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A Companion to Philosophy in Australia and New Zealand


Tasmania, University of

John Colman

The teaching of philosophical subjects at the University of Tasmania predates the establishment of a chair of philosophy by more than fifty years. Logic was taught from the beginning (1893) under the auspice of mathematics. In 1902 Robert Dunbabin, an Oxford educated Tasmanian, was appointed to lecture in mental and moral science (as well as classics and modern history). He instituted courses in ethics and in the history of philosophy. Logic was also expanded into a second-year course. In 1913 Edmund Morris Miller, a Melbourne graduate with a D.Litt., arrived and largely took over the teaching of philosophy (and psychology). Dunbabin later became professor of classics. In 1928 Morris Miller was appointed professor of psychology and philosophy.

A separate chair of philosophy was established in 1952, with Sydney Sparkes Orr as the foundation professor. While far from being the best qualified candidate for the chair Orr, as a Presbyterian Lay Preacher, was deemed free from the taint of atheism. Notwithstanding, his appointment turned out to be singularly unfortunate. The controversy following upon his dismissal in 1956 on grounds of professional misconduct led to a black ban, endorsed by philosophers in Britain and America, being placed on the chair by the Australasian Association of Philosophy. The subsequent interregnum lasted until 1969 (See ‘The Orr Case’). During this period philosophy was kept alive primarily through the efforts of Kajika Milanov who had been the sole lecturer in Orr’s department. Two visiting professors, Alexander MacBeath from Belfast and, later, Arthur Fox from Western Australia, also taught in the department in the early 1960s. Logic was taught by Charles Hardie, the Professor of Education. The ban was finally lifted in 1968, and the following year W. D. Joske was appointed to the chair.

Joske quickly built up a department offering a full range of undergraduate courses. He was a hugely popular lecturer. Student enrolment increased dramatically and philosophy gained a prestige it had not had before. While the department was well equipped to supervise postgraduate work, research students were generally encouraged to undertake higher degrees at another university, a practice common at that time. Joske must be credited not only with rebuilding the department following the Orr debacle, but with establishing it as a true centre for philosophical teaching and research. Following Joske’s retirement in mid 1992 the chair was held by Frank White. In 1995 the American philosopher Jay Garfield was appointed. He established the Buddhist Studies Exchange Program between Tasmania and the Tibetan University in India. The program brought Tibetan students and academics to Tasmania and enabled Tasmanian students to study in India. He increased the number of undergraduate courses while also building a strong postgraduate research program. He left Tasmania for a professorship at Smith College in 1998, and since 1999 the chair has been occupied by Jeff Malpas. He continued the program in Buddhist philosophy, as well as the undergraduate and postgraduate expansion (in 2009 the department had some thirty-five student enrolled in postgraduate studies), while also building connections with other parts of the university, and including Gender Studies within what was by then the School of Philosophy. In 2000 he established the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Ethics (CAPE) with support from a number of prominent Tasmanians. In 2007, a new Professor of Humanities, Wayne Hudson, was added to the staff.

Philosophy had for a number of years been taught by John Norris and Francisca Touber at the Launceston College of Advanced Education (later Institute of Technology). On its merger with the university, the Department of Philosophy (now School of Philosophy) operated on two campuses. Since 1999 Gender Studies has also been taught within the department.

Is there anything distinctive about philosophy in Tasmania? During the period prior to Orr’s appointment philosophy (as distinct from the history of philosophy) was generally Idealist in tone. Morris Miller was a Kantian but rejected Kant’s unknowable noumenon. In 1915 he taught a course entitled ‘Advanced Psychology and Metaphysics’ and T. H. Green’s Prolegomena to Ethics was the set text for advanced Ethics. Orr’s course in first-year philosophy consisted of Plato and Plato. Milanov had studied in Vienna and Belgrade and had a doctorate from Berlin. He wrote a number of articles before the war which earned him some reputation. (See Maurice Mandelbaum’s citation of Milanov in The Problem of Historical Knowledge, p. 267.) Milanov also translated some of Kant’s work into Serbian. (The remarks on Milanov’s academic qualifications in W. H. C. Eddy’s Orr are purely scurrilous.) Philosophy during the interregnum was hardly at the cutting edge of philosophy in Australia but this was not the dark age it is sometimes painted to be. Milanov was a more able philosopher than Orr, and while students heard little of Ryle, Austin, Quine or the identity theory, they did learn a good deal about Kant and something of Husserl, Sartre and Heidegger.

Joske, who came to Tasmania from Monash, introduced the analytic tradition. His book Material Objects was influenced by Strawson’s Individuals. He also published on the meaning of life and instituted a highly popular course—which is still taught—on that topic. An interest in European philosophy was also maintained. Edgar Sleinis taught and published on Neitzsche, Frank White (also a notable Platonist) on Kant and Schopenhauer. The exchange program introduced by Garfield has made Tasmania unique in Australia as a centre for Buddhist philosophy, and one of the graduates from the program, Sonam Thakchoe, is now a full-time lecturer in the subject. Jeff Malpas has an international reputation as a Heidegger scholar and is a pioneer in the philosophy of place. He has introduced new connections with contemporary philosophy in Germany, notably at the University of Munich. The department is also strong in analytic philosophy, and in logic and the philosophy of science.

In short, philosophy in Tasmania has never been unfriendly to metaphysics nor to the Continental tradition, especially German philosophy. There has always been an interest in the great philosophers of the past. Philosophers in Tasmania have never united under a banner such as ordinary language philosophy or Central State Materialism. One newly appointed lecturer was surprised to find colleagues who worried about the egocentric predicament, and those same colleagues were surprised he thought the predicament resolved by Wittgenstein and Austin. Also a number of Tasmanian philosophers consider themselves to be embodied minds, some even expressing agnosticism as to their embodiment.

Philosophy in Tasmania has a high public profile. The annual James Martineau Memorial Lecture given by selected speakers from Australia and overseas was established in 1972. In the 1990s the department began a five-week series of public lectures given by members of staff. These elicited a response far beyond expectation and continued for several years. Jeff Malpas instituted the ‘Philosophy Café’, held monthly in Hobart and Launceston, as well as a variety of public seminars and forums. David Coady initiated ‘Philosophy and Film’. Such activities have generated enormous and often loyal support from the wider community. They have been coordinated by the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Ethics, which also coordinates the Buddhist Studies Exchange Program. The centre is now headed by Anna Alomes and also undertakes consultancy and training work, including cadet training for Tasmania Police. The weekly philosophy seminars—though the papers are sometimes quite technical—are also open to the public. Members of the department have also been active for a number of years in Adult Education.

Since the 1990s Tasmania has attracted a large number of visiting philosophers, some of whom teach for a semester in the department. Staff were quick off the mark in the race for ARC grants and have had considerable success. A significant number of graduates have gained academic appointments at home and in other universities. For a relatively small department (approx. twelve staff) philosophy in Tasmania has had an extraordinary level of success.

