Interview with Emeritus Professor John Passmore

From the ANU Oral History Archive
Interviews conducted 17 May 1991
Interviewed by Stephen Foster
Edited and transferred to web media by Nik Fominas and Peter Stewart

Biographical introduction: Professor Passmore was born in Manly, NSW, on 9 September 1914. He graduated from the University of Sydney in 1934 with first class honours in Philosophy and English Literature. In 1941 he took his MA in Philosophy with first class honours and the university medal.

Between 1935 and 1949 he held a number of academic posts in the Philosophy department at Sydney University and then became Professor of Philosophy in the University of Otago, New Zealand in 1950.

In 1955 he resigned from this professorship to become Reader and then Professor of Philosophy in the Research School of Social Sciences.

After his retirement in 1980 he was appointed University Fellow in the History of Ideas Unit and was awarded the title of Emeritus Professor.

Transcript: Recording duration: 2 1/4 hours (3 tapes) Transcriber: Diana Nelson


          Identification: This is tape one, side one of an interview with Emeritus Professor John Passmore for the ANU Oral History Project. It's taking place on 17 May 1991 in the Coombs Building, ANU. My name is Stephen Foster.

          Professor Passmore, we agreed that we should begin the interview around about the time you arrive at ANU, on the assumption that you'll be writing your memoirs at some stage and telling the story up until the mid-'50s. However, could we start the interview by talking a little bit about your knowledge of ANU before you came here, and indeed, your knowledge of Canberra University College?

I was in a way involved in some early reflections about the ANU because during the war I was a member of the Prime Minister's research committee on morale and we became very conscious of the lack of any knowledge of Australian society, of a systematic kind, and then I was also a little bit involved with some of the people in the Department of Post-War Reconstruction. So although I was out of Australia at the time when the ANU was actually founded I had some notion of what kind of thing it was expected to be from these earlier discussions.

But when I was in - I left Australia for New Zealand in 1949 and I had the five years in New Zealand then, and there, of course, the university was still quite unknown. And when I finally decided to come back to it, the Vice-Chancellor talked about why I wanted to go to that dreary place on a cold plateau, and generally speaking was, although he was leaving himself for Birmingham at the time, very much opposed to my coming here. There wasn't really much information about it but I knew it was a research place and I'd found it more and more difficult to reconcile university teaching, university administration in which I was heavily involved and my research work, because my research work didn't lend itself to being given as undergraduate lectures.

Many university people in the social sciences and humanities are able to write books which are first of all given as lectures so that the two, the writing and the lecturing go together, but my books were not like that. I couldn't give them as lectures and I just found it getting a very heavy burden on me.

          May I interrupt you there because this is obviously a central question that I'd like to come back to in a little while, but before we do that can we take it a little bit more slowly? I'm very interested in this committee on morale. This is Alf Conlan's committee, presumably, is it?

Alf Conlan was one of the people who was involved in the major committee. I was on the research committee which was rather different, not the main committee, and we naturally, when we wanted to find out anything, discovered that it was almost impossible to find it out because so little work had been done in the social sciences, and almost nothing in the survey work, and really not much in Australian history at that period. And so I did urge the development of some kind of place or activity where this could be carried out further.

The Department of Post-War Reconstruction had the same sort of experience, and I got to know slightly at that time, Nugget Coombs and a number of other people who were - Fin Crisp and a number of other people of that kind. That was one of the things out of which the national university grew. At one time, for some strange reason, the ANU asked me to write a history of the ANU up till that time. I think it was about 1959 or 1960 - 1959 it must have been - and I tried to bring out the way in which there were these curious threads of different people wanting rather different things, having rather different ambitions, which finally came together and melded into the ANU. But I did know about it and I liked the idea of coming here but I was very happy, very well treated in New Zealand and I'm not too certain if it wasn't that my father had died and I was an only child and my mother was still living here - couldn't easily move - I'm not too certain that I would have come back at that time, although it wasn't at all discontent with what I was doing except that I was finding the pressure a bit heavy with my varied responsibilities in New Zealand.

          You had applied to come to the University College in 1944 so Canberra obviously had some attraction for you?

I'd completely forgotten that (laughs). I didn't know actually. If anybody had asked me I would have said no. Well, Canberra had some attraction for me. Of course, one thing was that Sydney became totally impossible. I had classes of 800 students and lecturing at eight o'clock at night during the brown-out with no electricity and taking about two hours to get home by train, and really the strain was tremendous.

In an odd sort of way, too, I was lecturing - it seems almost inconceivable now - in four or five different departments. That, of course, was in Economics; I was giving some courses, though not very many, in the Philosophy department; I gave seminars in the English department and I gave a course on social philosophy for the social workers' people and I even gave lectures for the French department on Descartes and even one or two seminars in the Chemistry department. So that I was living a very diversified life intellectually but also a somewhat too strenuous one. I was finding the huge classes and the tremendous amount of correction - we had a staff of five in Sydney with two thousand students. I went to New Zealand and there was a staff of five for a hundred students and for the first time I started writing books, which I could never have done in Sydney. In fact many people think I'm a New Zealander because I first became known through my books in New Zealand.

          Was it also a factor that Anderson so dominated Sydney that you thought maybe it was time to move away? I'm just thinking when we talked to Frank Fenner he said his main reason for moving away from Melbourne was Burnet, and Burnet was such a dominant influence there. Was there any sense in which Anderson was that, because I noticed you described yourself as a disputatious member of Anderson's department?

Yes, it was perfectly true. That was actually at its worst in the years when I first joined Anderson's department, when I disputed with him a great deal on a good many issues. And I did for a while desperately try to get out of Sydney in the late '30s, and indeed I very nearly went to Melbourne. But it's an interesting thing actually, a reflection on what can happen in Australia.

Since I hadn't been able to go abroad at all, with the Depression and then the war, I could only .... Up till 1948, if I wanted a referee, I really had no one to give me a reference except John Anderson and perhaps one or two other Australian people. So an overseas job was very, very difficult.

After my year in 1948 in England I had as references Sir Karl Popper, Gilbert Ryle, A.J. Ayer, and I could just about walk into any position that became available. I'd learnt a lot in that year but I wasn't a very different person, but those personal contacts just transformed my position when it came to applying for jobs anywhere, and I had no trouble at all in getting the New Zealand professorship.

          Your second contact with ANU, there was the committee on morale and then there was the Post-War Reconstruction people. Can you recall when a university as such was mentioned?

A university as such had been mentioned rather further back; there'd been proposals for, anyhow, a university - a national university of Canberra - for quite a way back. And I think that that was always in people's mind to some degree but it wasn't at all certain how it would come out. The medical people were very intent on getting a medical school; some physicists wanted something in physics; and then there were people thinking about our new role in the Pacific; and then there were those of us who felt there'd been too little work done in the social sciences. And these, I suppose, finally picked up the idea of the national university as a research institute as something which might satisfy all these various interests.

It was a very daring thing. It's one of the most daring things that Australia has ever done. In fact, I think it's the only major innovation that Australia has ever had in the field of educational organisation. It obviously was going to meet - did meet with a fair amount of opposition. One trouble has always been that in England people tend to identify it with All Souls, which is an extremely unpopular institution in Oxford, or else, at most, they think in terms of Princeton Institute and the Princeton Institute of Advanced Studies which isn't unpopular but doesn't, of course, cover anything like our range and also didn't take PhD students.

This was a unique institution in its range. After all, All Souls hasn't anything like the - it's a different thing altogether - range and the facilities, and we were going to take PhD students at the same time because this was another thing that was felt to be lacking because there simply hadn't been a PhD in Australia. People went abroad and tended to do a second BA at Oxford. And so that was, as it were, another aspect of this - the desire to train people further in Australia than they had been.

So this institution was set up, but as something quite extraordinary by world standards. And I think there is an Australian tendency to resent something which is unusual, unique and to try to normalise it over time so far as they possibly can. Obviously bureaucrats prefer things to be normal. They would really like every university to be identical and then they could give them all a grant, so much per student, and that would be the end of it and no more problems.

In fact, I'm wondering whether they mightn't like to go back to the old Scottish student in which professors were paid a fee which depended upon the number of students that they had each. You had to go all out to give very elementary and theatrical lectures so that you would get the maximum number of students in.

          Don't drop that idea in a public place (laughs). You can't recall any specific meeting where the university was mentioned for the first time?

No, I wouldn't have been really involved then. As I say, I went away in '48 and really the time when I was seeing these other people most was during the war period. In that immediate post-war period the universities were quite maniac places and you had no time to do anything. I knew that discussions were going on but I didn't have the same contact that I had at that earlier time. I think, when I did try to look in this for the other piece that I wrote, it was really quite difficult because of the way in which these different streams had come together. There was a meeting at some point but I don't know the date of it. I knew the university was to come into being and I had, originally, a little hope that they would invite me here.

My connection of my people for generations back has been with this area. I was very nearly born here. My father was working on the Duntroon college and they were having to live in a tent, and the doctor decided that it was too cold - my mother was feeling the cold too much in the tent - so we had to .... Otherwise I would have been born in Canberra. My people were connected, my family were out here from the 1820s and even earlier and they've almost all stayed in the southern tablelands. So I did have a special reason for it. I've always been rather torn between cities which have a great many things that I love and the country, so this was either rus in urbe or urbe in rural, I've never been quite certain which (laughs).

          Pardon my ignorance, but that paper that you wrote, I haven't come across that anywhere.

No, well, it's probably simply disappeared, like very many other things. My own papers - because there wasn't photocopying and what have you and I was always a bit casual about copying - and my own papers don't contain it, I don't think, they're in the National Library, but I certainly drew it up and I had to interview a large number of people. I remember having considerable problems with Lord Lindsay who was at that time connected with the university. So the paper exists, perhaps only in a platonic heaven. I mean, it's probably disappeared here and I certainly didn't keep copies of papers at that time.

          We'll conduct an intensive search for it on earth. Let's get you to ANU, anyhow. The mode of your appointment? You applied for the position or you were offered a position?

No, I was asked for it. Of course, it was a readership and that involved, again, giving up a professorship to come.

          With the expectation of a chair?

