Philosophical History: The Otago Department
By Associate Professor Charles Pigden
- Research Performance and the PBRF
- Presbyterians and Professors
- J.N. Findlay: Prior’s Teacher, Popper’s Friend and Wittgenstein’s ‘Stooge’
- D.D. Raphael and the British Moralists
- The Interregnum: Plato, Lipstick and Laughter
- John A. Passmore: Semi-Detached Australian
- J.L Mackie: Tasmanian Reject
- Taylor the [Naïve] Realist
- Three Stalwarts
- Musgrave the Mad-Dog Realist
- Scylla and Charybdis or Navigating the Staff Seminar
- Pavel Tichy: Logic and Truth-Likeness
- Just Passing Through
- Star Students: Away and at Home
- Three More Stalwarts
- The Return of Annette Baier
- The Baier Chair
- Administrative Support: Parenthood, Poetry and Pyrotechnics
- The PPE Programme
- Recent Recruits
- Reverting to Type?
- The Current Line-Up
In 2003 the research performance of New Zealand's Tertiary Education Institutions was assessed for the Performance Based Research Fund (PBRF), the New Zealand equivalent of the British RAE/REF. According to the resulting report, Philosophy was the highest scoring research discipline in New Zealand, and the highest scoring department was the Department of Philosophy at the University of Otago. Thus the Otago Department of Philosophy was not only the top-ranking department of philosophy and the top-ranking department at Otago, but the highest-scoring research department of any kind in the country. In 2007 we improved upon this result, raising our collective score from 6.6 to 7.5 making us for the second time the top-scoring department at Otago, the top-scoring philosophy department and the top-scoring research department of any kind in New Zealand. In 2012 we maintained our position as the best Philosophy Department, but we were pipped to the post as the best research department, either nationally or at Otago, by Otago’s own excellent Psychology Department, coming in at number two. This succession of successes may have come as a surprise to some observers, but in fact the Philosophy Department at Otago has had a long and distinguished history.
Otago can no longer boast of being the southernmost university in the world, since that honour goes to the National University of Patagonia San Juan Bosco which operates a small campus in Tierra del Fuego. But the University of Otago still hosts the southernmost philosophy department in the world and remains the southernmost university in New Zealand (and hence in Australasia). It is also New Zealand’s oldest university. It is situated in Dunedin, in the region of Otago, in the South of New Zealand’s South Island. The setting is spectacular – a long inlet surrounded by steep volcanic hills, rising to 600 meters. The city was founded in 1848 by Scots settlers associated with the Free Church of Scotland led by Thomas Burns the clergyman nephew of Robert Burns, the poet. Though originally dedicated to piety and Presbyterianism, Dunedin became a lot more louche (as well as a lot more rich) under the influence of a gold rush in the 1860s. There was an influx of non-Scottish immigrants, all branded as ‘the New Iniquity’ by the original Scottish settlers. Philosophy has been taught at Otago since the university’s foundation in 1871, when the one of the four foundation professorships was the chair of Mental and Moral Philosophy. As was then the colonial custom, the university appointed an ambitious young Scotsman, the outspoken 27-year-old Duncan McGregor, a graduate of the University of Aberdeen. Tall, imposing and athletic, with a particular penchant for tramping and Caledonian sports such as tossing the caber, he was an electrifying lecturer with a well-developed ‘will to truth’ and pungent opinions on a variety of topics. He despised womanly submissiveness and the ‘tawdry accomplishments’ of a traditional ladylike education, which fitted girls for nothing better than to be the ‘ivy drapery’ of some man. When it came to social policy, he thought that the 'hopelessly lazy, the diseased, and [the] vicious' should be incarcerated for life as a humane alternative to the process to Darwinian selection which would otherwise have weeded them out. McGregor resigned in 1886, in the wake of a dispute with the Presbyterian Church, brought on by his ‘materialist’ and Darwinian proclivities, and, fortified by his fifteen years as a philosopher, went on to become the Inspector–General of Lunatic Asylums. Hoping, perhaps, for a more orthodox successor, the Presbyterians backed another Scot for the Mental and Moral Philosophy chair, the then Professor of Theology, a former minister, named William Salmond. In appearance, at least, he was the reverse of his predecessor, being small and sickly-looking (though, since he held the chair until well into his seventies, he cannot have been as sickly as all that). But the best laid plans of mice and Presbyterians gang aft agley. The supposedly orthodox Salmond soon published a vigorous polemic, The Reign of Grace, criticizing the ‘intellectual terrorism’ of classical Calvinism whose inhumane and arbitrary deity kept people in existence 'for no reason but to inflict tortures on them through endless ages’. Salmond was tried as a heretic but survived as professor, though his research output was thereafter somewhat diminished.
Salmond was succeeded in 1913 by the 39 year-old Francis Dunlop. Dunlop had been born in Scotland but his family had migrated to Dunedin when he was 12, making him the first, and so far the only, professor of philosophy at Otago to have earned an Otago degree (though we have so far had four associate professors with degrees from Otago: Bob Durrant, Graham Oddie, Greg Dawes and Colin Cheyne). Dunlop’s appointment must have pleased the Presbyterians since he was not only a minister himself but the son of John Dunlop, formerly Professor of Theology and Moderator of the Presbyterian church in New Zealand.
Francis Dunlop, who walked with a limp because of a childhood injury, had studied for a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Jena in Germany where the winters were sometimes so cold that icicles used to form on his Victorian moustache when he walked to work in the mornings. His teacher was not Frege, but the then very famous Rudolf Eucken, an enormous influence on Australasian philosophy, and the proponent of a form of idealism known as Lebensphilosophie. According to Eucken, there is 'a supreme, all-enveloping action, the action of a spiritual life that is at once the life of a person and the life of the world.' Eucken admitted that this 'cannot be proved in the ordinary sense' but the necessity for postulating it is 'more cogent and more vital than any mere logical ground could ever be.'
Dunlop enjoyed his time in Germany imbibing Eucken’s uplifting doctrines and developed a life-long passion for German culture, which led him to protest against the idiotic practice of patriotically smashing German pianos during the Great War. As a clergyman he had been somewhat embarrassed by the unpunctuality of his wife, who found it very difficult to get to the church on time, a problem which was somewhat alleviated once he became a professor since she was not obliged to attend his classes. Dunlop had been an avid book-buyer since his childhood injury and eventually amassed a collection weighing five tons. But in later life his pride and joy was his steam-driven motor-car, the only one in New Zealand, which he insisted on taking on excursions to the acute embarrassment of his children (one of whom, Shona Dunlop MacTavish, went on to become a famous dancer). In 1931 Dunlop suffered a heart-attack and was forced to take a year's leave of absence, only to die of another heart-attack whilst he was trying to recuperate in Tauranga in the North Island.
Dunlop was succeeded as Professor of Philosophy and Psychology by the 29-year-old J.N. Findlay, the first professor of philosophy at Otago to win international renown. Findlay was a South African who had studied at Graz and Oxford. A once and future Hegelian, he had been 'de-idealized' at Oxford, under the influence of Russell’s Our Knowledge of the External World. (This was hardly a revolt into materialism however as in Our Knowledge of the External World Russell construes physical objects as logical constructions out of sense-data, which meant that he was only a couple of steps away from the arch-idealist Berkeley!) Whilst at Otago, Findlay published one book (Meinong's Theory of Objects), worked on another (eventually published as Values and Intentions) and devoted himself, as a teacher, to ‘introducing mathematical logic to the Antipodes’. In this endeavor he was remarkably successful, since his most brilliant pupil was the great logician A.N. Prior (1914-1969), the founder of tense logic. (In 1996, the computer scientist Amir Pnueli, of Tel Aviv and New York, was awarded the A. M. Turing Award from the Association for Computing Machinery, computer science’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize. This was largely on the strength of a 1977 paper “The Temporal Logic of Programs” which “triggered a fundamental paradigm shift in reasoning about the dynamic behavior of systems.” In this paper Pnueli applies Prior’s temporal logic – devised to formalize a temporal metaphysic involving branching futures – to the verification of computer programs – proof, if further proof is needed, that the most esoteric logical researches can turn out to have practical applications. ) In his little book Logic and the Basis of Ethics (1949), which is largely devoted to the 18th century British Moralists, Prior is profuse in his acknowledgements: 'I owe to [Findlay’s] teaching, directly or indirectly, all that I know of either Logic or Ethics'. Prior’s debt to Findlay did not end there. It was Findlay who got him his first job as a philosopher, as an Assistant Lecturer at Otago, and it was Findlay’s recommendation that got him his second job at Canterbury in 1946.
In the thirties and forties, before the advent of the jet-airplane, Otago was much more remote than it is now, and Findlay had to work quite hard to stay up to date. He cultivated a friendship with the notoriously difficult Karl Popper during the latter’s period as a lecturer at Canterbury, and devoted a Sabbatical to sitting at the feet of Wittgenstein in Cambridge and acting as his official ‘stooge’. (His job was to feed Wittgenstein tough questions when the painfully long silences became too excruciating.) But before he could take up his position as stooge he had to own up to his philosophical sins. Sitting in a Cambridge milk-bar, Findlay had to confess to the frightful crime of having visited Rudolf Carnap in Chicago. Wittgenstein was magnanimous. ‘[He] said that he did not mind except that he would lose his milk-shake if Carnap [were] mentioned again’
In 1945 Findlay left to take up a chair at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and was replaced at Otago by D.D Raphael. Raphael, who was notable for the clarity of his lectures and shared Findlay’s enthusiasm for the British Moralists. His excellent book, The Moral Sense (1947), which deals with the eighteenth century sentimentalists, Hutcheson and Hume and their critics, was published during his time at Otago, and he later edited a highly successful anthology of their writings, entitled, appropriately enough, The British Moralists (1969). Raphael went on to have a very long and distinguished career (he published a fine book on Adam Smith in 2007 at the age of 91). But he did not stay at Otago for very long and there was an interregnum between his departure in 1947 and the accession of John Passmore in 1950.
However, philosophy at Otago did not grind to a halt. The flamboyant Dennis Grey (straight out of Brideshead Revisited, according to one of his students) delivered spell-binding lectures on Plato, which opened up ‘new magic worlds’ to his students (perhaps the highest praise it possible to receive as a teacher) though his habit of wearing lipstick to his classes must have come as something of a shock in dour, post-war Dunedin. Hector Monro, who was also a lecturer in those days, published his book, The Argument of Laughter, in 1951. The young Annette Baier (then Annette Stoop), who reviewed it for the student newspaper Critic, complained, rather cheekily, that for a book on laughter, there weren’t that many laughs in it. Since Monro’s subsequent books, (some written while he was a Professor at Monash) are often quite amusing, the lack of laughs was possibly due to the fact that he wrote it, in part, to keep up his spirits whilst doing time as a conscientious objector during the War. Before leaving Dunedin in 1954, he also published Godwin’s Moral Philosophy, a sparkling piece about William Godwin (famous in literature as the husband of Mary Wolstonecroft, the pioneer feminist, and the father of Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein). Monro argues that there is more to Godwin’s moral philosophy than has met the jaundiced eyes of many scholars, over-influenced by the ‘anti-Jacobin’ satires of William Pitt’s literary allies. (The problem with being a radical-chic success, as Godwin was in the 1790s, is that you subsequently get to be the victim of reactionary spite and some of those malicious reactionaries may not be devoid of literary talent.) If Google and the Stanford Online Encyclopedia of Philosophy are anything to go by, Monro’s book is still much admired by other Godwin specialists. Monro also had a talent for comic verse, publishing in later life the Sonneteer’s History of Philosophy (1980) as well as a book on metaethics Empiricism and Ethics (1967) and another fine book on a British (or more properly Anglo-Dutch) Moralist, The Ambivalence of Bernard Mandeville (1975).