Theological Institutions (Australia), Philosophy in

James Franklin

Philosophy in theological institutions has been largely a Catholic concern. The Catholic Church has emphasised ‘reason’ relative to faith to a much greater extent than Protestant or most non-Christian traditions. Protestants insist on faith, especially in Scripture, as the starting-point of all doctrine. But the Catholic tradition, centred in the thought of Thomas Aquinas, gives considerable weight also to philosophical ‘preliminaries’ to faith, such as arguments for the existence of God and objective natural law foundations of ethics, as well as to replies to objections such as the problem of evil.

Vatican directives of the late nineteenth century required that training in all Catholic seminaries include extensive compulsory courses in philosophy. Thus all Catholic seminaries maintained staff trained in philosophy, teaching (up to the 1960s at least) a generally strict form of Thomism. That applied not only to diocesan seminaries such as St Patrick’s, Manly, but to all the seminaries of individual orders of priests, such as the Jesuits, Franciscans, Dominicans, Marists and Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. (Many Jesuit philosophy teachers are profiled briefly in Strong 1998). The more senior of the staff in these institutions were trained in the philosophy faculties of European Catholic universities such as the Angelicum University in Rome and the University of Louvain (Franklin 2003: ch. 4).

Prominent seminary teachers included Church leaders such as the first two Catholic Archbishops of Sydney, who were philosophy teachers before coming to Australia (Franklin 2003: 68) and Justin Simonds, Archbishop of Melbourne in the 1960s and earlier a Louvain philosophy graduate, professor of philosophy at Springwood seminary and author of several philosophy articles (Vodola 1997: 8–16; Simonds 1933); Dr P. J. (‘Paddy’) Ryan, philosophy lecturer at the Sacred Heart Monastery in Kensington, Sydney, who was the founder of the anti-Communist ‘Movement’ in Sydney and spoke prominently on Communism in the 1940s and 1950s (Franklin 1996; Franklin 2003: 72–80); and Austin Woodbury, a graduate of the Angelicum, who founded the Aquinas Academy in Sydney in 1945 as a philosophy school for lay people and ran it for thirty years, with attendance of some 500 a week at its high point in the early 1960s (Franklin 2003: 80–2; Thornhill 2002)

Seminary instruction did not always adapt to the realities of a conscripted audience more interested in preparation for parish work than in philosophical subtleties. For example, lectures were often in Latin (examples in Muldoon 1958), and there were frequent student complaints about the dryness and irrelevance of the material (Geraghty 2003: 37–42, 141–51; Windsor 1996: 117). Despite such communication difficulties, seminary philosophy through its formation of church leaders had an impact well beyond the world of theological and philosophical speculation, since natural law ethics underpins characteristically Catholic stances on such controversial topics of applied ethics as abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, contraception and stem cell research (Franklin 2003: 88–91, 403–28; Franklin 2006). Among the most philosophically informed work on such topics is that of Norman Ford. (e.g. Ford 2002). Catholic philosophy of law, which sees law as ideally based on objective ethical principles, also migrated from its home in seminaries to legal practitioners such as the High Court judges who decided the Mabo case (Franklin 2003: 388–98).

Seminary philosophers had heavy teaching, administrative and sometimes pastoral loads and usually conceived their main role as teaching rather than research and publication. However a number did publish, mostly on topics related to ethics and religion. The Jesuit Basil Loughnan published in the Australasian Journal of Psychology and Philosophy in the 1930s (Loughnan 1933; Loughnan 1936), while another Jesuit, T. V. Fleming, wrote a substantial introduction to philosophy (Fleming 1949). There were two studies by Franciscans of medieval Franciscan theories of knowledge (Prentice 1957; Day 1947). Neil Brown of the Catholic Institute of Sydney wrote on the centrality of the concept of the ‘worth of persons’ as a foundation of Christian ethics (Brown 1983). Examples of work on the history of philosophy in a more analytic style are John Hill’s study of G. E. Moore and Barry Brundell’s of Gassendi (Hill 1976; Brundell 1987).

Interaction between philosophy in seminaries and that in university philosophy departments was minimal. On the one hand, there was clerical suspicion of ‘atheist’ university philosophy likely to corrupt the youth—particularly in Sydney where John Anderson really was a crusading atheist—combined with a Thomist view that most modern philosophy was infected with empiricist and Kantian errors. On the other side, university philosophers tended to take a disdainful view of a philosophy that appeared to have reached its conclusions prior to considering the arguments (e.g. Oppy 2001a). In one of the few instances of direct interaction, the Dominican Fr Patrick Farrell published in Mind a reply to J. L. Mackie’s views on the problem of evil, then complained that the lack of reaction to his article was a sign of the incompetence of university philosophy, especially in Melbourne (Farrell 1958; Franklin 2003: 82–5; later work on the topic in Cowburn 1979).

In the years after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, seminary philosophy became less significant because of a precipitous decline in seminary enrolments, but also because Thomism was identified with the ‘old order’ of pre-Conciliar ‘triumphalism’. Nevertheless a commitment to teaching philosophy, especially ethics of a loosely natural law orientation, remained important in seminary curricula (Rheinberger 1970; Hill 1979). Catholic strands in philosophy, both more and less conservative, are still strongly represented at the University of Notre Dame (Australia), the Australian Catholic University, and the Catholic Institute of Sydney, where Gerald Gleeson, Andrew Murray and John Lamont have published on a range of philosophical topics related to religion.

Protestant theology in Australia has been of a generally evangelical flavour, taking to heart St Paul’s warning against the dangers of ‘vain and deceitful philosophy’ (Colossians 2:8). Protestant theology colleges have thus generally avoided philosophy (Sherlock 1993). Even so, evangelical theology typically has a definite philosophical commitment. Broughton Knox, Principal of Moore Theological College from 1959 to 1985 and the main intellectual force behind Sydney’s peculiar form of Anglicanism, emphasised strongly the propositional nature of revelation, a position at the opposite end of the spectrum from the Wittgensteinian one that religion may be a ‘form of life’ without truth commitments. Knox’s position thus has certain parallels with John Anderson’s propositional view of reality, and the result was to encourage Sydney-Melbourne differences in theology parallel to those in philosophy (Knox 1960; Cameron 2006: 209–11).

Two Melbourne theologians with backgrounds in philosophy helped to broaden the Protestant perspective. David Stow Adam, Presbyterian minister and professor of systematic theology and church history at Ormond College, had taught logic and metaphysics at the University of Glasgow, and the progressive neo-Hegelianism he absorbed there found expression in the liberal and ecumenical tone of his Cardinal Elements of the Christian Faith (1911) and Handbook of Christian Ethics (1925). (Adam 1911; Adam 1925; Chambers 1979). Eric Osborn was professor of New Testament and Early Church History at the Uniting Church Theological Hall and the United Faculty of Theology in Melbourne from 1958 to 1990. His eight books published by Cambridge University Press on the thought of the early Christian fathers included two on their philosophy (Osborn 1957; Osborn 1981).

Theological Institutions (New Zealand), Philosophy in

John Owens S. M.

