Frank Cameron Jackson

Frank Cameron Jackson AO (born 1943) is an Australian analytic philosopher, currently Distinguished Professor and former Director of the Research School of Social Sciences at Australian National University. He was also a regular visiting professor of philosophy at Princeton University from 2007 through 2014. His research focuses primarily on philosophy of mind, epistemology, metaphysics, and meta-ethics.


Frank Cameron Jackson was born in 1943. His father, Allan Cameron Jackson, was also a philosopher and student of Ludwig Wittgenstein.[1]

Jackson studied mathematics and philosophy at the University of Melbourne, going into residence at Trinity College in 1961. In his later years in College, he was Clarke Scholar, and a member of the 2nd XVIII football team.[2] He then received his PhD in philosophy from La Trobe University. He taught at the University of Adelaide for a year in 1967. In 1978, he became chair of the philosophy department at Monash University. In 1986, he joined Australian National University (ANU) as Professor of Philosophy and Head of the Philosophy Program, Research School of Social Sciences. At ANU, he served as Director of the Institute of Advanced Studies from 1998 to 2001 and Deputy Vice-Chancellor in 2001. He was appointed as Distinguished Professor at ANU in 2003. He now has a half-time appointment at Princeton University as well as a half-time appointment at ANU.[3]

Jackson was awarded the Order of Australia in 2006 for service to philosophy and social sciences as an academic, administrator, and researcher. Jackson delivered the John Locke lectures at the University of Oxford in 1995. His father had delivered the 1957-8 lectures, making them the first father-son pair to do so.[4]


Jackson's philosophical research is broad, but focuses primarily on the areas of philosophy of mind, epistemology, metaphysics, and meta-ethics.

In philosophy of mind, Jackson is known, among other things, for the knowledge argument against physicalism—the view that the universe is entirely physical (i.e., the kinds of entities postulated in physics). Jackson motivates the knowledge argument by a thought experiment known as Mary's room. Jackson phrases the thought experiment as follows:

Mary is a brilliant scientist who is, for whatever reason, forced to investigate the world from a black and white room via a black and white television monitor. She specializes in the neurophysiology of vision and acquires, let us suppose, all the physical information there is to obtain about what goes on when we see ripe tomatoes, or the sky, and use terms like 'red', 'blue', and so on. She discovers, for example, just which wavelength combinations from the sky stimulate the retina, and exactly how this produces via the central nervous system the contraction of the vocal cords and expulsion of air from the lungs that results in the uttering of the sentence 'The sky is blue'. (…) What will happen when Mary is released from her black and white room or is given a color television monitor? Will she learn anything or not? It seems just obvious that she will learn something about the world and our visual experience of it. But then is it inescapable that her previous knowledge was incomplete. But she had all the physical information. Ergo there is more to have than that, and Physicalism is false.[5]

Jackson speaks about this theory to Nigel Warburton on Philosophy Bites, an online podcast service here.

(As a side note, this thought-experiment was dramatised in the three-part Channel 4 documentary "Brainspotting." It also forms the central motif of author David Lodge's novel Thinks... (2001). Jackson makes an appearance in Lodge's novel as, of course, himself.)

Jackson used the knowledge argument, as well as other arguments, to establish a sort of dualism, according to which certain mental states, especially qualitative ones, are non-physical. The view that Jackson urged was a modest version of epiphenomenalism—the view that certain mental states are non-physical and, although caused to come into existence by physical events, do not then cause any changes in the physical world.

However, Jackson later rejected the knowledge argument[6] , as well as other arguments against physicalism:

Most contemporary philosophers given a choice between going with science and going with intuitions, go with science. Although I once dissented from the majority, I have capitulated and now see the interesting issue as being where the arguments from the intuitions against physicalism—the arguments that seem so compelling—go wrong.[7]

Jackson argues that the intuition-driven arguments against physicalism (such as the knowledge argument and the zombie argument) are ultimately misleading.

Jackson is also known for his defence of the centrality of conceptual analysis to philosophy; his approach, set out in his Locke Lectures and published as his 1998 book, is often referred to as "the Canberra plan" for how to do philosophy.


He was awarded the Centenary Medal in 2001[8] and appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in 2006.[9]


A partial list of publications by Frank Jackson:


  1. Information about Jackson's father being a student of Wittgenstein's taken from "Alan Donagan: A Memoir" by Barbara Donagan, Ethics (104) 1993, p.150.
  2. "Minor Scholars", The Fleur-de-Lys, Nov. 1963, p. 43. See also pp. 21–22, 40.
  3. Biographical information from Jackson's academic profile at ANU:
  4. Supervenience, Metaphysics, and Analysis (John Locke Lectures), Oxford University, 1994–95
  5. Jackson, 1982, p. 130.
  6. Torin Alter. "Jacksoon's Retraction". APA. Archived from the original on 2008-05-16.
  7. Jackson, 2003, p. 251
  8. It's an Honour: Centenary Medal. Retrieved 22 November 2014
  9. It's an Honour: AO. Retrieved 22 November 2014

References and further reading

External links

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