John Passmore, Professor from 1950 to 1955 describes himself in his memoirs as a ‘Semi-Detached Australian’. Perhaps he acquired some of is semi-detachment at Otago. He had been a student of John Anderson of Sydney, at that time the dominant force in Australian philosophy. Prior, who saw John Anderson in action, thought that in person, if not in opinions, he resembled ‘the leader of a small dissenting Scottish sect’, an impression enhanced by a strong Scottish accent and a rather buttoned-up appearance (an appearance belied by his unbuttoned personal life). Anderson’s doctrines, however, were anything but other-worldly and were summed up by Gilbert Ryle as the view that ‘there are only brass tacks’, an opinion common among Australian philosophers down to the present day. (As another student put it, Anderson had an answer to every question, and that answer was no. Is there free will? No. Is there a God? No. Is there such a thing as the common good? No. Is there anything more to being than the spatiotemporal system? No. Etc, etc. As another of his students, David Armstrong, observed, there seemed to be no atom of tender-mindedness in Anderson's thinking.)
Anderson’s protégé, Passmore, had yet to acquire the gigantic reputation that he later went on to win. Passmore published two books whilst at Otago, Ralph Cudworth (1952) [another book about a British Moralist] and Hume’s Intentions (1953). He also worked on his magnum opus, A Hundred Years of Philosophy (a work of such stupendous erudition that it was widely supposed to the be the product of a committee) which did not come out until 1957. (Passmore’s Otago colleague Bob Durrant, is one of the five people thanked by name in the Preface). Passmore’s teaching techniques could be somewhat intimidating. Annette Baier (who went on top her B.Phil class at Oxford) recalls that as the sole MA student, she would be invited round to his house. While his wife, Doris, served tea, Passmore would read out passages from Hume’s Intentions (at that time a work in progress) and invite Baier to comment. In this polite but forbidding atmosphere, she often found it difficult to think of anything to say. Given this early ordeal, it is, perhaps, a little surprising that she went on to become a famous Hume scholar herself, acknowledging the influence of no less than three Otago professors – Raphael, Passmore and Mackie – in the Preface to her a book A Progress of Sentiments (though Mackie did not exert his influence during his period as professor at Otago).
In 1955, Passmore left for a post at the ANU, to be succeeded by another critical Andersonian, J.L. Mackie. (‘One way of characterising a good deal if not all, of my own work’ Mackie wrote, ‘would be to say that I have tried to see what precise, real, objections lie behind the vague, sweeping, Andersonian charges, and so to state and defend views which are…in harmony with the real systematic insights of Anderson’s empirical realism.’) Mackie (a graduate of Sydney and Oxford) had missed out on the Chair at Tasmania partly because of his first article ‘A Refutation of Morals’ (1946), in which he advocated the ‘error theory’, the view for which he subsequently became famous, that moral judgments are cognitive (true-or-false) but false. (Unbeknown to Mackie he had been scooped in 1922 in an unpublished paper by Bertrand Russell, ‘Is There an Absolute Good?’ to which question Russell answered ‘No’.) Sir Frederick Eggleston, a liberal elder statesman who had some influence with the Tasmanian Vice-Chancellor, was appalled: ‘Have you read Mackie’s paper on the refutation of morality? It is a typical example of the superficial way in which present-day students dispose of questions of such importance.’ (What Sir Frederick probably objected to was not only those ‘superficial’ doctrines – which have kept philosophers busy for the last thirty years – but the irreverent tone of Mackie’s paper. His examples are cheerfully bibulous. Liking is one thing and approval another, since he likes it when somebody stands him a pint but approves of free beer for all. Mackie illustrates the ought-implies-can principle by appealing to the folly of telling somebody that he ought to go home when he is too drunk to walk. No doubt Mackie was out to shock. It is, as they say, a young man’s paper.) Forewarned by Sir Frederick, the Tasmanian Vice-Chancellor decided to forego the chance to appoint Mackie (another unsuccessful applicant was Kurt Baier, Annette Stoop’s future husband), and the Chair at Tasmania went to Sydney Sparkes Orr, whose views on meta-ethics were perhaps less ‘superficial’ but who proved to be somewhat unreliable when it came to personal morals. (Orr had lied about his qualifications and his commitment to the ideal of Christian love took the unusual form of a Melbourne ménage a trois. He was later dismissed for gross moral turpitude, touching off an academic cause celebre that effectively wrecked the Tasmanian philosophy department for over a decade.) Mackie, by contrast, despite the ‘superficiality’ of his meta-ethics, was remembered by an Oxford colleague as ‘uncommonly duteous’ in his personal conduct, the reverse of what one might have expected from a ‘moral sceptic’. He was also a brilliant philosopher. Thus Tasmania’s loss was Otago’s gain. Always prolific, Mackie published one of his most reprinted articles, ‘Evil and Omnipotence’ (1955) during his time at Otago, But the books for which he is remembered – such as Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, Problems from Locke, Hume’s Moral Theory and The Miracle of Theism – were published during the latter part of his life as a Fellow of University College Oxford. ‘Published’ yes, but not necessarily written. Mackie’s colleague, Bob Durrant, remembered Mackie’s books of the seventies as often echoing typescripts that they had discussed together at Otago during the fifties. Mackie returned to Australia to succeed John Anderson in the Challis Chair at Sydney in 1959.
Having had two representatives of Andersonian Sydney, Otago next picked a representative of Wittgensteinian Melbourne. (Melbourne had been Wittgensteinized during the forties under the influence of the Oxford philosopher George Paul, the husband of F P Ramey’s sister Margaret.) Dan Taylor graduated from the University of Western Australia and went on to study at Oxford before returning to Australia to teach philosophy at the University of Melbourne in 1935. He was known in Melbourne as ‘Taylor the realist’ (the naive realist that is) and was noted for his left-wing opinions. In 1949 he took up a professorship at the University of Ghana, where he also served as Vice-Chancellor. By the time he came to Otago as professor in 1960 he was more of a Wittgensteinian and perhaps a bit less of a leftie than he had been in 1935. His big achievement at Otago (apart from his successes as a teacher) was to sever the archaic departmental link between Psychology and Philosophy thus enabling both subjects to flourish separately. Dan was addicted to both philosophy and conversation, so much so as to cause serious alarm to his passengers when he happened to be driving. His attention tended to focus on the conversation and wander away from the road. At least once he drove into the sea whilst on the way in to work from his hillside home in the coastal suburb of Waverley. However, he was the very reverse of an impractical philosopher, being a dab hand at many things, from playing the stock market to carpentry. Once, after his retirement in 1970, Dan’s much younger successor, the technologically challenged Alan Musgrave, was having trouble assembling a kit-set go-cart for his children on Christmas Eve. The kids had gone to bed quite late, which meant that it was after 10:00 p.m. when Musgrave admitted defeat and decided to call for Dan’s assistance. Dan and his wife Gwen had guests, but Dan still agreed to help and at about 11:00 p.m. Alan was walking up the steps to the Taylors’ coastal eyrie just as the guests were being ushered out. Dan had no trouble assembling the kit-set but became increasingly appalled by its shoddy workmanship, substandard materials and bad design. So, in a mammoth four-hour operation ending at 3:00 a.m., the go-cart was not just assembled, but redesigned, re-furbished and reinforced, producing a vehicle so sturdy as to be virtually combat-ready. This delighted not only the children of the philosophers but the assembled philosophers themselves on the following Christmas Day. But Dan’s technical abilities were not confined to reinforcing shoddy toys. Before photocopiers became common, he built a wooden one of his own invention and used it to duplicate papers for students. Dan had a peculiarly oblique approach to philosophical problems, which could be both illuminating and frustrating. Once, when discussing theories of human nature, such as Hobbes', which make cooperation and trust problematic, Dan asked 'Do you know how many electric motors I have in my house?' (his house being that of a relatively well-heeled but otherwise ordinary retiree). ‘About thirty [dishwashers, washing machines, power tools etc]. Do you know how many parts they have? At least a hundred each. Yet most of them work pretty well.' Dan's point, of course was that given the massive amount of successful cooperation required to sustain an advanced technological society (and in particular to precision-engineer thirty functioning electric motors), people can't be as anti-social as Hobbes and his followers make out. And, of course, he was right. But having arrived at this insight in this oblique kind of way it is difficult to know what to do with it. OK, Hobbes and his followers are wrong. But how are they wrong? And why are they wrong? The electric motors don’t provide an answer.
Dan had a long and profitable retirement during which he discovered considerable talents as an investor to complement his pre-existing talents as a philosopher, an administrator and a carpenter. The Dan and Gwen Taylor Fellowships and Lectureships which bring outside scholars to the Otago philosophy department are due both to his financial talents and his posthumous generosity. The department owes a lot to Dan.
Bob Durrant taught at Otago from the fifties through to the eighties. Like his friend Hector Monro, he had been imprisoned during the War as a conscientious objector and, again like Hector Monro, he had a strong interest in the British Moralists. He was more notable as a teacher than a researcher except for one important paper: his admirably concise 'The Identity of Properties and the Definition of Good' (1970). Bob, it seems, was the first to point out in print a now notorious flaw in Moore's Open Question Argument. Moore argued, in Principia Ethica (1903), that goodness cannot be identical with any other property such as pleasantness since the word 'good' is not synonymous with any other word such as 'pleasant'. For we can always sensibly ask whether what is pleasant is good which we could not do if 'good' and 'pleasant' meant the same thing. So matters stood for 67 years. But as Bob argued, just because 'good' is not synonymous with any other word it does not follow that goodness is not identical with any other property. ‘Yellow’ is not synonymous with ‘the colour of daffodils in the spring’, but for all that the property yellow is indeed identical with the colour of daffodils in springtime. Hence Moore's metaphysical conclusion does not follow from his meaning-theoretic premises.
Gwennyth Taylor (the wife of Dan) taught at Otago in the sixties and seventies. She had been a star student of philosophy at Melbourne in the late thirties but was recruited into war work as a very young woman by the famous Dr H.C 'Nugget' Coombs, at that time Director of Rationing for Australia. A relatively young man himself, Coombs placed a heavy burden of responsibility on his even younger - and mostly female - staff. Within days of her appointment, Gwen found herself settling strikes, negotiating with trade-union leaders and captains of industry and making major decisions about planning and production. When hob-nobbing with big-wigs, she developed the habit of asking for whisky if offered a drink, not because she was particularly fond of the stuff, but because she feared that if she asked for a more lady-like drink, chauvinistic male panjandrums would cease to take her seriously. She carried a strong streak of feminism into the quieter life of a teacher of philosophy, particularly in her pastoral work. Male students with problems could be assured of a sympathetic reception, but rumor had it that she took a much tougher line with women. Weeping, whingeing and wimping-out led men to take women less seriously than they should, thus delaying the advent of full equality. So the girl in question had better buck up, dry her eyes and get that essay in on time!