No, there was no expectation that what would happen did happen. It was thought that in the Department of Social Philosophy you should have someone who was a philosopher in a somewhat - in a narrower or broader sense I mean. Of course, I'd always had an interest in social theory but that it needed to be that kind of background in philosophical thought generally in the Department. So I came here on the assumption that that was to be the situation. It ended up a bit with the tail wagging the dog but I wasn't to be the tail on the original presumption.

          And this notion of social philosophy, well, you'd taught social philosophy in Sydney but a rather different concept from what you met here, presumably. Did you know whence the term 'social philosophy' for this Department originated?

Yes, I knew about Eggleston and so on. I don't know that I did before I came here but I certainly knew when I came here. It's certainly not a very familiar thing otherwise as a concept but it's grown a good deal, of course, in later years.

You had mentioned to me some time ago, connections with Professor Partridge, and it is a fairly good description for the kind of work which he was doing, although even that had mainly been in political philosophy when he was lecturing. I took over the social philosophy course from him; that's how I came - he bullied me into it substantially - though I quite enjoyed it when it came to the point. But he was a marvellous teacher. He had a tremendous reputation as a teacher and he influenced a great many people who worked in political and social philosophy in Australia later. He wasn't a writer. He wrote very little - one book, very late in life. He was quite different from me, personally.

We were very close together for a great many years. There was a stage at which Anderson and Partridge and myself were known in Sydney as the three Marx brothers, which wasn't altogether accurate although we were all interested in Marx, but none of us Stalinists anyhow, which was what that commonly meant at that time. But he had extremely broad interests. He is an example of something that I really am rather keen on - university teachers who do a tremendous amount of reading rather than writing. This is very difficult, of course, to test when there's questions of promotions and so on but I'm quite convinced that in the case of very many university teachers, they'd be far better off reading extensively in and around their field rather than trying to write some quite minor articles which probably no one will ever read. And that that would be very much better for their students, very much better for the university if they read across fields, as I think they would if that was the main thing they were doing rather than trying desperately to keep up with the literature in some very narrow area which has become just about impossible these days, and is producing, I think, a weakening in the intellectual life of the university of a fairly considerable kind.

When I first came to the ANU, of course, it wasn't like that, and it hadn't been like that in Sydney when I was there, with only 3,500 students, and it wasn't like that in Dunedin. In all these places I got to know people in every area, really - got to know them quite well, talked with them a lot, and that's been immensely valuable to me because much of my work has cut across boundaries, and that was ....

          You yourself have been critical at various times though about the lack of publication in this university, I guess, in philosophy specifically. Obviously the pressure has been there to keep up the publication rate. Do you think that pressure's somewhat misplaced?

Yes, it's very difficult. This is in the research schools here. We depend on publication. We are research workers and we can be properly expected to publish. This is the only way in which the research institutes can really demonstrate to the outside world that they're worth supporting, there's no alternative to it.

I think our concentration should be on large-scale, long term issues which, of course, has a problem because it's far easier to publish a lot if you take very small topics and ones that are of present interest, and you can churn out a great many articles that way. It's a very difficult point here because a person can say, well, this book's going to take me some years to write - indeed, most of my books have taken me some years to write - and it's very hard for the university to know whether this is what's actually happening.

It was always said of Oxford that there were a great many people teaching there whom were said that they had a wonderful manuscript in their drawer but they were such perfectionists they'd never quite handed it over to publishers, but after they'd died nothing was found except a few scattered notes. So that a certain degree of pressure from the top is inevitable but it has to be balanced against the fact that with the kind of work that many of us want to do, immediate results are not always to be expected. Of course, there always is the chance that you'll settle down to do something and it doesn't come off for one reason or another. And again, you can avoid that by never trying to do anything that doesn't you know fit within your capacities and you know you can do, but this on the whole would be rather dull routine sort of work.

As soon as you move into something which is really problematic then the risk that you will never complete it becomes considerably higher. I think this is something the Government finds it hard to realise too, that you cannot always say to yourself I'm going to do x and then do x. You may find yourself doing y instead which is completely different from what you've got the funds for. Or you may find it just collapses in your hands or you may find that someone else meanwhile has had the same idea and produced it.

At once you have to recognise that human beings by nature are somewhat lazy and that many of them will try to get away with pretending to do work they're not doing. And I must say, I was quite shocked a few years ago when the registrar at the time told me that there was some of my colleagues who were desperately anxious to get on committees, and when a committee was formed they would ring up and say can I join it, whereas I spent most of my life trying to avoid being on committees (laughs). It's very easy to find excuses for not working as hard as you really have to work in a research institute. The pressure is great and I notice most of my colleagues die rather young; I suppose I've survived very well so perhaps that tells something about the difference between them and me˙- that they really overworked, I think, in some cases.

          How did you confront that problem as head of department - this is leaping ahead a little way but˙- where you had the problem of non-producers, basically?

Well, I didn't have it as a very serious problem actually because I was fairly careful in selecting people. I would never pick anybody simply because they were able. They had to provide evidence that they'd already done a certain amount of work. Now, it may be only that they'd written a couple of articles or such if they were coming as research fellows, but I wanted that as evidence they were the sort of people who actually completed things. I had one or two applicants from people that I respected, thought highly of at the level of intellectual conversation but I'd also made up my mind that they were the kind of people that were unlikely to settle down to this very solitary task of doing a large-scale piece of work which was what was called upon. So since I adopted these principles I can't really remember a case in which people didn't end up by producing anything.

          I think you might have been fortunate and exceptional.

I think that principle was an important one. It's very tempting if somebody comes to you and you like them and you know they're good to say, well, he's had to do a lot of undergraduate teaching, hasn't had any time, or when he comes here he'll be all right. Now, in Sydney I had very heavy programs - I could never find time to write a book, certainly, because the way things were done in Sydney at that time you were still examining into January and then you were examining again in February - but I always succeeded in writing a certain number of articles. And if a person came to me and said, 'Well, I've had so much undergraduate work to do I haven't been able to do any actual writing', I wasn't prepared to accept that.

          Let's move back again to your arrival at ANU, and large issues will always take us on in other directions but that doesn't matter. You had clear expectations of social philosophy. You knew Professor Partridge very well. What about the rest of the university? What did you find when you came here? And I might just throw in and ask you a question about that period beforehand, because you went to Oxford first, didn't you? You had a year at Oxford. How was that arranged? What was the ...?

This was the one thing that I was determined about. I was due for a year from Dunedin and I'd been awarded a Carnegie Fellowship, rather unusually to go to Oxford rather than to go to America, and I didn't feel that Dunedin ought to be up for paying my salary in that year when I was at Oxford when I wasn't going back to Dunedin, because, after all, the study leave was supposed to be a preparation for your later work and a refreshment to come back to your classes.

So I said to the university, 'Well, I'm not prepared to come unless you appoint me from the beginning of 1955' and that was that. They finally agreed after a great deal of hullabaloo, quite understandably because it was a rather extraordinary thing to ask. But I think in my situation it was a quite natural and indeed inevitable thing to ask. I'd only had the one year abroad at that time and I wanted to go again, but anyhow, the idea of giving up the Carnegie which was only intended as additional support so that I could take my family with me, and at the same time I had this feeling about Dunedin which, as I say, had been extremely good to me. I was very reluctant to take some members of my family when we left it, and so I wasn't in a position - except for the complication of my mother - of feeling, well, I just had to go.

          And when you were in Oxford did you have some links with ANU?

Not much. I remember visiting Adrien Albert who was still in Oxford at that time, and I had visits from one or two people like Nadel, the anthropologist, whom I was very impressed by intellectually, and that was nice. I just have a feeling Geoff Sawer came to see me as well, so that there were - I had visits from ANU people who were in England at the time. And, of course, I was also having to make technical arrangements with the university here, but that was all.



          Identification: this is tape one, side B of the interview with Professor Passmore.

          We've got you arriving, finally, at ANU. Can you tell us what you found? Can you remember that first day of coming to Canberra?

The first day - well, that would be a bit chaotic. Our furniture had been stored and rats had got into the furniture while it was being stored, which wasn't a very cheerful beginning to it all, but anyhow, we got settled in. No, I don't really remember - the first day was too chaotic for me to have much recollection of it. Anyhow, of course, flying back from England isn't the sort of thing that makes you feel very clear.

But I soon settled in and began to like the university very much and devoted an enormous amount of time to it. It was an institution I believed in. I loved the atmosphere, as everybody did, in the old hospital building which people are always very romantic about, but we did sit around. We saw one another. Very simple accommodation. And at University House which could be a centre then of a kind that wasn't possible later. Professors, for example, met for a formal dinner three times a year, and that became impossible when all the Faculties' professors had to be taken into account, and University House withered away in certain very important respects. It was a wonderful institution at first, and I became, actually, Deputy Master of University House and the head of the Staff Association - chairman there - and then I was on the finance committee of the Council. I had a great many administrative responsibilities.

At the same time, I was writing what is my most arduous book, A Hundred Years of Philosophy, and was trying to get things settled in on the teaching side. I was so used to teaching that for a while I gave a lot of what were really tutorial seminars. In fact, I lectured continuously on Wittgenstein for about two and a half years. People would simply come in at any point and I went straight through Wittgenstein from beginning to his end, to a small group of people, because I felt this brought everybody together in these seminars, and, as I say, it was continuous teaching - not the kind of thing that's done now.

          Lecturing to whom?

To my PhD students and staff - just a small group. I remember someone from Melbourne saying how appalling it was that I should be giving these lectures on Wittgenstein to just a small group of people, and here when they were the only people to hear them. In fact, I've never published them or done anything like that. So that kept me pretty busy. In fact, towards the end of that period the medical profession rather thought I was doing too much.

Well then, plans for amalgamation came up and I was very much opposed to this because I felt, well, now here's this unique institution. It's going to lose a lot of its unique characters as far .... And I didn't think it was good for the college, either. The strange thing is that I was much more around the old college than I ever have been around the Faculties. I knew everybody there and we entertained everybody from there, and we had actually very close personal relationships with the people there.

