The Moral Problem), and a Centenary Medal for services to Australian society and the Humanities in 2003. Earlier, he was elected Fellow of the Academy of Humanities in Australia in 1997, and Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in 2000. It is safe to say that Smith is one of the most important moral philosophers of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.
The problem that Smith confronts in The Moral Problem is the puzzle of how to reconcile moral realism with two theses that together provide us with a highly attractive story about how moral motivation, moral judgment and action are related to each other, and together seem to be inconsistent with the cognitivism required for moral realism (moral realists take moral judgments to be beliefs that are sometimes true). The first thesis, which goes by the name of internalism, states that a person who judges that it is right to do a particular act will, ceteris paribus, be motivated to do that act. This idea can be traced back to David Hume, but it was given special prominence in the work of two twentieth-century Oxford philosophers, J. L Mackie and Bernard Williams, who took it to pose a serious challenge to moral realism. Mackie argued that it is essential to the moral enterprise that we take there to be properties in the world that motivate us when we come into contact with them, and that a commitment to such ‘queer’ properties is not consistent with a naturalistic worldview (hence, morality involves a fundamental error). Williams argued that internalism places constraints on the practical reasons individuals can be thought to possess for acting in one way or another, and that putative moral demands cannot provide practical reasons for action for any individuals that do not already possess psychological states that could lead them to be motivated to act on such demands after a process of rational reflection (where this process, while it might lead to the creation of new desires, is understood to always be constrained by the desires that the individual already possesses).
The second thesis that Smith focusses on when setting out his main problem concerns motivation. This thesis, the Humean theory of motivation, consists of a sharp distinction between the belief states and desire states that are thought of as together explaining human actions (a desire is an ‘original existence’, to echo Hume on the passions), in combination with a contention that while desires play a crucial direct role in human behaviour, beliefs alone are not capable of moving us to act. Belief is in the business of merely representing the world, rather than attempting to change it, whereas desire contains no ‘representative quality’ (to echo Hume again; see Treatise 2.3.3).
Cognitivism, internalism, and the Humean theory of motivation seem to form an inconsistent triad, since cognitivism states that a person who judges that it is right to do a particular act believes that it is right to do that act, and internalism seems to imply that such a person will be motivated to do that act, but the Humean theory of motivation denies that there is any necessary connection between believing that it is right to do a particular act and being motivated to do it. In other words, internalism and the Humean theory of motivation seem to together imply that non-cognitivism is true, since if it is both true that moral judgments motivate us and that only desires motivate us, moral judgments cannot be beliefs.
Something has dropped out of this little argument for seeing the three main claims as inconsistent (as I have just presented it), and that is the ‘ceteris paribus’ clause that must be included in the definition of internalism in order to ensure that the thesis is attractive, instead of implausible. Without such a clause, internalism would rule out the possibility of akrasia: judging that it is right to do a particular act, yet not being motivated to do it. But it is clear that people do suffer from akrasia and other forms of practical irrationality that prevent them from being motivated to act on their best judgments. Although Smith initially states the internalist thesis by using a ‘ceteris paribus’ clause, he goes on to argue that internalism can be understood, more specifically, as a conceptual necessity claim of the form, ‘If an agent judges that it is right for her to φ in circumstances C, then either she is motivated to φ in C or she is practically irrational’ (1994: 61). In other words, all things are equal just when an individual is being practically rational.
It is important to note that Smith doesn’t think that merely recognising that the most plausible form of internalism is a weaker thesis than one might have initially supposed when setting out the main problem (ignoring the ceteris paribus clause, as I did above when explaining why the three main claims seem to be inconsistent) will enable us to avoid his trilemma. In a symposium on Smith’s book published in Ethics, David Brink contends that this is all that is needed to avoid the trilemma, since only a strong internalist claim is inconsistent with the conjunction of cognitivism and the Humean theory of motivation (Brink 1997). Smith rejects this claim in his symposium response (Smith 1997), but even if Brink is right about what is required for there to be strict inconsistency here, Smith’s project can still be appreciated for the way in which it attempts to give an account of how, contrary to appearances, the three main claims harmoniously cohere with each other (as well as for many other reasons).
The solution Smith provides to his main problem has many parts, but, in essence, it takes the following form. We can accept that belief and desire are distinct existences, and that no belief can directly lead to action, while rejecting Hume’s contention that desires are not rationally criticisable and thus not answerable to beliefs. In particular, we can form beliefs about what our idealised selves would desire that our actual, non-ideal selves do in the circumstances we find ourselves in, where our idealised selves posses fully rational beliefs and desires (so far as their desires are concerned, this means that they have a set of desires that are maximally unified and coherent). In forming such beliefs we are, in effect, forming beliefs about what we have most reason to do. We are also forming beliefs that can play a special role in shaping our actual desires, since it is necessarily practically irrational for me to not want to do what I judge I would want myself now to do if I were only more rational. This last claim is particularly interesting and original. Beliefs about what a fully rational version of myself would desire my present rationally imperfect self to do seem to be just the right kinds of beliefs to play a strong normative role in relation to my desires.
Apart from providing a solution to the problem of reconciling cognitivism with internalism and the Humean theory of motivation, The Moral Problem also provides an account of the moral facts that make moral beliefs true (when they are true). Smith argues that when I imagine becoming more rational and more informed I must perforce also think of myself as converging with others in my fundamental desires. It is this convergence that assures us of the objectivity of morality. Facts about our normative reasons are facts about what we would all want our non-ideal selves to do if we were fully rational and fully informed, and moral facts are facts about what we would all desire that are of the appropriate substantive kind (where our understanding of this kind is fixed by moral platitudes that are required for possessing the very concept of ‘right’ to begin with).
Mackie’s concern that moral facts (if there are any) must be very ‘queer’ since they motivate us whenever we encounter them is squarely dealt with, since to encounter a moral fact (as a moral fact) is just to encounter the sort of thing that it now naturally makes sense to think of as making it rational to desire to act in one way or another, i.e. a fact about what our more rational selves would want us to do. Williams’ contention that moral demands will not necessarily provide every person with reasons to act (because some of us may not have desires that such demands can ever latch onto) can be rejected, without rejecting the spirit of Williams’ defense of internalism, because moral demands just are the demands (of the appropriate substantive kind) that all rational people will converge on.
In his work after The Moral Problem, Smith focusses on a wide range of different problems, some of them fairly unconnected to the concerns of his first book. For example, the topics of freedom, responsibility and self-control are explored in the essays in Ethics and the A Priori, alongside essays closer in their concerns to his earlier work (essays that are concerned with moral realism and its alternatives, the nature of moral judgments, and the nature and demands of practical rationality). When it comes to normative ethics, Smith has elsewhere developed and argued for a type of actual-value consequentialism that incorporates the agent-relative goods traditionally thought to be incompatible with consequentialism.
In his metaethics, Smith’s more recent work is somewhat continuous with the position mapped out in The Moral Problem. Two closely related ways in which he has moved away from the first book—possibly due in part to responses from critics—are that he is now less sanguine about the possibility of convergence in fundamental desires under conditions of increasing rationality, and he has developed a more substantive and dynamic conception of rationality. Where he earlier sees it as a fairly easily recognisable conceptual truth that we would all converge in our fundamental desires were we to become fully rational, Smith has come to view this issue as presenting us with something more akin to an open question. He continues to hold that either we would converge, or there are no moral facts (externalists, on the other hand, would contend that there is a third possibility here), but his later work can be viewed as taking the threat of nihilism more seriously than his earlier work does.
It is particularly tempting to think we would not in fact converge in our desires were we to become fully rational as long as one sticks to a fairly thin notion of what rationality requires in relation to our desires—i.e. as long as one sticks to the original idea that what we are after is simply a maximally coherent and unified desire set (although it should be said that Smith was already adamant in his earlier work that it is not possible to provide a reduction of the concept of rationality to other concepts). Smith argues in ‘Internalism’s Wheel’, reproduced in Ethics and the A Priori, that we should think of our understanding of rationality as itself open to rational revision in a way that is very much susceptible to being influenced by our substantive judgments concerning our normative reasons and the demands of morality (he admits that there is thus a degree of circularity in his theory, but he contends that this circularity is virtuous, rather than vicious). If the later Smith is right that philosophical accounts of rationality and morality cannot be developed independently of each other, then the claim that we would all converge in our fundamental desires under conditions of full rationality—a claim whose truth Smith still believes to be necessary for there to be any moral facts—is an attractive claim indeed.
The term ‘social philosophy’ does not have the currency of, say, ‘political philosophy’, ‘moral philosophy’, or even ‘legal philosophy’. It does not, at least so far, figure in the list of entries for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy or the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Indeed, there is disagreement about what social philosophy is. If we conceive the ‘social’ as covering all aspects of interactive human life, then presumably social philosophy would embrace both moral and political philosophy, and a fair bit else besides. However, it is convenient to begin with a narrower understanding (one familiar to those planning undergraduate philosophy programs) in which social philosophy is concerned with those relationships that, for whatever reason, are not included in the more established areas of specialisation. This may seem a rather rough and ready way of marking out a major sub-disciplinary area. However, the situation is not dissimilar in the social and human sciences generally, where the distinctions between psychology, sociology, economics, politics and law reflect historical and institutional contingencies, not matters of ground-level principle. What this suggests is that any demarcation is a provisional one and that we should not take border disputes too seriously.
By and large social philosophy in Australia and New Zealand has had much the same marginal status as in North America and the U.K. Indeed, a quick survey of the last ten years of the Australasian Journal of Philosophy suggests that there has not been a single substantial article that falls clearly in the area. Even before that, its presence on the philosophy scene has been somewhat intermittent. The presence of Marxism on the philosophical scene in the 1930s and again in the late 1960s and ’70s encouraged philosophers to engage with questions of social structure and social change. However, all too often, Australasian Marxist philosophers were more engaged with questions of epistemology and philosophy of science, rather than with social philosophy. It is also true that Marxism has failed to establish a continuing presence within Australasian philosophy. ‘European’ philosophy (in the Australasian context this usually means French and German philosophy) has always been more comfortable with an association with social philosophy than its ‘anglophone’, i.e. analytical, counterpart. However, whilst Australasian philosophers have done important work on or inspired by Habermas, Honneth, Foucault and Deleuze, and this is represented in the teaching programs of larger philosophy departments (as well as in departments of politics, sociology, cultural studies, etc.), it is more likely to be represented in overseas publications, often of an interdisciplinary nature, than in the Australasian philosophical mainstream. Feminism has been more successful in establishing an ongoing tradition of research and publication within philosophy, but after important early critiques of the limitations of Marxism and liberalism, the most significant contributions of feminist philosophy have been to the history of philosophy, ethics and political philosophy, rather than to social philosophy.
If, despite its marginal and fragmentary status, social philosophy is deserving of an entry in a Companion to Australasian Philosophy, this is largely because two important local philosophers have made contributions to this field, contributions that are distinctive, not only in an Australasian but also in a global context. The philosophers I will discuss are John Anderson and Philip Pettit. They are, of course, in no way typical, and there are enormous differences between them. However, they have both played an enormously influential role in Australasian philosophy; they both aim to provide an overall philosophy which not merely includes but integrates its various different branches; they both see social philosophy as an important part of that enterprise; and they both make contributions which deserve to receive critical attention.
