Sometimes people need to be reminded of the scholarly purpose of universities which is to provide the milieu for writing books like his. One would hope that a university press would have justified its existence by publishing the book, however it was taken up and then dropped by two of the leading university presses in Australia (Melbourne and UNSW).
Jim Franklin, Associate Professor of Mathematics at the University of New South Wales, has pursued a monumental research project and provided the fruits of his labours in good humoured, somewhat understated and very readable form. David Armstrong suggested in his launching speech that such a book could probably never be written again. That was a surprising thing to hear until the truth was revealed in the massive bulk of the footnotes.
Another reason why this book could never be written again is that Professor John Anderson will cast a shorter shadow in future histories because his influence was almost entirely exerted by personal contact and he retired in 1958 which means that the youngest students who remember him would now be on the verge of retirement themselves.
The story is told in three parts. First an overview under the heading "John Anderson's Sydney and Alternatives". This signals that Australian philosophy assumed its most distinctive (and corrupting ) form in the critical realism and materialism that was expounded by John Anderson from 1927 to 1957. Some fine philosophers passed emerged from Anderson's department (John Passmore, Mackie, Perc Partridge, David Armstrong) but they had to leave Sydney to blossom. Anderson established a record of appointing and promoting mediocrities while discouraging people from publishing or from assimilating influences from abroad. He never tried to swim in a bigger pond and he discouraged his associates from doing so. The result is that Andersonian philosophy rated only a footnote in Passmore's Hundred Years of Western Philosophy. Anderson's critical/skeptical way of thinking is sometimes described as giving rise to a distinctive "Sydney Line" which is promulgated by a web site. The Macleay Press, house journal of the Sydney Line, published Franklin's book.
Philosophy at the University of Melbourne (the second university in Australia) did not assume such a distinctive form, allowing more diversity, albeit as an outpost of overseas trends such as positivism, linguistic philosophy and Marxism, in various combinations. Tasmania, the third university in the nation but now one of the smallest, gets a mention on account of Sydney Sparkes Orr, a mediocre scholar who fluked a chair in Hobart and was dismissed after alleged sexual involvement with a student. He attracted support from the academic community worldwide and the Tasmanian chair was declared "black" for some years until the late 1960s.
The role of the Catholic Scholastics receives generous attention in the role that they played in the (Roman) Catholic education system as does the activity of Archbishop Gough, the Anglican Primate of Australia, in challenging the alleged corrupting influence of Professor Anderson from the pulpit of the Cathedral. This provided the basis for a lot of sensational press cover in the early 1960s.
The second part treats the wider sphere of philosophy. A chapter on the Sydney Push depicts the Andersonians downtown as "critical drinkers". They branched in two directions when the conservative Andersonians enlisted on the correct side in the Cold War and the radicals took on Marxism and Anarchism, an unlikely combination.
Another chapter describes the local contribution to the materialist theory of mind which became known as "Australian materialism" due to the work of Place, Smart and Armstrong . The third chapter in this section is the longest in the book and it is not concerned with the corruption of youth, quite the reverse, it describes various ways that were explored to inspire youth in the pursuit of virtue - school lessons in civics, Boy Scouts, cadets, team sports, surf lifesaving, the Empire, the heroes of ancient Rome (Horatius on the bridge), the Anzac legend, the Romantic poets (my spirits bark is driven...), improving literature and F R Leavis. Singly and collectively these are likely to arouse mirth in progressive circles but Franklin is correct to write "The story of the spread of restraint in the first half of the twentieth century, when great sections of society pulled themselves out of the cycle of poverty, violence and alcohol addiction through intense effort devoted to temperance, thrift, self-control and hard work, has yet to be told".
The third part is devoted to special interests including the travails of the philosophy school at the University of Sydney which at one stage had to be split in two to accommodate traditionals and radicals, David Stove's counter-attack on the idols of progressivism in the philosophy of science, environmentalism, the invasion of French fashions, the various liberation movements and the emergence of Peter Singer as Australia's best known philosopher. The part of the book which I find most in need of criticism is that on David Sove and his criticism of Popper's views on the methods of science and the theory of conjectural knowledge but this disagreement has been treated elsewhere.
Does philosophy have to be a corrupter of youth? Plato dreaded independent thought and his philosopher kings had to undertake a long and rigorous training. The British idealistic movement of the late 1800s had potential but it was recruited to justify the expansion of State power. R G Collingwood considered that the "minute philosophy" which replaced idealism emptied moral philosophy of content and paved the way for the disasters of the Thirties. Logical positivism discarded discourse on morals as literally meaningless, existentialism - a matter of taste, Marxism - a tool of class interest, Freudianism and Andersonianism - the prejudices of prudes.
Maybe there is an answer along the lines of critical rationalism in science and ethics, not a cut and dried answer to any particular problem, but an answer in terms of method and procedure. Perhaps scientific theories and moral/political principles can be subjected to appraisal in terms of their capacity to solve problems and stand up to criticism. Theories and principles alike are human constructs but they are not arbitrary, they can be subjected to rational criticism, held as a matter of critical preference (in favour of other theories and principles) and they can be modified or discarded on the basis of evidence and arguments. As it happens, Franklin himself favours an objectivist approach to ethics, though this is not spelled out in the book.
In conclusion, this is equally admirable as a work as scholarship and a fine piece of writing. It deserves a wide readership in Australia and overseas as well, for those with an interest in the history of ideas and the interaction of town and gown.