Richard Sylvan's Antipodean Nuclear Philosophy

Richard Sylvan's Antipodean Nuclear Philosophy

Project Description

Richard Routley/Sylvan is widely regarded as having pioneered the subfield of Environmental Philosophy and also having shaped the subfield of Logic, yet almost no attention has been given to Sylvan’s nuclear ethics and politics. The reasons for this are straightforward: Sylvan did not publish a monograph on the problem of nuclear harm, instead choosing to engage in the highly-unorthodox academic publishing practice of self-publishing a vast amount of his work (quite literally, using his own printing press!), leaving many manuscripts wholly unpublished, or else circulating versions of papers at varying lengths. Thus, whilst Sylvan is known to have long obsessed over the possibilities of nuclear winter with colleagues at the Australian National University, based on my preliminary audit of the Fryer Library collection in 2015 and subsequent correspondences with several of Sylvan’s interlocutors, his nuclear oeuvre consists of merely four articles and working papers that dealt directly and explicitly with the problems of nuclear energy and waste, and three sole-authored works on the question of nuclear weapons and war that my previous research has argued remain prescient today. Of that material, three papers remain unpublished, at least in some form, and no doubt countless others remain dormant in the Richard Sylvan Collection.

My 2020 Fryer Library Fellowship at The University of Queensland will perform the most thoroughgoing investigation into Richard Sylvan’s nuclear thought ever undertaken. In contrast to Sylvan’s own practice of self-publishing his work, I seek to uncover additional nuclear writings in the Richard Sylvan Collection and cognate archives, and to curate a digital exhibition and deliver an accompanying public lecture that will draw a wider audience to Sylvan’s nuclear ethics and politics. Specifically, a digital exhibition promises to achieve precisely what Sylvan’s could not: the near removal of any barriers to accessing his work, by anyone at any time for any duration, so long as they have access to an internet connection. Such democratisation of Sylvan’s nuclear oeuvre via a digital exhibition–although far removed from his practice of self-publishing hardcopies for postal mailing–would no doubt satisfy his opposition to corporate publishing houses and academic suppression, as well as Sylvan’s heartfelt concern for the social and environmental consequences of his actions.


The University of Queensland’s Fryer Library Fellowship
Australian Federal Government Australian Postgraduate Award
Australia Awards Endeavour Research Fellowship

N.A.J. Taylor

2011-18 and 2020


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