Explaining the “Outsized Influence” of Australian Philosophers


Local intellectual traditions, the guidance of key people, a strong institutional infrastructure, a straightforward style of writing, and the fruitfulness of a of philosophical outlook, all under the protection of geographical distance and the technological limitations of the time, are part of the complicated story of how Australian philosophers came to have an “outsized influence” in philosophy in the middle and late 20th century, according to Peter Godfrey-Smith (University of Sydney).

In an article at Aeon, Godfrey-Smith tells the stories of a number of influential Australian philosophers. The story begins with John Anderson, “a realist, materialist, and atheist” who came to the University of Sydney in 1927, “had no influence whatsoever outside Australia,” but nonetheless “exercised enormous local influence until his retirement in 1958.” It continues to discuss J.J.C. Smart and the beginnings of Australian materialism, David Armstrong and his influence in metaphysics, and Peter Singer and his influential work spreading utilitarian ideas.

Godfrey-Smith writes, “If you look at these three, who have a special place with respect to sheer influence, there are some similarities in doctrine—at least two materialists and realists, two utilitarians, three atheists,” though he notes that once we consider more figures, this pattern diminishes. He also notes that the three philosophers “have an unusually simple but forceful style” which he explains is “hard to achieve once you are in professional philosophy.”

Godfrey-Smith discusses a number of other philosophers and elements that contributed to the Australian influence, ending with some reflections on the end of Australia’s relative isolation. At the beginning of the 20th Century, “mail was slow, and international phone calls extravagantly expensive. Travel was by ship and the UK-to-Sydney route took around a month.” But now, technology has led to an “attenuation of national and regional variation in philosophy.” He writes:

It would be interesting to do a fine-grained historical analysis, looking at the effects of different technologies on philosophy and other humanistic disciplines—the transitions wrought first by inexpensive photocopies and air travel, then email, and then the internet in full information-deluge form. The local intellectual traditions I have emphasised in my story can’t really exist if information flows completely freely. There is a need for some locality of influence.

Read the whole thing here.

Sam Fullbrook, “Sundown Near Warrawagine”

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Chris Stephens
Chris Stephens
2 years ago

Re: PGS’s comment near the end about the important role local traditions played in his story (and their gradual elimination due to the rise of the internet etc.): it would interesting to consider this and other philosophical movements in light of the analysis philosophers of science have done on epistemic relevance of the way information is distributed in scientific communities (e.g., Zollman’s work “The Epistemic Benefit of Transient Diversity”.) Perhaps someone has already applied these or other models to think about the distribution of information and positions in philosophical communities?Report

LL
LL
2 years ago

I read this essay with such great enthusiasm. One point that I found interesting was that Australia’s relative isolation could have contributed to the development of its distinctive vibe because I’m more familiar with the narrative that this sort of isolation is what bars the development of the discipline no matter what. That was the case in my country. We also had “a stream of … students who had gone to graduate school overseas”, but a lot of them ended up failing to leave a meaningful research tradition in their home country. It led to the local intellectual community’s sardonic view on academic philosophers that they are no more than “important merchants”; philosophers who have studied overseas keep bringing in fancy “state-of-the-art” philosophical ideas from overseas in generation after generation, but fail to come up with anything original whether you are “analytic” or “continental”. It is sad that this sort of sentiment still has not gone away since the new generation of philosophers is actively participating in international debates thanks to an “attenuation of national and regional variation in philosophy.”

