Scottish Philosophy in Australia

Philosophy came late to Australia in the sense that it was 1850 before there was any appointment of a college teacher of philosophy – a man with the highly unusual name of Barzillai Quaife. Quaife, a Christian minister in Sydney, was appointed Professor of Mental Philosophy and Divinity at a fledgling university – Australian College. The College did not survive, but in the four years that he was professor, Quaife launched a philosophical programme that owed almost everything to Thomas Reid as interpreted by Sir William Hamilton. Quaife's lectures were subsequently published as The Intellectual Sciences.

Perhaps fortuitously, this connection with Scotland's philosophical tradition and establishment proved enduring. The University of Sydney was founded in the same year Quaife was appointed – 1850 – and in his philosophy lectures its first Principal, the Revd John Woolley, though a professed Platonist, also drew on Reid via Hamilton and espoused the method of induction and experiment in metaphysics.

In 1881 Australia's second university, the University of Melbourne, appointed Henry Laurie lecturer in logic. Laurie was a Scot and a student ofA C Fraser at the University of Edinburgh. The connection proved more than contingent, because in 1902 Laurie published Scottish Philosophy in its National Development, one of the first major works by an Australia based philosopher. Interestingly, Laurie sides with J F Ferrier rather than Reid, thereby revealing an awareness of the way in which the Scottish philosophical tradition had transcended Reid and the 'School of Common Sense'.

The first occupant of the Challis Chair of Mental and Moral Philosophy at the University of Sydney (in 1890) was Francis Anderson, a native of Glasgow. Anderson was a student of John Veitch, and graduated with distinction in philosophy, subsequently becoming an assistant to Edward Caird. Three decades later, the same Chair was occupied by his namesake John Anderson, who exerted a huge influence not just on philosophy in Australia, but on the Dominion's intellectual life in general. Like his predecessor, John Anderson was a Scot and a graduate of Glasgow, where he had studied under Caird's student and colleague Henry Jones. Before taking up his Chair in Sydney, Anderson taught philosophy at the University of Edinburgh during the Professorship of Norman Kemp Smith, the pre-eminent scholar of Hume and Kant. Despite this pedigree, the 'Scottish' character of John Anderson's own philosophy is debatable, although it clearly shares the strongly empiricist and realist cast characteristics of Hume and Reid. In an attempt to offset some of Anderson's not always benign influence, Sydney established a second Chair of Philosophy, but the appointee – Alan K Stout – (who proved a devoted ally of Anderson's) continued the Scottish connection, coming to Sydney from a lectureship in Edinburgh, and being the son of G F Stout, Professor of Logic and Metaphysics at St Andrews.

In 1960, the first major study of Scottish philosophy to appear in the 20th century was published by an Australian philosopher. The product of a PhD thesis completed at St Andrews, S A Grave's The Scottish School of Common Sense was followed twenty four years later by A History of Philosophy in Australia which traced the influence of Scottish Philosophy in Australia and set it in context with the other important influences in the development of philosophy in Australia.