Key Thinkers

Key Thinkers 2009

You can listen to the audio podcasts of this series, and some videos, by following the links below each entry.

You can preview the Key Thinkers lectures with short 3 to 4 minute video interviews with some of the lecturers. Click here to go to the University's video page

Program for 2009

5 August
JOHN MAYNARD KEYNES ON LIBERAL CAPITALISM
Professor Tony Aspromourgos, Discipline of Economics, Faculty of Economics and Business

John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) was the most distinguished British economist and an extraordinarily energetic public intellectual of his time. His enduring contribution to economic theory was focused on the level of economic activity as a whole, thereby providing a new approach to explaining aggregate employment and unemployment. Keynes’ demand side economics theory became the basis for his policy dealing with the Great Depression. This lecture will provide an account of Keynes' life and activities, his theory of economic activity, and his views on economic policy. The current global financial crisis and associated contractions of the global economy naturally have revived interest in Keynes' thought.

Video interview with Tony Aspromourgas (MP4, 7.1Mb, running time 3.20 mins)

Listen to the podcast (MP3 39Mb, running time 84min)

12 August
KARL MARX
Professor John Buchanan, Director, Australian Workplace Research Centre, Faculty of Economics and Business

Whether you agree with him or not, Karl Marx has had an enduring impact on modern intellectual and political life. From the fall of the Berlin Wall to the collapse of Wall St today, contemporary thinkers continue to draw on Marx’s writings for ideas and insights. This lecture will provide an overview and assessment of the core features of his analytical legacy. Particular attention will be devoted to his social philosophy, theory of history and political economy. Professor Buchanan will argue that while there are some limits in aspects of Marx’s analysis these are not so fundamental as to compromise his relevance today. Moreover, most of the limitations in his intellectual schema have been overcome by subsequent researchers who have built on his core categories and used his underlying method of inquiry. The relevance of Marx’s insights will be explored with references to recent research into the changing nature of work in contemporary Australia.

Video interview with John Buchanan (MP4, 25Mb, running time 3.30 mins)

Download the PowerPoint Presentation

Listen to the podcast (MP3, 38Mb, running time 82 mins)

Watch the lecture on Slow TV

19 August
GALILEO ON FREE FALL
Dr Ofer Gal, Director, Unit for History and Philosophy of Science, Faculty of Science

Exactly 400 years ago, in the fall of 1609, an aging university professor in Padova, Galileo Galilei, took a little optical toy he had improved and turned it to the sky. What he saw literally changed the world: the planets, it turned out, were just like the earth, while the fixed stars were very much further. There were many more stars than we thought, and other planets had moons, just like us. Galileo’s discoveries, published in the vernacular with spectacular drawings for all to read and observe, were embraced and heralded, until the excitement got out of hand and Galileo was called to account. What were Galileo’s intellectual motives and drives? What was the excitement about? And what went wrong?

Video interview with Ofer Gal (MP4 7.6Mb, running time 1.03 mins)

Listen to the podcast (MP3 33Mb, running time 72 mins)

26 August
BEETHOVEN AND THE MODERN
Associate Professor Peter McCallum, Musicology and Deputy Chair Academic Board

The music of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) became an evolving symbol of the modern, from its invocation by Wagner in sketching a Zukunfstmusik – a music of the future – to the particular prestige it enjoyed among the creators of various twentieth century modernisms: in literature, TS Eliot, and Thomas Mann; in the visual arts Klinger, Klimpt and Bourdelle; in philosophy in the writings of Adorno, and of course in the dominant streams of musical modernity from Schoenberg to Boulez. This lecture looks at how these aspects of Beethoven’s music encouraged this identification with progressive modernity. Using examples from his works, it examines key themes that have been linked with the modern – liberation and heroic defiance, spiritual alienation and transcendence, inscrutable autonomy and self-sufficiency and a new conception of musical time that, as one of his first critics, ETA Hoffmann noted, projects the listener forward into an apprehension of the infinite.

Video interview with Peter McCallum (MP4 5.7Mb, running time 1.34 mins)

(No podcast available due to copyright on music)

2 September
MAO ZEDONG AND HIS THOUGHT
Professor David Goodman, Professor of Chinese Politics, and Director, Institute of Social Sciences

Mao Zedong (1893-1976) is best known as the founder of the People’s Republic of China. He led the Chinese Communist Party from 1935 until his death, and brought it to political power in 1949. Mao is well known as a revolutionary, a guerrilla leader, a political and military strategist and icon for post-modern art. During the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution that started in the mid-1960s he attacked the establishment of the new party state in China for “succumbing to the sugar coated bullets of the bourgeoisie”, though his motives have always been a matter of controversy inside as well as outside the People’s Republic of China. Mao himself was always anxious to be seen as an ideologist, as well as an active revolutionary. The lecture will introduce the different and often competing strands in his ideology, which remain an important legacy for China today.

Video interview with David Goodman (MP4, 12.4 Mb, running time 3.40 mins)

Listen to the podcast (MP3 40Mb, running time 85 mins)

Watch the lecture on Slow TV

9 September
KONRAD LORENZ AND THE RISE OF SOCIOBIOLOGY
Professor Paul Griffiths, Professorial Research Fellow, Sydney Centre for the Foundations of Science

The Nobel prize-winning Austrian biologist Konrad Lorenz initiated the modern, Darwinian science of animal behaviour. In the 1960s Lorenz’s popular writings on Darwinism and human affairs, and particularly his 1966 book, On Aggression, had the same high public profile that Richard Dawkins’ books have today. Modern sociobiology, behavioural ecology and evolutionary psychology are all descended, both intellectually and often sociologically, from Lorenz and his collaborators. This lecture will explain why Lorenz’s work, and that of his Dutch collaborator Niko Tinbergen, represented a radical break with earlier Darwinian accounts of the mind, examine the young Lorenz’s involvement with Nazism and explain his hostility to the emergence of sociobiology in the 1970s.