There must be a number of substantial issues that made such a difference. Above all, Australia obviously is an English-speaking country and the “isolation” it went through should be still be less than non-English-speaking countries. I believe that comparative research on this matter should be interesting.Report

LL
LL
Reply to  LL
2 years ago

X: “important merchants”
O: “import merchants”Report

Charles Pigden
Charles Pigden
2 years ago

You could tell a similar tale – indeed I have told a similar tale – about the outsized influence of *New Zealand* Philosophy. See my (2011) ‘Getting the Wrong Anderson? Philosophy in New Zealand’ in Graham Oppy and N.N. Trakakis eds. (2011), The Antipodean Philosopher: Public Lectures on Philosophy in Australia and New Zealand, Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, pp 169-195. (You can download a version with less annoying typos from my Academia.edu webpage.) Two non-Anglophone small countries with an outsize influence on philosophy are Sweden and Finland. There the explanation has to be a little different. Report

Professor Apricot
Professor Apricot
Reply to  Charles Pigden
2 years ago

‘But what have they done lately’, Charles, in terms of real influence – apart from some good work in virtue ethics. And I don’t mean claims of the form, “So and so wrote a really great book and then they went on sabbatical to St Andrews”, or “So and so won a prestigious prize”. This sort of thing happens in all countries.
The record of hiring (and supporting and retaining) women in NZ Philosophy departments over the past 2 decades is a disgrace. For some specific data on this, I refer you to Adriane Rini’s confronting piece, “Why did New Zealand stop Hiring Women Philosophers?” https://philpapers.org/rec/RINMAV-2
I respectfully submit that this disdain towards 50% of the world’s potential philosophic talent constitutes a pathway to self-inflicted lesser excellence. Your own institution has not distinguished itself in addressing this problem (if it even sees it as such). Report

Charles Pigden
Charles Pigden
Reply to  Professor Apricot
2 years ago

To Professor Apricot,
The point at issue is not whether New Zealand’s philosophy departments employ as many women as they should but whether New Zealand philosophers have had an outsize influence and perhaps whether that influence is deserved. That New Zealand Philosophy would be better if it were more feminized is probably true, but it does not follow from this either that it is not influential or that it is not good. I contend that New Zealand philosophers *have* had an outsize influence, a claim that you do not directly dispute, but if you were to challenge me I would cite much the same kinds of data that I would use to defend the parallel claim with respect to Australian philosophers, namely a) citation counts and b) the number of New Zealand philosophers with impressive citation counts as compared with the number of philosophers with impressive citation counts from other states, provinces or nations with similar populations. If someone’s work is being widely cited, that is pretty good evidence that it is being widely discussed and that it is therefore exerting an influence. So if there are *more* highly cited philosophers hailing from, or working within, a given nation than is the general norm for regions within similar populations, then that is pretty good evidence that that nation is exerting an outsize influence. You seem be challenging me to cite influential books or articles by New Zealand philosophers written ‘recently’, presumably since 2011 (when I published my little history) with the conversational implicature that if I can’t front up this discredits my claim. It is indeed difficult to meet this challenge, not because important and *potentially* influential books and papers have not been produced, ,but because it tends to take time for books and articles to *exert* an influence and for that influence to become manifest in citation counts. Thus you could use the same challenge to sophistically dismiss the claim that *any* philosophers from *any* region were exerting an outsize influence. You waive away claims of the form, “So and so wrote a really great book”, or “So and so won a prestigious prize”.on the grounds that “this sort of thing” *happens in all countries*. So indeed it does, but the point is that this happens *more* in some countries than in others (proportionately to the size of the population, that is). It is a singular fact, for instance, that Finland, which has a population of only five and a half million has produced two philosophers to be honoured with a volume in the Library of Living Philosophers’ series (von Wright and Hintikka) whereas Colorado has produced none. This suggests that there is something about the culture of Finland that makes it more conducive to the production of top-top-notch philosophy than the culture of Colorado. Outsize influence consists a) in what you airily dismiss as ‘this sort of thing’ happening to a disproportionate degree – that is people publishing *more* prestigious books and articles per capita than folk from other areas and b) in these books and articles being widely discussed. Judged by these standards it is fairly clear that both Australia and New Zealand have exerted an outsize influence on philosophy. Myself, I am inclined to celebrate this influence but if you don’t care for the products of Australian or New Zealand philosophy, the honest thing to do is not to argue that New Zealand an Australian philosophers have not exerted a disproportionate influence but to argue that this influence has not been deserved. And if you want to argue THAT you need to engage in detailed criticism not sneers based faux methodological concerns.

