Philosophers explore questions about logic and reasoning, ethics and morality, existence, reality, alternative worlds and human nature.
In New Zealand, professional philosophy predominantly exists within universities. While philosophy graduates have worked in a wide range of fields, universities are the main places where philosophers can make a career out of philosophical research.
Philosophy majors are offered at six of New Zealand’s eight universities. Papers only are offered at Lincoln University, and there is no philosophy programme at Auckland University of Technology, although philosophy is taught in education and law papers. Te Wānanga o Raukawa offers a degree in Māori laws and philosophy.
Philosophy classes are held to a limited extent at some primary and secondary schools.
Austrian immigrant Peter Jacoby was one who managed to publish philosophical research outside of an academic institution. Jacoby gained a doctorate in law in Austria and was a research assistant to Austrian sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies. He immigrated to New Zealand in 1938. After he retired from his position as senior research officer at the Ministry of Education in 1969, Jacoby published extensively on Tönnies’ social philosophy and on Thomas Hobbes, the 17th-century English philosopher.
An international discipline
Because of its university setting, philosophy as practised in New Zealand is strongly international. Many New Zealand-based philosophers are migrants and a number of New Zealand-born philosophers studied overseas before returning to their home country to teach and research.
There is also a long-standing tradition of New Zealand philosophers taking up positions in universities overseas. New Zealand is recognised for producing more than its fair share of internationally renowned philosophers.
New Zealand philosophers
Logician Arthur Prior, who died in 1969, is arguably New Zealand’s most distinguished home-grown philosopher. Other New Zealanders who have gained international recognition for their philosophical work include:
- Annette Baier (ethics and David Hume’s philosophy)
- Jonathan Bennett (early modern philosophy)
- Max Cresswell (logic)
- Horace Romano (Rom) Harré (philosophy of science)
- Rosalind Hursthouse (ethics)
- Tim Mulgan (ethics)
- Jeremy Waldron (philosophy of law).
Is there a New Zealand philosophy?
Philosophy as practised in New Zealand, or by New Zealanders abroad, has been noteworthy in the fields of ethics, logic, and history of philosophy, particularly early modern philosophy (1600–1800). However, New Zealand as a place has little or no relevance to the fields of logic and the history of philosophy, and the related work of New Zealand philosophers cannot be said to have a distinctive flavour based on geographical location.
Ethics, sometimes called moral philosophy, asks questions about what is right or wrong, and how humans should behave in the world. It has been applied to issues of particular relevance to New Zealand, including race relations, colonisation, sovereignty, the Treaty of Waitangi, justice and the natural environment.
Māori knowledge systems (mātauranga Māori) are considered a uniquely New Zealand philosophy, and can be applied to New Zealand society, past and present. Pākehā John Patterson is unique among professional New Zealand philosophers in applying western philosophical methods of enquiry to Māori values and concepts.