Jack Smart lecture

In 1998 the Philosophy Program at RSSS decided to fund an annual lecture in honour of a former Professor and Head, J.J.C Smart. When approached to secure his permission, Jack agreed on condition that the Lecture be given a more 'down market' name than the proposed 'J.J.C. Smart Lecture.' Accordingly, the Inaugural Jack Smart Lecture was given on Friday 15 October, 1999 by Frank Jackson, Jack's successor as Professor and Head of the Philosophy Program, and, at that time, Director of the Institute of Advanced Studies, ANU. Before the Lecture began Philip Pettit, Professor of Social and Political Theory in the Program, said the following about Jack by way of introduction:

"John Jamieson Carswell Smart arrived in Australia in August 1950 to take up the Chair of Philosophy at the University of Adelaide. He had completed two years as a Junior Research Fellow at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he had earlier taken a B.Phil., and he was just short of thirty years old. He spent twenty two years in Adelaide and then, after four years at La Trobe, moved to the Australian National University in 1976. He officially retired over ten years ago but has never ceased to be an active member of the ANU philosophical scene. 

In the decades after his arrival in Australia Jack helped to change the direction of Philosophy, not just in Australia itself, but in the world at large. His part in effecting those results has been well recognised in the various honours he has received from Australian and overseas Universities; in his having been invested in the Order of Australia; and indeed in his having the annual lecture series that begins today named after him. Were there a Nobel Prize in Philosophy, I have no doubt but that he would have long ago been awarded this recognition. With a small group of philosophers world-wide he succeeded in changing the direction of his discipline and he contributed to significant advances along the trajectory thereby set.

The redirection that Jack helped bring about in philosopohy was motivated by an insistence on three points. First, that science, in particular physics, has to be taken realistically and seriously, as the best account we have of the nature of the world. Second, that common experience cannot be breezily dismissed as illusory, since it gives us the picture of the world by which we successfully steer in our day-to-day lives. And third, that the scientific image does not sit easily with the experiential image of the world, so that there is work to be done in trying to reconcile them to one another.

These three observations helped give shape to the project that has dominated analytical philosophy ever since. Jack was not on his own in articulating and helping to advance the project - he himself, ever unassuming, would want to give greater credit to figures like W.V.O. Quine, Wilfred Sellars and David Armstrong - but he was certainly at the forefront of the new movement. That movement took shape without a manifesto, it must be said, and it is only now, fifty years after it first began to appear, that we can appreciate the depth of change that it brought about. Jack's great Oxford mentor was Gilbert Ryle and while there is much in Ryle's work that remains of value - and much that Jack continues to draw to our attention - it reads today, and not just in Australia, like a tract from another country.

There are non-philosophers in the audience, I am aware, and it may be worth mentioning some of the topics that Jack tackled in the spirit of the new movement. One is the issue of how to make sense of the place that sensations enjoy in our lives, assuming that we are formed out of the bare materials described in physics and that we move under the exclusive control of physical law. In his 1959 paper on 'Sensations and Brain Processes' - one of the classics of twentieth century philosophy - he showed, following on the work of his colleague, Ullian Place, that we could identify sensations with brain processes without having to give up on the sorts of things we spontaneously believe about them. The new identity theory of sensations - and more generally of mental processes and states - is at the origin of the hypotheses that guide cognitive science and neuroscience today and marked a genuine revolution in philosophical thought. It attracted the name of 'Australian materialism' in its early days and while the tag was initially applied with a sneer, it quickly became a badge of honour for the generation of thinkers who took Jack Smart as one of their gurus.

A second topic on which Jack made a particularly influential contribution is one of the toughest issues in metaphysics: the nature of time. True to his scientific realism he argued that there really is no way of reconciling our experience, as it seems to be, of time passing: that the passage of time is indeed an illusion. While he thought that the scientific image could make room for sensations and other mental phenomena - including, for example, free will - he was honest enough, even outrageous enough, to argue that it could not make room for the notion that, in any literal sense, time passes. Time is a fourth dimension, as physics teaches us, and making sense of our experience as of the passage of time can only mean explaining to ourselves how it can seem - mistakenly - that time passes.