The history of philosophy teaching in theological colleges in New Zealand parallels the Australian story, with philosophy as an explicit subject confined to Catholic institutes. From the late nineteenth century there were two of these, Holy Cross College, Mosgiel, the seminary college of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops’ Conference (Norris 1999), and Mount St. Mary’s Scholasticate, Hawkes Bay, a college owned and run by the New Zealand Province of the Society of Mary, a religious order. Each of these had about a hundred-year history until they came together in Auckland in 2001 to form Good Shepherd College Auckland. Until about 1970, both ran programs in philosophy of a traditional Thomist stamp, whether taught directly from the Catholic textbooks known as ‘manuals’, or from private course notes which represented an updated form of the scholastic system. Even in the 1950s, textbooks at Holy Cross were still in Latin, with students expected to know enough of the language to make their way through the three-volume Summula Philosophiae Scholasticae of J. S. Hickey, or, if this was beyond them, with the simplified ‘dog Latin’ of the Manuale Philosophiae ad Usum Seminariorum of Giovanni di Napoli. At the end of the 1950s diocesan philosophy teaching was taken over by Holy Name College, Christchurch, which boasted the Jesuit philosopher Bernard O’Brien S.J., a man of broad interests and education who had studied in Germany, where he had the later renowned Catholic theologian Karl Rahner S.J. as a fellow student. Until the early 1950s philosophy at Mount St. Mary’s was in the hands of G. H. Duggan S.M., a noted letter-writer on controversial topics, and author of a characteristically polemical work against evolution as a philosophical worldview (Duggan 1949). He was also an early critic of the Catholic theologian Hans Küng (Duggan 1964). His successor was Kevin Bonisch S.M., who taught for about twenty years from the early 1950s, and developed an interest in the emerging area of bioethics.

The curriculum and teaching style changed during the upheavals following the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. Diocesan philosophy teaching moved back to Mosgiel, where Vincent Hunt brought a sense of the humanum to the Thomist tradition, as well as a dry Irish humour. The professional background of teachers became more varied. Patrick Bearsley S.M., who taught in the 1970s at Mount St. Mary’s, had studied Wittgenstein at Oxford. His successor, John Owens S.M., studied twentieth-century Continental philosophy at the University of Munich. Both promoted an Aristotelian approach in continuity with traditional Catholic views, but with a renewed interest in its relation to other streams of thought, and a cautionary sense of the controversial nature of all philosophical theses. Gregory McCormick O.P., who taught in the 1990s at Mosgiel (by this time part of the Faculty of Theology at the University of Otago), completed doctoral studies on the twentieth-century French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas. All of these contributed to academic journals, something rare in earlier decades when the academic work of lecturers was often limited to their teaching activity, and they were burdened with substantial additional duties of a pastoral or formational nature.

The situation in Anglican and Protestant theological colleges was more diverse. While philosophy was not taught as a separate discipline, philosophical questions and themes often made an appearance in theological courses, usually in the area of systematic theology or ethics. These might take the form of apologetic reflection, identification of philosophical influences (especially Platonic) in the history of Christian theology, or critical analyses of classic or contemporary philosophical approaches. Such interest was understandably episodic, usually reflecting the interests of particular lecturers. The 1840s curriculum of the Anglican college, St. John’s Auckland, included classic Christian apologetic works such as Paley’s Evidences of Christianity and Butler’s Analogy of Religion. St. John’s was still examining in natural theology and moral philosophy in the 1970s. The Thomist philosopher Selwyn Grave taught for a time at the college after World War Two, before joining the philosophy department of the University of Western Australia (see Davidson 1993). Presbyterian theological education was centred at Knox College Dunedin (see Breward 1975). While it eschewed anything approaching natural theology, it often included theology teachers with strong general philosophical knowledge and interests. Examples would be J. M. Bates in the 1930s, who was an early influence on the noted logician A. N. Prior, and in later decades Frank Nichol and Alan Torrance. Methodist theological education was based at Trinity Methodist College Auckland, which joined with St. John’s College in 1973 to form a joint faculty. The Methodist faculty at this time included John Silvester, who had studied with Karl Popper at the University of Canterbury (NZ) in the 1940s.

The rather low profile of philosophy teaching in theological colleges in New Zealand partly reflects the general status of philosophy in New Zealand society, where it is not much noticed outside of the professional university environment. Teaching in theological colleges has also had to contend with an ethos of church life that is overwhelmingly practical in orientation. In view of such obstacles to what is the reflective subject par excellence, it is hardly surprising that its history should be a low-key affair, owing its existence largely to church requirements in the Catholic case, and the piecemeal pursuits of individual lecturers, in the case of the others.

Theories of Knowledge

Stephen Hetherington

Perhaps the most influential Australasian philosophical theory of knowledge is Armstrong’s (1973) reliabilism. Among the earliest reliabilisms, his theory’s impact was mainly as an account of non-inferential knowledge. Its motivating metaphor compares individual knowers to reliable thermometers: like a reliable thermometer, a perceptual knower is thoroughly reliable in pertinent ‘readings’ of the environment. How reliable is ‘thoroughly reliable’? Armstrong demands nomic reliability: the belief must be formed in circumstances which, as a matter of natural law-like necessity, were going to render it true. Reliabilist ideas are routinely called upon when epistemologists attempt to explain knowing’s nature.

Epistemologists have striven mightily to ascertain that nature, often confronting ‘the Gettier problem’. Gettier (1963) described two striking counterexamples (successful ones, accept most epistemologists) to a supposedly traditional analysis of knowledge as a well-but-fallibly-justified true belief. How have Australasian philosophers contributed to ‘the Gettier debate’? Bigelow (2006) lays out the Gettier problem’s conceptual structure, comparing the problem with Russell’s paradox for Frege’s set-theoretic logicism. Heathcote (2006) and Gallois (2006) propose solutions to the problem—Heathcote in terms of truthmakers, Gallois by following Ayer (1956) in talking of ‘the right to be sure’. In contrast, Hetherington (1998; 2001: ch. 3) and Weatherson (2003b) dispute the standard interpretation of Gettier cases. Each provides reasons for continuing to understand knowledge as justified-true-belief. (Hetherington sees Gettier cases as including luckily formed knowledge. Weatherson evaluates criteria for choosing between a theory and competing intuitions.) Jackson (1998b: 32, 36–7, 47) defends the usual interpretation of Gettier cases, as being conceptually decisive falsifiers of the traditional theory of knowledge. Work continues on fashioning a ‘Gettier-proof’ theory of knowledge.

Work also continues on sculpting ‘sceptic-proof’ theories of knowledge. At present, there is much discussion of contextualism. Why (as it seems) can a person, in respective contexts, be accorded or denied knowledge of a particular truth—when the only pertinent difference between those contexts is the respective epistemic standards operating within them? This question arises because some contexts seem to make demanding sceptical standards apt, while others leave those standards to one side. Should a theory of knowledge be contextualist, to explain scepticism’s appeal in some settings plus its apparent irrelevance in others? Some Australasian philosophers, such as Oakley (2001) and Weatherson (2006a), doubt contextualism’s viability. Dickerson (2006) outlines an older-fashioned contextualism, an Austinian one.

Distinguish contextualism from knowledge-gradualism. Contextualism requires each context’s epistemic standard to be completely satisfied, if knowledge is to be present there. Gradualism allows knowledge to admit of grades or degrees, even within a single context. Weiler (1965) endorses knowledge-gradualism; as does Hetherington (2001), arguing that it clarifies and defuses both the Gettier problem and sceptical challenges. Coady (2002: 359–60) supports gradualism’s basic idea, as did the counterpart Australasian philosopher David Lewis (1999: 438–9).

