Black swan: A history of continental philosophy in Australia and New Zealand

Robert Sinnerbrink*, Matheson S. Russell

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Like the fabled black swan of early epistemological inquiry, 'Australasian Continental philosophy' seems a kind of chimera apt to raise doubts rather than certainty. Is there such a mythical creature? Is it nothing more than a pale reflection of more paradigmatic instances found 'overseas', as we say in Australia, an Antipodean counterpart to the 'major' developments occurring in the United Kingdom or the United States? Or are there distinctive features of this phenomenon that, like the black swan, represent an unexpected variation unique to the Australasian environment? For a movement that one can date as first appearing in the early part of the twentieth century--the publication of John McKellar Stewart's 1913 critical study of Henri Bergson's philosophy may serve as a convenient starting point--it is surprising that Continental philosophy in Australia has only recently become a topic of historical interest. Part of the problem is the contested nature of the phenomenon in question. 'Continental philosophy' is a term that goes back to the nineteenth-century historical contrast between 'British empiricism' and 'Continental rationalism' (Bertrand Russell dates the term 'from the time of Locke' (1945, pp. 631, 640)). It emerges more explicitly, however, with J.S. Mill's essays (from 1832 to 1840) on the contrast between Benthamite philosophy and the 'Germano-Coleridgean doctrine', the latter being identified with the 'Continental philosophers', and 'the Continental philosophy' as well as 'French philosophy' (Critchley 2000, p. 42). It takes on its more contemporary meaning, however, only after WWII, especially during the 1950s (see Glendinning 2006, pp. 69-90). The term gives way to the political urgency of Marxism and feminism during the 1970s, gains a new sense of institutional valency during the 1980s and 90s (with the rise of poststructuralism), and has more recently become the subject of meta-philosophical reflection (see Critchley 2000; Glendinning 2006; Levy 2003; Reynolds and Chase 2010).

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHistory of Philosophy in Australia and New Zealand
EditorsGraham Oppy, N.N. Trakakis
Place of PublicationDordrecht, Netherlands
PublisherSpringer, Springer Nature
Number of pages42
ISBN (Electronic)9789400769588, 940076958X
ISBN (Print)9400769571, 9789400769571
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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