Listen to the podcast

23 September
JOHN RAWLS ON SOCIAL JUSTICE
Professor Duncan Ivison, Professor of Political Philosophy and Head of the School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry (SOPHI)

John Rawls (1921-2002) has been hailed as one of the most important liberal political philosophers of our times. He is best known for his hugely influential book, A Theory of Justice (1971), which defended a vision of social justice in which individual rights and social equality were seemingly reconciled ... something many consider to be impossible. For Rawls, justice was the “first virtue” of social and political institutions and should structure the way fundamental rights and opportunities (as well as burdens) are distributed in a society. His conception of “justice as fairness” attempted to reconcile the often competing ideals of liberty and equality by setting out principles of justice that individuals, conceived of as rational and “free and equal”, would be willing to accept. Technically innovative, often dizzyingly abstract and yet deeply informed by the history of philosophy, Rawls’s work has shaped philosophical thinking about justice–for better or worse–ever since.

Video interview with Duncan Ivison (MP4, 14.9Mb, running time 4.25mins)

Listen to the podcast


30 September
KURT GÖDEL AND THE LIMITS OF MATHEMATICS
Professor Mark Colyvan, Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Sydney Centre for the Foundations of Science

Kurt Gödel was one of the foremost mathematicians and logicians of the 20th century. He proved a number of extremely surprising results about the limitations of mathematics. Perhaps the most significant of these is his celebrated incompleteness theorem, which tells us that there are mathematical "blind spots": parts of mathematics that traditional methods of proof cannot access. These results are thought by many to have far-reaching consequences for computing and for our understanding of the nature of the human mind. Gödel's results have thus been the subject of a great deal of popular attention. Indeed, few other results in the history of mathematics have had such an impact outside of mathematics. For those of us who have never heard of Gödel, this lecture will give an accessible outline of his work and achievements.

Video interview with Mark Colyvan (MP4, 11.4Mb, running time 3.24mins)

Listen to the podcast

Watch the lecture on Slow TV

7 October
PIERRE BOURDIEU AND FEMINISM
Dr Kate Huppatz, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Faculty of Education and Social Work

Pierre Bourdieu was the preeminent French intellectual of the late 20th century. His social theory, particularly his cultural approach to class and unique understanding of social practice, has been highly influential in the disciplines of sociology, anthropology and philosophy. His best known work, Distinction: A social critique of the judgment of taste (1984), uses ethnographic evidence to link consumption practices to social class. This presentation outlines Bourdieu’s research interests and key conceptual tools. Moreover, it looks at how Bourdieu has recently been appropriated by significant feminist scholars despite being widely critiqued for his limited engagement with women’s issues and gender.

Video interview with Kate Huppatz (MP4, 11.7Mb, running time 3.24mins)

Listen to the podcast

14 October
MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT AND THE ENLIGHTENMENT
Professor Helen Irving, Faculty of Law

Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) was the first theorist systematically to give voice to what we now call feminism. Her Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) was a radical account of the impact of limited education and subordination on women’s lives, built on Enlightenment theories of reason and human progress. Wollstonecraft was not an armchair radical, but lived a life of extraordinary daring and independence, dying tragically young after giving birth to her daughter (the writer, Mary Shelley). In this talk, Helen Irving explores Wollstonecraft’s life and her place in the English Enlightenment, and traces the enduring legacy of her ideas. Wollstonecraft, she argues, was right to insist not only that reason is vital to progress, but that progress rests on sexual equality. In this 250th anniversary year of her birth, she concludes, Wollstonecraft deserves to be better known and the Enlightenment better honoured.

Video interview with Helen Irving (MP4, 11.4Mb, running time 3.25mins)

Listen to the podcast

Watch the lecture on Slow TV

Listen to an interview with Helen Irving on ABC Radio's Late Night Live.

21 October
CONFUCIUS AND THE FIRST EMPEROR
Professor Jeffrey Riegel, Professor and Head of School of Languages and Cultures, Faculty of Arts

Confucius (traditional dates 551-479 BCE) lived during the waning years of the Zhou dynasty. He was deeply troubled by the disorder of his age and took it upon himself to teach others about Zhou virtues as well as to instruct them on how to cultivate such virtue in themselves. Confucius’s efforts mark the beginning of the traditional Chinese emphasis on education and the crucial role of self-improvement and self-cultivation in any ethical system. Some of his followers refined his teachings on the importance of education while philosophers from competing schools of thought rejected Confucian ideas as outmoded and ineffective.

First Emperor of Qin (239-210 BCE) assumed the throne as king at a young age and was aided and tutored by a brilliant minister named Lü Buwei. The young king eventually outgrew his minister and aggressively took over the reins of government himself. He conquered his enemies and created an empire in 221 BCE. The First Emperor appointed as his chief minister an accomplished legalist thinker named Li Si. Together they created a philosophy for empire based on the primacy of law, the high (and almost god-like) status of the emperor, and a system of universal standards that embraced everything from thought to weights and measures. These features of his rule continue as hallmarks of Chinese governance to this day.

Video interview with Jeffrey Riegel (MP4, 12.1Mb, running time 3.30 mins)

Listen to the podcast

Watch the lecture on Slow TV