Those approaches, like most philosophical theories of knowledge, claim to elucidate propositional knowledge—knowledge-that (-some-particular-truth-p-obtains). Standardly, epistemologists inquire into knowledge’s nature by distinguishing knowledge-that from knowledge-how (-to-perform-some-particular-action). Nonetheless, that distinction has been questioned. Hetherington (2006b) argues that knowledge-that is a kind of knowledge-how. Note also two other ways of theorising about knowledge, advocated by Australasian philosophers. Hooker (1995) conceives of knowledge as an evolutionary product. On his picture, we know within regulatory systems, complete with their fallibility dynamics. Hooker’s theory, like Armstrong’s, is a naturalism about knowledge. Musgrave (1999a) portrays knowledge as conjectural, understandable accordingly in Popperian terms. On his picture, we know only by inquiring critically, remaining open to being mistaken. Musgrave’s theory is an instance of Popper’s critical rationalism.

Several theories of knowledge are gestured at here. How deeply do they compete with each other? Mackie (1969–70: 256–7) concluded that the concept of knowledge allows for different senses, able to be modelled by congruent theories of knowledge. He described two such senses. Intellectual autonomy was the key to one of them (a phenomenon which Coady argues cannot do justice to all knowledge: 1992). Reliability was the heart of the other (a phenomenon which Armstrong argues does justice to all knowledge). Mackie’s suggestion remains apposite. Many epistemologists, such as Oakley (1988) and Jackson (2005), are tempted by some such vision of plurality when constructing a theory of knowledge.

Thesis Eleven Journal

Peter Beilharz

Thesis Eleven was founded in 1980 by Alastair Davidson and his postgraduates, Julian Triado and Peter Beilharz at the politics department at Monash University. The journal self-published through collective forms for ten years. In 1990 Thesis Eleven took up with MIT Press in Cambridge, and in 1996 shifted to Sage, publishing out of London, California and Delhi. The shift to Sage coincided with the relocation of the journal to the sociology department at La Trobe University. The Thesis Eleven Centre for Critical Theory, now Cultural Sociology, was established at La Trobe in 2002.

The purpose of the initial project was to position itself globally, as an alternative to journals such as New Left Review and Telos, publishing out of the antipodes, exporting as well as importing ideas. Western Marxism and critical theory were the most significant early influences, this along with the desire to make sense of the antipodes historically and culturally. The journal’s original points of location were also local, constituted by a radical culture in Melbourne dominated by Arena and in Sydney by Intervention. Its original constituency was to the left of the Melbourne Communist Party, until the local Communist Party disappeared into the Victorian Labor Party in 1984. The journal’s global distribution expanded from this point, but before international publishing and the internet, distribution from the antipodes was a nightmare. Gramsci was the most significant early influence. The journal’s project was then much influenced by the arrival of Lukács’ students, the Budapest School in exile, from 1978. Being peripheral also meant being interested in other peripheries; so the journal took a stand outside the gladiatorial Habermas vs Foucault stoush, and instead published other voices, from Castoriadis to Bauman, Touraine and Gauchet, Luhmann, Alexander and Calhoun, and studied other cases, from Latin America to India and with strong interests in the Philippines. In substantive terms, the project came to take in whatever the editors considered interesting and innovative.

Shifts in the project itself can be tracked through the various subtitles of the journal, from ‘Socialism and Scholarship’ to the present ‘Critical Theory and Historical Sociology’, which still fails to capture the breadth of the journal’s endeavours. The journal has always been interdisciplinary, taking in social and political theory, social and Continental philosophy, geography, history, culture and political economy. What is clear is that the journal has become a leader in its field, connecting back to Marxist and socialist origins but also keen to embrace the present and to anticipate and fan out into the future. Thesis Eleven set out to be global as well as local; most of its readers and users are now global. Collaboration with global publishers and electronic access have given the journal the editorial independence to continue on its own way.

Tichý, Pavel

Graham Oddie

Pavel Tichý, who taught at the University of Otago from 1971 to 1994, was born in Brno, Czechoslovakia, in 1936, and studied at Charles University, Prague. Nurtured by logical positivists, his philosophical heroes were Russell, Frege, Gödel and Carnap. After completing his doctorate in 1959—an application of Gödel’s techniques to the simple theory of types—he taught at Charles University until 1968, when he took up a two-year fellowship at the University of Exeter. With the Russian invasion, he decided not to return, was convicted in absentia by the communist regime for illegal emigration, and sentenced to hard labour. At Exeter Tichý collected another doctorate and wrote a first paper on his new approach to intensional analysis (1971). In 1970 he accepted a position at the University of Otago and was promoted to a personal chair in 1981. It wasn’t until 1992, after the Velvet Revolution, that he was able to return to Prague. In 1993 he was offered the Headship of the Department of Logic at Charles University, but he died tragically, by drowning, on 26 October 1994, before being able to take up his new position.

For Tichý the aim of metaphysics was a comprehensive ontology—a theory of the logical structure of all the entities that we have to countenance. His proposal—called Transparent Intensional Logic (TIL)—evolved over thirty years, but there are certain assumptions which define its core.

  1. Realism about abstracta—including, inter alia, properties, propositions, worlds, fictional entities, events, actions, numbers, procedures, offices and so on. Although not averse to the economies of reduction, Tichý rejected nominalistic eliminativism as inadequate to the philosophical task.
  2. Functional type theory. Tichý embraced functions as the foundations of object theory, and type theory as the most promising response to the paradoxes. He built on Church’s formulation of the Simple Theory of Types, but he developed an extraordinarily broad framework—a rich, ramified theory of entities (1988).
  3. Procedures and constructions. Although Tichý took an objectual approach to semantics—viz. linguistic units are meaningful in virtue of picking out certain entities—the relevant entities are procedures, and procedures are a certain kind of abstract action type, which he called constructions (1986a, 1988). Adding five and seven is a typical mathematical construction, which, if carried out, constructs (yields) the number twelve. The complex symbol ‘[+57]’ depicts this way of arriving at nine (the application of the addition function to the two numbers) rather than the number nine itself. A different way of arriving at that number is [×34]: the application of multiplication to three and four.
  4. Intensions as offices. Tichý argued that many of the puzzles in philosophical logic arise from the failure to recognise the ubiquitous distinction between objects and the offices they occupy. (His 1987 exposition of office theory is a translation of the introduction to an unpublished book ms, which was complete by 1973. The original is printed in his Collected Papers [709–48] as ‘Individuals and their Roles’.) The denotation of ‘The U.S. President’, for example, is not an individual (Barack Obama, say) but rather, an office. The truth condition for the U.S. President is smart is simply that whoever occupies the office is smart. The office, occupied by different individuals at different world-times, induces a function from world-times to individuals. Offices that are necessarily co-occupied are one and the same—hence the office is identified with its associated function. This is a development of Carnap’s account of extension and intension. Properties of individuals are functions from world-times to collections of individuals; propositions, functions from world-times to truth values, etc. In general, intensions are offices—functions from world-times to objects of a certain type.
  5. Transparency. Opacity—the apparent failure of principles of substitutivity in ‘opaque’ contexts—has become practically synonomous with intensionality. Tichý argued for a transparent intensional logic. The apparent opacity in intensional contexts is the result of a puzzling and somewhat gratuitious suppression of implicit variables in logical analysis—variables ranging over worlds and times. It is his bringing bound variables to the surface of logical analysis that sets his approach apart from that of Richard Montague (1971, 1978d).
  6. Partiality. With his background in recursion theory Tichý embraced partial functions, and although this seems an obvious move it opened up rich possibilities. If the office of the King of France is unoccupied at some world-time, then the associated function is undefined at that world-time. It yields nothing. The proposition that the King of France is bald is consequently also a partial function. If the office is empty at some world-time then there is no object to which to apply the extension of the property at that world-time to arrive at a truth value, so the proposition yields no truth value there.