One final point. Like you I lament the fact that female philosophers are few and far between in New Zealand’s teaching departments and in particular in my own. But the suggestion that this indicates ‘disdain towards 50% of the world’s potential philosophic talent’ is a vicious slur which I am luckily in a position to rebut. One New Zealand philosopher who has recently been in the news is Holly Lawford-Smith. She is already becoming influential with 509 citations to her credit on Google Scholar, including one paper with 189 citations, which isn’t bad going for a philosopher who got her PhD less than ten years ago. In the now notorious 3:AM interview that has subsequently been taken down, this is what she has to say about how she became a professional philosopher. ‘I signed up to a class in ethics that looked really interesting, and from there I was hooked! Always taking existential angst home and annoying my flatmates. I did a mixture of stuff – Philosophy of Science, Kant, Political Philosophy, History of Philosophy, Ethics. I can’t remember any class that I didn’t like. From there I guess you kind of get on the conveyer belt—a lecturer encourages you to do Honours, an Honours supervisor encourages you to do a Masters… and there you go.’ Since Holly did her BA, her Honours year and her MA at Otago, this rather suggests either that we *don’t * have a general ‘disdain towards 50% of the world’s potential philosophic talent’ or that Holly somehow managed to miss it, perhaps because she was blinded by all that encouragement she was getting from her lecturers and supervisors. Report

A.S. Gunn
A.S. Gunn
Reply to  Professor Apricot
2 years ago

The ‘outsized influence’ of New Zealand philosophy has little to do with books, sabbaticals or prestigious prizes. No argument there, Prof Apricot—of course, that’s more straw-Charles’ point than it is Charles’ point. Charles’ claim is that New Zealand has produced a greater proportion of good philosophers per capita than other parts of the world—particularly those countries with higher populations—much akin to the story PG-S tells of Australia in his article (which it would be good idea to read: https://aeon.co/essays/why-does-australia-have-an-outsized-influence-on-philosophy).

(On the concern about the appointment of women philosophers to New Zealand departments: there is no dispute that all philosophy departments should do better on this score. But New Zealand, again per capita, likely employs more women than departments elsewhere in the world. Your lamenting may be ill-conceived.)

What’s most striking about your comment, however, is your downplaying, nay ignoring(!), non-western philosophy. While you recognise the fine work of Kiwis working in virtue theory, you remain silent on the most influential philosophical work going on in New Zealand currently: indigenous philosophy. This is exemplified by the work of a woman philosopher, by the way: Krushil Watene. Her pioneering work on indigenous philosophies is at the forefront of all work being done on the nature of well-being and justice. Dr. Watene exemplifies all of the great-making features of a high-quality influential philosopher that PG-S outlines in his article. Perhaps, though, this oversight is a reflection of your own inclination to haze indigenous philosophy, preferring instead to bask in the warm, friendly glow of Anglo-American philosophy.Report

jack reynolds
jack reynolds
2 years ago

Interesting paper by Peter, focusing a bit on the main cities in Australia, though I have another take on this…. Not sure if this is too long a post, but here is my story which overlaps and differs from Peter’s a bit:

For a few years now, I have been spreading a theory, though perhaps it does not deserve such a highfalutin name: a theory that philosophy comes from the margins. Or, to perhaps qualify this, that continental philosophy in Australia comes from the bush, the countryside, the outback, the great outdoors (since the English terms for this are variable). I am not sure whether the more inclusive claim about philosophy writ large is justified, but I am confident that continental philosophy in Australia is disproportionately indebted to those born and at least partly enculturated in the regions, rather than metropolitan centres. I will try to make such a claim plausible below, but it would be interesting if true, since it would appear to complicate a kind of myth about Australian philosophy told by David Armstrong. Armo suggested, half-seriously, that ‘the strong sunlight and harsh brown landscape of Australia force reality upon us’. No bull shit can survive in such a land, so the story goes. Fellow realist, Michael Devitt accepts Armstrong’s claim and contrasts it, in his Realism and Truth, with “the mists and gentle green landscape of Europe”, which “weaken the grip on reality”. This is Devitt’s version of the famous ‘headline’ from the UK, which itself might also be a myth: fog over the channel, continent cut off. Indeed, for some philosophers, of course, continental philosophy is basically bull shit. So, why has this émigré found a home amongst Australians from the margins of this sunburnt country? Whatever the cause, it seems to falsify any literal rendering of Armstrong’s thesis, at least in the way that Armstrong himself construed the philosophical “force of reality”.
Before pondering such matters, let me first try to justify my case about (continental) philosophy and the bush, against the background that the urban population in Australia was last measured at 89.42% in 2015 by the World Bank, significantly more than France, Germany, the UK and the USA. I will commence this short and anecdotal survey at the ‘beginning’, albeit noting that it is not the beginning of philosophy on this continent per se, of course (Indigenous philosophies have been practiced for many thousands of years), but the ‘beginning’ of academic philosophy promulgated by someone born in Australia. We will return to this, but Australia’s first native-born philosopher to be granted academic tenure was of Scottish heritage. J. McKellar Stewart (1878–1953) was born at Ballangeich, near Warrnambool, and appointed by Boyce Gibson to the University of Melbourne (Rathbone 2010). He was a Bergson expert, along with one of our Prime Ministers of the time, and after whom my own institution was named: Alfred Deakin. Hard to imagine any of our recent PMs reading French philosophy in their spare time, notwithstanding Tony Abbott’s PPE degree and his middling results in moral philosophy. Sticking with Deakin University for the moment, Max Charlesworth, a key player in introducing continental philosophy to the syllabus at the University of Melbourne and then Deakin, was born in Numurkah, a small town near Shepparton in Victoria, thereafter growing up in Kilmore. To take in Australia more broadly, three Australian philosophers, two amongst them women and continental philosophers at that, heralded from a tiny town in WA wheatbelt, Quairading. Some eminent Sydney philosophers were born and lived their childhood in Grenfell, near Orange in New South Wales, and Coonabarabran respectively. Other continental philosophers come from respectively: parts of Tasmania outside of La Trobe; Yass; various old gold mining areas in the Victoria in the bush surrounding Avoca and Talbot; the “outback” of Northern Queensland, half an hour or so from Townsville… This is a small sample, but I can regale you
with stories and names for a very long time. With my confirmation bias admittedly intact, I have found a lot. Indeed, sufficiently many, I believe, that it cannot be dismissed as mere happenstance.
And they aren’t all continental philosophers. David Stove, of Armstrong and Devitt’s realist/”no bull shit” set, came from the bush. Rai Gaita’s childhood in Victoria is famously recounted in Romulus, My Father. He later reflects on the importance of his “relationship to the desolate beauty of the central Victorian landscape” (After Romulus). And there aren’t that many academic philosophers in Australia. Maybe 2-300 in actual departments at any given time, continental philosophers a much smaller group again. Maybe you will indulge me in these claims. If statistically a significant anomaly, as I am suggesting, what should we conclude? After all, the country is not just a home for esoteric philosophers. They are home to a rich diversity of Australian life, which includes many strong supporters of Pauline Hanson, various religious groups, maybe the Australian mafia, at least if one can believe some well-known TV stories concerning Griffith. Might boredom be a factor? Might the landscape be a factor? Even the sun, as Armstrong contended, no doubt reflecting a long history of such evocations, taking in figures like Banjo Patterson, Patrick White, David Malouf, and Tim Winton, to bring some literary figures into this conversation?
No doubt, the harsh brown landscape also has other cultural stories to tell, including about why this litany of philosophers who come from the country remain “white” to an overwhelming degree. Indeed, maybe it even has something to do with the manner in which “we” are all “home” on a land that is nonetheless not ours, even if we may not feel this as children. Whatever a homeland might be, and however entrenched we are and were in it, our non-indigeneity may imperceptibly influence our experiences. Indeed, for an evocative account of this kind of contradiction in Pinjara in 1970, where it was indeed more palpable than for most, see Ferrell 2003. Recently the Australasian Society of Continental Philosophy has inaugurated a book series that ponders some related themes (Rowman and Littlefield International). Of course, some with this regional background never want to return, and appear to aim to expel any trace of it from their philosophical reflections. Others have a faint nostalgia for those places (and perhaps those times). Philosophy is always situated and embedded in histories and cultures, yet retains a movement beyond this; it is never merely local or it ceases to be philosophy. But it is interesting that the notional home for many Australian philosophers is on the margins, always involving enculturation in cities and their universities, but seemingly also always coming from outside. Something about the Australian bush, and other circumstances surrounding it, appears to be propitious for philosophy.Report

