To reason why: from religion to philosophy and beyond
To reason why explains the arguments and aspirations that guided a professional thinker's choices on the key issues that have affected both theory and practice for believers and unbelievers of many persuasions from the turmoil of World War Two down to the present.
John Burnheim reacted against the conventional ethos of prewar Australia, looking for a more objective basis for his religion. After ordination as a Catholic priest he undertook postgraduate studies in philosophy in Ireland and Belgium, concentrating on theories of meaning and truth.
While Rector of Saint John's College in the University of Sydney he lectured in the Philosophy Department, eventually leaving the college to devote himself full time to philosophy. Shortly afterwards he left the church after twenty years in the priesthood, seeking to articulate a secular humanism.
When the Philosophy Department was split in 1974 he was appointed head of the radical General Philosophy Department, attempting to administer the new venture as a participatory democracy and encouraging an opening towards Continental philosophy and feminist thinking which was to prove very influential in expanding the intellectual horizons of Australian philosophy.
Reflecting on the failure of unstructured participatory democracy, he arrived at radically new political philosophy, based on the principle of entrusting decisions about specific public goods to bodies that are representative of those most directly affected by their decisions.
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