Let us, as befits an entry on social philosophy, say something about the different contexts in which Anderson and Pettit worked. Both were immigrants—Anderson from Scotland, Pettit from Ireland—and though they became closely identified with Australian philosophy, both retained traces of their national origins (not least, in their accents). However, the philosophical worlds they inhabited were very different. Anderson taught in a small department, mostly to undergraduates. In the thirty years in which he taught at the University of Sydney, contacts with overseas philosophy were mostly by mail and print, and travel overseas was infrequent. Anderson himself returned to Scotland only once in the thirty-five years he lived in Australia; other local philosophers might spend a sabbatical year in Britain (usually at Oxford or Cambridge). Anderson’s main intellectual contacts were in Australia, and these were not only philosophers but also lawyers, judges, psychologists, historians, poets, journalists, trade union officials and political activists.
Pettit, on the other hand, came to the Australian National University just as philosophy was becoming truly global. Email and web communication were becoming the norm; distinguished overseas philosophers were happy to spend time in Australia, and particularly at the Australian National University; and Pettit himself was a constant overseas traveller. His students were postgraduates, the majority of whom became academic philosophers, not merely in Australia but also in Britain and the U.S. While Anderson wrote almost entirely for the Australasian Journal of Philosophy and Psychology, Pettit has published in international journals and with international publishers. While Anderson was a large fish in a rather small pond, Pettit was to become a major philosopher in an international field.
These different social contexts had their influence on the content of Anderson’s and Pettit’s work. Anderson was committed to the enterprise of philosophy, and his presentation made no concessions to style or accessibility. However, his audience was not just his disciplinary colleagues, nor even other lecturers and professors: it was the educated public. The disputes that inspired some of his most lasting contributions were local and specific: university and state government politics, acts of censorship, attempts by church leaders to influence public morals, and the like. No doubt Pettit is as much concerned with contemporary political issues as was Anderson; however, his audience is the globalised academy, and his views have been developed in dialogue with fellow philosophers, and also (though to a lesser extent) theorists from related disciplines. Though Pettit’s project is much more ambitious than that of most of his peers, it has been worked out through a critical engagement with them.
Both Anderson and Pettit are concerned to develop a systematic and comprehensive philosophical position. For Anderson, this ambition was never itself presented systematically, though it is often taken for granted, and—somewhat less often—argued for in lectures and articles. (Anderson 1962 is his own selection from previously published work; Anderson 2003 provides a fascinating selection of political writings from 1927 to 1969. Baker 1979 and 1986 provide systematic presentations.) Anderson’s main doctrines were straightforward: there is only one way of being—existence in space and time—and only one form of knowledge, of what is the case in the real world. Consequently, there are no categorial distinctions between social and historical knowledge and other forms of knowledge. These days, philosophers would expect more by way of heavy lifting in support of these doctrines than Anderson ever provides; indeed, it is fair to say that Anderson spent more time deploying them rhetorically against the fallacies and obscurantisms of his opponents than he did providing arguments for them. But he also displayed a much more acute insight into society than most other philosophers. Although he argued that the one set of categories defined the field of all knowledge, these were broad and flexible, so that he was never tempted by reductionist programs, e.g. to explain institutions and their associated ways of life in terms of facts about individual psychology. Indeed, he strongly rejected what he called ‘atomism’, and argued that if we are to understand the individual we must take into account the social context in which the individual exists. But the alternative to atomism was not ‘holism’, i.e. the assertion of the conceptual priority of the social whole to which individuals belonged. This was a dangerous piece of philosophical mythology. For Anderson, the key to understanding individual and social life was the existence of a number of distinct groups or—more perceptively—of distinct ways of life. A key doctrine was that social life was—and would always be—the site of conflict, and the attempt to deny this in the name of ‘solidarity’ or the ‘common good’ was always an illusion, and more often than not an attempt to impose a particular sectional interest on those who might otherwise oppose it. Anderson argued that conflict is an inevitable concomitant of social life, and while it can be suppressed, it can never be eliminated. More importantly, it is also a condition for the existence of those very characteristics of social life that were of value.
Anderson rejected prescriptive moralities (as involving ‘relativist confusions’, i.e. the conflation of a relationship with a quality); so for him, goods were characteristic of certain ways of life. He argued strongly, for example, that criticism was characteristic of the life of inquiry, and—at east in his early days—that productivity, creativity and cooperation were involved in working class life and struggle (here the influence was not so much Marx as Georges Sorel). These and other goods, which included aesthetic creation and appreciation, courage, freedom and the like, were always involved in struggle with other opposed ways of life. However, it was a mistake to think that the existence of this struggle was an obstacle to the achievement of the good life; on the contrary, it was a precondition for it. This is not the place to pursue the details of Anderson’s case. However, his arguments against the concept of a universal and prescriptive concept of the good have much in common with Nietzsche (his occasional sympathetic references suggest an affinity that deserves more exploration, though see the suggestive remarks in Baker 1979: 36–7) and, more recently, with Bernard Williams’ critique of the ‘morality system’. For Anderson, morality does not occupy a privileged place of judgment outside social life; it is an aspect of it. It is fair to say that for Anderson, moral philosophy was social philosophy.
Philip Pettit’s social philosophy is still a work in progress, so any characterisation of it must remain provisional. It will be sufficient here to point out some of the main directions. Pettit’s instincts are, both normatively and analytically, individualistic. If ‘atomism’ was never a temptation for Anderson, it clearly was for Pettit. One reason for this was that the sophistication and precision of economic theory provided him with an initial model of what a social theory should look like. Like the economists, Pettit’s starting point was (and is) the more or less rational individual. Pettit’s account of rationality is complex and sophisticated, but it is, he believes, implicit in commonsense notions of agency (‘folk psychology’). Why should we not, like the economists, be able to work towards an understanding of social life from the characteristics of the individual? The temptation becomes particularly strong given the philosophical program of providing a physicalist account of the individual, which would allow the theorist to envisage, at least in principle, the unification of knowledge. However, Pettit resists the temptation. He argues (Pettit 1993; see also Pettit 2002) that the reflective thought necessary for practical rationality can only be acquired though participation in certain forms of social life. For this reason we must reject the atomist assumption of pre-social but rational individuals, and recognise that at a quite fundamental level individuals are socially constituted—a view that Pettit, idiosyncratically, calls ‘holism’. However, if Pettit rejects atomism, he affirms individualism against what he, again somewhat idiosyncratically, calls ‘collectivism’. This second contrast is one of causal priority. The collectivist, according to Pettit, is someone who argues that certain social regularities impose themselves on the individual, determining how he or she acts. It is this Durkheimian thesis that Pettit is concerned to reject. Talk of social forces must ultimately be understood in terms of the interactive behaviour of individuals.
Given his rejection of collectivism, it is perhaps slightly curious that much of Pettit’s more recent work in social philosophy (see, e.g. Pettit 2007) has been concerned with the conditions under which collectives might operate as responsible individuals in their own right. That they do so is hardly surprising: corporations, trade unions, governments, even states, are often enough held accountable for their actions, and sometimes even punished for them (i.e. they count as legal persons). But, as Pettit has convincingly shown, it is easy enough to point to circumstances where collective decision-making procedures (even or especially democratic ones) lead to judgments that violate the most elementary norms of reason, at least as they are understood to apply to individuals. It becomes then a matter of some nicety—and of considerable political relevance as well—to work out the conditions under which a collective can be both minimally rational and maximally democratic. One looks forward to Pettit’s forthcoming book, co-authored with Christian List, for more detail on this program (Pettit and List, forthcoming). However, there may also be a need to look at more amorphous and less formally structured groupings if we are to understand the role of collectivities in social life. Certainly, where groups are to be held legally accountable, there needs to be some form of rational decision-making procedures in force. But many groups are not like this: families, religions, neighbourhoods, nations, ad hoc groupings of environmental activists, etc. all have significant impacts on social life, and may even be held accountable in some loose sense for certain outcomes, without having procedures of this kind. Here one would like to see, something that was at least promised by the Andersonian program, an exploration—or even a recognition—of the different ways of life associated with different kinds of social collectivity. Here too one might find more truth than Pettit is prepared to allow in the collectivist claim that social forces as such inform the behaviour of individuals, both members and non-members of these groups, in ways that are not easily explicable in individualistic terms. In this case, as in many other areas, it would be a fascinating and productive exercise to bring Pettit and Anderson’s conceptions of social philosophy into critical dialogue with each other.
Stan van Hooft
Modern Socratic Dialogue is a structured method for philosophical discussion that was developed in the early twentieth century by a group of German thinkers and educationists surrounding the philosopher Leonard Nelson (1882–1927). It assumes that everyone has an inborn aptitude for philosophical thought and that no specific book learning is required for pursuing philosophical insights. All that is required is a facilitator who is trained to bring out this ability in all of the participants. Groups ranging from six to twelve gather to discuss a topic that is couched as a general question and proceed through a number of stages that conclude when consensus is reached on an answer to that question. It takes time and perseverance to reach such a result and the quest for consensus ensures that the group explores everything that is contributed to the discussion thoroughly. It is an important rule of the procedure that everyone persists in seeking understanding. It is also a requirement that everyone makes themselves clear and that they do not invoke unexplicated book knowledge.
Although the name given to the process alludes to Plato’s dialogues, the structure of a Modern Socratic Dialogue does not follow the method of elenchus. Suppose that the topic for a given dialogue was ‘What is courage?’. The session would begin with the facilitator asking the group to bring forward examples of incidents that they have themselves experienced in some way and which are germane to the question. The group then discusses the examples that have been offered in order to choose one to concentrate upon. Themes will emerge as participants compare the examples and note similarities or differences between them. Having chosen the example the group then explores it by asking the example-giver for more details. The aim of this phase is for each participant to be able to imagine themselves in the incident. They then seek to understand, from their own perspective, how the incident illustrates what courage is or what the example says about courage. It is only when the group has understood what courage is in relation to the specific example, and what features of courage might be specific to the example, that the facilitator will introduce the last phase of the dialogue: the phase in which the question is explored in its more general form.
Modern Socratic Dialogue was introduced into Australia by Stan van Hooft in 1998 and he has conducted dialogues with students in the higher education sector and in secondary schools, along with professional groups and members of the public. The method is fruitful in relatively casual settings such as ‘Socratic Dinners’ and in more formal settings such as weekend sessions held in libraries. In 2001 van Hooft conducted a demonstration workshop on the Modern Socratic Dialogue method at the annual conference of the Australasian Association of Philosophy in Hobart. Dialogues have also been held in conjunction with conferences such as those of the Australian Association for Professional and Applied Ethics. The method has also proved useful as a qualitative research method, with one of van Hooft’s graduate students producing a successful thesis using data gathered from dialogues with relevant professional groups.
Purushottama Bilimoria & Max Charlesworth
Sophia began forty-two years ago at the University of Melbourne in very humble circumstances. For the first few years it was produced on a primitive Gestetner machine. Then it was printed for many years by a charmingly eccentric one-man Polish press in a Melbourne suburb. Much later it went upmarket and was stylishly published by the well-known U.K. firm, Ashgate. More recently still, it began its career with Springer, which has given it access to a global audience.
Max Charlesworth and Graham de Graf were co-founders of the journal, in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Melbourne, which was then largely dominated by Oxford/Cambridge linguistic analysis of a partly Wittgensteinian and partly logical positivist kind. In this context there was very little interest in the philosophy of religion, since religion was deemed to be in the sphere of ‘that whereof one cannot speak’. There was also some old-fashioned feeling within the University of Melbourne that, since it was a ‘secular’ body without any kind of religious affiliation, it was in some way prohibited from providing courses in religion!