But it was in New Zealand that I had first got involved heavily in an administrative fashion because several of my colleagues there were elderly and took ill rather young, and I found myself in practice a deputy vice-chancellor, and indeed, when I left the vice-chancellor also left. Some people wanted me to take the vice-chancellorship, but I decided I didn't want to be a pure administrator. I've always rejected such offers later. But I came back from abroad in 1960. I was a visiting professor in America and then was in Oxford again. And I remember someone saying to me, 'How can you bear this, because you were such a central figure in the university before you went away and now you're not connected with anything?'. But I decided really that the supervision of PhD students - of whom we had a great many at one stage - and my own work was all I could really cope with adequately. So although I had various - I was on the first Australian Research Grants Committee and on ASTEC and played a fair part in committees in the university, I never had the sort of administrative centrality which I'd had in the period between '56 and '60.

          When you arrived were you aware of those early plans to have teaching at ANU and, indeed, to have a formal link with the University College?

No, I thought of it as being this very special institution, and, of course, when I drew up the plans for amalgamation I tried to keep our independence as far as I could, but I had no idea that it was going to move me that way. Pressures developed fairly soon, and it was very awkward. But actually, in an interview with Menzies, with people from the college also present, I very much defended the independence of the college, and in fact, the college people thanked me for what I'd said about them afterwards, and for taking this line. Those who didn't want amalgamation who, again, wanted it separately, but nobody had felt at any stage that I was unfairly representing the college's case, at least I hope they didn't - I don't think they did.

          This meeting took place after Menzies had said that there will be amalgamation?

No, this was the last attempt really to stop the amalgamation.

          And would you have regarded yourself as the leader of the anti-amalgamation push? I know there were many people opposed.

I've never really thought of myself as a leader at any stage. I was a prominent figure in it but there were other people as well. I was perhaps the person who wrote about it most or who articulated the problems more than other people do - I don't know, really. I've never been asked that question before. But I was certainly very deeply concerned about it, and I thought for very good reasons.

I am equally concerned about the mergers that have been taking place recently. I'm a great believer, as I said earlier, in places which are kept relatively small, and in which the staff knows one another rather than each getting enclosed in a very specialised department, and I think that's better from every point of view. I don't think the considerations the Government brings against this are of anything the same consequence. But I know I'm unusual in this.

Many people like to think in terms of having a very big department around them of specialists and I've never taken that view. I was one of the very few people standing right out on a limb when in the Academy of the Humanities I opposed the expansion of the universities when everybody was saying, 'Oh, how good. We'll now be able to have a lecture in earlier Gothic or something or other'. I liked the situation in which there was a choice of courses but it was a limited choice, and the undergraduates, again, could talk amongst themselves because there was this interplay, rather than having a situation in which, say, English students get divided into a group of about twelve different courses and they can't really talk to one another even, let alone to people outside; their interests become so specialised. I've always thought this was a mistake at the undergraduate level.

People can specialise at the graduate level. Even then I argued in a paper I gave in the United States, that at graduate level people ought to consider their subjects in a wider setting and begin to ask themselves, well, what does, let's say history, really contribute to human culture and how does it relate to social sciences and to philosophy and other things that are around about it. What is exactly its intellectual content? What's it trying to do? These questions which can't be asked until the person has a fairly good acquaintance with the subject, which it is silly to begin classes by asking because they don't know enough history to be able to make these connections then.

          With the expansion of the universities from the late '50s onwards, you were very much going against the grain. Did you express yourself that way at the time of the Murray Committee and so on?

I expressed myself in bodies like the Academy. I don't know that I did publicly, and, of course, it was a tremendously unpopular line to take. It wasn't so much the Murray Committee. I welcomed at that time the fact that official funds would be available, although it's interesting that one of the few straight out opponents of this was John Anderson, and he took the view that it would lead, in the end, to universities coming under much more bureaucratic control and that the short term gains were not worth the long term losses, which, of course, people were just laughed down at the time, and it's taken quite a while to come into operation. But I was very much opposed to the extremely rapid expansion which didn't necessarily go with the Murray thing.

The same thing happened later. I was chairman of a committee of inquiry into German universities when it lifted the percentage of people in the age group going to universities from five per cent to twenty-five per cent in a period of very few years, and they were in utter chaos in consequence. And yesterday I was talking to Mr Dawkins about this and suggesting that we're going to get a repetition of the pattern we had with tremendous expansion, jobs for everybody who wanted them, whether they were really suitable as university teachers or not. Then nobody being able to get jobs in universities so that we had no young people coming in.

And now, again, we're going to have the situation with a great many people retiring and with the Government simultaneously saying that we had to increase student numbers enormously and so on. And the same thing happening in every other country so that Canada alone is going to need 30,000 university teachers in the next decade. You're going again to get a lot of people appointed who are very marginal people. And I made myself very unpopular many times by saying this, but I know it's true. And then again you'll have this same rhythm, and it's the worst possible time to try to expand universities at the moment.

          Well, while we're talking about that - we've leapt ahead a long way but it's important - how did the Minister respond to that?

This was a very short discussion that I was able to have with him yesterday, but I think he's only a quarter aware of the problems, partly because, I think, he doesn't think enough in terms of what I might call the international market for universities, and I was pressing that. I was saying that I myself had been offered senior posts in most of the major American universities and that there was everything to be said for it in terms of library facilities and in terms of salary and in terms of sheer authority as it were, that I still find that I have an automatic respect for Harvard professors without considering the fact that (laughs) I could have been one myself, or Yale professors, Columbia professors and so on. And that I knew that my colleagues here were very frequently offered such senior posts elsewhere.

But he wasn't dealing with the 'in-close' system in which you simply say, well, here are our people and we'll simply table it in that way, that people are under constant temptations to leave. I think he's been lucky over the last few years because the situation with Mrs Thatcher in England's been even worse, and quite a few English people have been willing to come out here, but it's a long time, I think, since we had any good American applicants for positions here, which for a while we were getting.

Now, I feel that we're in for terrible difficult times over the next decade reconciling this demand for expansion with the actual shortage of people suitable for university teaching. And with so many of the ablest people in our society having gone into get-rich-quick fields like commerce. For instance, it's said that now in Cambridge only five per cent of the graduates in mathematics go into teaching of any kind, and the rest have all been going into the various commercial affairs now where mathematics is in demand.

          A sad prospect. I better drag you back to amalgamation, and we should explore that fairly central role you played in drawing up what became the new act - or the amended act. How did you become involved? How did you find yourself in that rather extraordinary role of ...?

I was a member of Council at the time. But also I've had this happen once before in my life, actually. I just suddenly sit down with a pen in my hand and begin to think out how something could be done. On a number of university committees here, again, the thing that's come out of it finally has been this sort of thing - that I drew up something. And I had a clear idea of what I wanted to achieve which was the maximum continued independence for the university. I'd been involved in a great many discussions about amalgamation so I had a clear picture of the situation as I saw it and once I realised that amalgamation was coming it seemed to me to think out the details very carefully.

While it insisted on the independence of the two institutions it actually had plans for joint study or joint arrangements for the taking of graduate students, which were not put into the final plan. I drew up the final plan, I think it was on something like Christmas Eve, and I left for America on January 1st, so I wasn't able to be here for any discussion of the plan thereafter. It was simply - I just had to go at that time. And that I think would have been a good idea and saved a certain amount of subsequent trouble.

But otherwise things went that way except that I felt again that particularly with Sir John Crawford, perhaps, who really was an amalgamationist, there was a tendency for the administration to become a single administration and this really produced enormous problems. For instance, in the early days of the Institute here a graduate student came, then he went to see one person who arranged all the things that he was going to do. Now, he trips from one to the other. One doesn't really know who to ring up about particular things, and the whole administrative situation has got quite remote. When I first came here, again, I was very well acquainted with the registrar, the deputy registrar, the accountant and all these people - they were just part of the show and one met them at University House and so on. But I think now they've become much more remote from - certainly, an ordinary PhD student would never encounter the registrar, let alone the vice-chancellor or any senior administrative officers except for ones that he actually has to negotiate with.

Now, in Sydney I was used to this as well. As a very junior assistant lecturer I'd quite commonly sit alongside the vice-chancellor at lunch and, of course mind you, the administrative staff consisted of four people - the vice-chancellor, the registrar, the deputy registrar and the accountant - so that it wasn't difficult to know all the administrative staff. But still, there was a constant interplay and I think with the new managerial approach, particularly the distance between the ordinary teachers and the administration may get sharper and sharper.

It's a very curious thing, actually. Not long ago people like Dawkins were very enthusiastic about participatory democracy, and really the university is the nearest thing to participatory democracy that we have in Australia, and now they've moved right across to the managerial view which is coming under severe criticism, even in the United States.

          When you did that draft, were you working with Ross Hohnen, for example, or anyone else in administration?

No, I just sat down and did it and then I sent it across to them for their consideration. No, it was a purely solitary effort.

          And some of the fundamentals, for example, the library arrangement and the moratorium on SGS giving PhD degrees, was that included in your original draft?

The one about degrees I don't think was, as far as I recollect. I know that I had suggested that when people applied to do graduate work - this may have only been at the MA level though, I can't quite remember offhand - that these would go before a group from the two bits of the university and they would decide who was the best person to supervise this particular student, and I had no objection whatever to that kind of relationship between the two parts of the university. It was there, I felt, there was the most obvious instance where you could get collaboration without the independence of the Institute being at all threatened.

          Was your concern for independence purely structural or did you recognise some sort of qualitative difference between the staff in what became the Institute and what became the School of General Studies?

It was always the case that there were very good people in the old Canberra University College - very good people, indeed - so that it wasn't really that. It was that I felt the desirability of having a purely research university. I suppose partly for people like myself who found that they had a good deal that they wanted to do. Somebody once said that the Institute was absolutely made for me, as it wasn't for other people. I'm a very self-sustaining people [sic]. I don't need people standing over me telling me to work, I do it automatically in a sense, and I couldn't reconcile this any longer with keeping up to date my undergraduate lectures - let's say, lecturing in several fields and trying to keep in touch with the literature of them. I found this couldn't be reconciled with doing the large-scale books that I wanted to write. And I knew that there was a good deal of work in the social sphere which, again, required this sort of thing - long, protracted studies of particular social phenomena which involved moving around a great deal, and it couldn't be reconciled with having to give lectures at a certain time each week. Just as I found a lot of the work I wanted to do could only be done by my going abroad and thereabout - finding out what was happening and getting into libraries which were bigger than anything we had here and so on. And that again wasn't compatible with having a routine of the sort that in undergraduate teaching is inevitable.