The following poem, 'Ten Past' by June O'Donnell, then
Departmental Secretary captures something of her style (and her
passion for both teaching and philosophy):
I'm running late,
I'll see you after the lecture.
(Hold the lift!)
I've left my Rousseau in the drawer.
I really think that G.E. Moore
had a lot to say -
the more I read him the
more I admire him.
Don't forget, Hart, Devlin and Moore -
And Margaret Macdonald has the best little bit on RIGHTS.
I'll get that text for you
if you'd just wait a minute …
what about a coffee at our house
on Friday night? Good.
Yes, yes, bring a friend.
Hold the lift!
That book? Oh yes …
Emotion, was it?
it could be
the Expression of Emotion;
anyway, ask Islay Little -
the Reserve Desk always knows.
I would give you my copy but
I lent it to that student, I can't
remember his name, he's very bright,
doing English Hons. or Polstuds.
Anyway, there's an article in it
(it has a red cover)
by Mew, or is it Gombrich
or Schultz? Islay Little will tell you.
They always know on Reserves,
they're used to Philosophy.
I really must go … see you Friday.
Hold the lift, please!
Like her husband Dan, Gwen had a long and productive retirement dying at the age of 92. She served on ethics committees until her late seventies and her last political act – harking back to her years as a wartime administrator – was a letter to the Otago Daily Times arguing that the threat of Climate Change is so severe that New Zealand should go on a war footing to deal with it.
Another long-serving member of the Department, overlapping for a while with Bob and Gwen, was David Ward. A graduate of the University of Toronto, who did his doctorate at King’s College London, he was appointed in 1968 towards the end of Dan’s administration and retired in 2005. He now styles himself as a ‘gentleman and scholar’. He is notable for his sunny temperament and his passion for philosophy in general and Kant in particular, running successful and popular course on Kant for many years. Feeling in a good mood one morning, I accosted him in the corridor. ‘Hallo Lucky!’ I said. David caught on immediately. ‘You mean because I get to teach philosophy?’ ‘Exactly’ I replied. Though not even David enjoyed every moment of it, for him teaching philosophy (like golf, skating and many other activities) was a blast, and he had a gift for communicating his enthusiasm to the students. All his papers are, as he says, 'one-offs' in the sense that there never was any particular theme that he worked on, just whatever caught his fancy, though the Kantian influence often shines through with such titles as ‘Naturalizing Kant’, ‘Explaining Evil Behaviour: Using Kant and M. Scott Peck to Solve the Puzzle of Understanding the Moral Psychology of Evil People’ and ‘Explaining agency via Kant and Spinoza’. He has a book Morality and Agency (1988), coauthored with his former student, Robyn McPhail.
At 29 years old, Alan Musgrave was not the youngest philosophy professor that Otago had ever had (he was the same age as Findlay had been on his appointment, and two years older than McGregor) but he has so far had the longest reign, retiring from the Chair and semi-retiring himself in 2010. During much of this forty year period he was not only Professor but also Head of Department, two posts that are nowadays generally distinguished. If we take into account his period of semi-retirement, then as of 2014 he has been in office at Otago for nearly 31% of the Department’s entire history. A student of Karl Popper and Imre Lakatos at the LSE, and even now a heretical Popperian, he had already compiled the index to Popper’s Conjectures and Refutations and co-edited the academic best-seller, Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge before he arrived at Otago. (Like all good indices, Musgrave’s index to Conjectures and Refutations contains at least one joke: Marxism – made irrefutable, 34f, 37, 333f; – refuted, 37 & n, 333.) Musgrave’s chief interests are in Epistemology and the Philosophy of Science, each represented by a book, Common Sense, Science and Scepticism: a Historical Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge (1993) [which maintains the departmental tradition of a strong interest in Hume] and Essays on Realism and Rationalism (1999). He also has a collection of mostly lighter and more popular pieces, Secular Sermons (2009). His citations are so numerous (well over 1600) that when we tried to get a precise list for the purposes of the PBRF (see above) we had to throw up our hands in despair. He has won the Otago Distinguished Research Medal and the 2012 Humanities Aronui Medal from the Royal Society of New Zealand for his ‘enduring and profound influence as a philosopher of science’. He does a lot of broadcastng on both philosophy and the history of science. Perhaps the most important of his many important papers is ‘Unreal Assumptions in Economic Theory: The F-Twist Untwisted’ which is a critique of Milton Friedman’s bizarre but influential thesis that it doesn’t matter how unrealistic an economic theory may be so long as it has predictive power. (Friedman’s argument depends upon a misunderstanding of the role of idealization in science.) A vigorous controversialist, Alan glories in a rough-hewn sign ‘Beware of the mad-Dog Realist!’ which he keeps in his office, celebrating his role as a champion of scientific realism. At a conference in Florence, Musgrave read a typically forceful paper ‘Conceptual Idealism and Stove’s Gem’ which concluded with the ringing words: ‘Conceptual Idealism is a ludicrous and anti-scientific view of the world. … We should take science seriously, reject the Gem for the invalid argument that it is, and abandon the idealism to which it leads.’ There was a burst of applause followed by dead silence. The chairman, to get things going, asked if there any conceptual idealists present who would like to comment on Professor Musgrave’s paper. ‘Not any more’, came a voice from the back. For his ferocity in this good cause we devised an entry in the Otago supplement ot the Philosophers’s Lexicon: musgrave, n. contraction of mass and grave: an area for the indiscriminate burial of the body parts of slaughtered anti-realists. "After Alan had finished with Rorty and van Fraasen, they had to be consigned to a musgrave." Surprisingly for a philosopher of science he is remarkable for his lack of computing skills and will groan audibly when his computer does not do what he wants it to do until somebody marginally less incompetent comes along to help him. (He once told me that his son had bought him an electronic organizer for Christmas. I replied that this was like buying a microscope for a stone-age man.)
From the first, it was Musgrave’s aim to reinforce the research culture at Otago by beefing up the weekly Staff Seminar. A steady stream of international visitors is particularly important for a small department, which, though a lot less remote than it once was, is still quite a long way from almost everywhere else. Staff attendance is mandatory and debate is vigorous even by the boisterous standards of professional philosophy, though we have perhaps mellowed a bit over the years. Speakers have to steer a careful course between Scylla and Charybdis. If you deliver a carefully crafted and nuanced paper, designed to provoke a sage nodding of heads, some obstreperous person is likely to demand exactly what the problem is and how exactly the argument is supposed to work. If you deliver a polemical paper with a clear argument to novel and interesting conclusions, either the premises or the conclusions are likely to be denounced as false, sometimes obviously so. You might decide to play it safe by arguing for an uncontroversial conclusion, but even this is not an entirely risk-free strategy, since it is hard to find uncontroversial theses in philosophy, and anyway, such a conclusion is likely to be dismissed as uninteresting. It should be said in our defense that we are just as tough on each other as we are on our distinguished visitors and that we often argue hardest against those we admire most (such as Cheryl Misak of Toronto who had a particularly tough time despite the fact that several of us were avid fans of her work). Perhaps the last person to win general agreement to a truly surprising conclusion was Thomas Pogge, now of Harvard, in 2001. (He was arguing for the thesis that aid to underdeveloped countries should be regarded as reparations rather than acts of charity since international legal and economic systems are set up so as to favour the rich at the expense of the poor. )
As a very young lecturer at the LSE, Musgrave had been deputised to pick up Quine from the airport for a conference. Meeting the great man (who was rather tall) he apologized for the smallness of his car. 'Is there going to be any modal logic at this conference?' demanded Quine. 'No' replied Musgrave. 'Then the car’s fine', said Quine. Musgrave was inclined to share Quine’s anti-modal prejudices, but he knew that Otago needed a logician of some sort and, before he left England for New Zealand, he had hired the Czech Pavel Tichy, a refugee from the suppression of the Prague Spring (and in consequence of its suppression, a virulent anti-Communist). Tichy rapidly proved his worth both as a logician and a philosopher and in 1981 he was appointed to a Personal Chair in Logic. He was a tough, even a ferocious, debater and since he was also supremely clever, it was very difficult to get him to back down about anything. But the slightest suggestion that some view of his might lend some support to paraconsistent logic would cause him to recoil like a vampire threatened with a crucifix. A high point of his career was in 1972 when Sir Karl Popper visited the Department as a William Evans Fellow. Popper had recently proposed a definition of closeness to truth, which was intended to explicate the intuitive idea that one false theory can be closer to the truth than another. Tichy demolished this definition with a proof that on Popper’s account all false theories are equally far from the truth, finishing in a typically downright manner: 'I conclude that Popper’s definition is worthless.'
There was a pause as everyone awaited the response of the notoriously temperamental Popper. When it came it was remarkably gracious: 'I disagree with only one word of this paper – its last word. No definition can be worthless, when it provokes such a devastating criticism. I hope that Dr Tichy will join me in this project, and produce a better definition than mine.' This Tichy proceeded to do with the aid of his student Graham Oddie. (Hence tichy, n. a unit of likeness to truth. "He messed around with the theory endlessly but he did not improve it one tichy”.)
After the Velvet Revolution, Tichy was invited to return to his alma mater, Charles University in Prague as Professor of the Department of Logic at the Faculty of Philosophy and Arts. He was honoured by the invitation and accepted, albeit with some misgivings. But his plans were cut short by his tragic death by drowning in 1994. A volume of his Collected Papers edited by Svoboda, Jespersen and Cheyne was published in 2004 by Otago University Press in conjunction with the Institute of Philosophy in the Czech Republic. Tichy's most important and lasting contribution to philosophy by far is his theory of higher-order intensional logic – a brilliant system which yields elegant solutions to most of the problems in the philosophy of language and logic.
Pavel’s wife Jindra Tichy, did some teaching in Philosophy, though for most of her career at Otago she taught in the Politics Department, specializing in Hobbes and Locke. After the fall of Communism, she became a famous novelist in her native Czech with sixteen books to her credit. Some of her novels (so rumour has it) are set in Dunedin, featuring characters partly modeled on the members of the Department. She was recently voted the 11th most influential Czech expatriate in a list of 20 selected by the Czech public to officially recognize the contribution of Czechs who left the country during the communist era. Though she regularly returns to Prague she still has a soft spot for her adopted country. ‘New Zealand people are the nicest people in the world. I know this. I have lived in several other countries and life here is so untroubled and wonderful.’
Another recruit who rose to a personal chair at Otago was Greg Currie. Like Musgrave, a graduate of the LSE, he had co-edited Lakatos’s Collected Papers (2 vols.) before he joined the staff at Otago. He started out as a Frege scholar publishing Frege. An Introduction to his Philosophy in 1982. But his interests gradually shifted to aesthetics and the philosophy of mind. He left for a Chair at Flinders University in South Australia, followed by professorships, deaneries and directorships at Nottingham and York. He is a very scientifically-minded aesthetician, prone to asking how the pieties of literary and aesthetic humanism stack up in the light of the psychological data. His books include The Ontology of Art (1990), The Nature of Fiction (1990), Recreative Minds (with Ian Ravenscroft, 2004), which applies Simulation Theory to our appreciation of literature, and Narratives and Narrators (2010). [Hence currie, n. the experience of an imaginary meal, consisting of what you feel if simulating somebody consuming something hot. "I've had several curries today, but somehow they fail to satisfy”.] He is currently interested in the question of whether we can learn about the world, and specifically people, by reading literature. The problem is that fictions typically presuppose that people have reasonably determinate characters whilst psychology suggests that they do not.
