About Philosophy at the University of Melbourne
The Department of Philosophy of the University of Melbourne is an old one, with a wealth of history and achievements.
Philosophy was taught at the University from its foundation in 1853, and the Boyce Gibson Chair of Philosophy, founded in 1886, is, in fact, the oldest chair of philosophy in Australia (though it was given its current name only in 1966, after the retirement of Sandy Boyce Gibson, who succeeded his father, W. R. Boyce Gibson, in the Chair).
The Department started off modestly, with the appointment of Henry Laurie, who was as much professional journalist as professional philosopher. But over its life, it has grown in strength and reputation. One small statistic is an index of this. When the University was founded, it had a total 16 students. The number of students who take philosophy subjects each year is now in the thousands.
The early years of the Department were marked by a rivalry with the Philosophy Department of the University of Sydney. Most notably, in the 1940s and 1950s, when Sydney was under the influence of the realism of John Anderson, Melbourne developed a strong Wittgensteinian reputation, under the influence of Douglas Gasking (who succeeded the second Boyce Gibson in the Chair), Camo Jackson, and George Paul. The Wittgensteinians had a strong impact not only on philosophy but also on the intellectual life of Melbourne University generally.
Sandy Boyce Gibson fostered an open-spirited ethos in the Department, a spirit that is concerned to represent different traditions. This was true even in the Department's Wittgensteinian period, and remains the case today. The Department has always taught both "analytic" and "continental" philosophy (indeed W. R. Boyce Gibson studied in France and Germany, and translated Husserl's Ideas into English); increasingly, now, it is also teaching Asian philosophy.
The Department has always prided itself on its teaching. It has produced a number of graduates who have gone on to have a major international impact on philosophy, such as Frank Jackson, Peter Singer, and Mark Johnston, as well as many who have gone on to distinguish themselves in the arts, government, and other areas of public life.
Many members of the Department have also, of course, had notable international reputations. Apart from some of those already mentioned, these include Len Goddard, who held the Chair of Logic and Metaphysics at the University of St Andrews before succeeding Gasking in the Boyce Gibson Chair, and David Armstrong, who moved from the Department to take up the Challis Chair of Philosophy at the University of Sydney. Many outstanding international philosophers, such as (the now sadly late) David Lewis, and Jay Garfield, have also been frequent visitors, and strongly involved in the intellectual life of the Department.
The Department is now a major player on the world scene in philosophy. Two of its current research strengths are in Applied Ethics (a major interest of Tony Coady, who succeeded Goddard in the Chair) and Philosophical Logic (a major interest of Graham Priest, the Chair's present incumbent). In both of these areas, the Department was recently recognized by the Leiter Report – a report based on peer review of English-language Philosophy Departments, published by Blackwell – as one of the top handful in the world.