At all events, when Graham de Graaf returned from Oxford in 1960, he and Charlesworth decided to form a Society for Philosophical Theology with the express intent of publishing a journal for discussion in philosophical theology. They wrote to friends and colleagues in British universities asking them to contribute to the new journal and were extremely chuffed when a number of them obliged. Peter Geach (who thought that the journal should be called Sophisma) was especially encouraging, and later Paul Edwards (from New York University) and Ninian Smart (from the University of California, Santa Barbara) also helped greatly, with Smart serving as the journal’s international editorial advisor from 1992 to 2001.
The first years of Sophia were focussed on philosophers from the Anglo-American analytical tradition. Charlesworth, who assumed full editorial responsibility for the journal, later enlarged the scope of the journal by introducing other philosophical approaches to the amorphous sphere of what is called ‘religion’. His own fledgling work on Australian Aboriginal religions encouraged this move. When he retired from Deakin University, where the journal had moved to in 1976, Purushottama Bilimoria took over the editorship of the journal, and with help from Patrick Hutchings (as associate editor) and Ian Weeks, moved the journal back to the Department of Philosophy at the University of Melbourne where it found a sympathetic haven. The society also renamed itself to include Philosophy of Religion, which became the main focus of the format of the journal, and it found a new publisher in Ashgate in 2000. The journal expanded its scope further to include discussions in philosophy and religion in the interstices of analytical, Continental and cross-cultural philosophies. In 2007 Springer took over publishing the journal, adding Patrick Hutchings and Jay Garfield as editors-in-chief along with a rolling slate of guest editors and an expanded editorial board.
It is the view of the editors that both philosophy and the study of religion are in an interesting state at the moment in that they are unencumbered by previous models or paradigms. It is understood that ‘religion’ is not a unitary phenomenon—‘the Holy’, ‘the Sacred’, ‘the Transcendent’—but a very vaguely defined area where diversity reigns. It is also an area where philosophers have to work with anthropologists, sociologists, aestheticians, textualists, hermeneuticians and theologians. It is also recognised that the distinction between ‘primitive’ religions and other ‘world’ religions is not very important; and that there might even be a healthy symbiotic connection between art and religion. Sophia has proved that the prophesies of Feuerbach, Marx, Nietzsche and Freud that religion and philosophy of religion would wither away were quite wrong. The ‘Big’ questions will not go away, and the perspectives from philosophy of religion as practiced in traditions other than those of Western and modern philosophy might indeed enrich the philosophical tapestry of contemporary philosophy. Sophia has had an important role to play here, both within Australasian philosophy and internationally.
The history of philosophy within the University of South Australia and its precursor teacher training institutions, colleges of advanced education and institutes of technology reflects broader social and intellectual currents. In the 1960s and early ’70s our teachers’ colleges were home to a Philosophy of Education which identified philosophical method with conceptual analysis. At the same time, mainstream analytic philosophers moved towards the view that philosophy is concerned as much with the formulation of a worldview as with the clarification of meaning, so that in this period the work of philosophers of education became increasingly cut off from philosophy proper.
It was not until the late 1970s, with the appointment of a number of young philosophers including William (Bill) Wood, Peter Woolcock and Sue Knight, that the focus of Philosophy of Education within the University turned to substantive questions of epistemology, ethics and logic. The period also saw the saw the appointment of Michael Rowan, Edwin Coleman and Chris Starrs to the then College of Advanced Education’s Communications School. The institutional amalgamations which established the University of South Australia in the late 1980s (part of the Dawkins reforms) allowed this largish group of philosophers to build on Peter Lavskis’ earlier work at the South Australian Institute of Technology, establishing critical thinking and introductory philosophy courses as part of the General Studies requirement that all students in the university had to meet, regardless of their field of study. The group was also able to mount a sequenced three-year philosophy major, encompassing a number of strands including ethics, metaphysics, epistemology, political philosophy and philosophy of science. Negotiation with the philosophy departments of Flinders University and the University of Adelaide led to the creation of the informal ‘South Australian Philosophy Department’, under which the University of South Australia’s philosophy major was accepted for entry into the older universities’ Honours programs. A number of students from the University of South Australia went on to complete Honours and in some cases a Ph.D. in philosophy.
Towards the end of the 1990s, partly at least as a result of the continued squeeze on university funding, the university reaffirmed its emphasis on applied research and vocational programs, and abolished the philosophy major and some philosophy positions despite continuing strong student interest in the discipline. At the same time, a number of the philosophy staff retired, and those remaining were encouraged to teach Continental philosophy as part of the university’s communications degree. This led to a period of unrest and further retirements, with the result that although philosophy subjects are still offered as electives and broadening undergraduate courses, as well as professional ethics components of programs such as business and journalism, the bulk of philosophy teaching within the university is offered within teacher education programs. Working within the university’s School of Education, philosophy staff, in cooperation with Lynda Burns from Flinders University, were active in establishing philosophy as a matriculation subject. More recently, remaining philosophy staff argued successfully for a compulsory philosophy course as a component of all University of South Australia education programs, with the result that approximately 700 students a year now take the subject. This led to a further appointment, that of Carol Collins, who has expertise in educational psychology as well as philosophy. Sue Knight and Carol Collins, together with a number of doctoral students, are currently working on an interdisciplinary project, the ‘Cultivating Reason-Giving Project’, which has as its aim the integration of philosophical inquiry into the curriculum areas of mathematics, science, history, geography and English, across all schooling levels. (See, for example, Knight and Collins 2005.) Further philosophical work is being carried on by adjunct lecturers Peter Woolcock, in the field of meta-ethics (for example, Woolcock 2006) and Peter Lavskis, in relation to ethical issues raised by ethnic pluralism (see, for example, Lavskis 2007).
This entry concerns the nature, ontology, and the explanatory role in physics of space and spacetime. It also mentions the problems and paradoxes of motion and of continuity versus discreteness in basic spatial structure.
The earliest Australians to work significantly on space and ‘spacetime’ were Samuel Alexander (1920) and his distinguished critic, John Anderson (2007). Alexander was born in Australia but won a significant reputation (Gifford Lectures) abroad; Anderson was a Scot whose dominant but sketchily written work was done in Sydney. He deeply influenced philosophy in Australia in the first half of the last century.
Alexander’s ‘spacetime’, like Anderson’s, owes nothing to Minkowski’s conception of it in relativity theory. Spacetime is fundamental to Alexander’s ontology. His contention is that space and time cannot be separately conceived: space is necessary for the continuity of time by securing its divisibility; time is necessary for the continuity of space by securing its connectedness. Further, the three dimensionality of space intimately reflects three core properties of time. Spacetime is the ‘stuff’ from which the categories are formed. Broadly, Alexander aimed at a realistic interpretation of many of the structures drawn in the metaphysics of Kant.
It was Anderson’s method to develop his views through a critique of others whose work he respected. Thus his overall aim has some analogy with his critical target in Alexander’s. He, too, works within a broad context of Kantian structures taken realistically. The foundation of Anderson’s thought lies in his picture of the proposition. Propositions are all of Aristotelian form and are fact-like. They are metaphysically basic items in the real world. Spacetime, in a sense close to Alexander’s, gave in its unity the subject-predicate form of propositions and is therefore of fundamental significance. But this propositional structure is empirically found, not imposed, and not ideal. Space, or regions of it, gives the general structure of the subject term, the predicate structure is temporal, while the copula denotes what goes on between subject and predicate.
The revolution in our understanding of the role and structure of these concepts came in 1905 (Einstein, in Lorentz 1923, 35–65) and 1908 (Minkowski, in Lorentz 1923, 73–91). J. J. C. Smart (1963, 1968) introduced and explained the broad metaphysical significance of spacetime and of the relativity theories to Australasia in the 1950s. Smart is a realist about space and spacetime, as are all of his students who have contributed to this area of philosophy of science. They include Ellis, Hinckfuss, Nerlich and Mortensen. Mortensen and Nerlich collaborated on work in the area.
In the 1960s and ’70s, the post-Reichenbach philosophy of conventionalism dominated the literature of space and spacetime. Brian Ellis and Peter Bowman (1967) challenged the central example of this, the conventionalism of the relativity of simultaneity in special relativity. They developed an argument, foreshadowed by the operationalist physicist P. W Bridgman, that simultaneity could be objectively established in an inertial frame of reference by the slow transport of a clock. This confronted the widespread support for the conventional status of this relation in special relativity. Ellis’ arresting claim was ably defended in depth in Ellis’s and Bowman’s widely noticed paper. A large panel of philosophers of science from the Pittsburgh School, dominant in this area at the time, attacked the paper at length (Grünbaum and Salmon 1969). Ellis (1971) replied. It was a celebrated issue at the time and is still debated. Ellis’s view was later defended, in rather different terms, by Nerlich (1994, 91–118).
In the mid 1970s two of Smart’s former students each wrote books in the area, quite independently; both took a realist stance on the existence of space and spacetime. Ian Hinckfuss (1975) argued that the reality of space hinged on physicists’ ascribing to space such properties as permittivity and permeability in terms of which the constant velocity of light may be defined. These properties are primarily ascribed to substances and this suggests a view of space as a substance. Although any one of these properties might be explained without acknowledging a real substantial space, a unified treatment along these lines is unintuitive. This has drawn less attention than it merits.
Nerlich (1976), somewhat in contrast, developed the role of geometrical explanation in space as well as in the spacetimes of relativity theory. He rehabilitated Kant’s arguments for spatial realism based on the phenomenon of handedness. This led him to stress the metaphysical importance of non-Euclidean topological properties such as non-orientability, since handedness fails without orientability. This influenced subsequent debate on this difficult and puzzling issue. Much more broadly, he stressed the changed perspective on the uniqueness, scope and power of geometrical explanation that arises from non-Euclidean structures for space and spacetime. He has argued at length that this style of explanation is not causal. That theme is especially important in the relativity theories of physics.
The title of Harvey Brown’s 2005 book, Physical Relativity, captures the very different and opposing perspective of his work in general. He left New Zealand for Oxford early in his career. Brown’s theme in numerous papers on relativity theory is that the explanatory power of space and spacetime is illusory, disguising the far more significant role of the properties of matter in such prominent features of relativity as Lorentz invariance. He argues that the more complex explanatory role for Riemannian geometry often ascribed to general relativity is incoherent in itself and disguises the dominant role of matter-causality in the theory. Spacetime is a non-entity. His work is rich in its details of the philosophical importance of the more physical aspects of relativity theory. Thus Brown opposes the spacetime realism of most Australasians writing in the area.
John Norton’s distinguished and prolific studies in the history and philosophy of relativity, the Einstein papers and the theory broadly have been outstanding. He is a leading authority on Einstein and the history, interpretation and metaphysics of general relativity (Norton 2003). Often in collaboration with John Earman, both working in the Pittsburgh Centre for History and Philosophy of Science, he has been a prominent figure in philosophy of science for over two decades. He has explored in depth and subtlety such fundamental yet confusing issues as the generally covariant formulation of general relativity: Norton and Earman’s development of the ‘Hole Argument’ dominated discussion of the realism of spacetime throughout the 1990s, and its implications are still far from exhausted (Earman and Norton 1987). Norton’s work explores the physics of the theories in great depth and is fertile in finding interesting philosophical issues there. He has also written some excellent introductory papers (e.g. Norton 1992). In metaphysics, Norton has a basic sympathy with the realism so common among Australasian philosophers.