Another LSE PhD (though with a BA from Exeter) was Martin Frické who taught in the Department in the late eighties and early nineties. Martin’s interests gradually shifted from philosophy via logic to librarianship and information science (though much of his work retains a philosophical flavour) and he left Otago for a distinguished career at the University of Arizona. Since 1990, he Frické has studied the use of computers and symbolic logic on those artifacts of preservation that form the information bridge from the individual and instant of time to availability across individuals and persistence through time. He has led a team of colleagues seeking to understand reliable indicators of accuracy for information on the Internet. Martin has pioneered the use of computers and computer programs in Computer Aided and Online Instruction (both at the University of Arizona, and at Otago) and has written many programs to assist with instruction, which are widely used the world over. Nowadays he teaches networking, human-computer interaction, logic, and web design, as well as the courses in organization of information, research methods and information ethics.
Paul Griffiths (who did his BA at Cambridge and his doctorate at the ANU, where he was supervised by Kim Sterelny) did not stay quite long enough to become a professor (a defect since remedied by Pittsburgh, Queensland and Sydney). But his book What Emotions Really Are (1997), billed by Owen Flanagan as ‘the best book on the emotions that exists’, was largely written at Otago, as those who had to listen to his amazingly articulate extempore expositions can testify. It turns out not only that there is no one thing that emotions really are (so that pride and anger, for example, are different kinds of entities) but that different instances of a single emotion may be different kinds of things (anger being sometimes an affect program and sometimes a hostile disposition perhaps prompted by a prior run of the program). Other career highlights include Sex and Death (1999) coauthored with Kim Sterelny, perhaps the introductory textbook on the Philosophy of Biology. (Hence griffiths, n. A small, articulate and exceedingly voluble Welsh griffin, noted for its emotional nature. A harbinger of either sex or death. "When I saw the griffiths, I did not know which affect-program to run - lust or fear.") After stints at Sydney, Pittsburgh, and Queensland, Paul is now back at Sydney as University Professorial Research Fellow, Academic Associate Director for Humanities and Social Sciences at the Charles Perkins Center, a major new initiative at Sydney focused on interdisciplinary research into obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. (What was that about philosophy being of no practical use…? )
Heather Dyke, joined the department in 1998. She had done a doctorate on the Philosophy of Time at Leeds where she was supervised by Robin le Poidevin. She stood out from the other candidates because of the superlative clarity of her philosophical prose. ‘She writes like an angel’ as Alan Musgrave remarked when were going through the applications. She is primarily a metaphysician, though she takes a distinctly jaundiced view of the kind of metaphysics that cannot be connected with testable scientific hypotheses. Her period at Otago (1998-2012) was extremely productive. She continued to work on the philosophy of time, producing seventeen papers on the subject (most of them well-cited and some anthologised) and editing two collections: Time and Ethics: Essays at the Intersection (2003) and A Companion to the Philosophy of Time, (Blackwell, 2013) co-edited with Adrian Bardon. She is an advocate of B-theory of time, according to which there is no distinction between past, present and future, and there is no passage of time. ‘Our belief in these things is a fact about us and our experience and perception of time, rather than a fact about time itself’. (Hence dyke, n. A flexible [i.e. not tense] rampart against the flow of time. "Thanks to our dyke, Christmas will never come/never end." [delete according to preference].) However she also worked on general metaphysics culminating in her book (book-ended by two children), Metaphysics and the Representational Fallacy (2008), in which she argues that metaphysicians are too prone to argue from the structure of a representation to the nature of the reality that it supposedly represents. She also edited another collection From Truth to Reality: New Essays in Logic and Metaphysics (2009) and collaborated with James Maclaurin in a critique of analytic metaphysics, ‘What is Analytic Metaphysics For?’ (AJP, 2012), the idea being that there is something radically wrong with non-naturalistic philosophical theories, which make ontological claims without observable consequences.
With such an impressive résumé one would have expected Heather, if she were to move on at all, to have gone on to a distinguished professorship at another university. Not so. Heather’s maiden name is ‘Morland’, a name she shares with a Jane Austen character. It seems that the real Morlands, who were Kentish gentry, had family ties to Jane Austen and that it was from the Kentish Morlands that Austen derived the name. As becomes a gentry family, the Morlands own a stately home, Court Lodge and Heather returned to England in 2012 with her husband Ian to restore the house and manage the estate to which she is the principal heiress. Heather has a fascinating blog on the subject at http://courtlodgeestate.wordpress.com. Apparently the literary connections don’t end with Jane Austen. Her ancestor Charles Morland used to play golf with Siegfried Sassoon!
Grant Gillett does not quite fit ‘Just Passing
Though’ bill, since he taught at Otago both before and after
his periods as a part-time teacher in the Philosophy Department as
he has been Professor of Bioethics since 1995. Many philosophers
can change your mind but Grant has this capacity in a much more
physical sense than most since he was a qualified brain surgeon well
before he became a philosopher and continued to ply his trade for
many years whilst building up a huge body of work in both Bioethics
and Philosophy. Indeed he part-financed his Oxford DPhil by working
as a neurosurgeon. He studied under Sir Peter Strawson who told him
that a philosopher need not be au fait with the sordid
technicalities of symbolic logic, which is perhaps a sentiment open
to doubt. As befits a student of Strawson, Grant is a big-time
enthusiast for Kant and references to the first and second critiques
regularly trip off his tongue while his less-informed colleagues
struggle to remember which Kantian critique is which. He is the
author of Subjectivity and Being Somebody: Neuroethics and Human
Identity, Bioethics in the Clinic (Johns Hopkins), The Mind
and its Discontents (OUP), Reasonable Care (Bristol),
Representation, Meaning and Thought (OUP) and has
co-authored The Discursive Mind (Sage) and Practical
Medical Ethics (OUP). Grant’s research interests include
Post-Modernism, the Philosophy of Mind and Language, Medical Ethics,
the Philosophy of Medicine, Philosophical Psychology, and Philosophy
and Psychiatry, but it was Post-Modernism, or rather the pre-history
of Post-Modernism that he taught in the Philosophy Department,
running a popular course ‘The Roots of Post-Modernism’
for several years. Hence his entry in the Otago Philosopher’s
Lexicon: gillett, n. kitchen implement used in preparing continental
"Put on de gillet, Put on de lead.
Papa's gonna bake us some postmodern bread
Dat ain't all Papa's gonna do.
Papa's gonna make some existentialist stew"
Grant is one of the two philosophers at Otago with family connections to the film industry, since his daughter Lizzie is the producer of the acclaimed climate change blockbuster The Age of Stupid and a noted eco-activist.
When Josh Parsons joined the Department at the age of 31 he already had a big name as a metaphysician with a string of articles to his credit such as ‘A-theory for B-theorists’, ‘Distributional properties’, ‘The Eleatic hangover cure’ and, of course, that immortal classic ‘I am not now, nor have I ever been, a turnip’. Born in Wellington, and the scion of a famous family of New Zealand booksellers, he had studied at Victoria before moving to Australia to do his PhD at the ANU. After short stints at St Andrews and at UC Davies, he arrived at Otago in 2005. He continued working on metaphysics, producing well-turned critiques of his colleagues Cheyne & Pigden (arguing that although they can produce positive truthmakers for some negative truths such as ‘There are no unicorns in the universe’, they can’t produce positive truthmakers for truths of unrestricted generality such as ‘There are no unicorns period’) and Dyke & Maclaurin (arguing that the falsifiability criterion they use to dispose of non-naturalist metaphysical theories faces many of the same problems that beset positivist attempts to show that such theories are meaningless). However, it was at Otago that he really blossomed as a philosophical logician, developing a keen interest in imperative inference (what it is for one imperative to follow from another), on which he is now a leading expert, with a series of papers such as ‘Command and Consequence’ and ‘Cognitivism About Imperatives’. Although his chief areas of research are metaphysics, philosophical logic and ethics, he thinks of himself as a philosophical generalist, which indeed he is. Josh has wide interests, so if the philosophical discussion becomes too demanding, it is possible to relax into politics, science fiction, Belgian beers or music. He is, among other things, a vexillologist (a specialist in flags) and has a website in which the world’s flags are given letter grades, sometimes with a commentary. Since some of his comments are quite acerbic, (‘Silly trident thing looks ridiculous’, ‘Appears to involve a moustache sprouting from a flagpole’, ‘Do not attempt to disprove the four-colour theorem on your flag!’) this might have been expected to arouse the patriotic ire of some passing browsers, but so far he has only had emailed death threats from the inhabitants of one country. (Clue: the comment reads ‘If one is good, fifty must be just right.’) Josh is also a musician, organizing the Departmental rock band Generation of Greed, which specialized in eighties covers. (Authenticity was demanded. Emily Jennings, who did an Honours degree and an MA with us and who was then the lead singer, had to memorize the lyrics of ‘99 Luftballons’ in German – a language with which she was otherwise unfamiliar – as sticking with the English lyrics would have been unecht.) Josh left in 2011 to take a postion as Fellow and Tutor (and now Associate Professor) at Corpus Christi College Oxford, to be replaced by Zach Weber.
Apart from the long-term inmates, Otago has also been fortunate in the fine philosophers who have worked with us from time to time on short term contracts. Kent Hurtig (2004), now of Stirling, is perhaps the only Swedish Kantian with a pronounced Scottish accent to have been partially raised in Wichita. The noted meta-ethicist, Jonas Olson (2004-2005), subsequently a Fellow of Brasenose Oxford and now a Reader at Stockhom, has continued a departmental theme by publishing a fine book on the error theory, Moral Error Theory: History, Critique, Defence (2014) which features not only Mackie, but Bertrand Russell and the Swedish philosopher Axel Hägerström. John Matthewson, originally an Otago graduate and a philosopher of biology, was with us in 2009. He works on mechanisms, model-building and population phenomena. Recently we have enjoyed the services of our former student Raamy Majeed, (previously the drummer in Generation of Greed), perhaps the most famous philosopher to be have born in the Maldives. He works primarily in the philosophy of mind, metaphysics and metaphilosophy, and is currently interested in conditional analyses of concepts like ‘qualia’, ‘goodness’, ‘time’ etc. and whether they can help to solve familiar problems to do with reduction. Ricki Bliss, now of Lehigh, was with us in 2014. A student of Graham Priest’s at the University of Melbourne, she specializes in metaphysics, metametaphysics, epistemology, and Asian Philosophy and is interested in grounds and circles and whether or not they are vicious. Memorable titles include ‘Viciousness and the Structure of Reality’, and ‘On the Incompatibility of the Regularity Account of Causation and the Madhyamaka Doctrine of Emptiness’.
These philosophers, when they were with us, were all in junior positions, but we were also lucky enough to have JC Beall of the University of Connecticut as an adjunct full professor from 2009 to 2011. JC is famous as a paraconsistent logician (Spandrels of Truth, 2009) and an advocate of logical pluralism (Logical Pluralism, 2006 with Greg Restall), the idea, very roughly, that there is more than one concept of logical consequence with claims to intellectual respectability. He is a limited liability dialethist, as although he believes that there are true contradictions, he thinks that they are by-products of our representative apparatus and that there are no contradictions in non-linguistic reality. He is a dynamic lecturer and, together with Zach Weber delivered a spell-binding, course on the Logical Paradoxes with the aid of nothing more than a whiteboard, showing that it is possible to give a great presentation on a highly technical subject without resorting to powerpoint.