Daniel Nolan
2 years ago

A small factual note about Jack Reynolds’ post. The earliest Australian-born philosopher I know of to receive academic tenure is Samuel Alexander, born in 1852, and who received what I think was a continuing position as a Fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford, in 1882. (Since that was when J. McKellar Stewart was 4 years old, I take it that predates Stewart’s position.)

It could be that Reynolds intended his claim to be about the first Australian-born philosopher to receive a permanent position in philosophy _in Australia_. Pedantically, of course, there is a case that neither Alexander nor Stewart were born in Australia. Alexander was born in the Colony of New South Wales, and Stewart in the Colony of Victoria, while the nation of Australia came into existence in 1901. But if we used that pedantry to rule out Alexander, it would of course rule out Stewart as well.Report

Kenny Easwaran
2 years ago

On this last point: “the transitions wrought first by inexpensive photocopies and air travel, then email, and then the internet in full information-deluge form. The local intellectual traditions I have emphasised in my story can’t really exist if information flows completely freely. There is a need for some locality of influence.”

I spend a lot of time on the internet. I travel to dozens of events and talks a year. And yet it’s still true that there’s a large locality of influence on my philosophical thinking. Moving from Los Angeles to central Texas, I’ve been surrounded by a very different set of colleagues, and get opportunities to attend a totally different set of talks. Online communication is still relatively low-impact compared to talking in person, and even with several days of travel per month talking to people in other cities and countries, most of my philosophical conversation is with the colleagues in my department, or at the other universities in Texas.

I can’t imagine how strong local influences must have been in past decades, when even getting to Houston took multiple hours from College Station, and long distance phone calls cost money and sending mail took time. But these distances aren’t by any means gone, just somewhat weaker than they used to be.Report

Professor Apricot
Professor Apricot
2 years ago

“Explaining the Outsized Self-Importance of Australian Philosophy”.
It’s really an interesting problem. Is it something in the water? Too much time in the sun?
OP writes of a disproportionate “influence” purportedly wielded by Australian philosophers. But where is this influence meant to have occurred? World-wide? The main evidence appears to consist in this: OP went for graduate study to a US department where he found Australian philosophers on the reading list. How surprising is it that a graduate student from Australia would be accepted by a department that finds Australian philosophy congenial? There are a great many other departments in the US, teaching a great many other things, but most Australian philosophers wouldn’t know because they never bother to find out about them (or worse, look down on them).
I went and read the Aeon article to see if I could find anything more substantive. All I could see was a rambling name-check of locally famous philosophers who are seen as very ‘influential’ by philosophers on whom they have had influence (which is by no means all philosophers), with some token women thrown in at the end. There didn’t seem to be anything substantive that these thinkers had in common, except possibly an “unusually simple but forceful style” – apart from those great Australian philosophers who didn’t have it. (Has anyone read “On the Plurality of Possible Worlds” lately? I mean all the way through, guys.)
In terms of the comparability claim trumpeted in the piece’s title, this seems to me as methodologically rotten as the reputational surveys of the “Philosophical Gourmet Report” – which in my view we all should be highly embarrassed happened in our discipline. We are supposed to be the good arguers – the brave, honest, self-critical arguers. That’s something we proudly tell the world about our value. And yet we put this kind of thing out in public. There’s a great deal that Australian philosophers could set themselves to humbly improving about their profession. One glaring example is Australian philosophy’s widespread failure to engage with the theft, abuse and murder on which their entire country was founded (which Jack Reynolds touches on above much more gently and diplomatically than myself), and its almost total lack of interest to the present day in exploring conceptual schemes being kept alive with considerable effort by Australia’s first nations people that are very different from those inhabited by Australia’s white inhabitants. Apparently this is much less interesting to Australian philosophers than abstract debates about ‘the varieties of abstract objects’ (taken from this month’s AJP. To be clear – I’m not saying that these debates should never happen but that currently the balance of prestige in our profession is all wrong.)
In the light of all that, these kinds of vacuous self-congratulations are really not helping.
Just to be clear – if someone wants to put forward an argument that Australian philosophers have had disproportionate influence with some evidence that bears methodological scrutiny, I’m open to it.
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David Mathers
David Mathers
Reply to  Professor Apricot
2 years ago

