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                                       Ross Phillips

Ross died on April 23, 2008. He had been a member of the Philosophy Department at La
Trobe from March 1972 until his retirement at the end of 2005.

An excellent philosopher with a penetrating intelligence, Ross worked a good deal in the
areas of philosophy of mind, and the history and philosophy of science, and kept a sharp
eye on developments not only in these philosophical fields, but in related natural
sciences, for which he had a great respect. He kept abreast of many fast-developing
areas, including brain research, animal intelligence, and evolutionary biology, always
searching out philosophical relevance. Never a narrow thinker, he was also well versed
in literature, history and the visual arts.

Students will remember Ross’s lectures for their clarity, their wealth of extra-
philosophical detail, and the care with which material was prepared. He also constantly
sought for better ways of teaching. He developed novel teaching methods particularly for
distance education, which were incorporated in the delivery of Open Learning philosophy
subjects, taught over eleven years from La Trobe and Monash Universities. Some
techniques were also adapted for on-campus and cross-campus teaching. He was also
one of the first (if not the very first) in the University to develop a completely on line

Outside the School, Ross served the University with a great deal of committee work, not
least of which was the sensitive management of the Human Ethics Committee. In this
context, Ross was workshop organiser, author of theoretical papers on the topic, and
above all, diplomat.

Beyond the University, Ross gave a great deal of his time the Victorian Association for
Philosophy in Schools, an association promoting philosophy teaching in both primary and
secondary schools. He organised an international conference on this matter, and
developed teacher training sessions. He visited numerous schools, and spent countless
hours on the inevitable committee work. His efforts have assisted in the considerable
expansion of the discipline in Victorian schools.

In addition, Ross has been responsible for designing and running La Trobe’s extremely
successful summer schools for secondary school teachers involved in VCE philosophy
subjects. (One very experienced senior teacher sent a letter, declaring that the summer
school had been “quite the best in-service I have attended in my entire teaching career”).

Ross will be remembered particularly for the leadership he gave in his last few years, first
as Head of Philosophy, and then as Head of School. He combined big-picture thinking
with meticulous attention to detail. Throughout, he showed great concern for fairness,
decency, and the proper treatment of people. Always courteous, always totally true to his
word, he gained a rare respect from all who worked with him.

Diagnosed with cancer, he retired in 2005. He managed, to the great pleasure of his
friends, to have two good years, in which he travelled and spent time with his wife,
Elizabeth Cross. He bought a high quality camera, and exercised a long neglected talent
for photography, producing some very striking work. He also remained an Honorary
Associate in the Philosophy Program.

Finally the disease overtook him, but even in his fight with cancer, Ross showed a calm
acceptance and dignity. Through it all, he never showed anything remotely like self-pity,
and he remained outer-directed, concerned with other people, with science, literature, art
and life of the mind, with the world.

We have lost a friend with very high standards, not only in the matters of clarity and
rigour, but in the conduct of life.

Ross is survived by his wife, Elizabeth Cross.

Tim Oakley
La Trobe University


A commemorative function for Ross Phillips, who died on the 23rd of
April, will be held by the School of Communication, Arts and Critical
Enquiry on Tuesday, June 3, at 3pm in the John Scott Meeting House.
who knew or worked with Ross in any of his many roles in the University
(and outside it) are welcome to attend. Ross was a member of the
Philosophy Department from
1973 to 2005.

It would be very helpful if you could RVSP by email to by Friday, May 30.

Any enquiries to the Tim Oakley, (

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