Otago's line of distinguished graduates did not end with Prior and Baier. Since 1970 several others gone on to do great things of a philosophical or semi-philosophical nature.
Jeremy Waldron completed his BA in philosophy in 1974 and remembers his Otago teachers with praise for having made him read Rawls' A Theory of Justice ALL THE WAY THROUGH, rather than serving up philosophical tidbits on trendy topics of the day. From 1975-79 he worked as an Assistant Lecturer in the Philosophy Department whilst completing his LLB before going on to Oxford to do a star doctorate on private property. His early books include The Right to Private Property (1988), Nonsense Upon Stilts: Bentham, Burke and Marx on the Rights of Man (1988); Liberal Rights: Collected Papers 1981-91 (1993); God, Locke and Equality: Christian Foundations of Locke’s Political Thought (2002). In God, Locke and Equality, Waldron argues that Locke’s conception of liberal equality – the idea that morally speaking, everybody counts for one and nobody for more than one – depends upon theological premises and looks decidedly shaky without them. (The tentative moral of Waldron’s story is not so much the worse for liberal equality but so much the better for the theological premises.) More recently he has written Torture, Terror, and Trade-offs: Philosophy for the White House (2010) in which he critiques the likes of Yoo and Bybee, the authors of the ‘Torture Memo’, and The Harm in Hate Speech (2012). He has recently been the Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory at Oxford and a Fellow of All Souls and is currently University Professor of Law at the New York School of Law.
Jeremy Waldron was introduced to jurisprudence by fellow Otago graduate, Stephen Guest (BA in Philosophy in 1971 and LLB in 1973; then later, BLitt from Oxford). He too, worked briefly at Otago (where he taught logic) before becoming a Lecturer in the Faculty of Law at University College London in 1975. He obtained a PhD in legal philosophy there in 1991, and is now Emeritus Professor of Legal Philosophy. For some years he co-chaired the annual Colloquium in Legal and Social Philosophy with Ronald Dworkin. His best known book is Ronald Dworkin (Edinburgh UP, 3rd edn 2012). He has the unusual distinction of being nominated as Academic of the Year by the Erotic Awards for his UCL lecture ‘The Right to Obscene Thoughts’ He plays the violin and was formerly a founder member of the Dunedin Civic Orchestra, a violinist in the NZ National Youth Orchestra for seven years, an active member of the Dunedin Opera Company, and was twice a finalist in the NZ Chamber Music Federation competition. He also won a prize at the NZ Universities Arts Festival in 1968 for his painting Wind, Trees, Insects. As he is also a barrister and a deer-hunter, this makes him perhaps the most multi-talented of our many distinguished graduates.
Pamela Tate also took first-class honours in Philosophy in 1979 before going on to Oxford where she topped the BPhil class. But unlike Jeremy Waldron and Stephen Guest who have managed to remain both lawyers and philosophers, she subsequently changed course, abandoning Philosophy for Law and is now the Solicitor-General for the State of Victoria, the youngest person and the first woman to occupy that role.
Graham Oddie went on from Otago to the LSE, gaining his PhD in 1979. He returned to Otago as a Lecturer, rising to Senior Lecturer before he left to take up the Chair of Philosophy at Massey University in 1988. Since 1994 he has been Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He has always been a wide-ranging philosopher, but his principal work whilst at Otago was his book, Likeness to Truth (1986), which follows on from the work of Pavel Tichy. In 1992 he co-edited a collection Justice, Ethics and New Zealand Society, which includes a piece co-written with Jindra Tichy arguing with perverse brilliance for the thesis that the Treaty of Waitangi is a Hobbesian social contract. Recently his interests have turned increasingly towards ethics. He has one book co-edited with David Boonin, What's Wrong? Applied Ethicists and Their Critics, (2nd edn 2009) and another Value, Reality and Desire (2005) which defends two claims a) that ‘values can affect us, causally, and it is through their causal impact on us that we can have knowledge of value’ and b) that ‘desires are experiences of value’. These provide the bases for a form of moral realism according to which some moral judgments are not only true-or-false but straight-forwardly true.
A star student who went on to a different kind of success was Emma Martin. She too did Honors at Otago where she is remembered for her capacity to turn out brilliant work at the last possible moment (she wrote her A+ honors dissertation from scratch on the weekend before she was due to hand it in). She won a Commonwealth Scholarship to do a PhD at Manchester University which she eventually completed but only after a long detour during which she worked as a taxi driver and a film censor. Fame came much later and in a very different way. In 2009 she was accepted to do the MA in creative writing at Victoria. She was awarded an IIML project scholarship in 2010, which enabled her to continue working on the stories she had started during her MA year. In 2012 she won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. The chair of the committee, Bernadine Evaristo, commented that her entry was chosen for 'its gorgeous, elegant and spare writing; its nuanced handling of time, place and relationships; its daring, provocative subject matter and clear-eyed exploration of the choice of heterosexual conformity in the face of sexual mutability.'
Like Jeremy Waldron, the alarmingly intelligent Tim Mulgan went on from a BA (Hons) at Otago to a D.Phil at Oxford, pausing to do a brief stint at Treasury on the way. He returned to Otago briefly to teach but left for Auckland after a few years in order to solve a Two-Body Problem. His (2001) book The Demands of Consequentialism deals with the problem of the unreasonable demands that consequentialism makes on moral agents. It has met with great acclaim, suggesting a new entry for the Philosopher's Lexicon: mulganize, v. to soften up excessively demanding moral theories. 'I foolishly bought a brand of consequentialism from a wandering petersinger, and it looked as though it would force me to sell all I had to give to the poor. But now I've had it mulganized it allows me to eat out at expensive restaurants and to make frequent trips to the opera.' His next book Future People ('timely and important ... of incredibly impressive scope and interest') discusses our obligations to future generations. But perhaps his most important book is Ethics for a Broken World: Imagining Philosophy After Catastrophe (1911), a dialogue set in in an imaginary future class-room in which post-collapse students discuss the moral and political philosophies of ‘the affluent age’ in which we live now. The philosophical point is that many moral philosophies tacitly presuppose a kind of affluence which may not persist and that they don’t make much sense without it. The political point is that we would be wise not to bring about a world in which a tough form of utilitarianism is the only normative ethic that makes any moral sense. After a period as Professor of Moral & Political Philosophy at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, Tim returned to New Zealand and is now back at Auckland as a full professor.
Tim Bayne did an honours degree at Otago before going on to do a doctorate at Arizona. He taught at Macquarie University (Sydney), at Oxford from 2007 until 2012, and is now Professor of Philosophy at the University of Manchester. His research focuses on consciousness. He is the Primary Investigator on a European Research Council Grant ‘The Architecture of Consciousness’ whose aim is to develop a model of the structural features of consciousness. He also has on-going research projects on levels of consciousness, on the relationship between consciousness and voluntary control and on the multisensory nature of perception. He has edited The Oxford Companion to Consciousness (2011) and coedited Cognitive Phenomenology (2011) and Delusion and Self-Deception: Affective and Motivational Influences on Belief Formation. He also has two solo-authored books: The Unity of Consciousness (2010) and Thought: A Very Short Introduction (2013).
In the past, our best students usually did a BA honours and perhaps (like Annette Baier) an MA, before going on to do a doctorate (or a B.Phil) elsewhere. But in the eighties and the nineties that began to change. Colin Cheyne finished his BSc in Mathematics in 1969 and taught high school for a many years before returned to Otago in the late eighties as a mature student to study Philosophy. He completed a second series of degrees, a BA in 1986 and a DipArts in 1989 culminating in a brilliant PhD in 1994. (‘Brilliant’ was a word used by the examiners.) A revised version was eventually published as Knowledge, Cause, and Abstract Objects Causal Objections to Platonism in 2001. Its chief purpose ‘is to argue against the claim that abstract entities exist, where abstract [Platonic] entities are entities that lack causal powers and are not located anywhere in space and time’, the particular target being mathematical Platonism. Colin is prepared to concede that indispensability arguments may succeed, in that it may be impossible to formulate some true scientific theories without quantifying over numbers and other supposed abstracta. But if these indispensability arguments succeed, what this shows is not that there are Platonic objects, but that the entities in question are not Platonic or abstract since in that case they would exercise a causal influence, however indirect, on the way the world works, which would mean that they were not a-causal. The book is not just an exercise in the Philosophy of Mathematics but an exercise in Epistemology since Colin argues for a plausible constraint on our existential knowledge, that rules out our having knowledge of the existence of platonic objects without ruling out our ability to know of the existence of other, less controversial, entities. Though a well-cited philosopher of mathematics, with plenty of papers on the general themes of Causality and Platonism, Colin has also published on metaphysics (‘Negative Truths from Positive Facts‘ (2006) with Charles Pigden), logical theory (‘The Asymmetry of Formal Logic‘, 2011), Epistemology (‘A Paradox of Justified Believing’, 2009)) and even the Epistemology of Health Care (‘Exploiting the Placebo Effects for Therapeutic Benefit’ 2005). Like Prior, Waldron and Guest, Colin’s first philosophical job was at Otago, joining the staff in 1993, but unlike them, he stayed on, eventually rising to be Head of Department (2006-2008) and Associate Professor. Colin is a demanding and rigorous teacher. Most of our most talented students passed through his hands and benefitted from his logic courses. One of the most talented of them all once complained to Alan Musgrave that “grumpy Colin” had found mistakes in her latest logic exercise and had given her a poor mark. She later told Alan how grateful she was to “grumpy Colin” for teaching her the true meaning of logical and intellectual rigor. Colin is a remarkably public-spirited person, who has given over the odds in terms of time and effort not only to the Department but to many other good causes. Before joining the Department he served on the Historic Places Trust, helping to preserve Dunedin’s fine Victorian cityscape from the ugly ravages of modernist developers. The fact that downtown Dunedin nowadays is a lot nicer to look at than, say, Auckland is partly due to his efforts. He was actively involved in the Australasian Association for Philosophy, as a member of its Council and General Secretary of its New Zealand Division (2004–2011) in the self-appointed but necessary role of its institutional memory. He was elected President of the New Zealand Division in 2011. He has also done his bit for his former teachers, editing Pavel Tichy’s Collected Papers (2006) and a fine mini-Schilpp for Alan, Rationality and Reality: Conversations with Alan Musgrave (2006). He was himself honoured by a Festschrift edited by James Maclaurin Rationis Defensor in 2012. Colin is a cosmopolitan sort of chap with a passionate devotion to all things Italian – Italian opera, Italian movies, Italian food, Italian weather, and Italian scenery. Rather more oddly for a native of Rugby-obsessed New Zealand, he has developed an interest in Australian Rules Football and barracks for the Carlton team (though this is usually a televisual activity). Colin is due to retire in 2015, having served the Department for 16% of its entire history.