I suspect this isn’t the kind of thing you have in mind, but I will note that Singer is Australian, and through his animal rights work is probably one of the most practically influential living English-language philosophers. (Certainly, I think this is likely to have more practical influence on the world than an investigation of Aboriginal conceptual schemes, and that’s not because I think they are less worthy than anyone else’s conceptual schemes.)

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David Mathers
David Mathers
Reply to  Professor Apricot
2 years ago

Also Lewis wasn’t Australian. And his writing style is plenty forceful and clear as far as I’m concerned. Given that you obviously think the questions he worked on are not really that important, it’s hardly surprising you got bored towards the end of a whole book. But compare him to, like Ted Sider, or some of Dave Chalmers’ more recent efforts and the difference is night and day in terms of readability and charisma. (Not saying that makes Sider or Chalmers’ work anything other than excellent.)Report

David Mathers
David Mathers
Reply to  Professor Apricot
2 years ago

Also, name the times and places in the history of philosophy where philosophy has been mainly concerned with a) crimes of the state in the past, and b) the conceptual schemes of a disempowered minority? Perhaps this is not a good thing, but it’s hardly some unique failure of Australian philosophers specifically. Report

Professor Apricot
Professor Apricot
Reply to  David Mathers
2 years ago

Agreed, but I’m not asking that Australian philosophers be *mainly* concerned with these matters – just that they might give them some consideration. Report

Charles Pigden
Charles Pigden
2 years ago

Surely it isn’t that hard to show in a methodologically respectable manner that Australian philosophers have been influential. When it comes to influence, citation counts are a fairly good index and citation counts suffice to prove the point. Here is a list of prominent Australian philosophers together with some of their principal works and the relevant citation counts from Google Scholar.

J.JC Smart
‘Sensations and brain processes’, 1837
Utilitarianism: For and against, 1657
Philosophy and scientific realism, 1196
Free-will, praise and blame 358

J L Mackie
The cement of the universe: A study of causation, 3099
The Miracle of Theism, 1089
‘Evil and Omnipotence’ 649
Problems from Locke, 748
Hume’s Moral Theory 567
Truth Probability and Paradox 572.
Ethics:Inventing Right and Wrong, 5412

DM Armstrong
A materialist theory of the mind, 3401
A world of states of affairs, 2222
What is a Law of Nature? 1632
Belief, truth and knowledge, 1332
Universals: An opinionated introduction, 994

Frank Jackson (total citations 18404)
Epiphenomenal qualia 3198
‘What Mary didn’t know’ 1598
From Metaphysics to Ethics 2768

David Chalmers (total citations, 34469)
The Conscious Mind 9289
‘Facing up to the problem of consciousness’ 3189

Peter Singer
‘Famine Affluence and Morality ‘ 3032
Practical Ethics 5636
Animal Liberation 6450

Kim Sterelny (total citations, 12077; h-index 43)
Thought in a hostile world: The evolution of human cognition, 1004
Sex and death: An introduction to philosophy of biology (with Paul Griffiths) 1107

Given all this, I am inclined to think that any alleged philosopher who seriously doubts whether Australina philosophers have been philosophically influential must have been living under a rock for the last thirty years. Report

Charles Pigden
Charles Pigden
Reply to  Charles Pigden
2 years ago

I should add of course that this list is incomplete because I got tired of grinding my way through Google Scholar. Here are some other influential Australian philosophers that I could cite whose achievements readers are at liberty to check for themselves: Richard Routely/Sylvan, Val Routley/Plumwood, Michael Devitt, Michael Smith, Janna Thompson, Rae Langton, Huw Price, John Bigelow Graham Priest, Sue Uniacke, Brian Ellis, Tony Coady, David Coady, Raimond Gaita John Passmore, James Franklin and that champion among co-authors, the late Robert Pargetter. I agree with Professor Apricot that it s a black mark against Australian philosophers that not enough of them with ethical interests have had anything much to say about the expropriation and ethnic cleansing of the Aboriginal peoples, but this is not true of all them. Witness for example Thompson and Gaita But if there is a big ethical issues that Australian philosophers have on the whole avoided, it does not follow either that their work has not been influential or that it isn’t any good. Moreover it is far from obvious that American or Canadian philosophers on average have been any more loquacious about the acts of appropriation (or worse) on which *their* states depend than the philosophers of Australia. New Zealand philosophers by contrast have been much more ready to address Maori issues, perhaps because of all the settler nations, the history of New Zealand is the least shameful in this regard. Report

Charles Pigden
Charles Pigden
Reply to  Charles Pigden
2 years ago

A name I should have added to this list is Karen Neander whose work on biological functions has been both important and influential. Also Paul Griffiths for his work on the philosophy of biology and his book on the emotions. . Report

Professor Apricot
Professor Apricot
Reply to  Charles Pigden
2 years ago

Charles the claim is not *influence*, which I readily grant for Australian philosophy.
The claim is *outsized influence*, for which cherry-picking a list of highly cited Australian philosophical works is simply not sufficient. I could of course present you with a list of similarly highly cited philosophical works originating from the US, or the UK.Report

Charles Pigden
Charles Pigden
Reply to  Professor Apricot
2 years ago

‘ I could of course present you with a list of similarly highly cited philosophical works originating from the US, or the UK.’ Sure you could. But the UK has a population of 66 million, and USA a population of 327 million. Australia’s population is 25 million and New Zealand’s is just under 5 million. To show that the Australia’s influence has not been outsize , you would need to be able to produce a similar list of well cited philosophers from any randomly selected state or set of states with roughly the same population. (I stress the ‘any’. The claim that Australia has had an outsize influence on philosophy is compatible with the claim that the states of Massachusetts or New Jersey, for example, have *also* had outsize influences on philosophy. It isn’t compatible with the claim that any randomly selected state or set of states with the same population has had a similar influence.) So if you can produce a similar set of highly-cited philosophers from *all* of the following states or combinations of states, then I guess that Godfrey-Smith and I would stand refuted:
Texas
Florida
New York
Pennsylvania plus Illinois
Pennsylvania plus Ohio
Pennsylvania plus Georgia
Pennsylvania plus North Carolina,
Michigan, New Jersey and Virginia
Virginia, Washington and Arizona,
Massachusetts, Tennessee and Indiana,
Tennesse, Indiana and Missouri,
Any combination of three states with between six and eight million inhabitants
Any combination of five states with between 4.5 million and 5.5 million inhabitants.
And so on the line.
How about giving it a go with Oregon, Kentucky, Louisiana, Alabama and South Carolina?

In the case of New Zealand it’s bit easier. Generate a list of highly cited philosophers who either hail from New Zealand or have spent a substantial part of their careers in that country. Then match that list with a similarly cited set of philosophers who either come from or have spent most of their careers in the following states: Colorado, Minnesota, South Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana and Kentucky. If *all* of the above states have done roughly as well plus all of the combinations of states that add up to about five million (Nebraska, West Virginia and South Dakota for example), then we can put the claim to outsize influence to rest. Report

Charles Pigden
Charles Pigden
Reply to  Charles Pigden
2 years ago

Qualified retraction; On reflection this is setting the bar too high .For some 25-million states or state-combinations might have a severely below average number of influential philosophers. So to Prove Godfrey-Smith wrong, isn’t necessary to prove that *any* 25 million state or state-combination equals Australia’s score. To prove Godfrey-Smith and myself wrong you would only have to show that the *average* 25 million state or state-combination produces as many influential philosophers as Australia. This would take a lot of work. So it is simpler to use the other strategy. Work out a minimum threshold for influence (say a least one publication with 200-plus citations and a minimum of 1500 citations in total). Count up the number of Australian philosophers who make this grade. Call this number N. Then see if you can find 13.8 times as many US philosophers who also meet this criterion. If you can, the claim to outsize influence is refuted. In the case of New Zealand, you arrive at your figure N for influential New Zealand philosophers and then see if you can disinter 65.4 times N US philosophers who make this grade. If you can then the claim too outsize influence is refuted. If not, not. Report

Charles Pigden
Charles Pigden
Reply to  Professor Apricot
2 years ago

Here’s another way to look at . Suppose we set a standard in terms of citations for what would count as an influential philosopher. And suppose I can produce thirty Australian philosophers who meet this standard. Then, since Australia’ s population is 25 million and the US population is 327 million,, you would have to produce (327 ÷ 25) x 30 = 392 US philosophers with the same level of citations to show that Australia has *not* had an outsize influence. To put the point another way, since the US population is 13.8 times the population of Australia, for any number N representing the number of influential Oz philosophers, you would have to produce 13.8 times that figure of similarly influential US philosophers to prove that the Australia ‘s influence has not been outsize. . I think this would be tough to do. Report

Chris
Chris
Reply to  Charles Pigden
2 years ago

Here’s another way to look at it. Compare Australia with Canada: The population of Canada is about 37 million. That’s about 40-some% more than Australia. This means, if we follow your approach, that we should find about that many more citations if Canadian philosophers’ influence is similar to Australians in some kind of per capita way (Note that if we stick to Canadian philosophers that publish in English, the population of Canada isn’t that much more than Australia since there is something like 7 million francophones).

For each of the Australian philosophers you mention, I can find a Canadian with comparable or greater numbers of citations. Try: Paul Churchland, Patricia Churchland, Ian Hacking, Charles Taylor, David Gauthier, G. A. Cohen, Will Kymlicka, Mario Bunge, Bas van Fraassen, Jonathan Bennett, etc. I’ll leave it to you to see if there are 45% (or whatever) more citations, but at first glance, it looks about that way. That suggests that either Canada has also had an outside influence or that maybe Australia’s isn’t all that outsize.

Of course you could try to measure influence or “schools” than some other way. There are obvious problems with using citations as a metric of influence, and maybe there’s nothing like a “Canadian school” comparable to “Australian materialism”. But at a rough first pass, the citations numbers for Canadians look pretty much like what you’d expect if you thought they had a similar per captia influence. Perhaps those are reasons why PGS didn’t get into the citation game.
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Sis
Sis
Reply to  Chris
2 years ago

Jonathan Bennett is a New Zealander.Report

Charles Pigden
Charles Pigden
Reply to  Sis
2 years ago

Quite so, Sis. Bennett does not even count as Canadian by adoption, as though he did a couple of teaching stints at Simon Fraser and UBC, the bulk of his teaching career was spent at Syracuse University .Report

Chris
Chris
Reply to  Charles Pigden
1 year ago

Sorry, replace Bennett with Evan Thompson, then. Still looks like there isn’t a good case for the outside influence of Australian philosophers compared to Canadians, at least.

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