History of Philosophy at UC
Philosophy at Canterbury College started somewhat unsteadily. C.F. Salmond pioneered Philosophy from 1907-1910 in the Department of Mental and Moral Philosophy, he was a scholar described in the official A History of the University of Canterbury as a "reserved, silent and poetic man with a reputation for a thorough and single-minded devotion to the 'queen of the sciences'." Under his guidance Philosophy made little progress - mainly, one suspects, he was a senior student employed largely in order to save the College the expense of hiring a professor in the subject.
On Salmond's retirement, Sir James Shelley, attempted to increase psychology a higher profile in the College, successfully relegating Philosophy to the Education Department. He secured a Chair for Philosophy but it was in name only, for in 1936 the College announced that it was advertising for a professor of Philosophy with special qualifications in psychology, and with Philosophy itself to be taught by a lecturer. This plan was greeted with disdain and outrage. The Christchurch Presbytery thought the plan scandalous and publicly maintained that "until the Philosophy chair was filled Canterbury could not be regarded as a University" (p.261).
A torrid discussion in The Press newspaper, with College House occurred threatening to send its students to other institutions. When Professor Shelley became Director of Broadcasting, the way was open to appoint the first chair in Philosophy. I.L.G. Sutherland became Professor of Philosophy in 1937 and remained in office until 1952 - even though his primary interests lay in social psychology. In 1937, under the guidance of Sutherland, Philosophy separated from Education and became an autonomous department. Also that year, it was joined by a young Viennese lecturer, Karl Popper, who contributed in an extraordinarily vigorous way to the growth of the discipline at Canterbury. Popper's importance of research was emphasised in ways that, until then, were largely foreign to Canterbury College, enabling the College to graduate meaningfully to the status of University.
He wrote and published The Open Society and its Enemies, as well as The Poverty of Historicism at Canterbury. But in 1945, at the end of the war, Popper yearned and eventually departed for, the shores of Europe, to be replaced by the young Arthur Prior, who, as sole philosopher in what had now become the Department of Psychology and Philosophy, bore the responsibility for providing a broad and balanced Philosophy curriculum. For seven years he alone was responsible for the teaching of Philosophy, managing nonetheless to do impressive groundbreaking research.
In 1952, he acquired an assistant lecturer, was made Professor of Philosophy (the first genuine professor of the subject at Canterbury), engineered a timely divorce from psychology, and ensured that there was a Philosophy Programme in its own right at Canterbury. Prior's growing international reputation led to his being invited in 1958 to take up a Chair at Manchester. He was replaced by Michael Shorter (1958-1969). Professor Shorter left Canterbury for Oxford in 1969. His position was filled by R.H. Stoothoff , whose Philosophical Writings of Descartes, co-edited with John Cottingham and Dugald Murdoch and published in three volumes by Cambridge University Press, is now the standard edition of Descartes' philosophical work. Under Bob Stoothoff the department expanded to more or less its present form. He became Emeritus Professor of Philosophy in 1994.
Karl Popper lectured in philosophy at Canterbury from 1937 to 1946. While at Canterbury, he wrote his classic work The Open Society And Its Enemies. It was Popper who began Canterbury's tradition of first-rate research in philosophy. In those days, the University was little concerned with research. At one point, Popper received a letter from the authorities forbidding him to use university notepaper for his personal researches. Popper fought back (as was his nature) and he helped to bring about the strong research culture that Canterbury enjoys today.
New Zealand born Arthur Prior was foundation professor of philosophy at Canterbury. Prior is arguably the most significant New Zealand philosopher. While at Canterbury, Prior invented tense logic and the possible worlds semantics for propositional modal logic (the latter with Carew Meredith).