So I believed in the Institute as being that sort of thing, that's why. It wasn't at all intended as an insult to the people in the School or a suggestion that their qualifications were less than ours or they were less able than we are. But it was to be a place in my mind in which you asked about a person when he was appointed: now is he going to be the sort of person who will benefit from the Institute, in the sense that does he really want to do and need to do the kind of work which demands of him this very wearing, very exhausting full-time application.

          Now about this time, Sir Alexander Carr-Saunders had been invited to comment on the university - this is 1959, I think - and he'd come up with a directly contrary view. Did you have discussions with him about a research university which included the social sciences and humanities, as he termed them?

Yes, I saw quite little of Carr-Saunders but I had a profound mistrust of the English on these questions because I knew that their own tendency was towards normalisation. I knew their tendency to identify us with All Souls. I knew about the great unpopularity of All Souls at Oxford. All this had become very plain to me in 1955 and I thought, well, he thinks that every university ought to be like the London School of Economics, as it were. He doesn't realise that in fact it wasn't going to be because so much more examining, for example, has to be done by Australian university teachers.

In most English institutions of this sort you find yourself examining at intervals of time but you're not involved in it all the while. There are a lot of other factors that made the pressure much greater on an ordinary teacher in Sydney. Oxford tutors had enormous pressure on them but then they also had very short terms and once again they didn't have to examine except every few years. So that they didn't have the long period in which they just couldn't really do anything seriously themselves.

So I didn't really - and I thought it was a sheer nonsense to say that research and teaching are insolubly united, since if you take the great run of British philosophers - Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Bentham, Millll, even really Russell and Wittgenstein - they were not university teachers. And if you take scientists like Darwin, he was not a university teacher, nor were most of the great nineteenth century scientists. So it was just dribble to say that - Gibbon wasn't a university teacher - the two are indissolubly united, and sometimes people can manage them both quite well.

But I remember Sir John Eccles saying that - he was a colleague of mine in Dunedin, he also urged me to come here - that if he mentioned his own work to undergraduates they got very annoyed, they were simply not interested in that. They wanted to have the routine physiology which they needed as medical students. So that the work for him, too, became something that was completely isolated from his teaching, and that's reason why he was very willing to come here to the professorship, too.

It's a place for people, I think, of a certain kind, and I've always been troubled when appointments have been made which I thought weren't of people of this kind. I don't mean that they ever appointed people who didn't have certain kinds of ability, but I sometimes thought that they didn't consider carefully enough whether it was the kind of ability and the kind of character as well which was suitable to the somewhat monastic kind of life which one inevitably lives in this Institute.

          The response might have been at the time in relation to those philosophers that you mentioned that most of them, presumably, didn't have a university to house them.

The philosophers I mentioned - what do you mean?

          The list of philosophers weren't housed in an institution like ANU. Do you need an institution like the Institute of Advanced Studies to generate the sort of work that the range of people you mentioned ...?

It's the kind of work, of course, that's involved here. There are some kinds of work that can be fairly readily done, as I say, in conjunction with undergraduate work, so you've got to think in terms of the kind of work which really does require full-time attention over long periods of time - that's what I had in mind. That there's certain kinds of people for which this Institute is admirable, there are other sorts of people who are much better off in an ordinary university appointment.

Particularly now, and I think this has altered the situation slightly, because until fairly recently the professor always had to be the head of a department in an Australian university. The fact was that once you became a professor it was extremely difficult to carry on with extensive intellectual work because you simply had so much administration to do. And I think the flight from administration is one thing that led people here. But I think it's still true now, although most of my colleagues tell me how lucky I am to have retired because the amount of time that they have to spend in the Institute on administration is far greater than it used to be - a point I was taking up with Mr Dawkins.

          Hancock, by this time, 1959, had concluded that some element of teaching was quite appropriate in a research institution. Did you have arguments with him on this subject?

Yes, I did have arguments with him. It wasn't that I objected to the college saying to somebody would you like to give a course on such and such and to that person agreeing, because I thought in some cases it could be done quite readily, but I didn't think that people could be forced to come here. I also felt that there was a question of attracting people to the Institute, and that if it could establish itself as a place of a quite exceptional kind, it was far more likely to attract good people.

And I think it is true now, that it has a loss of identity, that is to say, people don't know what the ANU stands for in part because it has also this big undergraduate connection. It was something that was unique, which many people were bitterly opposed to, but which you could go around the world and say, 'Now look, here it is, I'll give you a picture of the place' and this was quite simple whereas now it's extraordinarily difficult to give a picture of the place to people that you're talking to or for people outside to get a picture of what it's all about, what it does, what it stands for.

          That expression, the 'Institute of Advanced Studies', do you know where that originated? Who came up with the idea?

I think it was from Princeton, and my own view was that it should have been called, from the beginning, the Australian Institute of Advanced Studies.

          That is from 1946?

Yes, from 1946, and that would have produced far less confusion and it wouldn't have been possible for the Government to talk about there being two universities in Canberra and what a bad thing this was, as they did in connection with .... Well, it was partly, of course, that the Federal Government, once it came in to give money to the States, was put in a position in which the States said, 'Well look, you can't support two universities in Canberra'. This hadn't been of any importance before because we were the only university that was funded by the Federal Government, but it became very important when they were beginning to subsidise the State universities as well with federal funds, so that produced problems there.

          Would you have seen problems, though, in not calling it a university?

No, not at all.

          But what a university does, what that expression 'university' does, and I think we're digressing into the realm of general debate here, but it's interesting. That expression 'university' does bring with it all sorts of assumptions about independence and autonomy and so on, and presumably, that was what Coombs and the post-war reconstructionists wanted and, indeed, what Hancock and Oliphant - the 'Big Four' - were also keen to maintain that autonomy through the use of that term.

I don't think so, no, really. I mean, the Princeton Institute of Advanced Studies has got quite as much autonomy as we've ever had. No, that didn't seem to be an important issue. It had always been proposed, as I said earlier, to set up - at least for many years past - it had been proposed to set up an Australian national university and you've got a takeover of that idea, as it were, by these people that had other interests, and it was all absorbed into the one pattern. But I always thought it was a misnomer because university does suggest a place where teaching is a predominant concern, and here we were taking PhD pupils. That was the only awkwardness about it - that we were taking graduate students - but it was easy enough to say ...



          Identification: this is tape 2, side A, of the interview with Professor Passmore.

          Professor Passmore, before we stopped for a cup of tea we were talking about amalgamation and various questions relating to the Institute around about that time. I was interested in what you said about All Souls, and the way All Souls was regarded at that time. You know, of course, that Sir Keith Hancock was very much an All Souls' man and so far as I can see, if there was any overseas model for the Institute or for ANU as it was at that time, All Souls was that. Did you see it that way or did you have arguments with Hancock about All Souls?

I knew less about it than I did later. I've been a visiting fellow at All Souls twice so I couldn't really argue about All Souls. I wasn't, after all, an Oxford man although they just about turned me into one in a curious way. I'm in a biographical dictionary of Corpus Christi College, but it's a long story how that happened, but I'm not an Oxford graduate and I knew less about college relationships then. I knew Balliol was always very unpopular, which so many Australians were also associated with.

But All Souls isn't really a comparable thing in the sense that it includes a very narrow range of areas and has nothing like, let us say, the elaborate equipment of our physics school and such like. It's really a place where there's a number of professors in some areas and then a series of research fellows who are appointed for three years or such. And I must say that I've often thought they didn't do this selection very well of their younger people. But it is resented by other colleges and a great many people go around, I mentioned this earlier, pronouncing this statement that you can't have research without teaching which, as I said, is historically speaking sheer nonsense. But as well, it's regarded as being exclusive. It's tended to be very conservative in its outlook although not everybody there has been conservative. And it certainly has a very special atmosphere. I always feel I've somehow or other wandered into a theatrical performance when I'm in the common room at All Souls.

But I suppose it would have been in Keith's mind, as an Oxford person, although this university was really, I think, more influenced by Cambridge than it was by Oxford, in general. I think Cambridge has always been a much more research centred place than Oxford, but there's no Cambridge college which is like this place. I don't think anybody looked at the Humboldt Institutes in Germany which are in some ways are more analogous to what we've been trying to do. I think some of them probably would have known about the - well, they would have all known about - the Princeton Institute, but I suppose All Souls was the thing. But as I say, it's not really a very good analogy.

          Was there any conscious modelling, at any stage, that you can think of?

Well, there's nothing to model it on. I mean, as I said earlier, this was really a unique institution. It was unique in having this, as I say, the PhD association. It was unique in its range. The range of the Princeton Institute is quite different and is mostly theoretical. There's not the sort of practical experimental work being done there that's done here on anything like the same scale, if at all.

          But it would be natural to look elsewhere for inspiration, particularly in the early '60s where, according to Professor Partridge, the Institute lacked a sense of direction. Now, those comments come out very early in the piece. Sir Frederick Eggleston, as you may recall or you may have heard, was complaining in the early '50s that scholars came to ANU without really knowing what they were doing and started to burrow into their own little holes. And then, in relation to RSPacS, Dr Coombs said, I think it must have been around about the mid-'50s, that there was really a lack of direction there and so on. And then, I think it was in 1962, that Professor Partridge said something to the effect that there's no real clear idea of where we're going except we're galloping along and getting bigger. And at that point Partridge sat down and wrote a paper which was intended to set directions for the future. Now, was there, during that process, an effort to look elsewhere or was it still very much within its own terms?

As I say, you couldn't really look elsewhere very much. I think one reason why we had a great many problems was precisely the sheer novelty of the Institute. I mean, for instance, with our very great use of visitors; that again makes us unique, really. We've brought here people, very many of the very best people from all over the world, for periods up to three months', six months', year's, more than year's, and this makes us a very unusual institution indeed, but how you were to choose these people and how you were to judge and select, when the selection details - like in most university jobs you ask is this person going to be any good as an administrator, is he going to be any good as a teacher - here, you had all the emphasis really on the one thing: is this person going to do satisfactory research. And as we were appointing a great many young people as research fellows it was peculiarly difficult in their case to know whether they would justify the three to five years that you were giving them.