Some notable individual contributions in this area include C. A. Hooker’s (1971) trenchant examination of spatial relations as a tool of reduction for space and Adrian Heathcote’s (1988) critique of light-cone based topologies for spacetime. Peter Forrest (1996b) pursued the ontologically interesting and surprising difficulty of comparing directions at different places in a curved space or spacetime. The paradoxes of motion, infinite divisibility, discreteness, boundaries in space and occupation of it together make up the problems of the microstructure of space and spacetime. They include questions within set theoretic analysis and mereology. Such puzzles have lived long in the history of philosophy. There is no sustained, united body of Australasian work on these topics, but there are most interesting and penetrating individual papers. Mortensen and Nerlich (1978) canvassed the possibility of placing the microstructure of physical space on the more concrete basis of mereology, hence concreteness, rather than on the abstractions of set theory. They also considered the question of handedness in special relativity. Peter Forrest (1995) has pursued at length the issue whether spacetime is discrete or continuous. Various Zeno like-paradoxes and problems arise out of discrete or continuous space; they are considered in work by Forrest, Graham Oppy (2006b), and Graham Priest (1987). Priest has argued that motion is best understood from the viewpoint of inconsistency, so that a moving thing is at once both in a place and not in it.
Kim Sterelny is one of the world’s leading figures in the philosophy of biology. He has also done extensive work in the philosophy of mind and philosophy of language. His approach to philosophy is naturalistic, emphasising continuities between philosophical work and the empirical sciences. He has won the Lakatos Prize (2004) and the Jean Nicod Prize (2008). Since 2001 he has been the editor of the journal Biology and Philosophy. He is presently professor of philosophy at the Australian National University.
Sterelny was born in Tamworth, Australia, in 1950, and grew up in Sydney. His B.A. and Ph.D. are both from the University of Sydney. His Ph.D. was supervised by Bill Bonney and was in the philosophy of language. Sterelny then taught for four years at La Trobe University in the Departments of Philosophy and Linguistics. He returned to Sydney in 1982, and then took a five-year research position at the Research School of the Social Sciences (RSSS), Australian National University (ANU), between 1984 and 1987. He moved to Victoria University of Wellington (VUW), New Zealand, where he taught from 1988 to 2008, earning a personal chair in 2001. In 2001 he was also President of the Australasian Association of Philosophy. From 1999 to 2008 Sterelny divided his time between VUW and a research position at ANU, and since 2008 he has been full-time at ANU.
Sterelny’s initial research was in the philosophy of language, where he defended a causal theory of reference and a largely Chomskian approach to syntax. Language and Reality (1987), co-authored with Michael Devitt, was an influential textbook. In the philosophy of mind Sterelny developed a naturalistic approach which became increasingly biological in its orientation. He focussed especially on problems of meaning and representation, and his second book The Representational Theory of Mind: An Introduction (1990) surveyed functionalist and representationalist positions, defending a partially ‘teleofunctional’ theory of the semantic properties of thought. From the mid 1990s, however, his primary area of research has been the philosophy of biology. Here he has worked mainly in evolutionary theory, though he has contributed also to discussions of genetics, developmental biology, and ecology.
Sterelny’s first major work in the philosophy of biology was a classic paper with Philip Kitcher, ‘The Return of the Gene’ (1988), which defended a ‘gene’s eye view’ on evolution by natural selection, in a way influenced by Richard Dawkins’ Extended Phenotype (1982). Since that time Sterelny has become more sympathetic to ‘multi-level selection’ hypotheses, including the idea that natural selection can operate on groups as evolutionary units. But he has taken a pluralist attitude to many of the problem cases about which the question of the ‘unit of selection’ has generated vociferous debate. Influenced by Dawkins and Hull, Sterelny accepts a ‘replicator/interactor’ conception of evolution, but has argued that not all replicators in biological (as opposed to cultural) evolution are genes. Some reliably transmitted non-genetic developmental factors which have the function of producing particular features of organisms should also be seen as replicators (see Sterelny, Smith and Dickison 1996, Sterelny 2004). He also defends a teleofunctional approach to the informational properties of genes themselves.
In more recent work Sterelny has looked closely at the idea of cultural inheritance, and resulting processes of cultural evolution, especially in humans. He has argued that human groups, as opposed to individuals, are likely to be important units in cultural evolution processes. He has also argued that artifacts (such as tools) may qualify as cultural replicators (or ‘memes’), especially in small pre-historical societies (see Sterelny 2006). In 1999, Sterelny and Paul Grifffiths published a widely-used textbook in the philosophy of biology, Sex and Death.
In 2003 Sterelny published Thought in a Hostile World, a book which examines the evolution of advanced and distinctively human cognitive skills. This book, along with Sterelny’s other recent work (2001), is notable for its close engagement with work in comparative psychology, primatology, and anthropology. Sterelny develops hypotheses about how simple ‘detection systems’ in animals could be elaborated into faculties for ‘decoupled representations’, internal states which represent the world but are not tied to any particular action. Such an explanation is central to understanding how the sorts of mental faculties recognised by common-sense or ‘folk’ psychology came to exist. Sterelny argues that a central role in the explanation of complex forms of cognition is played by complex and ‘hostile’ biological environments, environments comprised of other agents whose interests are served by not being easily detected and predicted.
Sterelny also argues that simple treatments of the distinction between ‘innate’ and ‘learned’ traits do not take into account the important role of ‘scaffolded learning’, in which an older generation engineers the learning environment of young individuals in a way that facilitates the acquisition of information. This kind of learning, along with some other faculties, gives rise to the capacity for ‘cumulative cultural evolution’, in which successive generations gradually improve the behavioural skills, artifacts, and symbol systems which are passed down within human groups over time. Thought in a Hostile World won the Lakatos Prize in 2004, a prize awarded for an outstanding book in any area of the philosophy of science. Sterelny’s work in this area also led to his being awarded the Jean Nicod Prize in 2008.
Sterelny’s approach to philosophy is characterised by close contact with the empirical sciences, including a willingness to draw on the details of current scientific work and to judge which empirical avenues and arguments are most promising. He is a strong critic of a priori methods in philosophy.
Sterelny has been the person most responsible for developing philosophy of biology as an active area of research in Australasia. He has edited the journal Biology and Philosophy since 2001, a period of steady growth in the influence of the journal. Sterelny’s Ph.D. students who are presently active in philosophy include Karen Neander, Paul Griffiths, James MacLaurin, Brett Calcott, and Ben Jeffares. Philosophers who worked with him extensively as undergraduates include Fiona Cowie, Peter Godfrey-Smith, Roger Sansom, and John Matthewson.
The distinguishing features of philosophy at Swinburne were dictated by the institution’s status first as an institute of technology, and second, as a vocational institution (which included industry-based learning programs). In 1973, it was decided that history and philosophy of science would be a major study in the Bachelor of Arts degree to be introduced in 1974. Originally a history of ideas unit introduced by Harry Kannegiesser in 1969, the area was expanded when Rosaleen Love joined Swinburne in 1973. Philosophy, which was planned to become a second major study area, evolved in a similar way. General philosophy subjects taught by Phillip Kent were augmented when Philip Fleming was appointed in 1977. The philosophy strand was designed to give students an introduction to what were then considered to be the main areas of philosophy: epistemology, philosophy of mind, ethics, social and political philosophy.
Subjects were designed to be vocational or practical (applied) in the sense of having actual and perceived relevance to other studies in the curriculum and to the workplace. The student clientele comprised mainly Arts students, although subjects were available as electives to students in science and engineering. Staff had always been prominent in communicating science and technology to the public: Harry Kannegiesser’s publications included a book addressing new reproductive technologies; Rosaleen Love, a frequent commentator on science in the electronic and print media, later moved into using speculative fiction as a vehicle to address philosophical and futurist issues relating to science.
By 1990, the department was represented by five full-time staff, all with established research and publication records, and well-positioned to offer Masters and doctoral degrees in both philosophy and history and philosophy of science. Opportunities to do so were severely limited until Swinburne acquired university status in 1992. Undergraduate teaching was supported by a community of dedicated part-time staff, many of whom were new graduates from neighbouring universities.
In 1992, an Honours program was introduced, convened by philosophy but servicing other Arts disciplines, including literature, media and politics. Themes of original teaching subjects were augmented and modified according to the changing social and intellectual context and the expertise brought by new staff. In general, there was a move from the history/study of ideas to a theme of natural philosophy and the cultural relations of science and technology. The department’s change of name from ‘Historical and Philosophical Studies’ to ‘Philosophy and Cultural Inquiry’ reflected this transformation.
Subjects on the philosophy of nature and environmental philosophy were introduced by Arran Gare, whose published work in these areas was already attracting international acclaim. Maurita Harney, who had joined as Head of Department in 1990, taught the philosophy of culture, and philosophies of mind and cognition; Paul Healy’s teaching on rationality and epistemology introduced the hermeneutic dimension reflecting his published research in this area. Healy also introduced the teaching of critical thinking.
The unifying theme underlying this diverse range of subject areas is a shared commitment to phenomenological and hermeneutic philosophies which see the study of science as inextricably linked with the study of culture. In attitudes to science and technology, there is also a shared affinity with process-based approaches associated with Alfred North Whitehead and C. S. Peirce. The Joseph Needham Centre for Complexity Research established by Gare in the 1990s reflected these orientations, and provided a lively forum and a research base for participants from across a range of disciplines and universities, and a valuable resource for graduate students.
Successive university restructurings from 1995 saw Philosophy and Cultural Inquiry become a ‘discipline’ or ‘subject area’ in the School of Social and Behavioural Sciences (1995–2004) and, later, in the Faculty of Life and Social Sciences (from 2005). Throughout these transformations, it has continued to offer two majors in the Bachelor of Arts degree as well as studies at Honours, Masters, and Ph.D. level. Philosophy subjects are also included as options in the programs of the more specialist or vocational arts and social science degree courses which evolved over this period. Philosophy at Swinburne did not escape the funding constraints experienced by humanities departments in many universities from the late 1990s. These constraints prevented significant growth in staffing levels, and the number of full-time staff in Philosophy and Cultural Inquiry remains at three. In 1999, Gare and Healy were joined by Michael Dix who had earlier, on a part-time basis, taught across a range of philosophy subjects. His subsequent work, including research on complexity theory in natural systems and in education, has helped to deepen and extend the distinctive orientation that philosophy at Swinburne has fostered.
The Sydney Push was not a particular ‘school’ of philosophy. The theoretical underpinnings of the Push were both broad and loose. Yet it is true that at its core were a set of beliefs that were cogently argued over three decades by a coterie of philosophers, psychologists, jurists and political scientists, and which is best represented by Sydney Libertarianism.
Libertarianism was an offshoot of the teachings of John Anderson, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sydney from 1927 to 1958. But it was Andersonianism taken in a new direction. While Anderson was a politically engaged professor who often used contemporary events as a springboard for his thinking and writing, and while what he wrote was often considered radical, he was still a traditionalist in his commitment to university life and scholarship. His followers, however, took his ideas far beyond the university grounds and disseminated them among a generation of bohemians and radicals, creating in the process a brand of political philosophy with a distinctly Australian complexion.