Like Colin Cheyne, Greg Dawes switched to Philosophy in later life, though unlike Colin, he was already employed by the University of Otago when he did so, as he has been teaching in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies since 1989. Like Colin, he has a succession of degrees from Otago (a BTheol plus a PGDip) though unlike Colin he has another degree from somewhere else, namely an SSL from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. As he explains in an interview for 3:AM Magazine, ‘Being a philosopher was not my first career choice. Indeed my way into philosophy quite closely resembles that of English philosopher Anthony Kenny. Like Kenny, I first studied philosophy in the seminary on my way towards ordination as a Roman Catholic priest … It was an odd but interesting mixture. We were exposed to traditional Thomistic metaphysics and epistemology, but also to some authors within the so-called ‘Continental’ phenomenological tradition. But I was also lucky enough to come from a family in which big questions were often discussed. … Later, after being ordained, I was sent to study Scripture at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, so my first PhD was in biblical studies. This gave me some useful skills in the close reading of texts, as well as some familiarity with Greek, Hebrew, and Latin (as well as German and Italian). Once again, I am grateful for this excellent education. Having returned to New Zealand, I then taught, firstly in the local seminary and then (after leaving the priesthood) in the Theology and Religious Studies program at Otago University. … But whatever I taught, it seemed to turn into something like a philosophy course. I published, for example, a book on The Historical Jesus Question (2001) but the question I was interested in had little to do with Jesus himself. It was how we came to study sacred texts in a historical manner. Since I seemed to be doing philosophy, whatever I was supposed to be doing, I thought I should do it properly. So I completed a second PhD, under the excellent supervision of Alan Musgrave, who has long been a friend and mentor (although we often disagree)’. The examiners of his thesis were enthusiastic. As one referee put it, this thesis is is the ‘work of a talented philosopher and has the makings of an important book … To do good work in philosophy it helps a lot if you have certain virtues of character and these are very much on display in this thesis. Dr Dawes has got intellectual integrity coming out his ears.’ A revised version of the thesis, Theism and Explanation, was duly published in 2009. Its central claim is that theistic explanations, that is, theistic explanations of real-world phenomena, are in principle possible. There is no atheistic ‘silver bullet’, no general argument that excludes such explanations as suspect, illegitimate or conceptually under par. However a theistic explanation if it is to be any good – and thus to afford an inference-to-the-best-explanation argument for God’s existence – must meet certain conditions. It is not good enough to say ‘God did it’. And once we see what such an explanation would have to be like – a practical syllogism which portrays the events or states to be explained as the best way for God to realize his objectives under the circumstances – we will see that such explanations are likely to fair badly against their naturalistic competitors.
Greg, like Colin, is another star student who stayed, as he now teaches part-time in the Philosophy Department though he also continues to teach in Religious Studies. He runs a course in the Philosophy of Religion, which is currently the most popular of all our upper level papers. He also does a lot of research, some of it in collaboration with James Maclaurin (see below). In 2010 they organized a conference ‘Towards a Unified Science of Religion’ devoted to explaining why a belief in gods, demons, and other supernatural agents is such a persistent feature of human culture. This resulted in a co-edited book A New Science of Religion (2012) which looks at ways of unifying recent advances in the scientific study of religion as a widespread social phenomenon. Greg also has a slew of philosophy papers to his credit such as ‘Understanding Naturalism’ (2011) ‘In Defence of Naturalism’ (2011) and ‘Can a Darwinian be a Christian?’ (2007). Being an ex-priest, he became a father rather late in life, and having two young daughters, he is continually reminded of the truth of Quine's remark that the major questions of philosophy are asked by the age of five.
Two former students who have returned to Otago but not to Philosophy are John Macmillan and Sean McConnell, though both retain a strong interest in the subject and both can be seen as part-time philosophers. After completing an Otago BA (Hons) in Philosophy 1994 and PhD in Bioethics in 1998, John left an assistant lectureship at the Otago Bioethics Centre to take up a Junior Research Fellowship at University College, Oxford. From a fellowship at Oxford, he moved to a lectureship at Cambridge and thence to a senior lectureship at Hull where he divided his time between the Medical School and the Philosophy Department. In 2009 he returned to the Antipodes to take up a post as Associate Professor in Ethics, Law and Professionalism at the Flinders School of Medicine, finally moving back to Otago as Professor and Director of the Bioethics Centre. His interests include the prioritizing health care, research ethics, the philosophy and ethics of mental health, and methodology in applied ethics. He has co-authored four books: Principles of Healthcare Ethics (with Ashcroft, Dawson, and Draper) 2007, Empirical Ethics in Psychiatry (with Widdershoven, Hope, and Van der Scheer) OUP 2008, The Limits of Consent (with Corrigan, Liddell, Richards, and Weijer) OUP 2009, and Responsibility and Psychopathy: Interfacing Law, Psychiatry, and Philosophy (with Malatesti) OUP 2010. He is Reviews Editor for, the Journal of Applied Philosophy and also serves on the editorial board.
Sean McConnell, who is some years John’s junior, completed a double honours in Classics and Philosophy in 2005. He then went on to do an MPhil and a PhD at Cambridge (2010), returning to Otago as a lecturer in Classics a brief stint teaching Philosophy at the University of East Anglia. His current research focuses on ancient philosophy, in particular Graeco-Roman philosophy in the first century BC and the interaction of philosophy and politics during the decline and fall of the Roman Republic. A major interest is in how Greek ethical and political theory was put into practice and developed by Roman politicians and literati such as Lucretius, Cato, Varro, and Cicero. Sean has a recently published book on this very topic (generously acknowledging his teachers at Otago) Philosophical Life in Cicero's Letters, CUP (2014). Cicero played a pivotal role in both the history of the late republic and the history of philosophy since he Latinized the thought of the Hellenistic philosophers producing a set of dialogues and compendia which preserved their ideas right through to the Renaissance. Anyone who has read Cicero’s letters knows that there is a great deal of surprisingly modern philosophical kidding around in Cicero’s correspondence, highly reminiscent of the banter one encounters at philosophy conferences. But is this just ‘badinage’ (as a previous scholar has put it) or did Cicero’s philosophical ideas inform his practice as a politician? Sean’s answer is ‘yes’ though Cicero himself was often uncomfortably aware of the fact that he did not always live up to his philosophical ideals. Sean now teaches a paper on Plato which is substitutable within the Philosophy program.
It is now time for three more stalwarts, current members of staff who are not former students but who have been at Otago long enough to become part of the Department’s history.
Let’s start with Charles Pigden (your humble narrator). He is originally British, a state school boy, born in 1956. A graduate of King’s College Cambridge, he did his doctorate (as a Commonwealth Scholar) at la Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia in the early eighties. He ran out of money in 1984 and worked for a while as a research assistant at the ANU to support himself whilst finishing his PhD. After a period of unemployment in Thatcher’s Britain (which he does not remember with pleasure) he got a post-doc at Otago, in 1986, followed by a temporary lectureship at Massey in 1987, returning to Otago and a permanent post in 1988 where he has taught ever since. Thus he has worked at Otago for nearly 18% of the Department’s entire history, a fact he finds somewhat alarming. For fourteen years (1989-2003) he devoted a great deal of his time and energy to activism (to the considerable detriment of his career), partly on behalf of Amnesty, but mainly as a member of the New Labour Party and subsequently the Alliance, endeavouring to resist and reverse the New Right Revolution in New Zealand. His efforts, alas, were not entirely successful (See his essay, ‘Gedda Life’ published The New Zealand Political Review, which records some of his political adventures and may have helped precipitate the break-up of the party that he was trying to preserve.) The collapse of the Alliance may not have been a good thing from the point of view of the country, but at least it liberated Charles to return to philosophy after a period of relative inactivity. Charles has published on a wide range of subjects from the analytic/synthetic distinction through the Milgram experiments and truthmaker theory to the existence (or otherwise) of abstract objects. He is (as they say) a 'Russell scholar', having edited Russell on Ethics (1999) (which won the Bertrand Russell Society Book Award for 2000), contributed the chapter on ethics to the Cambridge Companion to Bertrand Russell and written the entry on Russell’s Moral Philosophy for the Stanford Online Encyclopedia of Philosophy. He was the first to revive the philosophical debate on conspiracy theories after Popper supposedly trashed them in the 1950s and 1960s. In Charles’s view many conspiracy theories are true, and though some are false and maybe even crazy, they are not crazy because they are conspiracy theories but crazy because they are crazy. Thus the modern practice of dismissing conspiracy theories simply because they are conspiracy theories, so far from being evidence of intellectual sophistication is proof of political idiocy. Though he dabbles his fingers in many philosophical pies, Charles chief interest is in meta-ethics. Following a departmental tradition, he is a defender of the error-theory (taking morality to be a useful fiction) with special interests in Moore, Hume and the Is/Ought Question. His most important paper on this latter topic is ‘Logic and the Autonomy of Ethics‘ but he has also edited a collection Hume on Is and Ought (2010). He thinks that a No-Ought-From-Is is a) a logical thesis and b) provable in a revised version, despite Prior’s counterarguments in his famous paper ‘The Autonomy of Ethics’. (Hence pigdenite, n. Logical substance used in the construction of inference-barriers, as between "is" and "ought". "A reason should be given for what seems altogether inconceivable – how I got by for so long without the aid of pigdenite [D. Hume, satisfied customer]") However No-Ought-From-Is does not have the consequences it is widely supposed to have. In particular No-Ought-From-Is does not establish any fundamental split between fact and value, nor does it provide evidence whether abductive or deductive for any kind of non-cogntivism. Charles’s extra-curricular interests have included (at various times): reading (chiefly history, biography, fantasy and SF), walking, swimming (he has done a 30k sea swim), weight-lifting, cycling, wood-chopping, sketching (the Department is adorned with his portrait heads of philosophers), karaoke, movies, running and socializing, especially with other philosophers. He appears as a featured extra in I Survived a Zombie Holocaust, the new feature funded by the Film Commission and written and directed by his son Guy. He is the only philosopher of his acquaintance to have published a philosophical dialogue in blank verse (‘Complots of Mischief’).
As of 2014, Andrew Moore is one of the four native New Zealanders currently on the Faculty, and one of the two without an Otago degree. He is a graduate of Canterbury with a DPhil from Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He joined the Department in 1992, which means that he has been a member of the Department for 15% of its entire history. Andrew's research is in ethical theory, practical ethics, political philosophy and philosophy of mind, with a much accessed entry on ‘Hedonism‘ in the Stanford Online Encyclopedia. But over the years he has devoted a great deal of his time and energy to public philosophy, particularly with respect to Health Care. He was the founding Chair of the National Ethics Advisory Committee 2001-2010, is a member of several other organizations that are also advisory to New Zealand's Minister of Health, and is a core member of the Health Research Council's Data Monitoring Committee for clinical trials. He is the principal author of what, if we are unlucky, may be the most important policy document ever penned by a New Zealand philosopher, Getting Through Together: Ethical Values for a Pandemic, Wellington: Ministry of Health (2007), the sort of work which may make a big difference for the better but which you hope won’t be called upon to make it. His entry in the Otago Philosopher’s Lexicon reads: moore, n. unit of excessive bureaucratic exertion. "We thought Andrew was on too many committees already but he kept asking for moore.". Despite his devotion to ethics committees he thinks they have an unfortunate tendency to get above themselves. They are not there to undertake groundbreaking research in ethics but to apply democratically accepted standards in an intelligent way. A chorister and a wine-buff, he is conspicuously athletic, with a marked propensity to run up hills and even small mountains. Indeed he once said that he can no longer see a stairway without feeling the urge to run up it, even though he knows intellectually that there is no need to do so.