We really did have an enormous number of problems just because we didn't have and couldn't have a model. Our uniqueness presented us with opportunities but it also presented us with the fact that everything had to be done, as it were, from the ground floor up.

Although I think Hancock - I loved Hancock - he was a marvellous man, he wasn't terribly good at picking people and he often did pick people, I think, in the early days, who were not at all suitable for the appointments that they had.

In some areas the problems were rather different because, after all, we were having to draw people from other universities and, as I say, a thing like Oriental Studies had basically been a scholarly enterprise which concerns itself probably more with twelfth century China than with present day China. So we had to find people, with great difficulty, who were interested in what was going on there now. And in the Pacific, which again it wasn't a question of, say, drawing people from undergraduate departments which had been particularly interested in the Pacific islands because there were no such departments. We were starting so many lines of enquiry in Australia really - trying to do things which just hadn't been done here - that our problems in picking people were immense. It's interesting, of course.

I think we did some very daring things like appointing FitzGerald who didn't even have a university degree, which not many universities would have been prepared to do. And many other people who came off very well, who, I think, would have had difficulty in getting appointments at some other universities, but who were highly suitable for the purposes that we wanted.

But certainly, it was hard to know just, for instance, how far to stand over people and how far to let them go their own way. The movement in recent years was towards 'projects', in order to bring people together, to make them cohere, and to say, 'Well look, we're going to investigate such and such for such a period of time. We'll bring in sociologists and economists.' But there's always been a lot of people like me who are not project people, and the projects approach which, I think, came again from the United States in its influence has produced some interesting work, but it can never cover the whole field because there are people who do best when they plough a solitary line somewhere rather than join in a project, and they have their own interest. And it's very hard always to get academics to come together.

It's been a tremendous difficulty everywhere in establishing interdisciplinary studies in universities - has been a sign of this. It often becomes very wishy-washy. It seldom has come off really well. I think it's getting worse with the PhD because now the object of a PhD is really to professionalise people; to teach them all the tricks of the trade and to get them to see themselves as members of a particular profession. In the long run, to learn just how to draw up bibliographies, where to put the commas, where to put the colons. And certainly people are far more expert in this sort of thing than they ever were in my time. But at the same time it certainly does have an isolating effect which again will make people rather reluctant to join in projects. There's a strong sense that they're historians, and if they're historians they'll probably learn to be pretty scornful of sociologists - that's not one of the most amiable of relationships - and even perhaps with economists.

Strangely enough, of other forms of intellectual activity, I'm very struck by the fact - I haven't read the book but just looking at it a little bit and using the index - from the final volume of the History of Australia, in this joint enterprise that just came out, you could find what sort of card games Australians liked, what sort of football games they played, but there's not a suggestion anywhere in that book that some Australians engaged in thinking. There's no references to science, there's no reference to philosophy, there's no reference to scholarship. Every other kind of life, I think, comes up somewhere. But historians are often uncomfortable with theoretical work; it's very hard to deal with in an historical context.

          Mindless empiricists, as Alan Martin calls himself - me, too, I guess. Projects were invented in part, I guess, to get around the departmental structure, which you also had misgivings about in those early years. And of course, going back to the beginnings, departments weren't the idea at all. In social sciences, departments came about because there was no director in a way, and they grew up and took on a life of their own. But you arrived and found the departments there already. Do you think it would have been desirable, even at that point, to try to get away from the departmental structure?

Yes, I find it hard to think myself back into this period now. I think it's a tendency of all tertiary institutions to normalise themselves. It's very difficult for them to break away from the shape of other traditional universities even when they mean to. The same thing happened to our College of Advanced Education which had specific jobs originally of a quite different kind from the university jobs, and very useful jobs I think, but they gradually wanted to turn themselves into this familiar university pattern, and again since all universities, pretty well, had departments, that was the natural pattern here.

But I certainly felt that what I wanted to see more than anything else was a lot of cross-talk and a lot of cross-relationships, and I think I've been disappointed in the outcome by the limited degree to which this has happened. But, as I say, this has been something that's been wanted in a great many places in the world and has never really quite come off, so that if you didn't nominally have departments, and of course, they've now been broken up so that you've only got sections in the research schools, which are much bigger than departments; I fancy that in fact the departmental structure will re-emerge even if it's not there in name. I don't know why this should be so, but certainly novel structures are very hard to introduce into universities.

          Hancock's idea originally was that there shouldn't be a department of philosophy, nor a department of history - well, there shouldn't be departments - but there should be just a 'philosopher at large', I think, was the expression he used. Do you think that the Department of Philosophy - Social Philosophy originally, then Philosophy - did fit in well to the Research School of Social Sciences?

In some ways, no, because inevitably philosophy has become very much more professional in recent years. If you take, say, the thing that I introduced, the Relevant Logic Group within the Philosophy Department, that really had nothing to do with what else was going on in the social sciences, or very little, but in the long run it's, of course, turned into this entire computer side to the university. It's moved away from the Research School but it never seemed to me to be .... If I thought that something was worth doing, and one couldn't imagine any other school in which they might have established themselves, then it's never troubled me too much the sort of question that you were raising. I had to defend the appointment of these people and I did it in these terms. I thought this was interesting intellectual work but inevitably work in formal logic wouldn't have an obvious and immediate interaction with work in other areas, but in the long term it would have, and in fact it has worked out very much as I hoped and expected.

I've mixed a lot with historians and talked a lot with economists and with sociologists, but it hasn't been in a formal way. They would sometimes send me papers that I criticise and look at and so on. And I'm now involved, say, in the Dictionary of Political Thought that's being produced here. But inevitably some of the people in the department, from time to time, have been doing very detailed research work. I've always thought that was something you really had to have. That if you said. 'No, I won't appoint anybody unless they're a generalist as well', you'd find it very hard to appoint very good people. They're just so scarce on the ground, people who are at once able and cut across the traditional university barriers, although I also maintain, and constantly maintain, that many of the most important discoveries are made by people who can do that.

Eccles was a case in point, who freely moved into chemistry and got the advice of mathematicians when he wanted to, and so on. He never felt that all knowledge was contained within physiology. And other people I've known who have been of that sort of Nobel Prize level, elsewhere, have been the same sort of people. In fact, it's been quite interesting that I've found that the more - well, to my mind - the higher in quality people were the more likely I was to meet them at theatres and places like that, and the duller, the people that were doing what I regarded as routine work, I wouldn't meet at theatres or cinemas or anywhere else. They would say they had too much to do but it wasn't really that; their interest was so specialised and so narrow that they weren't prepared to do it.

          That tendency towards normalisation, towards orthodoxy in the university, is it possible to construe the change of name of Social Philosophy to Philosophy in those terms? - and presumably you played a role in that.

No, it's not really. What happened originally was that I was supposed to be a 'philosopher at large' and the department was to be Social Philosophy but - I can't really tell you how this happened - but finally we became a very attractive department. I was able to appoint very good people and we also had almost all the leading philosophers in the English-speaking world here as visitors over a period of time. And at the same time Partridge became director of the school and so on, and it was felt a bit absurd to call the thing a 'Department of Social Philosophy' when it was mostly now philosophers who were not necessarily social philosophers at all. And I think it was, again, a case in which it was recognised that good work was being done in the department.

You see, for example, one man who is now a professor in Chicago, but he was working here on a new edition and translation of Spinoza, which is a very valuable thing - the volumes are coming out now - and it really transforms one's approach to Spinoza. But, I mean, Spinoza is a person who is important in general terms in the intellectual history of mankind, but it seems a long way away from the preoccupations, say, of so many people in this school with very particular details about the Australian scene.

          Did you feel any pressure at any stage to do things which related immediately, directly, to the Australian scene, bearing in mind the initial impetus relating to national needs?

I didn't feel any outside pressures. There was a certain internal pressure. I've always felt, for example, that if I were asked to write about philosophy in Australia I substantially had to do it. So I prepared an article for the French encyclopedia of philosophy that's shortly to come out, for a Chinese encyclopedia that's to come out, and I wrote accounts in the Culture of Australia on Australian philosophy. I've just written a piece which is to come out on, 'is there such a thing as Australian philosophy as distinct from philosophy in Australia?', which again is on that. And, of course, also in my general writings I quite deliberately refer to Australian situations even although I know full well that I'm writing not merely for an English-speaking but for an international audience and I have to be very careful not to make references that no one would understand. There's no point in referring to Don Bradman, for example.

          Was he a philosopher?

(Laughs) No, whatever I'm writing about. I mean, you just want examples. For instance, in a book just coming out on serious art, I do refer to quite a few - this is on the arts generally˙- Australian painters and writers and I never call them Australian. I just assume the world at large knows about them, and people say that - philosophers say - that I've internationally represented Australian philosophy in a way no one else has ever done is perfectly true, I think.

I've deliberately, I've spent quite a lot of money, to go to international conferences and to speak there, and I've spoken as an invited speaker at almost every International Congress of Philosophy they've held every five years since 1948. And again, I think it takes away the notion that there's no intellectual life here, although I always have great trouble in persuading people that I wasn't educated at Oxford, I was educated in Sydney and so on and so on, but in the long run I think it does come through. And a couple of my books are now going into Chinese and Russian, which is interesting, but would have been impossible until quite late. So that, I don't know, I think one can advance Australia by showing that Australia is a country in which intellectual activity goes on myself, but it's not everybody's view, I suppose.

          You widened philosophy to embrace the history of ideas and I think you put forward a detailed proposal for that in 1959 and it took ten years for it to happen. But why was there a need to set up a separate unit?

I can't remember all the details here, at all. There wasn't, I suppose, but what was being done wasn't really preoccupied with philosophers in any narrow professional sense of what philosophy is. It was much more concerned with, and was intended to be, with social thinkers, and this has always been the leading emphasis in the department, particularly with Marxism, but understood very broadly with the rise of socialism in the nineteenth century and with other important episodes like the French Revolution, considered in their intellectual background and their intellectual significance. So it didn't really fit this kind of work into a department of philosophy, although my own book, The Perfectability of Man, which is very much a history of ideas thing, I actually published as from the Department of Philosophy.