Anderson’s freethinking views were seen by the Establishment as corrupting the young people who were his students. Twice he was censored in State Parliament for his anti-State, anti-church, and anti-patriotic views. This only served to increase his popularity among students.
Two statements of Anderson’s stand as mottoes for the Push: ‘Freedom in love is the condition of other freedoms’ (1941: 262), and ‘The desire for security and sufficiency is the very mark of the servile mentality’ (1943: 119).
In his long tenure at the University of Sydney, Anderson moved away from his original pro-communist position to that of a democratic pluralist, and it was the latter phase which had most impact on the generation who took and expounded his views to a wider audience. Both Marx and Freud were enormously important to Anderson and to the Push. Marx’s class struggle and the rejection of ideology, Freud’s discovery of the neuroses associated with sexual repression, and Anderson’s pluralism and anti-authoritarianism were the basis for the theories of the Sydney Push. They adopted Marx’s critique of ideology and his belief in class struggle, while rejecting what they saw as his utopian socialism. Anderson was a realist and empiricist who set great store by science and rejected metaphysics. The principle intellectual sport among Libertarians was critiquing the social illusions of others.
One of Anderson’s most influential expositions of his ideas can be found in the 1943 essay ‘The Servile State’:
The scientific student of society, then, will not be concerned with reform. What he will be concerned with is opposition—what he will be above all concerned to reject is ‘social unity’. And he will reject it not merely as a description of present conditions but as a conception of a future society. The doctrine of history as struggle is at once the liberal and the scientific part of Marxism; the doctrine of Socialism as something to be established (‘classless society’) is its servile part. The point is not merely the drabness that might result from attempts to eliminate social struggles, but the impossibility of eliminating them—and, therewith, the loss of independence and vigour that can result from the spreading of the belief that they can be eliminated. (1943b: 131)
Another influential essay was ‘Freudianism and Society’, in which Anderson argued that Freud placed too much emphasis on the individual—the view that individuals form society rather than society forming the individual. This, to Anderson, ignored the role of social movements as independent of individuals, that social movements could affect an individual without them needing to be either an agent or a victim: ‘unless we consider the activities which pass through him (in which he participates without being either the agent or the patient), we cannot even give an account of the activities which go on within him’ (1940: 52).
Such questions as ‘Do individuals shape social movements or do social movements shape individuals?’ were of great interest to the Libertarian philosophers Jim Baker and George Molnar.
The philosophical and political views of the Libertarians were articulated and argued in their journal Broadsheet and occasional journal Libertarian. One of the principal proponents of ‘the Sydney Line’ was the philosopher and Anderson student, A. J. (Jim) Baker. Baker parted company with Anderson because of the latter’s growing conservatism. Yet ‘the great man’s’ work was inseparable from the Push. According to Baker, the principal influences inherited from Anderson were a criticism of metaphysics, religion and traditional moral values, as well as a critical interest in Marx and Freud.
Also under the influence of Anderson, the Push rejected ‘careerism’. Having ‘a career’ was seen as self-serving and corrupting. Those who had most prestige within the Push were people who deliberately rejected ambition.
There were some, of course, who were destined to go on to highly prominent careers, such as Germaine Greer, Robert Hughes and Clive James. Of these three, all of whom credit the Push with being an important part of their young adulthood, only Greer had status within the Push. And certainly Greer’s style as a writer and polemicist fits the Libertarian mould: anti-authoritarian, highly critical, unpredictable and often shocking. When Greer moved from Melbourne to Sydney in 1959 she discovered a natural home in the Push.
Both Hughes and James were drawn more to the literary and artistic types who hung around the Push, attracted, Hughes has said ‘by the general anti-authoritarian atmosphere of The Royal George [the Push pub]’ (letter to author). They were never considered serious enough by the Push philosophers. By the early 1960s large numbers of rebellious kids were being drawn to the Push by its reputation. The outraged comments of people like Archbishop Gough, who in 1961 accused the Department of Philosophy of corrupting the youth of Sydney, only increased the Push’s allure.
For many years, Jim Baker published an occasional journal called Heraclitus. Heraclitus was something of a talisman to the Push. His central idea, that all things are in a state of flux, reinforced for them the futility of trying to effect change. The Push was very politically engaged but politically inactive. So much time was spent discussing the futility or otherwise of political action that Libertarians very rarely actually did anything. As a result, they were sometimes called ‘Futilitarians’.
When the Libertarians broke away from Anderson and took his ideas downtown in the 1950s, they drew their inspiration from a range of other thinkers, among them Nomad, Reich, Marcuse, Pareto and Michels. From Max Nomad, they took their call for ‘permanent protest’; from Pareto their belief in a ‘circulation of elites’; and from Michels, the ‘iron law of oligarchy’.
The Push was developing a political philosophy that was anti-authoritarian, sceptical of attempts at reform, and highly critical of the various illusions in which human beings wrap themselves. Like Anderson, they prided themselves on being realists. They were anarchists but pessimistic anarchists, suspicious of the utopian Idealism inherent in much Marxist and anarchist thinking.
Nomad’s books Aspects of Revolt and Apostles of Revolution were passed around the Push. In a piece for the Libertarian Broadsheet, Nomad wrote:
I evolved a theory of my own that was a combination of Michel’s ‘iron law of oligarchy’, Machajski’s idea about intellectual workers as a privileged (or potentially privileged) neo-bourgeois class, and my own version of the ‘permanent revolution’ (or rather permanent protest) which excludes any definite or final solution of the class antagonisms. (1973: 3)
Such ideas became one of the justifications for the Push’s lack of involvement in political action.
The work of Wilhelm Reich became pivotal to Push thinking on sexuality, primarily his two earlier works, The Sexual Revolution and Character Analysis. Reich went well beyond Freud in his espousal of sexual freedom, linking sexual freedom with social and political freedom. This was of particular importance to the Push for whom sexual and political freedom were inseparable.
It was in the monthly meetings of Freud’s group in Vienna in the 1920s, and at specific seminars devoted to therapeutic technique, that Reich developed his theories of the orgasm, of character and character analysis. Reich’s orgasm theory stated that all neuroses were linked to a disturbance of genitality, or in other words an inability to experience satisfying orgasms. One of his intentions was to develop a synthesis of Marxism and Freudianism, and this is one reason his work received serious attention by Sydney Libertarians.
Reich’s politics was inexorably linked to his analytic work. His analysis of the link between Nazism and the psychology of the German masses, in his book The Mass Psychology of Fascism, was very influential within the Push, particularly its delineation of the way repression and ideological beliefs were transferred from one generation to the next.
Jim Baker was the principal articulator of Libertarian philosophy in the early years. But in the late 1950s another philosopher came to the fore: George Molnar. Molnar was born in Hungary and arrived in Sydney post-war. At the University of Sydney he switched from economics to philosophy and proved to be adept at it. Molnar, along with Baker, developed and disseminated Libertarian ideas at the downtown pubs and at regular Libertarian meetings at the university. Regular weekly meetings began in 1956, but it was not until 1958—after Anderson retired—that they were able to use the Philosophy Room.
Among the people who attended the weekly meetings, at which papers were given and debated, were many who were not philosophy students. Some, such as the ‘Princes of the Push’—Darcy Waters and Roelof Smilde—had dropped out of university years before. (At the time the regular Libertarian meetings began, both were working as wharfies—this was seen as the epitome of anti-careerism.) They were both very active in debating the ideas of the Push. But the informality of these debates, and the shortage of actual scholarship, is one reason that it is not possible to say that the Push constituted an actual school of philosophy, notwithstanding that they were followers of Anderson, inheritors to some extent of his Freethought Society, and that at least several of them were philosophers. Another difficulty is that, while Libertarian philosophers held Push political positions, their actual philosophical interests often had very little to do with Libertarian thinking. Molnar, for example, developed an interest in metaphysics while a lecturer at the University of Sydney in the 1960s, through his collaboration with C. B. Martin, then second professor in the department.
Other philosophers associated with the Push included D. M. Armstrong, David Stove and Eric Dowling, who were part of the early Andersonian Push but never joined the Libertarians—Tom Rose, Bill Bonney, Ross Poole, Tony Skillen, Kim Lycos and Paul Thom.
While well-known to the Libertarian Push, Armstrong and Stove’s more conservative political views made for a gulf between them. This was starkly shown in the early 1970s with the split in the University of Sydney philosophy department. George Molnar joined the new, radical Department of General Philosophy with enthusiasm. But some time later he resigned as a matter of principle because he believed it corrupt to be paid to work in such an institution—anti-careerism again.
Molnar worked as a public servant for more than two decades but never lost his interest in philosophy. After his retirement he was appointed the first Anderson Research Fellow at the University of Sydney. He’d gone full circle.
In 1977, fifty years after John Anderson took up the chair of philosophy, a series of public lectures were given to commemorate the event. Among the two dozen people who took part were philosophers, psychologists, jurists and writers, most of whom had at some time rubbed shoulders as part of the Sydney Push.
A disparate lot, one thing united them: the legacy of John Anderson.
Carole M. Cusack
The Sydney Society of Literature and Aesthetics (SSLA) began in 1990 with Catherine Runcie (Department of English, University of Sydney) as foundation president, and a seventeen-member executive comprised mainly of academics from the various departments of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Sydney. The SSLA was inspired by the aims of the British Society for Aesthetics: ‘to promote study, research and discussion of the fine arts and related types of experience from a philosophical, psychological, sociological, scientific, historical, critical and educational standpoint’ (cited in Runcie 2006: 2). SSLA was deliberately inclusive of literary theory and approaches other than philosophical or analytic aesthetics, although many philosophers have participated in conferences and published in its journal, Literature and Aesthetics. In early years, SSLA’s activities consisted of evening seminars and two conferences per year. The first SSLA conference was held in October 1990, with an opening keynote by Professor Eric J. Sharpe on ‘Intercultural Interpretation’.
In 1992 the Australian and New Zealand Association of Literature and Aesthetics (ANZALA) was formed by Catherine Runcie, Lloyd Reinhardt (Department of Philosophy, University of Sydney) and Denis Dutton (Department of Philosophy, University of Canterbury). The June 1993 conference was the first jointly hosted by SSLA/ANZALA. A new direction was pursued and a new prominence achieved with SSLA/ANZALA hosting the 1997 First Pacific Rim Conference in Transcultural Aesthetics, with support from the International Aesthetics Association (IAA). The Second Pacific Rim Conference in Transcultural Aesthetics was held in 2004, to honour Professor Grazia Marchiano of the University of Siena (Arezzo). The emerging discipline of transcultural aesthetics reinforced the timeliness of the SSLA’s ‘early aims of interdisciplinarity, transculturality and of discussion of literary theory rigorous enough to be acceptable to philosophers’ (Runcie 2006: 3).
Literature and Aesthetics has appeared annually since 1991. With its distinctive ‘scraper board’ logo of the Sydney Opera House, designed and generously donated by Douglas Albion Design Consulting, and the inclusion of poetry, short stories and ‘black and white art’ alongside academic articles, the journal has achieved acclaim among a diverse readership. Initially one issue was published per year, but from 2002 two issues appeared annually, due to the financial contribution of the Chancellor’s Committee of the University of Sydney. Many issues of the journal are thematic and derived from the annual conferences, such as Before Pangaea, the volume from the Second Pacific Rim Conference in Transcultural Aesthetics (Benitez 2005). The president from 2005 to 2010 has been Vrasidas Karalis (Department of Modern Greek, University of Sydney), and founder Catherine Runcie continues to contribute as honorary president.
Arguments about the philosophy curriculum, forms of assessment, and departmental democracy took place in many philosophy departments in the early 1970s and were resolved in one way or another without the world being turned upside down. The University of Sydney proved to be different. After three years of turmoil in which the tide ran in favour of change, the Vice-Chancellor took the advice of Keith Campbell, the Head of Department, and set up a School of Philosophy in 1974 in which the warring parties would form separate departments with provision for separate programs. D. M. Armstrong, the Challis Professor of Philosophy, Keith Campbell, David Stove and others, hoping to go forward from something like the antebellum situation, formed the Department of Traditional and Modern Philosophy. Those who had promoted the changes, and others who at least accepted them, formed the Department of General Philosophy, choosing the name, it is said, for want of being able to agree on anything more precise. John Burnheim became Head. (Graham Nerlich, who had overseen many of the changes as newly appointed professor and Head of Department from early 1972, was on leave in 1973, and moved that year to the chair at the University of Adelaide.)
Courses in Marxism and feminism were notable elements in the General Philosophy curriculum from the beginning, for these fields had been major focusses of dispute from 1971 through to the winter of 1973 when there was a strike in support of the proposed feminism course. But the educational ‘philosophy’ of General Philosophy embraced the idea of offering, beyond first year, a wide range of options in a flexible structure. Even in the early years when the Marxist group of staff and students was dominant, the second and third year options consisted of courses in philosophy of mind, epistemology, philosophy of science, language, law, ethics, phenomenology, and the history of philosophy, along with feminism and Marxism. Student interest had a part in this choice; so too did the diverse interests of the staff. At another level of continuity, General Philosophy inherited and extended the recent democratic policies of the ‘old’ department in a Constitution according to which all staff and students could vote at departmental meetings to settle policies and recommendations. This constituted a major site of tension and occasional upheaval over the coming years largely because of an original mismatch between the ideal and the conditions for its practice.
By 1977 Bill Bonney and George Molnar had left the university, and Michael Stocker, Michael Devitt and John Mills had transferred to the Department of Traditional and Modern Philosophy. The remaining tenured staff—John Burnheim, Wal Suchting, Alan Chalmers, and Milo Roxon—were joined in 1978 by György Markus, Lloyd Reinhardt, Jean Curthoys (who had been one of the teachers of the original Feminism course), and Paul Crittenden. By that time, the once dominant Marxist ‘caucus’ was under challenge from various quarters, especially a group associated with French feminist thought. Argument, focussed at a practical level on the allocation of teaching funds, ran on for many months until, in October 1979, Alan Chalmers, acting Head of Department, suspended the Constitution. The promise was to look for an arrangement that would provide for student participation while avoiding the problems inherent in the old order. Nothing gained support, and General Philosophy moved to the standard pattern of departmental government (which by now made provision for student representation).
The arrival of new staff in 1978, and the appointment of Stephen Gaukroger in 1981, helped to consolidate the emerging shape of teaching and research in General Philosophy. The department took a pluralist, broadly Continental approach in the primary fields of philosophy, with a focus on questions relating to the natural and social sciences, ethics and political philosophy, modern and contemporary movements in European philosophy, and the history of philosophy, especially German Idealism. This led quite soon to a greater emphasis on structure in the curriculum. There was scope too within a few years for a strong History of Philosophy program offered jointly by the two departments.
Internal tensions re-surfaced in 1984 related to the curriculum, especially recent French philosophy, and forthcoming appointments. Late in the year, on advice from Traditional and Modern Philosophy and three General Philosophy staff, the Vice-Chancellor thought first to effect an immediate amalgamation; having consulted the Head of General Philosophy, Paul Crittenden, and other senior General Philosophy staff, he thought again and called for a year of negotiations. An acrimonious dispute ran on through 1985 until the proposed unification collapsed. Towards the end of 1984, Stephen Gaukroger, Lloyd Reinhardt and Jean Curthoys had transferred to Traditional and Modern Philosophy. Towards the end of 1985, Elizabeth Grosz and Denise Russell were appointed to continuing positions in General Philosophy.
As the dust settled, it gradually became clear that a decade or more of upheaval had come to an end. In the following years, the departments extended earlier common programs into a single joint undergraduate course, with provision for a range of shared courses at the Honours year. These were years in which General Philosophy had many first-class Honours and doctoral students and in which staff, in books and articles, maintained the strong research record that had begun in the late 1970s. The later appointments of Paul Redding, Paul Patton, Moira Gatens and John Grumley ensured that a strong teaching and research program would continue. In the 1980s and through the 1990s, there were notable publications in social, political and cultural theory, philosophy of science, studies in post-Kantian German Idealism and Marxism, ethics, the history of modern philosophy, feminist philosophy, and twentieth-century European philosophy.
Over the years, General Philosophy’s campaign for approval to fill the vacant chair in philosophy had come to nought. Finally, a new Vice-Chancellor approved the proposal in the expectation that amalgamation would follow. Paul Crittenden, who had moved from being Head of General Philosophy to become Dean of Arts, was appointed to the chair in 1992. At much the same time Keith Campbell became Challis Professor in Traditional and Modern Philosophy. The two departments subsequently entered into an arrangement that brought full co-operation within the School, though amalgamation was held at bay for seven more years by residual concerns on each side. Finally in February 2000, Stephen Gaukroger, the Head of School, closed the small but persistent gap, just in time for philosophy to be swept up in a large School with History, Classics, and several other departments in a major restructuring of the Faculty of Arts.
Philosophy, especially logic, had a presence at the University of Sydney long before there was a formal department. John Woolley, the dominant figure among the first staff of the university in the 1850s, perished at sea along with the manuscript of his book on logic. (Cable 1976). His effective successor as intellectual leader of the university was Sir Charles Badham, professor of classics and logic and editor of Plato’s Philebus (Radford 1976).
Philosophy was formally inaugurated with the appointment of Francis (later Sir Francis) Anderson as lecturer in 1888 (Challis Professor of Philosophy, 1890–1921). He wrote little strictly on philosophy but was active as what would now be called a ‘public intellectual’. His choice of progressivist causes was inspired by his Christian Idealist philosophy, which saw the universe as unfolding towards a higher stage of development. ‘History’, he wrote, ‘is a great adventure in which man sets out to discover himself and the secret of his personality’ (Anderson 1922: 22). With his wife, the pioneer feminist Maybanke Anderson, he was particularly active in education reform, favouring ‘inquiry’ and freedom over rote learning (Franklin 2003: ch. 6; O’Neil 1979; Roberts 1997: ch. 6). His service as first editor of the Australasian Journal of Psychology and Philosophy launched that journal as an organ of high quality and wide scope.
His successor, Bernard Muscio, a philosopher of talent though largely known for work in industrial psychology, died young in 1926. That left the way open for a complete change of style in Sydney philosophy with the appointment of the Scottish radical and realist, John Anderson (Challis Professor of Philosophy, 1927–1958).
John Anderson was an original and powerful thinker who developed his own realist metaphysics and became Australia’s best-known philosopher in the mid-twentieth century, both in philosophical circles and outside. His engagement in public controversies, especially against religion, gave him public notoriety. As his department expanded from the 1930s, he appointed his disciples to it, notably John Passmore, Percy Partridge and, more dubiously, his mistress Ruth Walker (Franklin 2003: chs 1–2; Baker 1998; Kennedy 1995: chs 6–15; Passmore 1997: chs 5–10; Weblin 2003).
In the late 1930s, concerns about the effect of the atheism and radicalism of the only professor of philosophy in the state of New South Wales led to the establishment of a chair of moral and political philosophy, whose professor was intended to have views that would ‘balance’ Anderson’s. However, Anderson secured the appointment to the position of Alan Stout, who proved to be generally supportive of Anderson (Franklin 2003: ch. 5).
By the 1950s Anderson’s long reign and principled decision to appoint only philosophers of like mind (so as not to unduly confuse students) had given the University of Sydney a reputation as something of a philosophical backwater; the same was true of its Andersonian ‘colonies’, the philosophy departments at the University of New England and University of Newcastle. The situation was relieved by the appointments of J. L. Mackie as Challis Professor of Philosophy from 1959 to 1963 and of D. M. Armstrong in 1964. Though both were students of Anderson and adopted a realist perspective, they were independent thinkers of international reputation.
The department figured in a number of public controversies, such as Stout’s support of the Melbourne Peace Conference of 1959 which resulted in a visit from the Director of ASIO, the ‘Gough Affair’ of 1961 where the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney criticised the effect of the department’s teaching on the morals of youth, and most spectacularly the Knopfelmacher Affair of 1965. Dr Frank Knopfelmacher, a conservative polemicist from Melbourne, was chosen by a selection committee for a position in political philosophy in the department, but his appointment was overturned by the Professorial Board after complaints from the left. His case became a cause célèbre in the press and Federal Parliament, but the rejection of his appointment stood (Franklin 2003: chs. 5, 11).
In the politically charged atmosphere of the late 1960s and early ’70s, tempers frayed, but the department was the scene of notable philosophical work of a generally realist nature—much more realist than the linguistic philosophy common overseas or the Wittgensteinian currents dominant in Melbourne. The best known of such work was D. M. Armstrong’s classic statement of the mind-body identity theory, A Materialist Theory of the Mind (1968). Other examples included Armstrong’s preliminary studies towards a realist theory of universals, work by C. B. Martin and George Molnar on causality, Graham Nerlich’s realist theory of space, and David Stove’s defence of induction in reply to Hume.
Political tensions came to a head in 1971 with the proposal by Wal Suchting and Michael Devitt of second and third-year courses in Marxism-Leninism. After vigorous objections to the inclusion of Lenin and Mao in the courses, one course on ‘Marxism’ was approved. The department was ‘democratised’, allowing for undergraduate student participation in meetings that extended to appointments. A further dispute arose in 1973 with the proposal by two postgraduate students, Liz Jacka and Jean Curthoys, of a course on feminism. A strike with tents in the quadrangle and a ban by the Builders Labourers Federation ensued, with the course eventually going ahead. In 1974, the university administration accepted the argument of the conservative philosophers, especially Armstrong and Stove, that work could only proceed with a split into two departments. The Department of Traditional and Modern Philosophy included the metaphysicians and logicians, while the Department of General Philosophy pursued Marxism and newer Continental themes (Franklin 2003: ch. 11; Rayment 1999; Curthoys 1998; Armstrong 1984b; Burnheim 1999).
In 2000, the Faculty of Arts at the University of Sydney was restructured into four Schools. This precipitated the demise of the School of Philosophy, then consisting of the Departments of General Philosophy (GP) and Traditional and Modern Philosophy (T & M), and the (re)birth of the Department of Philosophy. Although the process was not without acrimony, due mainly to the unhappiness of a small number of staff being forced to merge into one department, reunification proceeded relatively smoothly and was supported by an overwhelming majority of staff and student representatives.
Part of the reason for this was due to the fact that the departments were already cooperating in various ways leading up to the amalgamation. Members of both departments had been seeking ways of knitting various aspects of the programs together (including a common undergraduate program since the 1980s), and the original grounds for the split were increasingly irrelevant to the work actually going on in the departments. If the controversies that led to the original split were to be located in disputes over the teaching of feminism and Marxism in the 1970s, among other things, and if they continued throughout the 1980s and ’90s in the form of a split between so-called ‘Continental’ and ‘analytic’ philosophy, then these differences were even less relevant at the turn of the century. Although separate administrative arrangements remained throughout the 1990s, increasing efforts were made to cooperate across philosophical (and ideological) divides. With a number of retirements between 1998–2000, and the appointments of Duncan Ivison, David Braddon Mitchell, Caroline West, David Macarthur, and Nicholas Smith not long after, a new generation of Sydney philosophers were arriving with much less invested in the earlier battles, along with new areas of teaching and research expertise.
