Why does Australia have an outsized influence on philosophy?

#1
https://aeon.co/essays/why-does-australi...philosophy

EXCERPT: . . . Australia has had an outsized influence on philosophy, especially in the middle and late-20th century. The field still shows a broad Australian footprint. [...] Given the modest size of Australia ... and the popular image of the country’s intellectual life, this is a bit surprising. What is going on? How did this happen? ... Sydney and Melbourne both had philosophy departments that dated from the 19th century.

Sydney was dominated for decades by a Scottish-born professor, John Anderson ... Anderson’s writings had no influence whatsoever outside Australia, but he was able to exert a lot of personal influence over philosophers who eventually became much better-known. Around Sydney, a philosophical style took hold that valued clear argumentative writing and the attempt to give theories that answered questions – a problem-solving style that encouraged cumulative work. Anderson’s influence reached outside the academy; he inspired a group of tough-minded and hard-drinking bohemians that included journalists, lawyers and misfits known as the ‘Sydney Push’. This social circle was an important early influence on Germaine Greer, Robert Hughes and Clive James, among others, a story chronicled in another well-titled book, Anne Coombs’s "Sex and Anarchy" (1996).

Melbourne followed a different road. There, Wittgenstein’s influence took hold in the 1940s, with its disdain for theory-building in philosophy.

[...] The way I’ll approach the next stage – describing how Australian philosophy took off – is by looking at a trio who I think are clearly the most influential philosophers the Australian scene has produced....

J J C Smart [...] became a central exemplar of Australian philosophy – perhaps the person most associated with an Australian style in the field. ... He worked on many themes, but his collaboration with the psychologist U T Place on the mind-body problem made the biggest mark. ... The work of Smart and Place was the beginning of ‘Australian materialism’, which hypothesises a relation of identity – literal sameness – between mental processes such as experiences, and physical processes in the brain. ... Smart also argued for utilitarianism in ethics – good actions are those that have the best overall consequences in enabling pleasure and preventing pain – and for ‘scientific realism’, the idea that successful scientific theories can be treated as descriptions of the hidden workings of a mind-independent world. He did pioneering work on the nature of time, arguing against the view that time passes, and future events come into existence with that passage...

[...] The next central figure in the development of Australian philosophy of mind, a figure not as universally liked, was David Armstrong. ... Armstrong developed the materialist view of Smart and Place in a more detailed and ambitious form, sometimes in parallel and sometimes in interaction with David Lewis, an American philosopher who came to be such a regular visitor to Australia from the 1970s onwards that he is very much part of the history of Australian philosophy. ... In the 1980s Armstrong turned from philosophy of mind towards metaphysics, a subfield that debates the general nature of properties (such as shape and colour), laws of nature, how to think about the merely possible, and what sort of thing an ordinary physical object such as a chair might be. Metaphysics has for a while been the most controversial part of the analytic side of philosophy ... and it often appears that there can be nothing at stake in debates about whether the world contains ‘universals’ such as redness, as well as red things, for example. This is exactly the sort of debate that a Wittgenstein-influenced philosopher wants us to leave behind. But in the 1980s, metaphysics of this kind took off in the English-speaking world. Lewis, Armstrong’s American collaborator, was probably the single most important person in those debates until his death in 2001. ... But during these years of ascent in what is now called ‘analytic metaphysics’, Armstrong set quite a lot of the agenda.

The third member of my trio is Peter Singer. He is probably the most influential and controversial philosopher in the world today. Singer has surely had more effect on what people actually do than any other philosopher for many years. [...] Singer became a vegetarian on moral grounds, and in 1975 he published Animal Liberation, an extraordinarily powerful book that has changed the everyday behaviours of a large number of people and put considerable pressure on the use of animals in scientific experimentation. Like Smart, Singer is a utilitarian. He has developed and applied that outlook in many other areas, most controversially to the infanticide of severely disabled children, which he thinks can be acceptable if they have no prospect of a happy life. Recently, he has been central to the ‘effective altruism’ movement, which tries in a rigorous way to work out how charity and everyday actions can do the most good.

[...] If you look at these three, who have a special place with respect to sheer influence, there are some similarities in doctrine – at least two materialists and realists, two utilitarians, three atheists. Some of that pattern recedes once one broadens one’s view a little; Frank Jackson and David Chalmers, two Australian philosophers who have been very prominent over the past few decades, have argued against materialism. They have argued, against people like Armstrong, that the mental cannot be understood simply in terms of causal roles, and materialist views cannot explain the feel of mental processes. Jackson later recanted, but Chalmers is probably the most influential critic of materialism today. In addition to sharing some philosophical views, there is a distinctive stylistic feature that Smart, Armstrong and Singer have in common. They all have an unusually simple but forceful style.

[...] If we expand the picture past the trio above, to consider the next round of names, does the same pattern hold? To some extent, I think so (John Mackie and Frank Jackson are examples).