Tichý is perhaps better know for some of his other work—for example, his refutation of Popper’s content account of truthlikeness (1974), which spawned the likeness approach to the problem (1976b); and his critique of Kripke on necessity a posteriori (1983a), which ricocheted off in a direction of which he would not have approved at all (two-dimensional semantics), to name just two. But while these were valuable, TIL was Tichý’s most significant systematic contribution to philosophy.

TIL is based on a hierarchy of types Γ, over four collections of basic types. Tichý expanded the basic types of Church’s Theory—individuals (ι) and truth values (ο)—with worlds (ω) and times (τ). Γ is defined recursively—given types η and ξ, (ηξ) is the type of any function which takes ξ-objects to η-objects. Functions from individuals to truth values (sets) are of type (οι), individual offices of type ((ιτ)ω), properties of type (((οι)τ)ω), and so on.

The collection of constructions over Γ (*) is also defined recursively. There are two kinds of simple construction (trivialisation, and variables) and two ways of building constructions out of other constructions (composition and closure).

Trivialisation is the simple procedure which ‘constructs’ an object in one step. Where X is an entity over Γ, the trivialisation of X can be thought of as a one-step procedure: take the entity X. Variables are also simple constructions. This will sound odd to those who think of variables as syntactic items—letters in a formal language. Tichý’s variables are the objective correlatives of syntactic variables. They are simple constructions which yield objects, but they do so only relative to valuations—complete assignments of appropriate objects to all variables.

Given two constructions F and X, the composition of F and X (denoted [FX]), is the procedure: carry out X; carry out F; apply result of latter to result of former. This procedure may abort. Either F or X may not construct anything, and if they do construct objects (F of type (ηξ) and X of type ξ) then F may be undefined at argument X. If F is defined at X, and it yields Y, then [FX] constructs the ξ-object Y. So [+57], for example, is the construction apply addition to the five and seven, which yields twelve.

Composition takes us down the type hierarchy. What takes us up is the variable-binding procedure of closure. Where C is any construction of type η containing a variable of type ξ, the closure of C with respect to xxC) constructs a function of type (ηξ). So, for example, the closure of [+1x] with respect to x, (λx [+1x]), constructs the successor function. Other variable binding procedures (like quantification) resolve into combinations of composition and closure.

During the 1970s and early 1980s Tichý applied TIL to a raft of problems—e.g. conditionals (1978a, 1984), questions (1978c), de dicto/de re (1978b), the ontological argument (1979), time and tense (1980a, 1980b, 1980c), freedom (1983), the indiscernibility of identicals (1986b), to name a few—but like others at the time he realised the limitations of a purely intensional framework, and the necessity for hyperintensionality. In fact TIL contained the seeds of just such a framework. Construed as functions from world-times to truth values, there is just one logically necessary proposition, for example. But one may prove that five plus seven is twelve, without proving that three times four is twelve. So proving cannot be a relation to a proposition on pain of opacity. If proving were a relation to a propositional construction, then the problem dissolves, for there are clearly two different constructions at issue here. The initial typed hierarchy does not contain constructions themselves—they do not feature among the objects—nor types involving constructions. To solve the problem Tichý turned to a ramified hierarchy of ever expanding types and constructions (1988).

Tichý’s last work is an unpublished manuscript titled The Logic of English: Meaning Driven Grammar. In it Tichý tackles the task of generating a grammar for English itself—the code that generates sentence-meaning pairs, where the meanings, are, of course, specific constructions. This work is currently being edited with a view to publication.


Neil McKinnon

Australasian activity has contributed a rich and influential body of work in philosophical treatments of time, especially from the 1950s to the present. I shall (mostly) use the labelling conventions that appear in Markosian (2008) for the various philosophical positions discussed; for reasons of economy, I also direct the reader to this source for details about the content of these positions.

Tense Logic

Australasian philosophy has played a central role in both the genesis and the development of logics of tenses. J. N. Findlay remarked that our conventions regarding the use of tenses are already systematic to the extent that they contain the material for a formal calculus (1941: 233, fn. 17). A. N. Prior was inspired by this passage, along with mediaeval views of propositions (according to which ‘Lucy is feeling sheepish’ does not require supplementation with a time-reference in order to express a proposition), to begin work on tense logic. For Prior, atomic propositions were present-tensed, and he introduced both metrical and non-metrical past and future tense-operators. Much of this work was published in Prior 1957 and 1967. C. L. Hamblin corresponded with Prior during the 1950s and ’60s, and this collaboration of sorts produced significant results on implicative structures for the tenses (Øhrstrøm and Hasle 1993: 28–30).

Metaphysics of Past, Present and Future

What is the nature of the passage of time? Australasian philosophy has made solid, indeed, sometimes spectacular, contributions to discussion of this question.

Perhaps the most famous and influential argument against the B-theory of time appears as a brief remark in Prior (1959: 17). Prior wonders about the appropriateness of relief. It is appropriate to feel relief just after an unpleasant experience has ended, and not while it is in progress, nor before it has started, nor years after its completion. The worry is that the B-theory seems to lack the resources to account for these appropriateness-conditions. For instance, the fact that there is a time at which you are located, which is, say, a second later than the cessation of the experience, is a fact that, for the B-theorist, merely expresses an eternal relation between two temporally-located items. So, on what basis can the B-theorist say that relief is (i) about this eternal fact, and (ii) appropriate only very soon after the event has ended? G. N. Schlesinger proposes related arguments against the B-theory in his (1982: 510–12).

Prior’s argument has generated a library of responses. And some Australasian B-theorists have had distinctive things to say. Dyke and Maclaurin (2002) argue that other B-theorists have provided suitable objects of relief, but have not offered good accounts of relief’s appropriateness-conditions. They seek to fill this gap with an evolutionary story. Reflecting on time-travel examples, André Gallois (1994) argues that attitudes like relief can be appropriate before an unpleasant event has occurred. This suggests that the appropriateness-conditions of relief are not temporally asymmetric, and that, as a result, considerations surrounding relief do not cause trouble for the B-theory.