But I'm not too certain, at this point, why it became a separate section, except that it made it possible to appoint one or two people to work with. But still, generally speaking, this department's been built on visitors. I think the great importance of it is that it's brought in so many visitors. And also, its seminars are, beyond a few people, are attended by different people each time, as it were. Each of them is on some area which has been˙- I think a lot of them have been on areas which have been of great interest within the school and have brought a lot of expertise into it, but very few of them could one possibly call philosophical papers except in a very broad sense of the word. But I think it's played a very useful role in it, but that was always my idea of it - my notion of it - as something that operated in that kind of way.

          I'm interested from the point of view of just how departments and units grow and, I think of economic history which was created to accommodate Noel Butlin, and I suppose one might assume, and I haven't read specific papers on this, but one might assume that the history of ideas unit was created as a separate unit to accommodate Eugene Kamenka.

Yes, well, Eugene Kamenka was a central figure around whom it could turn because his own work had been very notably in this sort of area. There were a number of problems in that stage˙....

One also got a rather clogged department as far as we were concerned. There was no possibility of people getting advancement within the department and one knew quite well that if one advertised a senior post it would attract applicants from all over Australia, and my own people were very good but the people we would attract would probably be just that part better known.

So there was an internal technical problem of appointments of the sort that often have more effects than they ought to have in some ways, but which are very awkward to cope with. But I think my own feeling was - I thought this was an important area and one which wasn't really entering into the curricula of other Australian universities. In fact the History of Ideas department here has been just about unique; there are very few history of ideas departments in the world. And again, I've always rather liked this venturing into fields in this school, indeed in the other schools, which weren't sufficiently cultivated, particularly which weren't sufficiently cultivated in Australia, but which weren't in general, sufficiently cultivated.

          Did you see the History of Ideas Unit, and indeed the Department of Philosophy, as having some sort of missionary role? What was the relationship of the department and the unit in relation to - what was the relationship to other departments in Australia?

It's always been, I think, fairly close. We've had a lot of visitors from other departments and people have generally contributed to the philosophical life of Australia as a whole. But, of course, Australia's a very difficult country because of the two things: one is the great cost of moving people from point A to point B to come up to meetings and to come up to conferences; and the other is, the Australian universities themselves have no tradition of visitors. I mean, for instance, the University of Sydney did say to me, well, if you're in Sydney on a Friday night come and talk to me, but there's no question of them paying my fares to visit them or anything like that. Now, the university for a long time tried to take up a great many of these expenses and it was the sole˙.... And I think it's had a very big effect on Australian intellectual life because even with its visitors it would support them financially in going for visits to other universities in Australia. It never adopted the monopolistic position that we're paying for this man to come here so he's not to go elsewhere, it was far from doing that. But this all came, as it were, from the side of the ANU.

We began to circulate and say we were going to have such and such visit us here in this period, but the tradition elsewhere was simply non-existent. I mean, I never remember having any visitors in Sydney from overseas, at all. I think this is one of the great achievements of the ANU that it developed a sufficient reputation to bring over the years an extraordinarily large number of people here who could provide stimulation as well as in the other places. Now, sometimes this has certainly meant the other places got jealous because we were doing this, but if we hadn't done it, no one else would have done it. And it was a real innovation in Australian life. I mean, visitors were tremendously rare until the ANU was set up.

          At this time, the early '60s, there was a lot of discussion about the optimum size of the university and the schools and departments. Can you recall having particular opinions at that stage?

Well, of course, as I've said before, I have a prejudice in favour of the small and I was always opposed to the idea that you should expand and expand. For one thing, because again it links with my view that there ought to be actually far more cross-talk than there now is in the ANU between, let's say, biologists and philosophers, physicists and philosophers. There was a tremendous amount of it when I first came here but as you expand you contract in a curious way.

The university gets larger but each department tends to contract into itself because there are enough people to talk - putting the matter very crudely - within your own department and you tend not to move out of it. I think here the tea room was a great thing but it's also true, I think, that with the tremendous difficulty in getting appointments and in keeping them, a great many of the younger people take the view that they haven't got time to go to the tea room, and they'll have a sandwich with other members of their department. They work very long hours. I think it's a thing about the ANU that if you come up here even on Christmas Day there'll be a lot of people working in this building. You wouldn't find that in any other university in Australia, particularly dealing with social science sort of things.

So that the pressure on the young is really greater because they feel they have to do a lot in their period of time as a researcher if they're going to have any hope of getting a job elsewhere, whereas there was a considerable period of time in which we were able to operate a system, which I felt was very effective, in which a person would come here, who'd been a lecturer in a university for four or five years, as a research fellow and then they tended to go off to professorships ....



          Identification: This is tape 2, side B, Professor Passmore.

But now, of course, once a person has a tenured job he's extremely reluctant to give that up and come to a non-tenured post at the university. And this, I think, has presented us with a very considerable problem over recent years, because before we could see how a person was going before they came to the research fellowship, they weren't coming straight from a degree, and also we didn't have to worry about what was going to happen to them when their period ended. And I think this is one difficulty with, say, the sort of suggestion that we should have five-year appointments and so on.

If every university in the world was doing this then it might work but as it is, the idea that people would ever give up tenured posts to come here for five years, I don't think it would just wash. And the interesting thing is that it's very often the ablest people who have the greatest degree of insecurity in these matters. And, of course, if they've got a wife and family it's even greater. But it's often the not very bright people who are perfectly convinced that they'll always have the job ready for them. And so it has, I think, produced great problems in the operation.

I mean, the original idea, and I think, the correct idea, was the permanent staff here should be very small, and even now, of course, we have very many - our percentage of people without tenure is far higher than it is in any other university. Otherwise, people should come through this place and have a chance of doing a sustained piece of work for three years or so and then go off somewhere else. And that pattern, I think, was the proper one for this but it's again an example of how historical changes in other universities can have a profound effect on the operation and the particular role of this university. Just as for a time, of course, we were just about the only source of PhD people in Australia, and I had fourteen PhD students at one point. And then, of course, other people set up their PhD programs.

So that it's a place that has to reconsider its role at different stages in history just because of the changes that occur in the university world outside this place. And that presents difficulties and many people get tired of the constant re-examination that goes on in this university, which again is a peculiar feature of it. Generally speaking, in the older universities, well, since Thatcher in England people have had to re-examine, but otherwise they don't. I don't think Harvard is always asking itself what it's doing and examining itself and so on. I don't think any of the major American universities do that, and I don't think the British ones did it until they've been to some degree forced into it by Thatcherism.

          Coombs has said at various times that the university has changed substantially from the vision of the founders and that was something that had to be accepted and it was quite appropriate. But one can't help but think there's just a tinge of regret in his voice. Do you feel the same way, that it would be better to revert to the original objectives of the place?

I don't think one can, now, because, as I've just said, there's been too many changes in the world at large so that these notions they bring in research fellows for three years and then going off to a job elsewhere become much more difficult to bring into effect.

It's also true that the people, as I also said, are so professionalised that it's very hard to say to them .... Well, if you were to say to them, 'Now, we want you to concentrate upon Australian problems particularly' you'd get a very small choice. And people would also feel that if they do that then their chance of getting another appointment elsewhere is much smaller, assuming that they have to move outside Australia for another appointment. So that professionally it can be, in some areas - not in astronomy, not in some areas of biology - but if a person, say, devotes his whole life to the study of Australian history over a long period he's going to find it much harder to get jobs outside Australia, and even, to a degree, within Australia.

There are problems all the day and all the way, but we in fact have had to accommodate ourselves by making very great changes over time. Some of these changes I regret, others I regard as being essential in terms of the international and national situation of universities, which perhaps I'm more conscious of than most people because I have spent, well, as I say, I've chaired a committee of inquiry into German universities, then I've been lecturing in Sweden where I see very great problems which they're trying to deal with. Sweden is always idealised by the Labor Government people here, by Dawkins and company, but in fact they're very conscious of the fact they're slipping well behind with the policies that they adopted. And then in Canada and then in America and in Italy and in France. And then I see a lot of people when - I talk about universities a lot when I'm overseas. And I'm a member of three - of the British and American and Danish - academies, I also get their documents, papers and so on, so that I am aware of the world in a way in which I think our bureaucrats, indeed, are not.

They have an imaginary world which I think they often think in terms of the University of California and don't realise that the major universities in California are not part of the University of California. It's as if they'd linked all the colleges of advanced education into one institution. That would be more like it than, say, it's an imaginative place like CalTech or what have you as part of the University of California. And in general they seem to me to have picked up the worst features of American universities and not the best.

I was saying to Mr Dawkins yesterday that a feature of American universities, and the best of them, is the smallness of the undergraduate schools, so that you get about a thousand undergraduates at Harvard and rather less at Princeton, and then you get places like Swarthmore and so on. Because they feel, and I think correctly, that undergraduates need very close teachers. This is the really difficult period. Once they reach the graduate level they can go their own way and far more with a bit of help. But the places that don't do this are places like Berkeley where the undergraduate teaching is utterly disgraceful. It's mostly done by people that are getting ready to do a PhD and who take a minimal interest in their teaching. And when I spoke to the professors there they didn't even know what undergraduate courses were being given. They had no contact with the undergraduates.

          You had this opportunity yesterday more or less by accident to present these views to Dawkins. Have you, at other stages, during your career had the opportunity to present a world view or the other world views to government, going right back to the mid-'50s when you were talking to Menzies?

The curious feature at the moment, of course, is that although I knew Mr Hawke quite well when he was a PhD student here, I've never so much as set eyes on him in his capacity as Prime Minister. He's the first Prime Minister that I haven't known at all, so I've had nothing to do with this - I've never met Mr Keating, I'd never met Mr Dawkins until yesterday.

