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Richard Sylvan

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Richard Sylvan
Francis Richard Routley

(1935-12-13)13 December 1935
Levin, New Zealand
Died16 June 1996(1996-06-16) (aged 60)
Bali, Indonesia[2][3]
EducationVictoria University College, University of New Zealand (M.A., 1957)[1]
Princeton University (M.A., 1961;[4] PhD, 1980)[1]
Spouse(s)Val Plumwood
Louise Mirlin
Era20th-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolAnalytic philosophy
Environmental philosophy[1]
InstitutionsAustralian National University
Academic advisorsGeorge Edward Hughes,[1] Arthur Prior (1957 M.A. thesis advisor)[1]
Doctoral studentsNicholas Griffin
Main interests
Logic, metaphysics, environmental philosophy,[1] environmental ethics[1]
Notable ideas
Noneism (theory of items), dual property strategy, relevance logic, deep ecology

Richard Sylvan (13 December 1935 – 16 June 1996) was a New Zealand–born philosopher, logician, and environmentalist.


Sylvan was born Francis Richard Routley in Levin, New Zealand, and his early work is cited with this surname. He studied at Victoria University College of the University of New Zealand (now Victoria University of Wellington), and then Princeton University, before taking positions successively at several Australian institutions, including the University of Sydney. From 1971 until his death in Bali, Indonesia, he was a fellow at the Research School of Social Sciences (RSSS) at the Australian National University in Canberra.

Sylvan was married to the philosopher/environmentalist Val Routley (later, Val Plumwood), with whom he worked closely for twenty years before their separation in 1982.[5] After his divorce from Plumwood, he married Louise Sylvan (née Mirlin) in 1983 and adopted the last name Sylvan (an English word meaning "of the forest") to reflect his love of the forest and commitment to environmentalism.

He died on 16 June 1996 of a massive heart attack.[2]

Work in logic and metaphysics[edit]

Sylvan was instrumental in the development and study of relevance logic. In 1972, Sylvan (in a paper co-authored with Plumwood) proposed semantics for certain relevant logics that had been developed by American philosophers Nuel Belnap and Alan Ross Anderson.[6] Together with Robert K. Meyer, Routley turned this into semantics for a large number of logical systems.

Their work in logic work helped make ANU a center for the study of non-classical logic in general. Routley's work had a particular influence on Graham Priest, a well-known proponent of non-classical logic; Sylvan and Priest edited a well-regarded volume on the topic.[7] Priest in turn influenced Sylvan; they met in 1976 at the Australasian Association of Logic conference in Canberra at a time when Sylvan was doing novel work on dialetheism, the view that some contradictions are true.[8] Not long after meeting Priest, and then investigating a logic capable of handling such true contradictions, Sylvan also endorsed the view.[9]

Sylvan's studies ranged over a variety of topics in logic and the philosophy of logic. He wrote important papers on free logic, general modal logic,[10] and natural deduction systems.[11] However, much of his most important work in logic was dedicated to relevant logic, for which he authored numerous papers (both technical and expository).

From early in his career (and for many years after), Sylvan defended a sophisticated Meinong-inspired ontology (which he called "noneism"), first presented in his 1966 paper, "Some Things Do Not Exist."[12] After several more papers in the 1970s, the theory was given a book-length treatment in 1980, Exploring Meinong's Jungle and Beyond.[13] The view—also defended in recent years by Priest[14]—utilizes a modal theory including "impossible worlds" to deal with supposed objects, like the "round square." Sylvan's formulation is logically consistent, and avoids certain paradoxes associated with Meinong's original ontology; although, like many Meinongian views, it faces criticism due to its presumed ontological implausibility.[15][16]

Environmental ethics and politics[edit]

Outside of logic and metaphysics, Sylvan was a proponent of so-called deep environmental ethics in the study of environmental ethics (following shallow/deep distinction formulated by Arne Næss). In his important 1973 paper "Is There a Need for a New, an Environmental, Ethic?",[17] he defended a then-unorthodox account of the intrinsic value of the non-human, natural world. For this he was sometimes considered a defender of deep ecology, but he was in fact very critical of much of the domain.[18] Further, Sylvan spoke of supporting "regulated markets without capitalism."[19]

Beginning in the 1970s, Sylvan published several other notable articles and books on environmental ethics and issues,[20] and he co-authored the 1994 book The Greening of Ethics with David Bennett.[21] From his work in environmental ethics, Sylvan took an interest in anarchism, contributing an often-cited entry on the subject to A Companion to Contemporary Political Philosophy.[22]

Over 170 boxes of Sylvan's papers can be accessed from the Fryer Library collection of The University of Queensland Library.[23]


  • 1980, Exploring Meinong's Jungle and Beyond: An Investigation of Noneism and the Theory of Items, Department of Philosophy Monograph Series #3, Canberra: Australian National University.
    • Revised edition in 4 volumes:
    • Eckert, M. (ed.), 2018, Exploring Meinong's Jungle and Beyond (The Sylvan Jungle: Volume 1), with Introduction by Dominic Hyde, Cham: Springer.
    • Hyde, D. (ed.), 2019, Noneist Explorations I (The Sylvan Jungle: Volume 2), Cham: Springer.
    • Hyde, D. (ed.), 2020, Noneist Explorations II (The Sylvan Jungle: Volume 3), Cham: Springer.
    • Weber, Z. (ed.), 2019, Ultralogic as Universal? (The Sylvan Jungle: Volume 4), Cham: Springer.