Although there were tentative moves afoot to effect an amalgamation just prior to the major structural change in the faculty (initiated by Stephen Gaukroger, then Chair of School), the crucial institutional context in which reunification occurred was a financial crisis in the Faculty of Arts, and the decision to move to a school-based structure. The schools were to become the main administrative centres for the departments, replacing many of the functions previously carried out at departmental level. The idea was that this would enable the faculty to exert greater financial control over the departments, as well as streamline the delivery of administrative support. The amalgamation into schools was accompanied by a squeeze on hiring and a dramatic cut in part-time teaching budgets, which meant that departments were under enormous pressure to rationalise their curricula. All of this made it difficult to justify continuing with separate administrative and teaching arrangements for two relatively small departments within the same field, such as General Philosophy and Traditional and Modern Philosophy. The changes also meant that delegated authority from the dean now flowed through the heads of school rather than chairs of department and thus, at least from an administrative point of view, made departments less relevant as sites of institutional authority.
Philosophy joined Ancient History, Archaeology, Classics, Gender Studies, and History in the new School, which eventually became known as the School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry (SOPHI). Many administrative functions were centralised at the school level, run by a new head of school, working with a School Executive made up of chairs of department. The transition was not always easy, and departments often chafed under the new regime, but by and large the schools slowly became accepted.
The Department of Philosophy, meanwhile, continued to evolve and thrive. In 2002, Huw Price returned from a chair at Edinburgh to take up a prestigious Australian Research Council (ARC) Federation Fellowship. With that he established the Centre for Time, which quickly became a leading centre for research in the foundations of physics, among other related themes. Along with supporting a raft of distinguished short-term visitors, the Fellowship also enabled Price to appoint a number of research fellows. During the first few years immediately after reunification, with Moira Gatens as chair (followed by Rick Benitez), great efforts were also made to secure new appointments in key areas (e.g. ethics, logic, epistemology), to re-design the first-year program to reflect the new ethos in the department, and to work generally at integrating staff into a revamped department and school.
In 2006, Paul Griffiths, Mark Colyvan and Richard Joyce joined the department via the university’s Research Fellowship scheme. This was a scheme that provided new senior research-only positions in a bid to secure the university’s position as the leading research institution in Australia in expectation of a national Research Assessment Exercise. Griffiths and Colyvan both had strong research track records in the philosophy of biology and mathematics, respectively (as well as in other areas), along with extraordinary success in securing Australian Research Council (ARC) funding. The ARC, the University’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow scheme, along with Price’s, Griffith’s and Colyvan’s various projects—including a new Centre for the Foundations of Science, led by Colyvan—were the source of a burst of new, fixed-term appointees from 2006 onwards. Indeed, by 2008 more than half of the department consisted in research-intensive staff of one kind or another.
Other areas of research strength to have (re)-emerged since reunification include the history of philosophy, German Idealism, ethics, moral and political philosophy, and metaphysics. Moira Gatens and Stephen Gaukroger both won Australian Professorial Fellowships: Gatens for work in the history of philosophy and philosophy and literature; Gaukroger for work on early modern philosophy. Paul Redding won a series of ARC grants for projects on German Idealism and contemporary philosophy. A host of postdoctoral fellows working in metaphysics and philosophy of mind have also continued to seek out the department. A steady stream of major publications in all of these areas continued to flow, making the department one of the most prolific in the faculty. The one area that has not recovered ground since reunification is contemporary French philosophy, previously a major strength, especially since the departure of Paul Patton to the University of New South Wales in 2002.
Almost ten years since reunification, the strengths of the Department lie across the broad core of the discipline. In this sense it has, for the most part, transcended the narrow confines of the original disputes that drove it apart in the 1970s, and which kept it apart, to varying extents, throughout the 1980s and ’90s.
The Department of Traditional and Modern Philosophy (T & M) at the University of Sydney came into existence at the beginning of 1974, but its origins lay in the latter years of the 1960s. Deeply held differences over the Vietnam War, between strong personalities among the academic staff, had created tensions that exacerbated differences across a range of questions more directly concerning the University and the pursuit of philosophy.
The period of student unrest across the Western world, culminating in the events of 1968 and after, included a strong impulse towards a wider distribution of power, and against traditional hierarchical social and institutional structures. In universities, this at first took the form of moves away from the monopoly of professors and heads of department over leading roles in academic boards, faculties and departments, towards arrangements under which all full-time members of the academic staff held equal voting rights. The University of Sydney’s Department of Philosophy was an early leader in making such changes at the departmental level, and this ensured ongoing divisions among its staff over the extent to which a departmental meeting’s majority decisions were binding on a dissenting head, who continued to hold the formal authority within the university’s administrative arrangements.
In this connection there was also an issue over the presence of student representatives at departmental meetings, their number, the range of questions on which they would be entitled to vote, and so forth.
Beyond such formal matters, there were deep differences over the curriculum and the manner in which teaching should be provided. The content of courses and the manner of their assessment (by exam, or essay, or take-home exam, or even joint oral presentation) became vigorously contested matters.
Although the genuinely radical members of staff were in a minority, a larger generally liberal-leaning group were unwilling to reject decisively the left-oriented changes put forward. A proposal by more radical staff members to introduce courses in Marxism aimed not only to broaden the curriculum in the areas of post-Hegelian and contemporary political philosophy, but also to introduce a much more engaged style of instruction than the detachment in approach characteristic of the classic liberal university. It provoked conservative opposition largely for this reason, but was accepted into the program once the component covering the thought of Ho Chi Min was deleted.
It was the rise of feminism during this period that lay behind the formal split that resulted in the creation of the Department of General Philosophy, and the Department of Traditional and Modern Philosophy (T & M). Feminism or ‘women’s lib’ was a well-established social phenomenon, but theoretical feminism was in its infancy. It was a new subject, with few if any established texts or agreed content, and there were no teachers with established credentials. Nevertheless, in part because of its progressive decision-making structure, the department put forward a proposal for an engaged course in feminism, to be taught by two postgraduate students.
The feminist course content was eventually approved by the faculty, but the proposed appointments were vetoed by the Academic Board. This provoked a strike by a majority of the Philosophy Department staff, and a boycott of philosophy classes by a majority of the students enrolled in them. This strike enjoyed the support of students in some other departments, and was sufficiently effective to cause the Academic Board to reverse its original decision, on the undertaking that a permanent member of the academic staff in philosophy would oversee the feminism course.
The momentum behind transforming the curriculum was intensified by this outcome, and at the first departmental meeting after the end of the strike further changes were foreshadowed. In these circumstances, Keith Campbell, the Head of Department at that time, came to the view that the delivery of a mainstream philosophy program in a mainstream manner was fatally jeopardised. With the other staff members committed to providing a mainstream program, he convinced the Vice-Chancellor to divide the department. The immediate effect of this was to insulate the more conservative approach from all the radicalising pressures.
The two new departments began operations in 1974, with John Burnheim, Alan Chalmers, Michael Devitt, George Molnar, and Wal Suchting prominent among those in General Philosophy (GP), and D. M. Armstrong, Keith Campbell, and David Stove leaders on the T & M side. Among others there at the beginning of T & M were Michael McDermott and Ann Dix, the only two to remain active in the teaching program of the department from its inception to the very end. Among other long-serving members were John Bacon, Francis Snare, and Adrian Heathcote.
The new departments were of course in competition with each other, and at first complete rival programs were instituted. Even at the beginning, however, some crossover in option selection was possible, and in some cases both programs counted towards an undergraduate degree. Co-operation in teaching was in part mandated by the fact that T & M, as the smaller of the two departments, with an academic staff of just six full-time members, was stretched to offer a properly comprehensive curriculum, and some of the GP offerings fitted well enough into a mainstream program.
Relations between the two departments, so far from settling down, became more fraught when in 1977 three members of General Philosophy’s staff, disillusioned with both the methods and the content of decision-making in that department, transferred to T & M. In reference to events in the wider world, these were known as The Gang of Three, or boat people. Their arrival caused no disturbance to T & M’s internal tranquility, and enabled the department to strengthen its offerings, especially in the philosophy of language and the philosophy of science.
During the next few years both departments established undergraduate programs based on strands—the T & M program in second and subsequent years would typically be presented as comprising options in Logic and Language, Metaphysics, Epistemology, and Ethics and Political Philosophy. This structure permitted an evolution towards more collaborative teaching, a development which took an important step in 1983 with the introduction of a strand in the History of Philosophy, required for all Philosophy students, taught jointly by academic staff from both departments.
At the Honours and postgraduate level, T & M was careful to maintain a clear brand differentiation, so that the wider philosophical community would be in no doubt as to the type of training which its advanced students had been given, and this strategy met with success.
The evolutionary convergence in the teaching program, and to some extent in matters of departmental governance, might have continued but for a second round of defections from GP in 1985, when three further staff members re-located—the Gang of Three More, or the second wave of boat people. The effect of this was to give T & M, for the first time, a majority of the full-time academic staff. Sharing the concerns of the newest arrivals from GP, the T & M Department proposed a merger, which would be on the majority’s terms. The Vice-Chancellor at first agreed to do this, then changed the decision to allow a year of negotiations to reach a consensus outcome. That year produced no consensus, and the merger failed. The effect was to re-invigorate mutual animosities, but the common First Year and the strand structure centred on the History of Philosophy continued.
Throughout these permutations on contested conceptions of the content and delivery of an education in philosophy, T & M established itself and continued as a productive research department. A steady stream of books and articles appeared, and the department became one of the centres in Australia for the revival of the classical program in philosophy after the waning of the linguistic and conceptual emphases in the analytic philosophy of the mid century. There was a significant effort in metaphysics, both cosmology (realism, materialism, causation) and ontology (the problem of universals, other categories, truth), in epistemology (induction, laws of nature), and in the study of modern philosophy (Bacon, Locke, Descartes, Hume). Six members of the department were or became Fellows of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.
The 1990s at the University of Sydney saw a decline in the importance of departments in the administrative structure, and by 2000 the Arts Faculty had been re-structured into Schools—both T & M and GP were collected up into the School of Philosophical, Gender, Historical and Ancient World Studies (SPGHAWS), later mercifully renamed ‘SOPHI’, the School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry. Separate departments would still have mattered on questions of recommending appointments or promotions, but in 2000 the then chair of philosophy, on his own initiative, declared the split at an end, and GP and T & M no longer extant. So the Department of Traditional and Modern Philosophy, which had come into existence in response to an excess of the democratic impulse, ceased to be on account of a deficiency of the same.
From the early 1950s an introductory course in history and philosophy of science (HPS) was taught in the Science Faculty of the University of Sydney on a somewhat ad hoc basis. From 1966 a lecturer was appointed to teach an Intermediate course for science students. An account of these arrangements up until 1985 has been published by Alison Turtle (Turtle 1987). The history that follows, tracing the emergence and expansion of what has become known as the Unit for History and Philosophy of Science (Unit for HPS), takes up the story where Turtle’s account leaves off.