[...] some have suggested that a general Australian tough-mindedness has played a role. Fiona Cowie came through Sydney in the 1980s when I did, and taught at Caltech in Pasadena until her very untimely death at 55 in 2018. In an interview in 2009, she said that a ‘no-bullshit ethos’ was characteristic of Australian culture, and has helped in philosophy: ‘Analytic philosophy is all about bullshit detection, and we [Australians] are very good at that.’

At least part of what Cowie had in mind was a distrust of obscurity and pretension, of grandiose jargon that might disguise the fact that a view has left the rails. When one is discussing very abstract questions, such a mindset can be invaluable. The philosophers I have focused on so far – Smart, Armstrong and Singer, along with others such as Jackson and Mackie – all exemplify this kind of thinking, and it is linked to their style of writing. But I am not so sure it is characteristic of Australian intellectual habits in general.

[...] All in all, it is not easy to give a definitive cause for the strength and influence of Australian philosophy in this period. Explanations in terms of strong local cultures and the guidance of key people are, I think, more plausible than explanations in terms of a large-scale cultural style. In addition, Australia had healthy, well-funded and well-organised universities in the crucial period.

[...] Something ... might be said about the tendency towards realism. ‘Realism’ in philosophy is not a single view, but a family of positions, seen in debates in many areas. Sometimes ‘realism’ about something – moral values, for example, or possible objects, or God – just means commitment to the existence of that particular kind of thing. Given this, no one is a realist across the board. Many standard statements of a realist outlook are also problematic, as they flatly assert the ‘independence’ of the physical world from our minds, even though much of the business of our minds is transforming what goes on in the world ... realist views can be developed in different forms – Huw Price [added], another Australian professor at Cambridge, has a version quite different from Smart or Armstrong...

[...] A number of the philosophers I’ve discussed chose to explore lines of thought that have panned out well as the years have passed – when explaining the success of Australian philosophy, this is something on both the cause and effect sides of the ledger. [...] Is this tradition of strength likely to continue? Strength might well continue, but in a different form. A large-scale and ongoing transformation in recent years has been the attenuation of national and regional variation in philosophy, due to technology – due to the differences between the present day and the days of travel by ship and no email. This is not leading to an overall flattening-out of differences in philosophy. There is still enormous diversity. But the differences are becoming less geographical.... (MORE - details)
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#2
Nothing to do in the outback but sit around and philosophize all day! But David Chalmers is probably a big reason. He took philosophy in a whole new direction.
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#3
Why does Australia overflow with world renowned philosophers, like ancient Greece?

One word:

Vegemite, mate!


[Image: veg.jpg]
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#4
there ability to adapt and learn along side continuously interacting social and cultural dynamics allowing a mixing pot effect while preventing civil war.
the village base is wide
this allows the village to raise tall intellects.


while maintaining the ability to throw off dictatorship & communism while maintaining commerce & systems of learning ...


plus a close proximity of food to consumer process so most have access to most food groups from birth.

from my perspective it seems fairly obvious(ignoring their social issues)
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#5
(Mar 26, 2019 12:17 AM)Yazata Wrote: Why does Australia overflow with world renowned philosophers, like ancient Greece?

One word:

Vegemite, mate!

Never tried it. Does it lead to a lot of soul-searching and questioning of reality. I'd have thought British food would have done that more.
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#6
(Mar 26, 2019 12:17 AM)Yazata Wrote: Why does Australia overflow with world renowned philosophers, like ancient Greece?

One word:

Vegemite, mate!

Qualia? David Lewis? Knowing what it’s like?
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#7
(Mar 26, 2019 12:50 AM)RainbowUnicorn Wrote: there ability to adapt and learn along side continuously interacting social and cultural dynamics allowing a mixing pot effect while preventing civil war.
the village base is wide
this allows the village to raise tall intellects.


while maintaining the ability to throw off dictatorship & communism while maintaining commerce & systems of learning ...


plus a close proximity of food to consumer process so most have access to most food groups from birth.

from my perspective it seems fairly obvious(ignoring their social issues)

Nooooooope.
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#8
(Mar 26, 2019 01:36 AM)Syne Wrote:
(Mar 26, 2019 12:17 AM)Yazata Wrote: Why does Australia overflow with world renowned philosophers, like ancient Greece?

One word:

Vegemite, mate!

Never tried it.


I haven't either. There's a store nearby that sells imported food items and supposedly stocks it though. So maybe I'll try it. I've always wanted to philosophize better, and this stuff is to philosophers what spinach was to Popeye.

Quote:Does it lead to a lot of soul-searching and questioning of reality. I'd have thought British food would have done that more.

Scottish food probably.

By all accounts Vegemite makes people wonder, "Why in the world am I eating this??" Voila! Philosophy!!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vegemite

"We're happy little Vegemites
As bright as bright can be
We all enjoy our Vegemite
For breakfast, lunch and tea!"


[Image: 235px-Vegemiteontoast_large.jpg]
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