Remembering J. J. C. Smart

At the beginning of my academic career, British philosopher Peter Strawson visited Zagreb and gave a talk at our department. In a chat after his lecture, I asked him for his opinion about Jack Smart, the Australian philosopher, in whose work on physicalism I was then very interested.

Strawson’s comment on Smart was just the following three words: “Anima naturaliter Australiana.” This was, of course, an allusion to Tertullian’s famous dictum “Anima naturaliter Christiana” (“The soul is by nature Christian”). The point of Strawson’s sneering remark was obviously that he dismissed Smart’s philosophy as suffering from what he (Strawson) regarded as that characteristic Australian crudeness and unsophistication.

This was my first encounter with the typical Oxford arrogance, and I was disgusted. Therefore, my response to Strawson was: “Peter, I think you are a jerk.” (Well, not exactly in these words!)

Apparently, the common response of British philosophers to Australian materialism (defended by Place, Smart, and Armstrong) was to say: “A touch of the sun, I suppose”.

Meanwhile, the Australian philosophers, being a crude lot they are, have continued to celebrate Smart as a truly great philosopher. When the Australian National University introduced the prestigious Jack Smart Lectures in 1998, Philip Pettit said the following:

John Jamieson Carswell Smart arrived in Australia in August 1950 to take up the Chair of Philosophy at the University of Adelaide. He had completed two years as a Junior Research Fellow at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he had earlier taken a B.Phil., and he was just short of thirty years old. He spent twenty two years in Adelaide and then, after four years at La Trobe, moved to the Australian National University in 1976. He officially retired over ten years ago but has never ceased to be an active member of the ANU philosophical scene.

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 recognized in the various honors 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.

Indeed!

I met Jack at a conference in Germany in 1978, and a few years later, as he and his wife were traveling across Europe, they stayed for a couple of days at my place in Zagreb. My wife Zvjezdana and I had a wonderful time with them. Jack died in October of 2012 at the age of 92. Besides being a superb philosopher, he was an exceptionally nice man, loved by everyone who knew him.


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