When I first came to Canberra, Sir Harold White said to me that a thing you must realise is that if you were the greatest scholar in the world that would count for absolutely nothing at Canberra. And the time when you meet politicians is when, as I was, you're a Canberra director of the Australian Theatre Trust or you're on the Research Council or you're on ASTEC or something like that, but there's no personal relationship of that kind, and they're really quite cut off from Canberra and, of course, also with their own interests. I mean, as I was commenting yesterday to Barry Jones, I've seen lots of photographs of Mr Hawke but I've never seen one photograph in which he was in the company of scientists or technologists or even industrialists. His interest was in the great gambling entrepreneurs not in the industrialist entrepreneurs, and that's part of his own character, I think. So that I've had˙....

Well, I think I did annoy quite a lot of people by articles in Quadrant and what have you attacking the Dawkins' proposals - they seemed quite amiable yesterday. But that's been the only way I've been able to do it, that is to say, through the press and then with these great difficulties, as I said earlier, of finding media in Australia that you can do this sort of thing through and which have more than a miniscule number of readers.

          What about before 1983? What about your relationship with the other Government?

Well, I say, the main relationship was in the amalgamation period on this kind of thing. But later I did casually meet˙- a little bit more than casually meet - quite a few of the people. I more than casually knew Whitlam and more than casually knew Gorton, and more than casually knew Menzies.

          And were you sought out at any time for advice relating to tertiary education or, indeed, education in general?

Only that I was asked to be one of the first members of the Australian Research Grants Committee, which was a question of being sought out. The vice-chancellors asked me to write a report on teaching in the Australian universities which I did. Why? - I don't think anybody's ever .... I've seen a reference to it recently but nobody paid any attention to it, but that was before I went to New Zealand. No, I've never been sought out otherwise.

Science and Technology, I was on that when it was first set up, but Hawke got rid of me out of that as soon as he could (laughs). So, no, I haven't been sought out for advice. I don't think they do that very often, really. I mean, the bureaucrats always think they know best and they don't want any advice from academics.

And the other problem, of course, is that, well, I was very conscious of the fact that John Anderson never really succeeded in writing anything substantial because he was mixed up in so many public controversies, and the sort of thing that happened to you in public controversies in Australia. And even now, since I wrote that Quadrant article I haven't succeeded in getting any work done. It hasn't been solely an effect of the Quadrant article but a lot of it was. In the last fortnight or so, I mean, I've just - it's not just the effort it takes to write these things, which is pretty considerable.

It's also true, it doesn't affect me, really, but if you write for something like Quadrant or what have you, many people feel that you shouldn't put it in your publications list. You should only put it in your publications list if it's been a refereed journal. Now, this discourages people from writing on general topics in these sort of papers, and yet I think academics should write. I don't think they should spend all their time on it, they get very thin if they do this, but I think it's quite proper that, say, our economists should write in articles, though Barry Jones was complaining yesterday that he doesn't believe that all economists can be of the same spirit but that none of them - you don't find any of them - writing in journals of public opinion. Economics writing is all done by people from outside the university. Occasionally they're called upon by the ABC to talk but not very often. So it's a difficult thing. There's no easy two-way relationship here, and there's no ....

You see, people like John Stuart Mill, writing on similar topics really, writing about women and emancipation of women and liberty and so on, he had journals like the Westminster Journal which was read very widely by just - the intellectuals. But similar attempts, even insofar as Encounter is a similar attempt, now that's collapsed - Quadrant has to be heavily subsidised. There seems to be no longer an audience for journals of this kind which are not strictly professional. There's millions of strictly professional journals. There's a vast number of popular women's papers and journals generally - more in Australia than anywhere in the world, I think. But journals of opinion, as they used to be called, don't seem to exist.

Charles Scribner said to me some years ago that the general reader has disappeared, so that you can sell professional books and you can sell coffee table books but you cannot sell a work which is intellectually demanding to some degree but at the same time is not the sort of thing you'd use as a text book in any university.

          The tyranny of television, perhaps - to an extent, anyhow.

Also the tyranny of professionalisation so that there are not the people who want to read philosophy, which has again become very professional, when in the '30s the Australian Journal of Philosophy really had more subscribers than it has now, but most of these subscribers were not professional philosophers.

          We must come back to your own career. You were appointed to the chair in '58 - around about '58 anyhow - and it was a personal chair. Did that make any difference to you, the fact that it was a personal chair rather than ...?

No, not at all, except for a while it may have reduced administration, I suppose - it may have had less administration - but that didn't last very long anyhow with Partridge going across to the directorship, otherwise it didn't. I mean, it was nice to get it, I'd been a professor and it was nice to get a professorship back again, particularly as everybody tended to address me from overseas as professor, it was a shade awkward, but otherwise it didn't really concern me. I thought that personal professorships were a good idea and, of course, there's been quite a few of them since to cope with this situation where you get somebody who's doing a more than normal amount of work but there's already been a professor appointed and you've got a very small permanent staff.

It's unfortunately true that the Australian universities were moving towards a situation in which you had two or three professors in a department so they could shift work between them to some degree, but that's all gone with the new economic thing. We've gone back to the earlier tradition of only having the one professor in the department, which isn't, I think, a good one, and, of course, is very remote from the American situation which we very often pretend to be copying.

          When you became head of department in '61, '62 or whenever (laughs), did you find then that you wanted to reshape the department? Did you introduce major changes?

Not that I can think of, no. No, I don't think so. Actually my interest was in the school or in the university as a whole, I think, really. I was still involved in a great many university committees. I tended to find I was called upon when there was a need for a statement of a very general kind about graduate work or something like that, and I think that's where I'm most effective. I would never become director of the school because day-to-day administration is not really my forte.

          So who called on you? Was it a matter of the vice-chancellor at the time?

The vice-chancellor, yes. Now again, it was a question of how well I knew the vice-chancellor and how well the vice-chancellor knew me. I know I'm retired now but I've never set eyes on the present vice-chancellor and I don't know that I would have seen much of him even if I'd still been a professor. But in this smaller university, of course, I knew people like Huxley and company quite well, and they were conscious of the kind of work I was doing - Leslie Melville, again - and it was rather natural to call on me for these kind of things, especially as I'd had all that administrative experience earlier, and, of course, was getting called upon again for these government committees into the bargain.

          How did the university change as vice-chancellors changed? Did you notice, for example, from Huxley to Crawford, were there obvious changes?

Yes, I think Crawford made more difference than anybody else made because he was really intent, I think, on amalgamation of a closer kind, and again, he introduced functional administration - I referred to this earlier. So that I found I never knew who I had to ring up any more, and I think the administration enlarged very considerably under his rule as vice-chancellor. He was a very able man, for .... There was brilliant admiration for his work. But I thought, at the time, that he was actually damaging the university and turning it into something much more like a civil service institution. And certainly, I think, the distancing of the administration from the professorship began at that point, but it was partly a function, again, of size.

But also, it was just much easier for professors to deal with the situation in which you rang up the registrar or assistant registrar and he had the whole range of what was going on - oh, and the accountant.

          That meaning quite often, Ross Hohnen, presumably.


          From Crawford - I'm just trying to think who followed Crawford. Did you have any direct disputes with Crawford on the matter of administrative style?

No, not really. I didn't see anything as much of him as I'd seen of earlier vice-chancellors. As I say, he was a very busy man, not only here, but he still had a good many other outside contacts, so that I'd run across him at intervals and we'd talk. No, I didn't. These questions were - it's very difficult when you really have a policy which is quite different from the policy of the vice-chancellor, and you are withdrawn, as I say, from major administration. I was no longer on the Council. I was on the Professorial Board. But these were curious - these were administrative changes of a kind that didn't on the face of it involve academic consequences.

I think that, in fact, they did have academic consequences but it was hard to get up and say - although I think I said it - it's a terrible nuisance having to consult, not knowing who to consult, not knowing who's responsible for who and having to send off PhD students to so many different people, and that it was a bit confusing, as well - the Faculties with the Institute. As I say, I also had a very great respect for him as a person, so that I didn't come in on this and I grumbled rather than ....

          (Laughs) And did you grumble where? On Faculty, Faculty Board?

Tea rooms mostly (laughs).

          And how did Faculty and Faculty Board serve your purposes? I mean, did it function as a useful intellectual forum?

You don't expect committees to be useful intellectual forums on the whole. I was Acting Director of the school on some occasions but I think managed the business reasonably well. No, Faculty was like any other organisation of this sort in which people sometimes talk at inordinate length about things when they could have been dealt with much more briefly, but which in general, I think, only seldom came out with decisions that I felt were really hostile to - very rarely, indeed. We rumbled around rather inefficiently but the important thing is the decisions that come out of a committee, not how. I think I used to try to scurry the business through too quickly when I was acting as chairman of it. I'm not sure but I have a feeling that that would be so. We certainly did move much faster than people normally have. This was also partly, I suppose, 'cause I was anxious to get back to my work, but it wasn't only that. I always felt that most things could be dealt with more briefly than they are - an awful lot of verbage goes on under any circumstances.

          We talked a little bit about staffing questions. Can we just elaborate on that a little bit? How did you go about getting staff? Now, in the first instance, it was very difficult to get staff, then there became a period where you were creating your own, as it were.

The second period was extremely difficult because a period arose where you got, say, a hundred and twenty-five applicants for a research fellowship and by the nature of the case these were not people that had a great deal behind them. There was always a lot of applications from America and you knew that with the open reference system, testimonials no longer meant anything - everybody was a genius. Again, another case in which what happens here is affected by something which is happening internationally. We'd spend an inordinate amount of time about it, but I always said we'd do just as well if we stuck a pin in because really all these people were of much the same level of past achievement, and to work out which of them were going to be the people of better future achievement was extremely difficult.

I didn't have anything as much trouble with appointments at a senior level and they very rarely came up, it was mostly - with our system - it was mostly a case of appointing research fellows. And that became very troublesome. Except perhaps in the very earliest years, I don't think I had any great difficulty in getting people that I was pleased with - once or twice perhaps - but very rarely. But the number of applications would be moderately small and so it didn't take too long to cope with them. It was regarded as a rather weird thing to do, to apply for a position here, so they were mostly people that had some quite specific thing that they wanted to do. And, as I say, they mostly moved off to professorships elsewhere - they were of that kind of capacity. And in fact there's ex-research fellows in jobs all over the world.

          What about students?

The natural tendency for students was to want to study overseas, and I had no objection to this because I thought, well, they get an education of a quite different character. I don't mean that I thought they'd get a worse philosophical education with us, but they had experience of other countries, other institutions and such like if they went overseas. And in fact it worked the other direction: that a great many of our students came from overseas. And they, again, are often occupying fairly prominent positions in different places. We had students coming here from Oxford and from Cambridge and from major American universities to do their doctorate here. So that I was, on the whole, quite pleased with their quality, a bit less pleased when their numbers were considerably enlarged.

One or two cases there where people had got their PhDs and were offered all these jobs, I really didn't feel that they were going to make very good university teachers, and in fact some of them haven't. There was always the problem with the PhD that people regarded it as the peak of their life, as it were, when they got their thesis accepted, and it was such an ordeal they didn't ever write anything very much later, or perhaps fragments from their thesis or 'op'. But it's quite surprising how many have really done extremely little after they got their doctorate.

          You mentioned that you had fourteen at one stage. At the outset what did you regard as the optimum number of students for one person - for you, specifically to look after?

Yes, this was very difficult because we offered very close supervision. The students, of course, had rooms around us. People used to say the tea room in the morning was just a continuous philosophy seminar because these students would be all around us, and it was tremendously exhausting, actually. I mean, people tend to thing 'twelve students' but twelve PhD students of ability really take a tremendous amount of your time.

I thought about half a dozen really was much more like the number that we could successfully cope with given the very thorough supervision that they got, which was quite unlike the situation in most universities where the supervision has been very casual indeed. There may have been people here that didn't get any supervision but I think - anyhow, in some of the departments I knew - the supervision was far more rigorous and far closer than it was anywhere else that I can think of. Australian universities, otherwise, are very casual on the whole in their relations to their graduate students. I was quite horrified when I first went to the LSE in 1948 and saw how the graduate students were being treated there and resolved it would never be like that again.

When Oxford introduced graduate students, well, they introduced the BPhil degree which was the thing philosophers and historians mostly went across to get, but supervision was appalling at first. It was only introduced because the tutors said we don't want to do any more work, and so all the supervision was done by the professors and they weren't used to teaching or supervising, and in some cases it involved having their students to tea once a term, or sherry and biscuits once a term, and that was all the supervision there was. There were exceptions but a great deal of it was very casual. But here it never was casual.

          You took the department through the period of student protest. Did it impinge upon you at all, or the department?

I wrote a book which was partly concerned with it but that's all. No, it didn't. I don't think the Institute was - well, it meant that students pressed for things like student representation on committees, which in general they then didn't turn up for. Sydney University was exceptional insofar as we had student representation in the '30s when this was a great rarity in universities, but with the provision that the person had to be a graduate of five years' standing. I wasn't on the Council any more when I would have had to cope with it, of course, to a much greater degree. But in the Institute I should think it produced the minimal problems.



          Identification: tape 3, side A, of the interview with Professor Passmore on 17 May 1991.

          We're just going to end the interview by looking at just a few specific questions and giving Professor Passmore the opportunity to raise anything that he thinks particularly worth putting on tape.

          If I could start just by asking you about Lord Lindsay who you mentioned in passing early in the piece. Did you have any specific involvement in that affair?

Yes, rather too much. As I said before, I didn't think Keith Hancock was always at his best in dealing with people. This wasn't because he was at all a nasty sort of man but because on the other hand he was sometimes, I think, too generous in his dealings with people. One reason I remember this report that I wrote for the university, on the history of the university, was that I had to have a long interview with Lord Lindsay who had fairly strong views about what was going on in the university. And listening to this I had no doubt that he was paranoid. I mean, this doesn't mean that he should have gone to a madhouse but that he had strong paranoid tendencies which were accentuated by the fact - this might be libel, I don't know - that his Chinese wife thought that as he was a lord that he ought to be treated with enormous respect. And we would often have discussions with him which were working out quite well, and then he would come in the next day, after consulting his wife, and be as obdurate as ever. And I was terribly shocked when he really stopped us from getting the LSE man by writing off to him as an independent person.

Hancock always, I think possibly being a clergyman's son or such, he always thought he could save everybody in a certain sense, and it took a very long time to persuade him that you were dealing here with a man that wouldn't respond to simple kindness and what have you - which I decided fairly early. After the things he said to me in that interview I kept rather clear of him. I knew Hancock very well and I did talk to Hancock about it once or twice but, I mean to say, he had this clergyman's view of the situation and so it didn't do much good, I don't think, until finally the bust up had to come, and did come.

          Which you stayed clear of.

I stayed clear of it, yes. There was nothing I could do. I'd done what I could do earlier to explain what I thought was happening with Lindsay but there was nothing more I could do.

          The other saga involving the social science schools in those early years related to Jim Davidson and C.P.˙FitzGerald and their political problems. Were you around at that stage? I'm just not quite sure of the dates.

The political problems are rather funny really. And as a side bit to this. I met Evatt - I met him several times - and Evatt said to me, 'Well, what's your role?'. I'd just come here, in the ANU, and I said, 'I'm a reader'. And he said, 'Oh, you'll never become a professor unless you support the conservative party, the Liberal Party', in spite of the fact that there were people like Davidson in the company here in the school. It was a striking example of the thing I noticed several times with Evatt, that he would say something to you and it wasn't just that it was false, it was that he knew it was false and he knew that you knew it was false but he still went ahead saying it - an extraordinary man. But I was never very closely attached. I was bothered about Davidson because, again, he'd been a Hancock appointment really and it didn't seem to me that he'd ever achieve anything.

          And he and Hancock had something of a falling out.

Yes, well, I think it was eventually - they did have a falling out although they'd been very close earlier. But it was the extreme difficulty of getting anything out of him in the research way. At the same time his interest in politics didn't really bother me. A person is quite entitled to have an interest in politics, though it did annoy me when, as I said, Evatt took the view that he did take about the ANU. But that's all I can really say on that, I think.

          What about things in other parts of the university? You had a lot to do with Eccles. Did you follow what was going on in JCSMR?

No, I just got - well, as I said earlier, when they said our people don't want a faculty, they'd prefer the professors to do it, I said I don't think you'll find that's true. And I wasn't at all surprised when they were later - distinct discontent on this point. Actually, I gave a lunchtime talk which upset people terribly at this point in time when this sort of thing happened - it was just to various colleagues, Oliphant and others were there. And I argued that scientists were very given to thinking in authoritarian, totalitarian terms. This is one reason why so many of them admired the Soviet Union just when everybody else had turned away from it. That they had as their ideal a research team in which everything was directed by the professor and they often collected around them people that weren't frightfully good but would always do what they were told to do. This somewhat upset some of the scientists, but anyhow ....

          I can imagine.

I said my piece on that subject. And I thought the medical school was another example of this. They just refused to admit the discontent amongst the younger people, but, of course, in the later years of the university I'd never been near the medical school, but I saw quite a lot not only of Eccles but of Fenner and of Ennor at that time.

          Do you think the university has worked? I mean, the Institute has worked as a unit here? Or did it reach a certain point in terms of its growth where the fundamental objectives were undermined?

I don't know that the fundamental objectives - well, of course some of the fundamental objectives were undermined. As I've said earlier, they had to be because the whole world situation changed. I don't think it's worked as well as an institute ever since amalgamation because so many things could no longer be done because the numbers were then too large. I've said earlier, we used to have these three dinners a year, talking to other people about the problem - that had to go.

University House was rather resented by the Faculties, and it ceased to work because we used to all have lunch together at University House and that ceased to happen any more. It couldn't have been handled, I think, as a technical problem once everybody could come, but also there was a resentment against it, and so it's now turned into this strange sort of convention place, whereas when I was deputy master of it it was really - this is in the late '50s - a great centre, and that's what it had been intended to do: to be the centre of university life. It may have happened anyhow as the Institute got larger but certainly the intimate thing was partly destroyed just by the pressure of numbers and the impossibility of either saying, yes, you're professors in the university but only professors of the Institute can come to these occasions, or of coping with the size of the professoriate now the two bodies were together.

          So today would fragmentation matter? Does it particularly matter that they talk about taking JCSMR away and so on?

I think it would matter far less than it would have mattered. I don't know the people there now, although, of course, I'm retired for ten years, but I don't know that I would know them anyhow the way things are. Their disappearance would be a pity in the sense they've had some very able people connected with it, like Fenner is an extremely able man indeed, and again, a man of wide interests. Eccles was obviously one. But quite a lot others of the younger men that I knew were very able, but some of them are also difficult.

It's unfortunately been true in this university, and in many others, that a great many of the ablest people have also been exceptionally difficult people. Nadel, who died quite young, was an example of that. I think, he's the ablest - the only really social theorist of world reputation that we've had here˙- and he was apparently an abominably difficult man. Eccles was an abominably difficult man.

          And did you confront that difficulty with either of those men?

No, because it didn't matter to me. I just know from what other people told me. Well, I know how demanding they could be. Actually, Nadel - although I only really met in Oxford and he died shortly after I came here - I know I felt this tremendous loss from my point of view. Eccles I saw quite a lot of until he left but - I've seen him once or twice since. But he's regarded as a difficult man anywhere. In fact once I got quite embarrassed. I was at a meeting. It was actually the two hundredth anniversary of the Belgian Royal Academy, and Eccles spoke and I criticised some of the things that he said. It was on this sort of philosophical topics he likes to take. And then people came up to me afterwards from the British scientific ascendancy and they were congratulating me in a way I didn't like - if you know what I mean by that somewhat obscure remark (laughs).

          Is there anything now that you'd like to add to the tape that you think might be useful in the history of the university and is not likely to see the light of day elsewhere?

No, I don't really think so. We've talked around and I'm sure things will occur to me with l'‚sprit de l'‚scalier as soon as you leave, but I can't think of anything now that I particularly want to talk about. I think I've said most of the things that I have found pleasant in the university, and some of the things that I've found difficult. It's been a wonderful home to me and, of course, the mere fact that it's let me carry on in this sort of role for ten years is a big thing for me because I enjoy the company of my colleagues even although I do my major work at home, I come in quite a lot and I very much enjoy and get things out of it. I think they sometimes get things out of my tea-time conversations.

          Professor Passmore, thank you very much.