His views on both of those topics show us how bold Jack was prepared to be. Hidden beneath the fleece of the unassuming member of the flock - and this, in his gregarious way, he loved to be - is the wolf of an original, uncompromising and voracious intellect. His boldness also appeared in the direction that he took in regard to matters of value and morality. True to his scientific realism, once again, he recognised that whatever place value had in the world, it wasn't the sort of place occupied by physical properties like volume and charge and spin. This led him to argue that value, ultimately, could only be associated with the experiences of pleasure and pain that we human beings, and other sentient creatures, enjoy and suffer. Thus he spearheaded efforts in the later part of the century to breathe new life into what had been the discredited doctrine of utilitarianism. In this initiative, as in the others, he was one of the first to champion his chosen line, and he was one of those who had to suffer the incredulity, even the ridicule, that new departures always attract. But here as elsewhere the new departure proved to be one that others, in a short time, began to admire and follow. While he was always prepared to go out on a limb, Jack chose his branches well.

As I have suggested in passing, Jack is not only a leading intellect; he is also a relentlessly gregarious and social being. And so, unsurprisingly, we learn from published reminiscences that soon after arriving in Australia in August 1950 he set out to visit and make the acquaintance of leading philosophers in the country. One of these was A.C.Jackson, then a lecturer at the University of Melbourne, and Jack recalls that as he spoke to Camo Jackson, they watched Camo's young son play cricket on Ormond College grounds. It is fitting, not just that Frank Jackson succeeded Jack in his Chair at the Australian National University, but that he now takes the podium as the inaugural Jack Smart Lecturer."

Previous Jack Smart lecturers

Kit Fine


Silver Professor of Philosophy and Mathematics, New York University
Truth-maker Semantics
29 June 2010

Ned Block
Silver Professor of Philosophy, New York University
Why Consciousness Does Not Extend Outside The Brain
30 June 2009


Brian Skyrms
Professor of Logic and Philosophy of Science, University of California, Irvine
Professor of Philosophy, Stanford University
Game Theory, Evolution & The Social Contract
22 July 2008

Philip Kitcher
John Dewey Professor of Philosophy, Columbia University
Ethics after Darwin
8 August 2007

Ruth Garrett Millikan
Professor of Philosophy, University of Connecticut
Let me count the ways to tell a weasel: on extensional meanings and nature's clumps
10 July 2006

Timothy Williamson
Wykeham Professor of Logic at the University of Oxford
Philosophy, Conceptual Analysis, and the World
26 July 2005

Simon Blackburn
Professor of Philosophy, University of Cambridge
Hard Realism or Soggy Pluralism?
29 July 2004

Thomas M. Scanlon
Alford Professor of Natural Religion, Moral Philosophy, and Civil Polity, at Harvard University
30 July 2003

Jerry Fodor
State of New Jersey Professor of Philosophy, Rutgers University
Having concepts: a brief refutation of practically everything
31 July 2002

David Lewis
Class of 1943 University Professor of Philosophy, Princeton University
How many lives has Schroedinger's cat?
27 June 2001

Peter Singer
Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics, Princeton University
Outsiders: our obligations to those beyond our borders
24 August 2000

Frank Jackson
Professor of Philosophy, Research School of Social Sciences, and Director, Institute of Advanced Studies, Australian National University
Locke-ing onto content
15 October 1999

Past events

Materialism, Subjectivity and Evolution: 2017 Jack Smart Lecture

12 Jul 2017

This lecture begins with a sketch of the first versions of 'Australian materialism' and then looks at how the landscape of debate changed. Godfrey-Smith will...

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Jack Smart Lecture 2016: Cognition as a Social Skill

27 Jul 2016

  Most contemporary social epistemology takes as its starting point individuals with sophisticated propositional attitudes and considers (i) how those...

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Jack Smart Public Lecture: How to gain (and lose) authority with words

14 Jul 2015

Good speech is better, and bad speech is worse, whenit has authority. But where does the authority come from?  In part from the acts and omissions of other...

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2013 Jack Smart Memorial Conference and Public Lecture

18 Jul 2013

Audio of the 2013 Jack Smart Lecture now available

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2013 Jack Smart Memorial Conference and Public Lecture

18 Jul 2013

  Jack Smart Memorial Conference Program Public Lecture Abstract and Information

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2013 Jack Smart Memorial Conference

18 Jul 2013

The Jack Smart Memorial conference will be a one-day event on July 18. The speakers will be Mark Colyvan, Frank Jackson, Stephanie Lewis and Michael Smith;...

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Updated:  17 November 2017/Responsible Officer:  Head of School/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications