Jack Smart Lecture: Twenty Years

Jack Smart Lecture: Twenty Years

The following article is taken from Professor Philip Pettit's speech at the inaugural Jack Smart Lecture and an obituary written by Professor Frank Jackson at the time of Jack's death.

J.J.C. Smart AC 16 September 1920 – 6 October 2012.

John Jamieson Carswell (Jack) Smart was born on 16 September 1920, in Cambridge, England. He studied philosophy and mathematics at The University of Glasgow, graduating with the MA in 1948. His career as an undergraduate was interrupted by service in the British Army, 1940 – 1945, serving mainly in India and Burma. He took the BPhil at The University of Oxford in 1948, was a Junior Research Fellow at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, 1948 – 1950, before being appointed Hughes Professor of Philosophy at The University of Adelaide. He was very young (29) for a chair and his appointment was part of Adelaide's policy of making bold appointments of early career scholars to chairs. This is a high risk policy but it paid off in more than spades in Smart's case. During his time at Adelaide (1950 – 1972), he made enormously influential contributions in four areas of philosophy: the philosophy of time, the philosophy of science, normative ethics and the philosophy of mind. The impact of his contributions can be gauged by the fact that during this time he accepted visiting professorships at Princeton (1957), Harvard (1963) and Yale (1964), and later at Stanford (1982). Despite a great affection for Adelaide – the city and the university – in 1972 he felt it was time to move on and he took a Readership at La Trobe University, 1972 – 1976, before moving to The Research School of Social Sciences at The Australian National University, in 1976, where he was professor of philosophy and the chair of the department. He retired in 1985. He was a Visiting Fellow in RSSS from 1986 to 1999. He moved to Melbourne in October 1999, where he was an Honorary Research Fellow in philosophy at Monash University and regularly attended philosophy seminars there for many years. Among his many distinctions were honorary doctorates from The University of St Andrews, Glasgow and La Trobe, the giving of the Gavin David Young Lectures at Adelaide in 1987, being a foundation Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and being made a Companion in the General Division in the Order of Australia in 1990.

Although born in England and educated in Scotland, Smart very quickly became identified with Australia and Australian philosophy. The directness and informality of Australia and Australian philosophy appealed to him. His publications were marked by great clarity and an unusual lack of pretension for someone of his eminence, but it was the kind of clarity and lack of pretension that is only possible for someone with a deep understanding of difficult issues. He had a remarkable ability to cut straight to the core of a philosophical problem and make a seminal contribution in surprisingly few words.

His most famous article, ‘Sensations and Brain Processes’, first published in 1959, reshaped the philosophy of mind and is one of the most reprinted articles in analytical philosophy. In it he defended and developed the view that sensations are brain processes. Later he extended the view to encompass intentional states like belief and desire and mental states in general. Nowadays some form of materialism is a very widely accepted position, but in the 1960s and 70s the view was extremely controversial and was known in some quarters as the 'Australian heresy'. (David Armstrong at Sydney also played a very important role in developing the view and together they influenced a generation of Australian philosophers.)

In the philosophy of science Smart was one of the most influential supporters of realism about the sub-microscopic particles of physics. Electron theory is not merely a device for predicting experimental results, rather electrons are the causes of the results; otherwise, Smart argued, the results would be some kind of enduring miracle. Smart viewed time as a fourth dimension akin to the three spatial ones – objects are extended in time as well as in space. He saw this view as the only one to hold in the light of relativity theory and was impatient with those philosophers who think that one can sensibly philosophise about time without due deference to what physics has to say. In normative ethics he defended act utilitarianism: the right act is that act out of those available to the agent that would produce the most happiness (or, better, has the greatest expectation of doing so). His criticism of rule utilitarianism – the view that the right act is the act in accord with the rule the following of which would produce the most happiness – as involving a kind of ‘rule worship’ inconsistent with utilitarianism’s guiding focus on outcomes set the agenda for much of the debate over utilitarianism and more generally consequentialist views in ethics.

Philosophy for Smart was much more than something he was quite unusually good at; it structured his life. But it was never all his life. He had a great affection for family and friends – and then there was cricket. He was known to check the Test score (discreetly, on a small radio held to his ear) during philosophy seminars, and he remarked that he realised he had become an Australian when he found himself barracking for Australia against England in cricket. (He became an Australian citizen in 1976.)

His first wife Janet Paine died in 1967. He married Elizabeth Warner in 1968. He is survived by Elizabeth, and his children Helen and Robert from his first marriage.

In 1998 the Philosophy Program at RSSS decided to fund an annual lecture in honour of a former Professor and Head. 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. 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 philosophy 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

Peter Godfrey-Smith
Professor of the History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Sydney
Materialism, Subjectivity and Evolution
12 July 2017

Sally Haslanger
Ford Professor of Philosophy in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cognition as a Social Skill
27 July 2016

Rae Langton
Professor of Philosophy and Professorial Fellow, Newnham College, University of Cambridge
How to gain (and lose) authority with words
14 July 2015

John Broome
White's Professor of Moral Philosophy and fellow of Corpus Christi College, University of Oxford. Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at the Australian National Univesity.
A linguistic turn in the philosophy of normativity?
15 July 2014

John Bigelow
Emeritus Professor, Monash University Philosophy Department
Jack Smart: Logic and Passion
18 July 2013

Susan Wolf
Edna J. Koury Professor, Chapel Hill
Two Concepts of Rule-Utilitarianism
10 July 2012

Alvin Goldman
Board of Governors Professor, Rutgers University
Philosophical Naturalism and Intuitional Methodology
19 July 2011

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
Blame
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

  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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Susan Wolf (Edna J. Koury Professor, Chapel Hill) "Two Concepts of Rule-Utilitarianism"

10 Jul 2012

In "Extreme and Restricted Utilitarianism," Jack Smart showed decisively that Restricted (or Rule-) Utilitarianism was an unstable moral theory, either...

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