Friday, March 22, 2019
In 1988 I travelled from Sydney to San Diego, California, to start a PhD in philosophy. That trip looks like a short hop now, but back then it seemed a long way. I had just finished an undergraduate philosophy degree at the University of Sydney. After I arrived, part of my training for the PhD was to work as a teaching assistant (or tutor) for a course in moral philosophy. The course syllabus, I was surprised to find, was full of Australians: Peter Singer, John Mackie, Jack Smart.
At Sydney I had worked especially in the philosophy of mind, and learned early on that there was a family of views called ‘Australian materialism’. This suggested that Australia meant something in philosophy. I had also seen at Sydney a series of visitors from very good American universities, who had all said that the philosophical scene in Australia was unusually strong. But it was natural to wonder whether they were being gracious as guests. I knew also that I was joining a stream of Australian students who had gone to graduate school overseas. But I was still surprised to find, in an area of philosophy far from mine, all those Australians on the syllabus.