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One of the world’s leading philosophers of science, Professor Alan Musgrave, is the latest recipient of the University of Otago’s highest research honour, the Distinguished Research Medal.
The University awards the medal for outstanding scholarly achievement, including the discovery and dissemination of new knowledge, the development of innovative technology, or the development of concepts that lead to significant advances.
University Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne says that as an eminent scholar whose contributions to his field have been highly influential internationally, Professor Musgrave is a thoroughly deserving recipient of the Distinguished Research Medal.
“Alan Musgrave has earned a reputation for the clarity and deep insight of his scholarly contributions and for several decades has also been an invaluable leader of philosophical research at Otago,” Professor Hayne says.
Professor Musgrave was appointed as Professor of Philosophy and Head of Department in 1970, holding the latter position until 2005. Otago’s Department of Philosophy has ranked as the top-scoring research department of any kind in New Zealand in both of the Performance Based Research Fund (PBRF) quality evaluations that have been published.
Born in working-class Manchester, before coming to Otago Professor Musgrave completed his PhD at the London School of Economics (LSE) under the supervision of one of the giants of 20th Century philosophy, Sir Karl Popper, to whom he was also a research assistant. He then became a lecturer at the LSE and co-edited Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge, one of the most influential collections of essays in recent philosophy of science.
Professor Musgrave’s chief interests are the theory of knowledge and the history and philosophy of science. He has been a steadfast and influential defender of the theses of scientific rationality and scientific realism against competing schools of thought, such as post-structuralism.
He is also internationally recognised as an historian of science and has added greatly to the understanding of its development, foundations and importance.
Professor Musgrave has published dozens of books, book chapters and refereed articles in his field. His books include Common Sense, Science and Scepticism (1992), Essays on Realism and Rationalism (1999) and Secular Sermons: Essays on Science and Philosophy (2009). He has had two books produced in his honour consisting of contributions by colleagues from around the world.
He has shared his expertise with the wider public through a number of media broadcasts and columns regarding philosophical issues. His work has also had an impact on Wall Street with his 1981 article ‘Unreal Assumptions in Economic Theory’ being cited as a classic on more than one occasion in Barron’s Weekly, an influential US financial magazine. In 2002, this led to a host of requests for a copy of the article.
Professor Musgrave’s professional positions have included being Secretary to the British Society for the Philosophy of Science and President of the New Zealand Division of the Australasian Association for Philosophy. He was elected a Fellow of the New Zealand Academy of the Humanities in 2008 and a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand the following year.
In 2011, the University established the Alan Musgrave Master’s Scholarship in Philosophy in his honour. The Scholarship provides support to high-calibre international students to study towards a Master’s degree in Philosophy at Otago.
Professor Musgrave says when the Vice-Chancellor rang him up out of the blue to tell him about the Medal, he was “struck dumb”.
“She asked: ‘Are you speechless? — that has never happened to you before!’ Now, having recovered the power of speech, I can say how delighted I am. I have spent most of my working life at Otago, and being recognised in this way means the world to me. I thank the University for paying me for over forty years, partly to write about what interests me. I cannot thank those who gave me research grants, because I have never had a research grant. But I have had wonderful colleagues who have helped me over the years by telling me where I was going wrong — they were usually right, and I thank them, too.”
The medal will be presented to Professor Musgrave at a public lecture that he will give next year.