  1. ^ a b c d e f g Dominic Hyde. "Richard Sylvan [Routley]". In Zalta, Edward N. (ed.). Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  2. ^ a b Obituary – Richard Sylvan – Obituaries Australia
  3. ^ "Introduction: Approaching Sylvan and this Collection of Essays". Australasian Journal of Logic.
  4. ^ Eckert 2018, p, xvi.
  5. ^ Hyde, Dominic (2014). Eco-Logical Lives. The Philosophical Lives of Richard Routley/Sylvan and Val Routley/Plumwood. Cambridge: White Horse Press.
  6. ^ Routley, R. and V. Routley (1972). "Semantics of First Degree Entailment", Noûs, 3: 335–359.
  7. ^ Priest, G., Routley, R., and Norman, J. (eds.) (1989). Paraconsistent Logic: Essays on the Inconsistent, München: Philosophia Verlag.
  8. ^ See Routley, Richard and Meyer, Robert K. (1976), "Dialectical Logic, Classical Logic and the Consistency of the World", Studies in Soviet Thought 16: 1–25.
  9. ^ Routley, Richard (1979), "Dialectical Logic, Semantics and Metamathematics", Erkenntnis 14: 301–331.
  10. ^ "Existence and identity in quantified modal logics," Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic 10: 113–149 (1969)
  11. ^ "A simple natural deduction system," Logique et Analyse 12: 129–152 (1969)
  12. ^ Routley, Richard (1966): "Some Things Do Not Exist". Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic 7, 251–276.
  13. ^ Routley, Richard (1982). Exploring Meinong's Jungle and Beyond. Ridgeview Pub Co.
  14. ^ Priest, Graham (2005). Towards Non-Being. The Logic and Metaphysics of Intentionality. Oxford: Clarendon.
  15. ^ Maria Reicher, "Nonexistent Objects", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2006), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),
  16. ^ Hyde, Dominic (2001), 'Richard (Routley) Sylvan: Writings on Logic and Metaphysics', History and Philosophy of Logic 22: 181–205.
  17. ^ Routley, Richard (1973), "Is There a Need for a New, an Environmental, Ethic?", Proceedings of the XVth World Congress of Philosophy, Varna, 1: 205–10. Reprinted in Environmental Philosophy: from Animal Rights to Radical Ecology (ed. M. Zimmerman et al.), Prentice Hall: New Jersey, 1993, pp.12-21.
  18. ^ Sylvan, Richard (1985), "A Critique of Deep Ecology", Discussion Papers in Environmental Philosophy #12, Department of Philosophy, Research School of the Social Sciences, Australian National University: Canberra, 60 pages. Also in serialised form: 'A Critique of Deep Ecology, Part I', Radical Philosophy 40 (1985): 2-12; and 'A Critique of Deep Ecology, Part II', Radical Philosophy 41 (1985): 10–22. Reprinted in M. Redelift and G. Woodgate (eds), The Sociology of the Environment, Edward Elgar: London, 1994.
  19. ^ Orton, David. "My Path to Left Biocentrism: Part V - Deep Ecology and Anarchism". Green Web. Retrieved 20 October 2021.
  20. ^ Beginning with: Routley, R., 1973. "Is there a need for a new, an environmental ethic?” Proceedings of the 15th World congress of Philosophy, vol. 1 pp. 205–10, Sophia: Sophia Press; and Routley, R. and Routley, V. (1973), "The Fight for the Forests: the Takeover of Australian Forests for Pines, Wood Chips and Intensive Forestry", Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra. Subsequently: Routley, Richard and Routley, Val (1979), "Against the Inevitability of Human Chauvinism" in K.E. Goodpaster and K.M. Sayre (eds), Ethics and the Problems of the 21st Century, Notre Dame University Press: South Bend, Indiana; Routley, R. and V. (1980), "Human Chauvinism and Environmental Ethics" in D. Mannison, M. McRobbie and R. Routley (eds), Environmental Philosophy, Department of Philosophy Monograph Series #2, Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University, pp. 96-189; Routley, R. and Routley, V. (1980), "Destructive Forestry in Melanesia and Australia", The Ecologist 10: 56–67; Routley, R. and Routley, V. (1985), "An Expensive Repair-Kit for Utilitarianism", Discussion Papers in Environmental Philosophy #7, Department of Philosophy, Research School of the Social Sciences, Australian National University: Canberra, pp. 21-55; and Sylvan, R. (1994), "Mucking With Nature" in Against the Main Stream: Critical Environmental Essayes, Discussion Papers in Environmental Philosophy [sic] #20, Department of Philosophy, Research School of the Social Sciences, Australian National University: Canberra.
  21. ^ Sylvan, Richard, Bennett, David, 1994. The Greening of Ethics, Cambridge: White Horse Press.
  22. ^ Sylvan, Richard (1995). "Anarchism". in Goodwin, Robert E. and Pettit. A Companion to Contemporary Political Philosophy. Philip. Blackwell Publishing. p. 231.
  23. ^ "Richard Sylvan Papers - Fryer Manuscripts". manuscripts.library.uq.edu.au. Retrieved 7 May 2021.

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