Like Colin Cheyne and Greg Dawes, James Maclaurin switched to philosophy as a mature student. Indeed, he must be one of the few philosophers to have gotten into subject in part because it was more lucrative than his previous profession. The child of two medics and accustomed to hearing gruesome anatomical conversations over the dinner-table, he grew up in Dunedin and studied at the University of Otago before leaving to pursue a career in acting. Upon tiring of this happy but impoverished lifestyle, in which critical acclaim was not necessarily matched by financial reward, he returned to study, first at Victoria University of Wellington and later at the Australian National University (RSSS), gaining his PhD in 1998. He joined the Otago Department in 1999. Perhaps because of his thespian skills, he is an award-winning teacher as well as a talented administrator, serving two successful terms as Head of Department. James’s chief research interest is in the Philosophy of Biology, having written on innateness, fitness, theoretical morphology, biological diversity and universal Darwinism) and in the application of evolutionary principles to other domains such as the philosophy of time and economics. He is the co-author with Kim Sterelny of What Is Biodiversity (which according to Mark Colyvan of Sydney is ‘essential reading for philosophers of biology, environmental philosophers, conservation biologists, and, indeed, anyone interested in one of the most pressing issues of our time [and is] also a terrific read’.) James has collaborated with Heather Dyke on projects in metaphysics and metaphilosophy including their joint paper (criticized by Josh Parsons) ‘What Is Analytic Metaphysics For?’ and with Greg Dawes on empirically based Philosophy of Religion, culminating in their co-edited volume (based on a successful conference) A New Science of Religion? (2012) and their joint paper ‘What is Religion?: Identifying the Explanandum’. Indeed James is the very model of a modern collaborative philosopher. Unlike Alan Musgrave, he is the very reverse of technologically challenged, and is currently developing a new app, HelpMePublish, designed for mobile devices whose purpose is to help academics avoid publication pitfalls and increase their readership by publishing in a wider range of academic journals. His team has also developed a new index of journal quality called the Recommendation Index. This too is a collaborative project with inputs from Chemistry, Computing, Ecology, Economics, Education, English, Evolution, Genetics, Geography, Marketing, Media, Film & Communication, Philosophy and Physical Education. Besides as all this, James has edited Rationis Defensor (2012) the Festschrift for Colin Cheyne. Despite having been here for a mere 10% of the Department’s history, James has had a major impact. Like Andrew Moore, he is a keen runner though generally he prefers to do it on the flat.
In 1995 Annette Baier and her husband Kurt (1917-2010) retired to New Zealand after distinguished careers in in the United States, mostly at the University of Pittsburgh. Annette had served as President of the Eastern Division of the APA (as had Kurt), gave the Paul Carus Lectures in Philosophy (as had Kurt) and had been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (as had Kurt), making them perhaps the only husband and wife duo to achieve this trio of distinctions. Although something of a late-bloomer, with no publications to her name before the age of thirty-seven, Annette had completed four books by the time of her retirement, many with a Humean theme: Postures of the Mind: Essays on Mind and Morals (1985), A Progress of Sentiments: Reflections on Hume's Treatise (1991), Moral Prejudices (1995) (including the essays "What Do Women Want in an Ethical Theory?" and "The Need For More Than Justice") and The Commons of the Mind (1997), containing the Carus Lectures. On arriving in New Zealand in 1995, she took a brief break from philosphizing to write up the life of her husband Kurt, which had been an eventful affair. (Kurt had been born in Austria but had been forced to flee after the Anschluss as his father was Jewish. In England Kurt was officially classified a ‘friendly enemy alien’, but that did not help him in August 1940, when ‘enemy aliens’, friendly or not, were rounded up and deported. He was sent to to Australia in the Hell-ship Duneera, in which the prisoners were systematically robbed and brutalized (sometimes being beaten with rifle-buts) by the captain and crew. When he arrived in Sydney he had nothing but what he stood up in, an old sweater over a pair of pajamas. Kurt was sure the soldiers on the quay were going to shoot him – until one of them walked over to him, handed him his rifle, and said ‘Hold this, mate, while I take a leak’. Things looked up for Kurt in his interment camp where he was allowed to take courses in philosophy, and, like an astonishing number of the Duneera deportees, he went on to a distinguished academic career, first in Australia and then in the United States. His most famous book is From the Moral Point of View (1958) which Alan Musgrave remembered as ‘essential reading’ in ethics when he was studying philosophy at the LSE. One of Kurt’s oddities was that having learned to philosophize in English, all his mental philosophy files were compiled in that language and he found it rather difficult to discuss the subject in his native German though he remained a fluent speaker and often returned to Austria in later life to visit the non-Jewish side of his family.) The Baiers divided their time between the scenic and mountainous Queenstown and Dunedin where Annette was an active and much-valued regular at the Otago Departmental Seminar. Both the Baiers were true friends to the Department, Annette in particular adding her name and prestige to a series of enterprises such as the big conference on ‘Hume, Motivation Is and Ought’ in 2003. In 2002 Otago was able to repay some of its debt to the Baiers when Kurt was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Jurisprudence from the Karl Franzen University of Graz in recognition of his achievements as a famous Austrian exile. Kurt’s doctors advised that he was too old to travel to Graz so the University of Otago hosted the ceremony instead and Kurt gave a speech which contrived to be both witty and moving.
After finishing Kurt’s biography, Annette returned to philosophy with a vengeance. During her incredibly productive retirement, which was also characterized by an extensive and energetic email correspondence, she published four more books: Death and Character: Further Reflections on Hume (2008) (which takes its departure as much from Hume’s History of England as from his philosophy), The Cautious, Jealous Virtue: Hume on Justice (2010), Reflections on How We Live (2010) and The Pursuits of Philosophy (2011). Annette was active in philosophy right up to the last, attending and contributing to the Otago Departmental Seminar with her usual wit and acuity to within a few weeks of her death late in 2012 at the age of 83. She had something intelligent to say about just about almost everything, including topics that might have been considered as right outside her bailiwick such as paraconsistent logic. Her last comment was a criticism of the error theory of her friend and former colleague J.L Mackie, the gist of her remarks being the Moorean point that it is much more likely that there is something wrong with Mackie’s argument than that all moral judgments are false.
In 2005 an anonymous donor gave a million dollars (which was matched dollar for dollar by the government) to endow a Chair in Early Modern Philosophy at Otago. It was renamed the Baier Chair in Early Modern Philosphy after the deaths of Kurt and Annette. The first Professor was Peter Anstey. Peter is a graduate of Sydney where he taught philosophy and the history and philosophy of science before taking up the chair in 2006. Unsurprisingly his research focuses on early modern philosophy, with special reference to the writings of John Locke and Robert Boyle, though he is also interested in the philosophy of science, metaphysics (especially the metaphysics of David Armstrong) and ancient philosophy. When he arrived at Otago Peter had already published The Philosophy of Robert Boyle (2000) and had edited John Locke: Critical Assessments (2006), The Science of Nature in the Seventeenth Century: Patterns of Changes in Early Modern Natural Philosophy (2005) and The Philosophy of John Locke: New Perspectives (2003). He proved to be an exceptionally energetic professor, organizing conferences and symposia, helping to create an Early Modern Research Cluster and securing a Marsden grant to explore one of his big ideas, namely that the history of early modern philosophy is best understood not in terms of the traditional dichotomy between rationalists and empiricists (which is something of a post-Kantian artifact) but in terms of a dichotomy between speculative and experimental philosophers. This program attracted two excellent PhD students, Kirsten Walsh (who worked on Newton) and Juan Gomez (who worked on the Scottish Enlightenment philosopher, George Turnbull) as well as the Postdoctoral Fellow Alberto Vanzo. Together with Peter they went on to run a successful blog on Early Modern Experimental Philosophy. Peter wrote another book at Otago, John Locke and Natural Philosophy (2011), praised in the Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews as ‘a masterful and well-argued study’ that will ‘become both the standard and starting place, for scholars and students alike, for decades to come’ and edited another collection, The Oxford Handbook of British Philosophy in the Seventeenth Century (2013). He also published a slew of papers. The most interesting of these, ‘John Locke and the Case of Anthony Ashley Cooper’ (co-written with L. Principe), is not really philosophical at all, but exemplifies Peter’s skills as a historian of science. In 1668 an operation was conducted under Locke’s supervision on the radical Whig politician, Anthony Ashley Cooper, later to become the 1st Earl of Shaftesbury. Cooper underwent abdominal surgery to drain a large abscess above his liver. The case is extraordinary, not simply on account of the eminence of the patient and the dangerous and revolutionary nature of the procedure (Cooper subsequently had to wear a silver tap in his side, much to the amusement of the Restoration wits) but because of the people involved, notably Locke himself and the famous surgeon Thomas Sydenham. The operation probably changed the course of history, giving Shaftesbury a new lease of life for the next fifteen years, leading to the Exclusion Crisis and indirectly to the writing of Locke’s Two Treatises and the Essay Concerning Humane Understanding after Charles II launched his counter-coup against Shaftesbury and his supporters in the early 1680s. Peter reproduces Locke’s notes with a commentary and, with aid of his co-author, diagnoses Shaftesbury’s disease which seems to have been a massive hydatid cyst.
Peter left Otago for a research professorship in his native Sydney, to be succeeded in 2014 by the new Baier Professor, Michael LeBuffe. Mike grew up in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles. He did his BA at Princeton and received his doctorate at the University of California, San Diego, where he worked with Nick Jolley, David Brink, and Richard Arneson who each had an enduring influence on him. Before coming to Otago in 2014, he taught at Texas A&M University. Mike works in the history of philosophy, ethics, philosophy of mind, and political philosophy. His principle research interest is in Spinoza, with a book on his ethics From Bondage to Freedom: Spinoza on Human Excellence (2010). (‘an excellent presentation of Spinoza's moral theory [which] presents and analyzes not only the moral theory itself but also its place in Spinoza's system’.) He also has many articles to his credit plus two entries in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, one on ‘Holbach’ and the other on ‘Spinoza’s Psychological Theory’. He is currently working on a project tentatively entitled Hobbes and Spinoza: Individual and State. Hobbes and Spinoza, who formulated the first modern versions of social contract theory and shared a number of basic commitments, nevertheless depended upon strong, but dramatically different conceptions of human nature. This difference explains, in large part, the authors’ different conceptions of the state. Mike hopes that this project may produce a pair of companion volumes, one each on Hobbes and Spinoza.
No Department can prosper without good administrative support and Philosophy has been fortunate to have the services of Sally Holloway as Departmental Administrator since 1993, nearly 15% of the Department’s history. Sally has a parental as well as a professional connection with the Department since her daughter Caitlin did honours with us, a fact which necessitated a certain amount of eye-averting and strategic delegation to preserve academic proprieties during Caitlin’s period of study. David Howard, who takes over in the afternoons, also has a son who did honours with us, but in his case no eye-averting was necessary as his son Luc had departed to do a doctorate in Canberra by the time that David joined the staff. David is a distinguished poet and we had to do without his services for an entire year (!) when he won a prestigious Burns Fellowship in the Department of English to complete a suite of poetical projects. Since poetry is not a very profitable business, before joining us David kept the wolf from the door by working as a pyrotechnician. Not many philosophy departments can boast of an administrative assistant who is not only an award-winning poet (‘the forthright zing of the lines and indeed his intellectual rigor...have a kind of contemporary lyricism, that is, a lyricism that avoids excess but yet exudes tenderness and desire’) but the former fireworks man for Mettalica and Janet Jackson.