Following the death in 1984 of Ian Langham, a senior lecturer and responsible for the Intermediate HPS course, Alan Chalmers was seconded from the Department of General Philosophy to the position in 1986. The arrangement was made permanent in 1988. At that time the Intermediate HPS course attracted about seventy science students. With the help of two very supportive Deans, of the Faculty of Science (Arnold Hunt) and the Faculty of Arts (Sybil Jack), the HPS course offerings were extended to make them available to arts students and to introduce a Senior course as a follow-up to the Intermediate one. A second position was approved to provide the additional teaching involved in the extended program. Michael Shortland, with a Ph.D. from Leeds, was appointed to the new position in 1990.
During the 1990s there was a steady expansion of the number of students enrolling in HPS courses. By 1994 over forty students were enrolled in the Senior course and the number taking the Intermediate course had risen to well over 200. A third position was advertised and Nicholas Rasmussen (Stanford, Cambridge, Princeton) joined the staff in 1995. Honours and postgraduate programs were introduced in 1996. The first Ph.D. in HPS at the University of Sydney was awarded in 1999 to John Wennerbom for his thesis ‘Charles Lyell and Gideon Mantell, 1821–1852: Their Quest for Elite Status in English Geology’, supervised initially by Shortland and then by Chalmers.
Chalmers retired in November 1999, following the publication of the third revised edition of What Is This Thing Called Science?, the book that continues as the text for introductory philosophy of science teaching in the Unit and is now published in nineteen languages. There were soon to be structural changes and also further expansion of the Unit as it responded to new needs. When it was first introduced, the Senior course, HPS III, was a twelve unit course constituting half the workload of a full-time student taking it. Offering this course involved cooperation with a range of other departments, especially the departments of General Philosophy, Traditional and Modern Philosophy, History and Psychology. Course components from offerings by these departments were listed as options for HPS III students, and vice versa. With the modularisation of course offerings introduced by the university around the turn of the century, these cooperative arrangements with other departments became unnecessary.
Another important development was the need, recognised in a number of sectors of the university, for teaching and research in the area of the ethics of science and medicine. The Unit for HPS responded to this need by devising and offering courses in those areas. In particular, a Junior course in bioethics was introduced and also a Postgraduate Coursework Program constructed and taught in coordination with the Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine. An additional appointment was made, half in the Unit for HPS and half in the Faculty of Medicine. Increase in student numbers resulting from these innovations led to the appointment of an additional lecturer, raising the number of full-time academic staff to four by 2008. By that stage advertised positions were attracting very strong fields of international candidates.
Around the mid 1990s there emerged the custom of referring to the HPS set-up as a Unit, and to the coordinator of its activities as the Director of the Unit. Positions are advertised as appointments in the Unit for HPS. A ‘Unit’ is not defined in the University Statutes. Given its mode of operation the Unit is a de facto Department, but its official status is not clear. Chalmers and Shortland alternated as Directors in the 1990s. After this, Paul Griffiths was Director for two years, followed by Rachel Ankeny and Hans Pols and then the current Director, Ofer Gal.
The steady expansion in the teaching program of the Unit has been matched by its research output. The main research contributions in philosophy of science, as opposed to history of science, have come from Chalmers (philosophy of physics), Rasmussen (contemporary biology), Griffiths (evolution, genetics), Anstey (the philosophy of Robert Boyle), Ankeny (models in biology, bioethics), Ofer Gal (origin of experimental practice, realism and constructivism), Dean Rickles (quantum gravity and spacetime) and Charles Wolfe (materialism and philosophy of mind). Staff members have also been successful in attracting research grants, with Pols and Gal currently in receipt of Australian Research Grants (ARC) Grants, the latter’s being large enough to make possible the appointment of a postdoctoral fellow.
Throughout the staff changes that have taken place during the history of the Unit there has been one constant factor. Stephen Sheely, who was a tutor for Ian Langham, helped with tutoring in the Unit from its initiation until the end of 2007.
Richard Sylvan was born Richard Routley in Levin, New Zealand, in 1935. At the time of his death in June 1996 he had published as sole author, joint author or editor, ten books, sixteen booklets and nearly 200 articles in academic philosophy—as well as numerous unpublished academic articles and more general publications contributing to public debate on social policy and environmental matters. Much of this work was innovative and included landmark papers in a number of areas—particularly logic, metaphysics and environmental philosophy.
One of Australasia’s most wide-ranging and systematic philosophers, the astonishing breadth of his philosophical work includes writings on logic, metaphysics, philosophy of language, epistemology, environmental philosophy, social philosophy, political philosophy, ethics, philosophy of science, philosophy of mind and computation theory. ‘The same mistaken philosophical moves … appear over and over again in different philosophical arenas … in metaphysics, in epistemology, in the philosophy of science … in ethics, in political theory, and elsewhere, in each case with serious philosophical costs.’ What was required was nothing less than ‘logical revolution’ and the abandonment of ‘the main philosophical positions of our times’ (Routley 1980: ii–iii).
His work was also distinctive in character. Since he thought that mainstream philosophical thinking was doomed to failure, the theories he argued for were accordingly unorthodox. Moreover he took the view that philosophy ought to strive for uniformity in its resolution of problems. Accordingly, his work is characterised by the attempt to develop and apply these unorthodox theories—especially those he viewed as foundational from logic and metaphysics—in a wide range of contexts. Thus his work represents a broad, uniform and unorthodox approach to philosophical problems.
His first notable work was submitted as part of an M.A. in Philosophy from the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand in 1958—a 385-page thesis, Moral Scepticism. Despite Oxford University Press agreeing to publish a condensed version of the thesis as a book, Routley never undertook the requested editing and the manuscript was never published. (It was one of a dozen or so book manuscripts left unfinished at the time of his death.)
After a brief period working as a junior lecturer at Victoria University of Wellington, designing and constructing a small mechanical-electronic computer, he headed to Princeton University to begin a Ph.D. After only a couple of years, he left Princeton in 1961 with an M.A. The awarding of his Ph.D. from Princeton was to come twenty years later when, after developing work begun in Princeton on theories of implication and nonexistent objects, he submitted the voluminous work Exploring Meinong’s Jungle and Beyond for examination. The work, published in 1980, was 1035 pages in length and examiners for Princeton awarded him a doctorate in 1981 on the basis of the first lengthy chapter.
He was, by this time, working as a research fellow at the Australian National University, having arrived there in 1971 and remaining until his death. Before arriving he had already made significant contributions to teaching and research. Some of this research was later drawn together in the aforementioned 1980 publication. There he attempted what most other philosophers had long since given up, namely a rehabilitation of Meinong’s theory of objects ‘but in a modern logical presentation’ (Routley 1980: iv). His early work and subsequent collaboration with Val Routley (later Val Plumwood) had convinced him by the mid 1960s that much modern philosophy suffered from flawed metaphysical foundations and in the Jungle book he sought to set things right. (This work in metaphysics continued unabated until his death, with his last major contribution—published posthumously—Transcendental Metaphysics: From Radical to Deep Pluralism, 1997.)
The associated ‘modern logical presentation’ of Meinongian theses drew on work pioneered with Val Routley, Len Goddard, Bob Meyer and others in non-classical relevance logic and logics of significance. After two years as a lecturer at the University of Sydney following his return from Princeton, in 1964 Routley had moved (with Val Routley) to an appointment at the University of New England and joined Goddard there. With the additional appointment of David Londey, Goddard had the critical mass required to achieve his ambitious aim of establishing a centre of logic in what was then ‘a tiny university set in a rural community whose dominating interests were in sheep ticks and wool’ (Goddard 1992: 174). Thus began a long collaboration and extremely fruitful teaching program that laid the foundations for a generation of influential research into non-classical logics in Australia.
Not only did Goddard, Routley and Londey establish Australia’s first Master’s program in Logic, they were also instrumental in the formation in 1965 of the Australasian Association for Logic. They and their students—the New England Group—focussed on analyzing classical logic, revealing its problems, and sought to develop superior non-classical alternatives. It was ‘heavily philosophically oriented … [and] included work on modal logic, on the theory of implication and Relevant logics and overshadowing all these, on significance and incompleteness, on logical paradoxes and many-valued resolutions of them and other puzzles’ (Routley 1983: 133). An eventual outcome of this work was the 1973 publication of Goddard and Routley’s The Logic of Significance and Context.
Moving on in 1968 to a research position at Monash University, Richard and Val had continued work in modal and non-classical logic. By 1969, work on the perceived deficiencies of classical logic began to bear significant fruit with the development of a formal semantics for the logic of a ‘paradox free’ implication system, the logic of first degree entailment (see Routley and Routley 1972). Then in 1970 Richard circulated a groundbreaking semantics for the Relevant logic R (see Routley and Meyer 1973). Here was what Meyer has described as ‘the giant step’ marking the beginning of a breakthrough in logical research, research that brought Meyer and Routley together in another fruitful collaboration. Routley’s arrival at the Australian National University in 1971 was followed by Meyer’s appointment a couple of years later, resulting in the formation of another strong logic research group at ANU. Notable output from this period by the Canberra Group was the 1982 publication of Relevant Logics and Their Rivals I, and, after the arrival of Graham Priest on Australian shores in 1976, Paraconsistent Logic in 1989. (Goddard (1992: 179) notes that in the decade 1971–1980 the Canberra group put out 124 articles and five books on logic. By 1986 its output amounted to 175 articles, sixteen monographs and seven books.)
By the mid 1980s the Canberra Group had begun to disperse, with a healthy community of non-classical logicians scattered amongst Australasian universities. About this time Richard and Val also went their own ways under the new names Richard Sylvan and Val Plumwood. Their collaboration had not only produced much research of interest in logic and metaphysics, but also in environmental philosophy. In the early 1970s their attention had been drawn to issues concerning forestry practice in Australia, and in 1973 they published their landmark book, The Fight for the Forests. In an analysis of the economics, ethics and social policy then underpinning forestry practices in (particularly) South-Eastern Australia, the Routleys roundly condemned then-current policy and practice, providing an impressive array of arguments that found willing ears amongst those then beginning the fight for the old-growth forests along Australia’s South-East coastal ranges. The book, published locally through the ANU Press, underwent three editions and attracted considerable criticism from many in the forestry industry who felt under attack.
But this was just the beginning. Sylvan also commenced a fundamental reappraisal of the foundations of environmental theory (particularly value theory), with attendant work in social, political and economic theory. His attack on anthropocentrism in ethics was launched with the 1973 publication of the groundbreaking paper, ‘Is There a Need for a New, an Environmental, Ethic?’, including a presentation of ‘the last man argument’—still a landmark in debates concerning anthropocentrism in ethics. Further criticism of the error of ‘human chauvinism’ was pursued in Routley and Routley (1980). The search for a ‘deeper’ and more adequate value theory to underpin social and political action continued with increased intensity right through to his death, including the 1994 publication (with David Bennett) of The Greening of Ethics, and leaving unfinished at his death a working typescript entitled Deep-Green Ethics.
For over thirty years Richard marked out distinctive ground in Australasian environmental philosophy and provoked considerable debate. Added to this was his brilliant work in non-classical logic and very distinctive Meinongian metaphysics, along with much more—both published and unpublished. As a philosopher he was impressive indeed. His other interests in alternative lifestyles and technologies, bushwalking, field biology and forest ecology and frequent house-building combined to produce, not just an examined life, but a life where theory and practice combined.