Story: Philosophy

New Zealand philosophers, like their colleagues around the world, grapple with questions such as these: Can we trust knowledge? Is art useful? What is right or wrong? How do we know what is real?

Story by Kerryn Pollock
Main image: Max Cresswell, lecturer in philosophy at Victoria University of Wellington

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New Zealand has produced more than its fair share of internationally known philosophers. They have done important work in logic, ethics and the history of philosophy.

Ethics, exploring what is right or wrong, has been applied to local issues such as justice, race relations, the Treaty of Waitangi and the natural environment.

Philosophy in New Zealand has a strongly international flavour. Many New Zealand-based philosophers are immigrants, and a number of New Zealand-born philosophers have studied overseas before returning.

Māori knowledge systems (mātauranga Māori) are a uniquely New Zealand form of philosophy.

The role of universities

Generally the only way to have a career in philosophy in New Zealand has been by working at a university. Around three-quarters of university philosophy staff are men.

In 1871 Otago became the first New Zealand university to open a philosophy department. Later Canterbury, Auckland and Victoria universities offered the subject.

In 1937 the world-renowned Austrian philosopher Karl Popper took a job as a lecturer at Canterbury University. He stayed for eight years, and raised philosophy’s profile in New Zealand. Philosophy was first offered at the University of Waikato in 1966, at Massey University in 1969 and at Lincoln University in 1994.

In government assessments of research excellence, the philosophy departments of New Zealand universities have ranked highly when compared with other departments.

How to cite this page:

Kerryn Pollock, 'Philosophy', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 13 June 2024)

Story by Kerryn Pollock, published 22 October 2014