What about our teaching? Is there a tale to tell about the Department as a teaching institution? Not one, but many. It is part of our propaganda, one of our selling-points as a discipline, that philosophy cultivates a range of analytical and logical skills which will stand you in good stead in almost any walk of life. And the chief of these is the ability to think for yourself. As teachers we say this so often that it sometimes begins to ring hollow. But recently the Otago Department was reviewed, and former graduates (some going back fifty years or more) were invited to write in with their impressions of the Department. Letter after letter rolled in, declaring in fervent terms how valuable the graduates' time at Otago had been because it taught them to think clearly, and to think for themselves. (This just goes to show that if you say something over and over again, it may cease to seem true, but that does not mean that it ceases to be true.) But if all these people really learned to think for themselves (and they seem to be an ideologically diverse bunch) then they probably won't have been thinking the same things. So although our teaching will have had an influence at the individual level, once we transcend individual biographies, there won't be a unified tale to tell about the influence of the Otago Department. There will be individual stories about how this idea or that argument influenced this or that person. But because unlike Sydney’s John Anderson of yesteryear we have not been dominated by the desire to make disciples or to encourage the growth of our own little orthodoxies, you won’t be able to talk about how, say, the Musgravians or the Maclaurinites have influenced public life.
Though teaching is the bread and butter of every philosophy department, the details of curriculum design, important as they are, are not of much historical interest. But there is one development at Otago that is perhaps worth remarking on, namely the success of our Program in Philosophy Politics and Economics, so far the only such program in New Zealand and one of the few in Australasia. This was started in 1999 and for all but two of the ensuing fifteen years, Charles Pigden has been either Program Coordinator or (later) the Director. The basic aim of the program is to give students a broader exposure to the range of analytical approaches in these three disciplines than would be gained within any one of the three traditional single-discipline majors. It is built upon the premise that the three disciples have common origins and intersecting interests right down to the present day. For example, Economics developed from the field of Political Economy, Welfare Economics utilizes concepts of social justice from Philosophy, and the Philosophy of Science has important implications for methodologies adopted in Economics and Politics. The Program, which was to some extent modeled on that of Oxford, has been a big success. There are now about as many people majoring in PPE as there are in Philosophy proper and some of our best honours students in recent years (Steven Sue of the Ministry of Social Development springs to mind) have been PPE students who chose to do their dissertation (though obviously not all their courses) with us. Will the day come when the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition are both graduates of the PPE program at Otago (as in Britain where currently the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are both graduates of the PPE program at Oxford)? Only time will tell, but if that day ever comes we hope that those future politicians will be more of a credit to Otago than either Cameron or Milliband is to Oxford.
After a long hiatus following the death of Pavel Tichy, Otago hired another research logician in the person of Zach Weber in 2012. Zach is probably not the successor that Pavel would have approved of, since he is not just a paraconsistentist (someone who denies that anything whatever follows from a contradiction) but a dialethist (someone who asserts that there are actually true contradictions) both views that were anathema Pavel. When we recruited Zach, just two years out from his PhD, he already had an amazing résumé with twelve (!!!) journal articles or book chapters published or forthcoming, including articles in Analysis, Mind, The Journal of Philosophy, The Journal of Philosophical Logic and the AJP. Zach did his first degree at the State University of New York at Binghamton, but, unusually for an American, he went on to a doctorate at Melbourne (at that time, perhaps the world capital of paraconsistency) under Graham Priest and Greg Restall. His doctorate was on paraconsistent set theory, part of the project being to ‘recover’ portions of classical set theory that had been ‘lost’ to the paraconsistentists owing to the weakness of the paraconsistent consequence relation. (It turns out that if you deprive yourself of the ability to derive just anything from a contradiction there are many plausible theses that it is difficult to derive from the axioms of set theory. Parts of Cantor’s paradise threaten to become inaccessible.) Zach’s thesis solved problems in paraconsistent set theory which had baffled the best brains in the paraconsistent business for thirty years. He held two successive post-docs before arriving in Dunedin (the home-town of his anthropologist wife Vicki), one at Sydney (where he developed a novel paraconsistent solution to the Sorites problem, subsequently published in Mind) and one at Melbourne. He is an inspiring teacher, a fascinating philosopher to talk to and has already been promoted to senior lecturer, having won a Marsden Grant for a project on Models of Paradox in Non-Classical Mereotopology and an Otago Early Career Award for Distinction in Research. He is currently supervising five MA or doctoral students (one in the final throes) on topics ranging from truth through paraconsistent set-theory to imperative consequence. One might expect from all this that he had time for nothing but logic but in fact he is a wide-ranging philosopher who runs a successful Philosophy Club for undergraduates and chairs the Departmental Seminar.
Another recruit with an impressive résumé is Lisa Ellis who joined us as Associate Professor in 2014. Lisa studied Germanic languages and literature and politics at Princeton (BA 1990) before taking a PhD in political science at Berkeley (1999). Along the way she studied with philosophers and political theorists at Princeton, Berkeley, and the University of California at San Diego. She has lectured at UC-San Diego and at Texas A&M University, and was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study School of Social Science in Princeton from 2006-2007. She is currently co-president of the Association for Political Theory which hosts an annual conference for philosophers, political theorists and historians of political thought. Lisa herself combines each of these specialities together with a strong propensity for empirically based social science. In her first book, Kant’s Politics (Yale, 2005), she interprets Kant’s concept of provisional right as the basis for a dynamic theory of politics that is both broadly ethical and deeply responsive to historical and geographic particulars. Reviewers were enthusiastic: ‘In this remarkably lucid and brilliantly engaging book that will surely establish her as a leader among the rising generation of political theorists, Ellis dispatches many a tired shibboleth [which I take it is not meant to imply that she lets the non-tired shibboleths live] while offering a fresh account of Kant's political theory centered on his "provisional" theory of right. She makes a compelling case for her innovative reading, [and] explains how this account illuminates our thinking about a wide array of contemporary political challenges.’ The book won the Foundations of Political Theory first book award for 2006. In her second book Provisional Politics (Yale, 2008), Lisa argues that moral reasoning is ubiquitous in politics, but that specific principles are always only provisionally authoritative, applying this perspective to a series of problems in political theory, beginning with discourse theory and deliberative democracy and ending with environmental politics. Again reviewers were enthusiastic: ‘This is the most original use of Kantian ideas and insights by a theorist of contemporary politics since John Rawls.’ Her current book project, Extinction and Democracy, picks up where the last one leaves off, asking whether democracy and species conservation policy are compatible. And this is only one of the research irons that she currently has in the fire.
By 2011 Alan Musgrave’s semi-retirement had reached a point where it became necessary to replace him as professor. After a long period in which the Chair was occupied by a succession of colonials (though mostly of Scottish descent) and even, for forty years, by an Englishman (!) the University decided to revert to custom by employing a genuine Scot. Alex Miller took his undergraduate degree in mathematics and philosophy at the University of Glasgow and did his graduate work in philosophy at the University of St. Andrews and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor where he was supervised by Crispin Wright, Stephen Yablo and Gideon Rosen. He also spent some time as a Rackham Pre-Doctoral Fellow at ANU, where he was supervised by Philip Pettit. At Michigan, he was a contemporary of Brian Leiter (with whom he went on to co-author two papers on mental causation, published in the Australasian Journal of Philosophy and the Canadian Journal of Philosophy). He joined the Otago department in June 2012. Prior to this he had been Professor of Philosophy at the University of Birmingham, and he has also taught at Nottingham, Cardiff, and Macquarie. He works mainly in the areas of philosophy of language and mind, metaethics and metaphysics, though the philosophical book he most admires is G.A. Cohen’s Karl Marx’s Theory of History: A Defence. He is a regular reviewer of books on history, politics, literary criticism and biography for The Morning Star, Scottish Socialist Voice, Frontline and Green Left Weekly. However, his chief claims to fame are his philosophical publications. These include two books Philosophy of Language (2nd edn, Routledge, 2007) and Contemporary Metaethics: An Introduction (2nd edn Polity, 2013). The former gained praise in the Times Literary Supplement from Timothy Williamson (Wykeham Professor of Logic at Oxford), and Contemporary Metaethics is perhaps the high-level survey text on this subject. One leading young metaethicist (Jussi Suikkanen) commented on the 2nd edition: ‘Given its breadth, thoroughness, and originality, Miller′s An Introduction to Contemporary Metaethics is compulsory reading for everyone interested in metaethics. The updated material of this second edition guarantees that there will soon exist a second generation of metaethicists for whom reading this book is a formative experience.’ Alex is also co-editor (with Crispin Wright) of Rule-Following and Meaning (Acumen 2002), and is currently co-editing (with Crispin Wright and Bob Hale), a revised an expanded 2nd edition of the Blackwell Companion to the Philosophy of Language. He has published in many leading refereed journals, including the Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Mind, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Philosophical Studies, Analysis, and The Philosophical Quarterly, and he has also contributed to reference works such as Stanford Encyclopedia of Realism and the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Since arriving in 2012 Alex has recruited and supervised a number of PhD students (from places as far apart as the UK, Iran, USA and Brunei). Alex is now (as of 2014) not only the Professor but also Head of Department. Apart from his many intrinsic merits, he constitutes a useful point of comparison for those of us who teach Early Modern Philosophy. In an effort to bring the past to life, we explain that David Hume was tall and fat and spoke with a strong Scottish accent. How strong? Probably stronger than Professor Miller’s. The students gasp in disbelief.
As of 2017, there are ten academic staff in the Department of Philosophy, not all of them full-time:
- Emeritus Professor Alan Musgrave, 1970, BA (Hons)(1961) PhD (1969)(London)
- Professor Alex Miller, Head of Department, 2012, MA (Hons)(1987)(Glasgow), MLitt (1989)(St Andrews), AM (1992), PhD (1995)(Michigan)
- Professor Greg Dawes, 1989, BTheol, PGDip Theol, PhD (Otago), SSL (Rome, Pont. Bib. Inst.)
- Professor Michael LeBuffe, Baier Professor of Early Modern Philosophy, 2014, BA (1991)(Princeton), PhD (2000) (University of California, San Diego)
- Associate Professor Charles Pigden, 1988, MA (1983)(Cambridge) PhD (1985)(La Trobe)
- Associate Professor Andrew Moore, 1992, MA (1986)(Canterbury) D Phil (1991)(Oxford)
- Associate Professor James Maclaurin. 1999, BA (Hons)(1992) MA (1994)(Victoria) PhD (1998) (ANU)
- Associate Professor Lisa Ellis, 2014, Director: Philosophy Politics and Economics, 1 BA(1990)(Princeton), MA (1992)(Berkeley), PhD (1999)(Berkeley)
- Senior Lecturer Zach Weber, 2012, BA (SUNY Binghampton) PhD (Melbourne)
- Senior Lecturer Kourken Michaelian, 2015, BA (Alberta), MA Carleton, PhD (UMass)
We hope that the next 143 years will be as good as the last.