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John Jameison Carswell Smart, or Jack Smart (born 1920), M.A. (Glasgow, 1946), B.Phil (Oxford, 1948)) is a Scottish-Australian philosopher. Professor of Philosophy at the University of Adelaide from 1950-72. From 1972-76 he was Reader in Philosophy at La Trobe University, and from 1976-85 he was Professor of Philosophy at the Australian National University. Since 1986 he has been Emeritus Professor at the Australian National University, working in the fields of metaphysics, philosophy of mind, philosophy of religion, and political philosophy. He is also an Honorary Research Associate at Monash University. He currently lives in Melbourne.


Smart's main contribution to metaphysics is in the area of philosophy of time. He has been an influential defender of the B-theory of time, and of perdurantism.

His most important original arguments in this area concern the passage of time, which he claims is an illusion. He argues that if time really passed, then it would make sense to ask at what rate it passes, but that this question has no sensible answer, so time does not really pass. This is called the rate of passage argument. Smart gives several subsidiary arguments to show that the question has no sensible answer. Often these turn on analogies between time and space. For example, he says that though time might be said to pass at a rate of one second per second, it would be just as correct to say that space passes at a rate of one meter per meter.

Smart has changed his mind about the nature and causes of the illusion of the passage of time. In the 1950s, he held that it was due to people's use of anthropocentric temporal language. He later came to abandon this linguistic explanation of the illusion in favour of a psychological explanation in terms of the passage of memories from short-term to long-term memory.

Philosophy of MindEdit

In philosophy of mind, Smart is a physicalist. In the 1950s, he was one of the originators, with Ullin Place, of the Mind-Brain Identity Theory, which claims that particular states of the mind are identical with particular states of the brain. This view was dubbed "Australian materialism" by its detractors, in reference to a stereotype of Australians as down-to-earth and unsophisticated.

In fact Smart's identity theory was anything but unsophisticated. It dealt with some extremely long-standing objections to physicalism by comparing the mind-brain identity thesis to other identity theses well-known from science, such as the thesis that lightning is an electrical discharge, or that the morning star is the evening star. Smart's point was that all these identity theses give rise to puzzles such as Gottlob Frege's puzzle of the morning star and the evening star, but that in the scientific cases it would be absurd to reject the identity theses on this ground. Since the puzzles facing physicalism are strictly analogous to the scientific identity theses, it would also be absurd to reject physicalism on the grounds that it gives rise to these puzzles.


In ethics, Smart is a defender of utilitarianism. Specifically, he defends "extreme", or act utilitarianism as opposed to "restricted", or rule utilitarianism. The distinction between these two types of ethical theory is explained in his essay Extreme and Restricted Utilitarianism. Smart gives two arguments against rule utilitarianism. According to the first, rule utilitarianism collapses into act utilitarianism, because there is no adequate criterion on what can count as a "rule". According to the second, even if there were such a criterion, the rule utilitarian would be committed to the untenable position of preferring to follow a rule, even if it would be better if the rule were broken, which Smart calls "superstitious rule worship".

Another aspect of Smart's ethical theory is his acceptance of a preference theory of well-being, which contrasts with the hedonism associated with "classical" utilitarians such as John Stuart Mill. Smart's combination of the preference theory with consequentialism is sometimes called "preference utilitarianism".

Smart's arguments against rule utilitarianism have been very influential, and contributed to a steady decline in the popularity of rule utilitarianism among ethicists during the late 20th Century. His defence of act utilitarianism and preference theory has been less so, worldwide, but is associated with philosophers who have worked or been educated in Australia: including, for example, Frank Jackson, Philip Pettit, and Peter Singer.

One of Smart's two entries in the Philosophical Lexicon refers to his approach to the consequences of act utilitarianism: to "outsmart" an opponent is "to embrace the conclusion of one's opponent's reductio ad absurdum argument." This move is more commonly called "biting the bullet".


  • "Indeterminism does not confer freedom on us: I would feel that my freedom was impaired if I thought that a quantum mechanical trigger in my brain might cause me to leap into the garden and eat a slug".


  • An Outline of a System of Utilitarian Ethics - 1961
  • Philosophy and Scientific Realism - 1963
  • Problems of Space and Time - 1964 (Edited with Introduction)
  • Between Science and Philosophy: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science - 1968
  • Utilitarianism : For and Against co-authored with Bernard Williams - 1973 (excerpt: Utilitarianism and the Future) (Revised edition of 1961 essay)
  • Ethics, Persuasion and Truth - 1984
  • Essays Metaphysical and Moral - 1987
  • Atheism and Theism (Great Debates in Philosophy) - With contributions by J. J. Haldane; 1996
  • Metaphysics and Morality: Essays in Honour of J. J. C. Smart - 1987 (Edited by Philip Pettit, Richard Sylvan and Jean Norman)
  • Extreme and Restricted Utilitarianism - 1956 (a copy of the text: [[1]])

External linksEdit

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