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UNESCO has been celebrating Philosophy Day on the third Thursday of November since 2002. It is a day when UNESCO encourages philosophical reflection, with its objective “to share the philosophical heritage of the peoples of the world and to inspire public debate between intellectuals and civil society on the challenges that still confront our society.”

Encouraging public debate is one of the objectives of Sydney University Press, and we have a number of philosophy titles in our list, including a series of books by John Anderson.

John Anderson was Challis Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sydney from 1927 until 1958 and he remains one of the most important and influential philosophers to have worked in Australia. His students included not only academic philosophers but also important figures in politics, law and journalism. He is perhaps best remembered for his promotion of “free thought”, which influenced members of what would become known as the Sydney Push.

Anderson taught on an astonishingly wide range of subjects, from Ancient Greek philosophy to modern literature. Many of his most important ideas were contained in his lectures – which might have been forever lost if not for the students who attentively transcribed them. The University of Sydney library has collected these lecture notes and other materials in the John Anderson Archive, and Sydney University Press has published a series of books drawn from them.

In Lectures on Greek Philosophy 1928Lectures on Greek Philosophy 1928, Anderson recommends that modern philosophers return to “the Greek consideration of things”, abandon epistemology as “an intrusion of mind into logic and of a false logic into psychology”, and accept the direct common-sense realism of the Greek philosophers.

In Lectures on Modern Philosophy 1932-35: Hume Reid James, he argues that there can be no reconciliation between rationalism and empiricism, and calls for a rejection of the view of modern philosophy as an emerging synthesis of these competing epistemological positions.

Another important Sydney philosopher, John Burnheim, was Rector of St John’s College before becoming the head of the radical General Philosophy Department, after the Philosophy Department of the University of Sydney split in 1974. Reacting against the conventional ethos of prewar Australia, Burnheim endeavoured to administer the new venture as a participatory democracy and encouraged an opening towards Continental philosophy and feminist thinking.

Is Democracy Possible? The Alternative to Electoral Democracy

In To Reason Why: From Religion to Philosophy and Beyond, Burnheim explains the arguments and aspirations that have guided his thinking about the key issues of the last half-century. In Is Democracy Possible? The Alternative to Electoral Democracy, he presents bold and original proposals for the working of a new democracy. In particular, he provides a radical reinterpretation of the concept and mechanics of representation, proposing an alternative structure that is designed to avoid concentrations of power and power-trading at any level of society.

UNESCO believes that philosophy helps to consolidate democracy, human rights, justice and equality, all of which are fundamental for peaceful coexistence. In the wake of the Paris attacks, the need for philosophical reflection is as important as ever.

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