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Otago Establishes New Philosophy Chair

21 March 2005

$1 Million Gift Lets Otago Establish New Philosophy Chair

An anonymous million dollar gift will allow the University of Otago to establish New Zealand’s first Chair in Early Modern Philosophy. The move will further Otago’s research and teaching in a field which helped lay the foundations of modern liberal democracy.

To be launched tomorrow evening, the Chair is the latest initiative under the University’s $50 million Leading Thinkers programme.

The Chair is being funded by friends of the University’s Philosophy Department, whose generous and anonymous donation will be matched by the Government under its ‘Partnerships for Excellence’ scheme.

University Vice-Chancellor Professor David Skegg says the new Chair will “build upon and enhance the Philosophy Department’s tradition of outstanding scholarship”.

Philosophy Department Head Professor Alan Musgrave welcomed the announcement, saying that the Department would be able to appoint an eminent scholar who could take full advantage of the University Library’s de Beer collection, which contains significant archival material related to the field.

“Early Modern Philosophy is an important area of scholarly enquiry as the thinkers involved - figures such as Hobbes, Locke, Hume and Smith – laid the foundations for liberal-democratic society by inventing or rethinking human rights, utility and the modern conception of the market,” Professor Musgrave says.

They also developed the idea of a “social contract” between governments and citizens, a theory which lies at the heart of contemporary debate surrounding the status of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Because of the enormous influence exerted by these philosophers on the development of political theory, political economy and jurisprudence, it is intended that the Chair will foster links with Political Studies, Economics, and Law.

It is appropriate that this Chair of Early Modern Philosophy is based in Dunedin, the ‘Edinburgh of the South’, says Professor Musgrave. “Three of the greatest of the early modern philosophers – David Hume, Adam Smith and Thomas Reid – were Scots associated with the ‘Dunedin of the North’.”

Early Modern Philosophy has been taught at Otago since 1871, when one of the four foundation professors was a philosopher.

In the Government’s first PBRF exercise, Otago’s Philosophy Department received the highest research quality score of any university department in the country.

The Chair will be officially launched at a function hosted by Vice-Chancellor Professor David Skegg on Tuesday 22 March at 5pm.


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