James Franklin (philosopher)

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James Franklin (born 1953 in Sydney) is an Australian philosopher, mathematician and historian of ideas.

Life and career[edit]

Franklin was educated at St. Joseph's College, Hunters Hill, New South Wales. His undergraduate work was at the University of Sydney (1971–74), where he attended St John's College and he was influenced by philosophers David Stove and David Armstrong. He completed his PhD in 1981 at the University of Warwick, on algebraic groups.[1] Since 1981 he has taught in the School of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of New South Wales.

His research areas include the philosophy of mathematics and the 'formal sciences', the history of probability, Australian Catholic history, the parallel between ethics and mathematics, restraint, the quantification of rights in applied ethics, and the analysis of extreme risk. Franklin is the literary executor of David Stove.

He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of New South Wales.[2]

History of ideas[edit]

His 2001 book, The Science of Conjecture: Evidence and Probability Before Pascal, covered the development of thinking about uncertain evidence over many centuries up to 1650. Its central theme was ancient and medieval work on the law of evidence, which developed concepts like half-proof, similar to modern proof beyond reasonable doubt, as well as analyses of aleatory contracts like insurance and gambling.[3] The book was praised by N.N. Taleb.[4]

His polemical history of Australian philosophy, Corrupting the Youth (2003), praised the Australian realist tradition in philosophy and attacked postmodernist and relativist trends.[5]

Philosophy of mathematics[edit]

In the philosophy of mathematics, Franklin defends an Aristotelian realist theory, according to which mathematics is about certain real features of the world, namely the quantitative and structural features (such as ratios and symmetry).[6] The theory is developed in his 2014 book An Aristotelian Realist Philosophy of Mathematics: Mathematics as the Science of Quantity and Structure.[7] The theory stands in opposition to both Platonism and nominalism, and emphasises applied mathematics and mathematical modelling as the most philosophically central parts of mathematics. He is the founder of the Sydney School in the philosophy of mathematics.[8] [9] [10] Over the years, the School has hosted emerging Australasian philosophers such as Anne Newstead, Lisa Dive, and Jeremiah Joven Joaquin. Paul Thagard writes that "the current philosophy of mathematics that fits best with what is known about minds and science is James Franklin's Aristotelian realism."[11]

In the philosophy of probability, he argues for an objective Bayesian view according to which the relation of evidence to conclusion is strictly a matter of logic.[12] An example is evidence for and against conjectures in pure mathematics.[13] His book What Science Knows: And How It Knows It develops the philosophy of science from an objective Bayesian viewpoint.


His work on the parallel between ethics and mathematics[14] received the 2005 Eureka Prize for Research in Ethics.[15]

In 1998 he set up and taught for ten years a course on Professional Issues and Ethics in Mathematics at UNSW.[16]

He conducted the "Restraint Project", a study of the virtue of temperance or self-control in Australia.[17] In 2008 he set up the Australian Database of Indigenous Violence.[18]

Philosophy of religion[edit]

Franklin has defended Pascal's Wager[19] and Leibniz's Best of all possible worlds theory,[20] and has discussed emergentism as an alternative to materialist atheism and theism.[21]

Australian Catholic history[edit]

He is the editor of the Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society.[22] His books on Australian Catholic history are Catholic Values and Australian Values (2006) and The Real Archbishop Mannix (2015, with G.O.Nolan and M. Gilchrist). He has written also on the Catholic sexual abuse crisis,[23] Magdalen laundries,[24] missions to Aboriginal Australians,[25] and the virtuous life of Catholic rural communities.[26]


Franklin has written several books and articles:

Articles (a selection):

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "James William Franklin". Mathematics Genealogy Project. Retrieved 15 August 2019.
  2. ^ "Fellows of the Royal Society of NSW". Retrieved 15 August 2019.
  3. ^ Hawkins, J (19 October 2001). "Casting light on the shadow of doubt" (PDF). Science. 294. Retrieved 15 August 2019.
  4. ^ Taleb, Nassim Nicholas (9 July 2015). "Stands above, way above other books on the history and philosophy of probability". Amazon. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  5. ^ Oderberg, David (11 June 2004). "Hegel hits the beach: review of Corrupting the Youth". Times Literary Supplement. London. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  6. ^ Franklin, James (7 April 2014). "The Mathematical World". Aeon. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  7. ^ Jones, Max (2015). "Review of James Franklin, An Aristotelian Realist Philosophy of Mathematics". Philosophia Mathematica. 23 (2): 281–8. doi:10.1093/philmat/nkv011. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  8. ^ "The Sydney School: Mathematics, the Science of Structure". University of New South Wales School of Mathematics and Statistics. 2005. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  9. ^ Lane, Bernard (13 July 2005). "Go figure, philosophy gets real". The Australian, Higher Education Supplement. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  10. ^ Saunders, Alan (15 May 2010). "The Philosophy of Mathematics". The Philosopher's Zone. ABC. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  11. ^ Thagard, Paul (2019). Natural Philosophy: From Social Brains to Knowledge, Reality, Morality, and Beauty. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 442. ISBN 9780190686444.
  12. ^ Franklin, James (2011). "The objective Bayesian conceptualisation of proof and reference class problems". Sydney Law Review. 33 (3): 545–61. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  13. ^ Franklin, James (2016). "Logical probability and the strength of mathematical conjectures". Mathematical Intelligencer. 38 (3): 14–19. doi:10.1007/s00283-015-9612-3. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  14. ^ James Franklin (2004). "On the Parallel Between Mathematics and Morals" (PDF). Philosophy. The Royal Institute of Philosophy. 79: 97–119. doi:10.1017/S0031819104000075.
  15. ^ "James Franklin wins Eureka Prize for Research in Ethics". School of Mathematics and Statistics, UNSW. 25 August 2005. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  16. ^ Franklin, James (2005). "A "Professional issues and ethics in mathematics" course" (PDF). Gazette of the Australian Mathematical Society. 33: 98–100. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  17. ^ "The Restraint Project: Temperance and Self-Control in Australia". UNSW School of Mathematics and Statistics. 2006. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  18. ^ Lane, Bernard. "Filling gaps in native mortality". The Australian. Archived from the original on 29 July 2008. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  19. ^ Franklin, James (2018). "Chapter 1: Pascal's wager and the origins of decision theory: decision-making by real decision-makers". In Bartha, P.; Pasternack, L. (eds.). Classic Philosophical Arguments: Pascal’s Wager (PDF). Cambridge University Press. pp. 27–44. doi:10.1017/9781316850398.002. ISBN 9781316850398.
  20. ^ Franklin, James (2003). "Leibniz's solution to the problem of evil" (PDF). Think. 2 (5): 97–101. doi:10.1017/S1477175600002670. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  21. ^ Franklin, James (2019). "Emergentism as an option in the philosophy of religion: Between materialist atheism and pantheism," (PDF). Suri. 8 (2): 1–22. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  22. ^ "Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society". Retrieved 15 August 2019.
  23. ^ Franklin, James (2015). "Gerald Ridsdale, pedophile priest, in his own words" (PDF). Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society. 36: 219–230. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  24. ^ Franklin, James (2013). "Convent slave laundries? Magdalen asylums in Australia" (PDF). Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society. 34: 70–90. Retrieved 7 June 2021.
  25. ^ Franklin, James (2016). "Catholic missions to Aboriginal Australia: An evaluation of their overall effect" (PDF). Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society. 37 (1): 45–68. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  26. ^ Franklin, James (2019). "Catholic rural virtue in Australia: ideal and reality" (PDF). Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society. 40: 39–61. Retrieved 30 June 2021.

External links[edit]