In ‘The River of Time’ (1949), J. J. C. Smart claims that the A-theory of time is attractive only insofar as we allow ourselves to take seriously various metaphors about the passing of time. We have images of time being like a river that rolls ever-on, as something that flows, passes, hurtles, creeps along, and so on. To think of time in this way, where events, for instance, are constantly changing with respect to presentness, degrees of pastness and degrees of futurity, is to think of time itself as something that changes. Since all changes occur in time, this means that these special changes require a second-order time series with respect to which they occur. These considerations iterate, and we are on our way towards an infinite hierarchy of distinct time series. But that seems absurd, so perhaps we should stop taking the metaphors of passage so literally.

The A-theory divides into several variants. Prior’s presentism afforded him a means of avoiding Smart’s concerns about meta-time series. Prior (1968a) urges against reifying events. Talk about events, he claims, is merely convenient shorthand; there are things, and things undergo change while they exist, and then cease to be. Since there are no events, we don’t need further series of time to ‘explain’ how it is, say, that they recede further and further into the past.

While Prior’s tense logic can be viewed as offering a presentist-friendly story about propositions, and how they change with respect to truth-value as time passes, one might wonder about the ontological underpinnings of this picture. What makes it true now, for instance, that Ned Kelly was hanged? Bigelow (1996) looks to the Epicurean, Lucretius, for enlightenment. Bigelow urges that truths about (for instance) Kelly’s hanging can be secured by appealing to facts about things that existed contemporaneously with the hanging, and still exist now. Drawing inspiration from Bigelow’s paper, Keller (2004) considers and discusses a broader range of truthmaking options for the presentist.

Some A-theorists are more ontologically generous than are presentists. According to the Growing Universe view, reality accrues. Things, facts and events are ‘birthed’ in the present, and thereafter recede into the past, but contra presentism never pass out of existence. Some other A-theorists hold that reality doesn’t accrue, but that past, present and future things are equally real, while differing only over whether they possess intrinsic properties of pastness, presentness or futurity. David Braddon-Mitchell (2004a) raises an epistemological objection to both of these views. If you know anything, then surely you know that you are present. But since, according to the views under consideration, there is nothing ontologically unique about presentness, past things exist, and perhaps future things exist also. Given that this is the case, what are the chances that you are present? They are vanishingly small. So you really ought to believe that you are not present. But this seems an exceedingly unhappy conclusion to be forced to draw.

Anthropocentrism and Spacetime Philosophy

As we have already observed, J. J. C. Smart has been a staunch opponent of the A-theory. He stresses that the seeming attractiveness of the A-theory can be diagnosed as being caused by an unwarranted strain of anthropocentricism within metaphysics. And, more generally, he holds that anthropocentricism is the root cause of a large number of metaphysical maladies (Smart 1963). As an antidote to this, in the case of time, Smart has done a great deal to introduce philosophers of time to Minkowski’s (1952) interpretation of Special Relativity, whereby not only the correct applications of the notions of past, present and future, but also those of earlier and later, are treated as perspectival matters. The underlying invariant measure is that of spacetime intervals, which do not vary with shifts in perspective. Smart does, however, retain an objective direction of time, agreeing with work by other authors—for instance, Reichenbach (1956) and Grünbaum (1963)—who make out the direction of time in terms of physical asymmetries.

Huw Price (1996) takes this anti-anthropocentrism further still. He urges that even when we think we have removed anthropocentric thinking from our physics and philosophy, we are often mistaken. In particular, he argues that attempts to account for the direction of time in terms of physical asymmetries (such as those endorsed by Smart) are often plausible only insofar as they implicitly (and illicitly) appeal to the very temporal asymmetry that they seek to explain. That this hidden dependence has been so little noticed is diagnosed in terms of the tenacious hold that our human temporal perspective has on our thinking.

Time as Substance?

Graham Nerlich has made a number of important contributions to the debate over whether times are substances or whether they are reducible to facts about temporally-located things. For much of the twentieth century, the reductionist view predominated. Nerlich played an important role in resuscitating substantivalism, by emphasising its explanatory power. Here are just two of his contributions. Nerlich emphasises that differences in the curvature of spacetime imply differences in the geometrical properties of things in spacetime. He argues that this blocks influential arguments according to which substantivalism is a theoretically idle postulate; an example here is the argument that if substantivalism were true, the world could double in size without having any non-trivial consequences for any of the things in the world and their relationships to other things (Nerlich 1991). Nerlich also argues that the non-Euclidean nature of spacetime breathes new life into Kant’s argument that there is a difference between left and right hands which cannot be accounted for without substantivalism. Handedness can be explained in terms of the shape of the space in which hands are embedded (Nerlich 1994a: ch. 2).

Other Australasian Philosophers

Some further Australasian philosophers who have published in the field include: Samuel Alexander, Maxwell J. Cresswell, Phil Dowe, Heather Dyke, Peter Forrest, William Grey (formerly known as William Godfrey-Smith), Ian Hinckfuss and Josh Parsons.

Australasian Contributions to Non-Australasian Work

A number of important monographs have been partially written or developed by non-Australasians during stays in Australasia. These include Mellor (1981), McCall (1994), and Tooley (1997).

Two-Dimensional Logic and Semantics

Laura Schroeter

Two-dimensional semantics is a formal framework for characterising the meaning of certain expressions and the entailment relations among sentences containing them. There are three influential types of semantic application of the two-dimensional framework (2D framework). First, logicians such as Hans Kamp, Lennart Åqvist, and Lloyd Humberstone have used the 2D framework to explain the workings of quasi-logical vocabulary such as temporal and modal operators (e.g. ‘now’, ‘actually’, ‘necessarily’) as well as indicative and subjunctive conditionals. Second, David Kaplan’s influential account of indexicals uses the 2D framework to explain the meaning of expressions whose reference shifts depending on the context in which they are used (e.g. ‘I’, ‘this’, ‘tall’). Third, theorists like Frank Jackson and David Chalmers suggest that the framework can be used to explain the meaning of words whose reference is determined in part by external facts about the subject’s physical or social environment (e.g. ‘water’, ‘Gödel’). In contrast with these three semantic applications, Robert Stalnaker and his followers use the 2D framework to characterise subjects’ imperfect understanding of what is semantically picked out by a referring expression and to depict what is pragmatically communicated when there is the potential for semantic ignorance and error (Stalnaker 1978, 1999). Although these applications all rely on the same formal framework, the interpretation of that framework differs significantly depending on the explanatory aims.

Philosophers from Australia and New Zealand have been at the forefront in developing two-dimensional modal logic and semantic applications of the 2D framework to externally determined reference. In the 1970s and ’80s, antipodean theorists (including Krister Segerberg, John Crossley, Lloyd Humberstone, Allen Hazen, and Martin Davies) played a key role in applying the 2D framework to modal logic and the interpretation of modal operators. Since the late 1990s, two-dimensional semantics (2D semantics) is often equated with the most ambitious semantic applications of the 2D framework, which provide an integrated treatment of modal and epistemic operators, indexical expressions, and words with externally determined reference. Australians Frank Jackson and David Chalmers are the standard-bearers for this generalised 2D semantics. Their applications of the 2D framework are bound up with ambitious, controversial and sometimes divergent philosophical agendas, and their work has attracted a great deal of philosophical attention, both favourable and critical. Antipodeans who have made contributions to developing or criticising generalised 2D semantics include Martin Davies and Lloyd Humberstone (1980), David Braddon-Mitchell (2003, 2004b), Berit Brogaard (2007, forthcoming), John Hawthorne (2002), Fred Kroon (1987, 2004a, 2004b), Michaelis Michael (1989, 2004), Philip Pettit (2004a), Laura Schroeter (2005, 2006), Brian Weatherson (2001), and Kai Yee Wong (1991, 1996, 2006).

Logical Applications of the Two-Dimensional Framework

Krister Segerberg (1973), later based in Christchurch, was the first along with Lennart Åqvist (1973) to lay out a 2D framework for modal logic and to explore different operators that could be defined in that framework. The basic idea behind two-dimensional modal logic is that some operators may require us to take into account how things stand in more than one possible world in order to assign a truth-value to sentences containing them. These operators would allow us to form sentences which are evaluated for truth with respect to a pair of worlds, rather than a single world. The familiar 2D matrices, with possible worlds aligned along both axes, provide a systematic characterisation of how truth-values for sentences containing such double-indexed operators vary depending on the values assigned to the indices. Åqvist originally proposed the double-index framework as a more elegant formal system for capturing the semantics of subjunctive conditionals (Stalnaker 1968; Lewis 1970a); while Segerberg inspired in part by parallels with contemporary work on temporal operators (Kamp 1971; Vlach 1973) developed the properties of modal operators that exploit the extra expressive power introduced by the second modal index. Both Åqvist and Segerberg were primarily concerned with characterising the formal systems that could be defined on the double-index framework.

Do we really need two-dimensional modal operators or are they mere logical curiosities? Working independently, John Crossley and Lloyd Humberstone of Monash University (1977) and Allen Hazen (1978, 1976), subsequently of University of Melbourne, argued that the expressive completeness of modal logic requires double indexing: to fully capture our ordinary understanding of modality as expressed in natural language we need to introduce a logical operator ‘Actually’ which specifies that the material in its scope should be evaluated at the possible world assigned to the actual-world index. To see why this is required, consider the sentence:


It is possible for everything that is red to be shiny.


There are two different ways of reading this claim. The first reading can be modelled in terms of a single possible world: there is a world in which the set of red things is coextensive with the set of shiny things. But the second reading involves a comparison among different possible worlds: the idea is that everything that is red in the actual world is shiny in some other possible world. In order to verify this second reading, we need to identify the set of red things in the actual world and then to determine whether there is any possible world where all those things are shiny. What this shows is that our intuitive understanding of the modal claim requires us to keep track of two different possible worlds playing different roles. If we want our possible world semantics to fully capture our ordinary understanding of modality, we need to posit two independent modal indices: one for the world designated as the actual world, and one for an arbitrary possible world. The first index reflects the possible contexts from which we might evaluate the sentence, while the second index reflects the possible circumstances that might make the sentence true or false. We can then introduce an ‘Actually’ operator, ‘A’, which requires us to evaluate the embedded sentence with respect to the world designated as actual. However it is embedded within the scope of other modal operators, ‘Actually’ always takes us back to the world representing the real world. Thus, the semantic role of the modal operator ‘Actually’ here is formally analogous to the role of ‘now’ in the two-dimensional temporal logic developed earlier by Kamp (1971) and Vlach (1973).

One awkward consequence of this modal logic for ‘actually’ is that the following claim comes out as logically valid:


If John Howard was actually defeated in 2007, then it’s necessary that he was actually defeated in 2007.


But intuitively it’s a contingent matter how the 2007 elections in Australia actually turned out: Howard was not destined by logical necessity to be swept from office. To mitigate this counterintuitive consequence, Crossley and Humberstone introduced a new logical operator, ‘Fixedly’ img which yields the value ‘true’ for a sentence S just in case S is true no matter which world is designated as actual. When we combine the two operators, ‘Fixedly Actually’ img they behave like a necessity operator ranging over possible worlds playing the actual world role. Crossley and Humberstone suggested that ‘Fixedly Actually’ models the sense of necessity we intuitively have in mind when we deny that it’s necessary that Howard actually lost the 2007 elections. (See Humberstone 2004 for an overview of developments in two-dimensional [2D] modal logic.)

Necessity and a Priority

This suggestion was highlighted and elaborated in Martin Davies and Lloyd Humberstone’s influential paper, ‘Two Notions of Necessity’ (1980). (Davies later held a professorship at the Research School of the Social Sciences at the Australian National University.) Davies and Humberstone suggested that the operator img provides a formal semantic model of Gareth Evans’ notion of ‘deep necessity’, which he had contrasted with the ‘superficial necessity’ given by the standard possible world operator ‘image’ (Evans 1979).

Davies and Humberstone were the first to bring formal developments in two-dimensional modal logic to bear on philosophical debates about reference, modality and a priority initiated by Saul Kripke’s Naming and Necessity (1980 [1972]). Kripke had convinced most of the philosophical community that the necessary/contingent distinction does not line up with the a priori/a posteriori distinction—contrary to what the traditional descriptivist theories of meaning predict. In particular, Kripke argued that many identity claims involving names or natural kind terms, like ‘Hesperus = Phosphorus’, express necessary truths that are only knowable a posteriori; while stipulative definitions, like ‘this stick is one meter long’, may express contingent truths that are knowable a priori.

Such combinations can seem puzzling: if the public meaning of one’s words does not serve to rule out any possible situation, then how can this fact fail to be accessible on the basis of linguistic competence? Davies and Humberstone note that their 2D framework affords a straightforward explanation of certain contingent a priori and necessary a posteriori claims. In their modal logic, any contingent a posteriori sentence, such as ‘Howard lost in 2007’, can be transformed into a necessary a posteriori sentence or a contingent a priori sentence by using ‘Actually’ and other logical vocabulary. Knowing the meaning of the logical operator ‘A’ puts one in a position to know a priori that a claim of the form ‘Ass’ must be true no matter which world is actual (i.e. it’s fixedly actual); yet such claims are contingent in the standard sense of ‘Image’. Similarly, a claim of the form ‘As’ will either be necessarily true or necessarily false in the sense of ‘Image’; yet it can only be known a posteriori since there is no guarantee that s will be true of the actual world (i.e. it’s not fixedly actual).

This 2D modal logic can be used to explain Kripke’s examples of necessary a posteriori truths involving proper names, if one takes the names and natural kind terms to be equivalent in meaning to rigidified definite descriptions. For instance, Evans (1979) suggested that one can introduce a proper name ‘Julius’ by stipulating that it is equivalent in meaning to ‘the actual inventor of the zip’. The 2D logic for ‘actually’ can then be used to explain why claims involving this name are necessary a posteriori or contingent a priori. However, Davies and Humberstone are sceptical that ordinary proper names such as ‘John Howard’ can be analysed in this way—and so they do not take their 2D framework to explain all of Kripke’s examples.

Generalised Two-Dimensional Semantics

However, the idea that names and natural kind terms resemble rigidified definite descriptions later found powerful advocates in Frank Jackson (1994, 1998b, 1998d) and David Chalmers (1996). By the 1980s, Kripke’s (1972) and Putnam’s (1972) famous ‘externalist’ thought-experiments were widely accepted as refuting traditional descriptivist theories of reference for names and natural kind terms. To replace descriptivism, many theorists proposed ‘pure’ externalist theories of reference (e.g. Devitt 1981; Dretske 1988; Millikan 1984), according to which a subject’s own understanding of a word plays no decisive role in determining its reference. Jackson and Chalmers argued that such ‘pure’ externalist accounts were epistemologically implausible. Their key claim was that speakers can always know the precise reference-fixing conditions for their own words solely on the basis of a priori reflection. So, contrary to Hilary Putnam’s famous dictum (1972), the core aspect of meaning really is ‘in the head’ after all.

Jackson’s and Chalmers’ generalised 2D semantics was inspired by David Lewis’ approach to theoretical terms (1970b), and by earlier applications of the 2D framework by Robert Stalnaker to assertions (1978), David Kaplan to indexicals (published 1989, circulating a decade earlier), and Davies and Humberstone to modal vocabulary (1980). Jackson was also influenced by the Dunedin-based Czech logician, Pavel Tichý (1981), who used a two-dimensional analysis of meaning to argue against the Kripkean idea that there are contingent a priori and necessary a posteriori truths.

Jackson and Chalmers contend that that the meaning of a proper name or a natural kind term can be factored into two components. The first a priori accessible component specifies what it takes to fall into the extension of the term in any possible world considered as one’s actual environment. For instance, they suggest you can know a priori that to be water is to be the stuff that actually satisfies certain core descriptive and indexical criteria you associate with the term ‘water’ (e.g. being the clear, potable, tasteless liquid of your acquaintance that falls as rain, flows in rivers, and fills the oceans, that is causally responsible for most of your past ‘water’ classifications, etc.). This sort of definition, they suggest is available simply through armchair reflection on hypothetical cases: e.g. what would count as water if your actual environment turned out to be like Putnam’s twin earth? The a posteriori component of meaning specifies the essential nature of the object, kind, or property actually picked out by your term—i.e. what it takes to be the very same thing in counterfactual situations. It’s widely accepted, for instance, that water is H2O in all possible worlds (given that H2O is the stuff that actually satisfies your implicit criteria for being water, nothing could count as water unless it were H2O). These two components of meaning can be modelled as functions taking one from possible worlds to extensions: the a priori aspect (water = the actual stuff that … ) is given by a function taking one from a world considered as actual to an extension within that world; the a posteriori aspect (water = H2O) is given by a function from a world considered as counterfactual to an extension in that counterfactual situation. Thus, their semantic approach is two-dimensional because it requires us to take into account two distinct modal indices in order to assign an extension to the term ‘water’: possible worlds considered as ways the world might actually be and possible worlds considered as ways the world might counterfactually have been.

Jackson and especially Chalmers have argued that their 2D framework can be used as a general semantic model, capturing key aspects of the meaning of any expression (Jackson 1998b; Chalmers and Jackson 2001; Chalmers 2002d, 2004a, 2006). For instance, descriptive terms like ‘square’ or ‘philosopher’ can easily be represented within this 2D semantic framework—it’s just that the two aspects of meaning will coincide for these terms, since which property they pick out does not depend on contingent facts about one’s environment. Jackson and Chalmers need the 2D framework to capture egocentric criteria for identifying objects or natural kinds (e.g. your term ‘water’ refers to stuff around here), so they stipulate that the possible worlds considered as actual must have a designated ‘centre’ marking a time and location for the speaker within the world. With this centring, their two-dimensional model (2D model) can be generalised to depict the reference of indexicals like ‘I’ or ‘now’ along the lines outlined by Kaplan (1989). This 2D model can also be used to capture something like the two notions of necessity proposed by Davies and Humberstone, and even extended to reflect de re necessities (Chalmers 2002b). In a similar spirit, in work done during his Monash Ph.D., Brian Weatherson has argued that the 2D framework can be used to give a neat semantic account of the distinction between indicative and subjunctive conditionals (Weatherson 2001).

The central motive behind Jackson’s and Chalmers’ 2D semantics is their shared conviction that there must be an a priori aspect to meaning—i.e. an aspect of understanding which explains how one can know the precise application conditions of one’s own words through armchair reflection on possible cases. Beyond this core epistemological thesis, however, their philosophical agendas diverge. Jackson is interested in public language and communication (Jackson 1998b, 2004c). He argues that 2D semantics is needed to fill a crucial gap in David Lewis’ (1969) famous account of linguistic conventions—for the 2D framework allows us to specify the core sets of ‘analytic’ commitments for names and natural kind terms that are mandated by linguistic conventions. Chalmers, in contrast, denies that 2D semantics can capture linguistic conventions governing public language expressions (2002d). Instead, Chalmers aims to vindicate a rationalist approach to meaning and modality: 2D semantics is needed to show how we can have a priori access to what we mean and to what is metaphysically possible (2004a, 2006). These rationalist assumptions are crucial to Chalmers’ use of 2D semantics to establish that phenomenal properties are irreducible to physical ones (1996, forthcoming). In addition, Chalmers takes his 2D semantics to provide a viable interpretation of Fregean sense and narrow content (2002a, 2002d).

Other Australasian philosophers have played important roles in developing and criticising different aspects of the generalised 2D semantic program. Jackson’s longtime colleague at the Australian National University’s Research School of the Social Sciences (RSSS), Philip Pettit, co-authored the influential ‘Canberra Plan’ approach that applies the 2D idea to moral terms (Jackson and Pettit 1995), and Pettit has also defended a version of 2D semantics from Stalnaker’s criticisms (2004). David Braddon-Mitchell of the University of Sydney has been an important advocate of the use of 2D semantics to explain thought contents, but he has argued that the framework cannot ground the strong metaphysical conclusions about dualism Chalmers hopes to draw from it (2004b, 2003). John Hawthorne, who has held appointments at both the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and the RSSS, raised a similar objection to Chalmers’ dualist argument (2002). Fred Kroon of the University of Auckland has argued forcefully that 2D semantics cannot be used to capture public language meaning (2004a, 2004b), though he embraces 2D semantics as a way of cashing out the insights of his earlier work on causal descriptivism (1987). Laura Schroeter of the University of Melbourne has criticised the epistemological ambitions of the 2D semantic program (2003, 2004a, 2006) and has raised worries about the presuppositions behind Chalmers’ 2D framework (2004b, 2005). In work stemming from his doctorate at the RSSS, Kai-Yee Wong developed a version of 2D semantics as a way of explaining the necessary a posteriori (1991, 1996, 2006); while Michaelis Michael of the University of New South Wales has criticised uses of the 2D framework to characterise necessary a posteriori and contingent a priori truths (1998, 2004). Berit Brogaard, who has held a position at the RSSS, defends a version of 2D semantics and argues that the two-dimensional approach is particularly suited to characterising epistemic modals (2007, forthcoming).


(I’d like to thank David Chalmers, Allen Hazen, and Lloyd Humberstone for helpful comments and suggestions.)

A Companion to Philosophy in Australia and New Zealand

   by Graham Oppy, N. N. Trakakis