A HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY IN AUSTRALIA
Corrupting the Youth. James Franklin, New South Wales, 2003, 465pp.
Reviewed by John Young.
This book gives a vivid picture of philosophers in Australia: their lives, their contrasting views and their influence on the students. James Franklin has done a great deal of research, as shown in the numerous references throughout the volume.
The first part has a detailed account of the thought of the famous (or infamous) Professor John Anderson of Sydney, and contrasts this with alternative views, especially with the Thomistic philosophy taught by Dr Austin Woodbury SM at the Aquinas Academy in Sydney. Professor Anderson was a materialist: the mind is matter, like everything; there is no ultimate self to which motives belong. There are only material things in space and time. Ethics is a study of human activities, but no absolute rights exist. Clearly this philosophy rules out anything supernatural and also any universally valid system of ethics and any transcendental realities.
Anderson was Professor of Philosophy at Sydney University from 1927 till 1958, and in that time influenced numerous students who later went on to occupy prominent positions in teaching, law, politics, journalism and other fields. His views changed the outlook of numerous students, and led to many abandoning Christianity.
In contrast to Anderson was Dr Austin Woodbury, who founded the Aquinas Academy in 1945, and conducted it until his retirement due to ill health in 1974. It was for long a remarkably successful operation. In 1961 “…it was running nineteen classes a week, with a total enrolment of some 500”. They were mostly lay people of all ages and occupations. Most classes were in the evening. Franklin quotes Woodbury on the philosophy of Anderson and his associates: “The department of philosophy at Sydney University is a cancer at what ought to be the heart of the scholastic life of this city. It is a disgrace to the University of Sydney, and would be a disgrace to any university anywhere…”
Despite Franklin’s awareness of the erroneous character of Anderson’s philosophy he fails to fully appreciate Woodbury. Like others, Franklin is influenced by the myth of an alleged inward looking philosophy promoted by Father Garrigou-Lagrange, and he sees this as influencing Dr Woodbury and Dr P. J. Ryan.
I studied at the Aquinas Academy for many years and I am familiar with the main schools of philosophy through the ages. Critiques of these were given at the Academy – and in the writings of Garrigou-Lagrange. Philosophy at the Academy was certainly not inward looking.
The later chapters deal with a variety of philosophical ideas among Australia’s academics, explaining these in clear language and giving detailed references. A good insight is given into the intellectual life in Australia to the end of the twentieth century. The reader sees the roots of current ideas in related subjects, including law and
One can see more clearly why Professor Peter Singer is influential and respected, and why he could say that “…the grounds for not killing persons do not apply to newborn infants” (p. 82).
John Young leads the Philosophy and Discussion Group on
Wednesdays at the Library.