John Passmore

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John Passmore
Born9 September 1914
Died25 July 2004 (aged 89)
Era20th-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolAnalytic philosophy
Academic advisorsJohn Anderson
Main interests
History of philosophy, philosophy of teaching

John Arthur Passmore AC FAHA (9 September 1914 – 25 July 2004) was an Australian philosopher.


John Passmore was born on 9 September 1914 in Manly, Sydney, where he grew up.[2][3] He was educated at Sydney Boys High School.[4] He originally aspired to be a school teacher, but the terms of his employment required him to do coursework in philosophy, a discipline which was to absorb him. He subsequently graduated from the University of Sydney with first-class honours in English literature and philosophy[5] whilst studying with a view to become a secondary-school teacher.[1] In 1934 he accepted the position of assistant lecturer in philosophy at the University of Sydney, continuing teaching there until 1949.[6] In 1948 he went to study at the University of London.

From 1950 to 1955 he was (the first) professor of philosophy at the University of Otago in New Zealand.[1][7] In 1955 he spent a year at the University of Oxford on a Carnegie grant. Upon his return to Australia he took up a post at the Institute of Advanced Studies at the Australian National University, where he was professor of Philosophy in the Research School of Social Sciences from 1958 to 1979.

He was a Foundation Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 1969.[8]

In 1960 he was Ziskind visiting professor at Brandeis University in the United States. He subsequently lectured in England, the United States, Mexico, Japan, and in various European countries.

He also served as a director and then later as governor of the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust.[7]

In 1994 he was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC), Australia's highest civilian honour.[3][4]

Passmore died on 25 July 2004 and was survived by his wife Doris and two daughters.[3][7]


Passmore was as much a historian of ideas as a philosopher,[7] and his scholarship always paid careful attention to the complex historical context of philosophical problems. He published about twenty books, many of which have been translated.[7] Philosopher Frank Jackson notes that Passmore "shaped public debate and opened up philosophy and history of ideas to the wider world".[7]

In his book Man's Responsibility for Nature (1974)[9] Passmore argued that there is urgent need to change our attitude to the environment, and that humans cannot continue unconstrained exploitation of the biosphere. However, he rejected the view that we need to abandon the Western tradition of scientific rationalism, and was unsympathetic towards attempts to articulate environmental concern through radical revisions of our ethical framework, as advocated by deep ecologists, which he conceived as misguided mysticism or irrationalism.[10] Passmore was very skeptical about attempts to attribute intrinsic value to nature, and his preferred position was of valuing nature in terms of what it contributes to the flourishing of sentient creatures (including humans).[11] According to William Grey of the International Society for Environmental Ethics, his "unequivocal anthropocentrism made him a reference point in the discourse of environmental ethics and many treatises in field begin with (or include) a refutation of his views".[11]

Passmore described himself as a "pessimistic humanist" who regarded neither human beings nor human societies as perfectible.[12]



Select Articles

For a more complete list of publications see PhilPapers


  1. ^ a b c "John Passmore (1914-2004) | Issue 48 | Philosophy Now". Retrieved 9 September 2019.
  2. ^ John Passmore, Memoirs of a Semi-Detached Australian, Melbourne University Press, Carlton South, 1997, p. 17.
  3. ^ a b c "John Passmore". The Daily Telegraph. 22 August 2004. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 9 September 2019.
  4. ^ a b Sydney High School Old Boys Union, ORDER OF AUSTRALIA
  5. ^ "Obituary". Australasian Journal of Philosophy. 83 (1): 153–155. 1 March 2005. doi:10.1080/00048400500050188. ISSN 0004-8402. S2CID 218621714.
  6. ^ "Passmore, John Arthur (1914 – ) Australian Philosopher and Writer |". Retrieved 9 September 2019.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Jackson, Frank (5 August 2004). "His ideas shaped public debate". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 9 September 2019.
  8. ^ "Our history". Australian Academy of the Humanities. Retrieved 19 April 2024.
  9. ^ Midgley, Mary (1975). "Review of Man's Responsibility for Nature". Philosophy. 50 (191): 106–113. doi:10.1017/S0031819100059179. ISSN 0031-8191. JSTOR 3749653. S2CID 170312531.
  10. ^ Charlesworth, Max. "Passmore, John". A Companion to Philosophy in Australia and New Zealand. Retrieved 4 October 2019. In his polemical work Man's Responsibility for Nature Passmore attacks the views of some of the 'deep ecologists' who, so he claims, have a 'mystical' (i.e. non-scientific) view of nature (wildernesses, features like the Great Barrier Reef, etc.). He agrees that we do have some kind of responsibility for natural phenomena and that we do have some kind of obligation with regard to them. But he rejects the arguments used in support of the 'green' position which often appeal to moral (non-negotiable) absolutes that cannot be justified by 'principles which are so decisive that we should surrender every other objective in order to adhere to them' (1974: viii). Passmore's work was sharply criticised by some ecological philosophers, but he steadfastly maintained that he opposed the pollution of the planet and that we have an obligation to future generations to leave the natural world in good shape.
  11. ^ a b iseeenviroethics (26 July 2004). "John Passmore (9 September 1914 – 25 July 2004)". ISEE - International Society for Environmental Ethics. Retrieved 4 October 2019.
  12. ^ "Why I Am a Secular Humanist" Free Inquiry, Wntr 1997 v18 n1 p18(5) "I am willing to admit that there is no deed so dreadful that we can safely say 'no human being could do that' and no belief so absurd that we can safely say 'no human being could believe that.' But on the other side I point to the marvelous achievements of human beings in science and art and acts of courage, love, and self-sacrifice. I call myself a pessimistic humanist because I do not regard human beings or their societies as being perfectible but a humanist I nonetheless am."
  13. ^ Gettier, Edmund L. (1965). "Review of Philosophical Reasoning" (PDF). The Philosophical Review. 74 (2): 266–269. doi:10.2307/2183277. ISSN 0031-8108. JSTOR 2183277.

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