Richard Sylvan, (13 December 1935 - 16 June 1996) was a philosopher, logician, environmentalist, and anarchist. He was a proponent of "deep ecology", though he was critical of most attempts to articulate this ethic and preferred to characterise his own version as deep green theory. Sylvan was born as Francis Richard Routley at Levin, New Zealand, in 1935. He changed his name to Sylvan ("of the forest") to reflect his commitment to nature when he remarried (Louise Sylvan, nee Merlin) in 1983. He was formerly married to Val Routley (subsequently Val Plumwood). Sylvan studied at Victoria University, Wellington, and then Princeton, before taking positions successively at the University of Sydney, the University of New England and Monash University. From 1971 until his death in 1996 in Bali, Indonesia he was a fellow at the Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University. Sylvan is buried at his property 'Nameless', outside Gerringong in New South Wales, at the edge of one of the forests he cherished and overlooking the sea.

In addition to his work in environmental ethics, Sylvan authored and co-authored numerous works in the field of logic (mostly under the name Routley), and played a major role in the development and study of relevant logics. He was a frequent collaborator with Graham Priest. He was also an anarchist[1] and wrote on the subject, such as the essay called Anarchism which was published by Blackwell Publishing in a A Companion to Contemporary Political Philosophy.


Sylvan's idiosyncratic habits of publication and his wide-ranging and off-beat intellectual curiosity mean that many of his extensive writings -- even many which were published -- are not widely known. One important avenue for disseminating his views was through Preprint Series published by the Department of Philosophy, Research School of Social Sciences, at the Australian National University. The "Green" Preprint Series of Discussion Papers in Environmental Philosophy, in particular, is an important source of his environmental views.

Sylvan was happy to tackle, in his vigorous and uncompromising style, topics -- such as cannibalism -- that less adventurous philosophers would balk at. 'In Defence of Cannibalism' was published in 1982 in the Green Preprint Series. The content of the paper is in fact less sensational than the title suggests: it addresses the ethics of killing, in particular the ethics of killing humans, and the ethics of eating dead animals, including dead humans. Sylvan carefully and properly separated these questions. The title of the paper nevertheless generated alarm among some members of the philosophical community, and as a result 'In Defence of Cannibalism' was presented publicly only once, at the Alfred E. Packer Memorial Center, University of Colorado. Other institutions declined Sylvan's offer to present it, sometimes in terms which offended the etiquette of academic exchange. Apparently some philosophers believed that it was outrageous, or evidence of a corrupt mind, to be prepared to seriously address such a topic as cannibalism. Perhaps, too, more timid members of the philosophical community were alarmed by the thought that Sylvan might be a Hannibal Lecter in the world of philosophy -- and it is not difficult to suspect that Sylvan derived satisfaction from the unsettling effects generated by this thought.

Cited referencesEdit

  1. Orton, David. In Memory of Richard Sylvan, Trumpeter, 1997, ISSN 0832-6193


J. Franklin, (2003), Corrupting the Youth: A History of Philosophy in Australia, Macleay Press, chapter 13

External linksEdit

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