Professor Douglas Gasking

Douglas Gasking (6/12/1911 – 4/4/1994) joined the Melbourne University Philosophy Department (as it was then named) in 1946, and headed the Department from 1966 until his retirement in 1976. He was recognised and admired internationally, as well as being held in very high regard in the Australian philosophical community.

Professor Douglas Gasking
Professor Douglas Gasking

Douglas Aidan Trist Gasking was born in Bangor, Canada, while his parents were temporarily resident in Canada. His family returned to the United Kingdom while Douglas was still very young. His first university degree was taken at Liverpool in 1935. There he met Elizabeth (Betty) Marshall, who he married, and with whom he had two children. After Betty’s untimely death in September, 1973, Douglas married Lyn Brown.

Seeking to study under Wittgenstein, Gasking spent four years at Cambridge, completing the Tripos in 1938. This was followed by another year of work and attendance at Wittgenstein's classes. From 1939 he taught for five years at the University of Queensland and elsewhere, before taking a post at the University of Melbourne in 1946 where he taught more or less continuously until his retirement in 1976. He was Visiting Professor for a semester at Cornell University in 1961. In 1966 he succeeded Professor A. B. Gibson in the Boyce Gibson Chair of Philosophy, and in this position headed the department until his retirement. He was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 1971. He spent his first year of retirement as part-time visiting professor in the Philosophy Department of La Trobe University.

Gasking’s research interests

While best known internationally for his work on conventionalism in mathematics and his development of the manipulability theory of causation, Gasking had a wide range of interests, encompassing philosophy of logic, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, epistemology, probability theory and the general theory of argument and reasoning. His Liverpool thesis was on John Locke’s theory of meaning.

Though he was drawn to Cambridge by his interest in Wittgenstein, the two theses he wrote there were concerned with necessary truths and a priori knowledge. However, his work with Wittgenstein resulted in a lifelong commitment to the lucid extraction of, and argument about, themes in Wittgenstein’s work. In the 1960s and 1970s, he worked with a particular focus on the work of Quine, but also maintained a great interest in the thought of Sellars, Chisholm, Davidson, Lewis, Putnam, and Kripke. He also engaged with the work of other Australian philosophers, notably Jack Smart and David Armstrong. Throughout his retirement, he continued to read and discuss philosophy enthusiastically, with a particular concentration on one of his favourite philosophers, Charles Peirce.

Gasking’s influence

Gasking was appreciated and much admired in the Australasian philosophical community. J.J.C. Smart wrote of his “lucidity and grace”, and his being “a model for philosophers”. Brian Ellis wrote of his “very high quality philosophy”, and of Gasking’s anticipation of more famous subsequent expositions of various ideas. Frank Jackson wrote of “the directness, penetration, and transparent intellectual honesty of his lectures, writings, and contributions to discussion”.

profile photo of Professor Douglas Gasking
Professor Douglas Gasking

The virtues noted by these philosophers were evident to the many students taught by Gasking over his long teaching career, and to those who attended his numerous conference and seminar presentations. Students at Melbourne University who completed units taught by Gasking frequently returned in subsequent years to audit his lectures, knowing that every year, there would be the presentation of fresh, accessible, illuminating material on new topics. Students learned good philosophy not only from the rich content of his lecture, but from the example he set in combining enthusiastic pursuit of philosophical problems with a calm, patient, objective and friendly demeanour. There was a general regret that Gasking did not publish more.

In December 2011, a centenary celebration of Douglas Gasking’s birth was held at Melbourne University. It was attended by a large number of former students, colleagues and acquaintances, with many warm expressions of admiration for Gasking, and appreciation of what had been learned from him.

Other sources on Gasking’s work, and appreciations of his contribution to philosophy

'The Introduction to Language Logic and Causation' (see bibliography below)

Smart, J.J.C. 'Douglas Aidan Trist Gasking', Proceedings of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, vol. 19, (1994), pp 57-9.

'The Dictionary of 20th Century British Philosophers' (Thoemmes/Continuum, 2005), entry on Gasking by I.T. Oakley and L.J. O’Neill

Grey, William, ‘Gasking’s Proof’, Analysis 60:4, (October 2000) pp 368-70. (This paper discusses a form of “reverse ontological argument” purporting to prove the non-existence of God. The argument is generally attributed to Gasking, who is thought to have produced it orally. Gasking never attempted to publish on the topic, and Grey suggests that he did not intend it to be taken seriously, though he suggests that it indirectly highlights the flaw in the original ontological argument. An internet search will reveal that it has drawn a certain amount of criticism – and some outrage.)

Gasking’s philosophical publications

‘Mr Williams and the A Priori’, Analysis vol 6, no 5/6, pp 69-78, 1938.

'Mathematics and the World', Australasian Journal of Philosophy, vol. 18, no. 1, (May 1940) pp. 1-36. (Included in Language Logic and Causation, below.)

'Anderson and the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus', Australasian Journal of Philosophy, vol. 27, no. 1, (May 1949) pp. 1-26.

'Wittgenstein as a Teacher', (with A.C. Jackson) Australasian Journal of Philosophy, vol. 29, no. 2, (May 1951) pp. 1-26.

‘I could if I chose', Analysis, vol. 12 no. 6, June 1952 pp 129-30.

'The Philosophy of John Wisdom', Parts I and II. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, vol. 32, nos. 2 and 3, (August and December 1954) pp. 136-56 and 185-212.

'Causation and Recipes', Mind, vol. 64, no. 4 (October, 1955) pp.479-87. (Included in Language Logic and Causation, below.)

'Clusters', Australasian Journal of Philosophy, vol. 38, no. 1, (May 1960) pp. 1-36. (Included in Language Logic and Causation, below.)

'The Analytic-Synthetic Controversy', Australasian Journal of Philosophy, vol. 50, no. 2, (August 1972) pp. 107-23.

Posthumous publications

Kausalität und Handlungsanweisungen.Douglas Gasking - 1981 - In Günter Posch (ed.), Kausalität: Neue Texte. Reclam. pp. 289--303. (Translation of ‘Causation and Recipes’)

'Language, Logic and Causation: Philosophical Writings of Douglas Gasking' (edd I.T. Oakley and L.J. O'Neill; Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1996). This volume contains three of the papers listed above, together with the following papers by Gasking not previously published elsewhere:

'Tenable Opinions'
'Subjective Probability'
'The Logic of Deceit'
'Inductive and Deductive Arguments'
'Criteria, Analyticity and the Identity-Thesis'
'Hypotheticals, Recipes and Causation'
'Causation and Action'
The volume also contains a bibliography of discussions of and replies to Gasking's works.

Available on Philpapers

'Wittgenstein’s Influence'. This paper was presented by Gasking at the University of Illinois in the northern Spring of 1961. It has been prepared from Gasking’s handwritten version with minor editorial changes, and is available on Philpapers at

The paper contains interesting reflections on Wittgenstein’s work, including the suggestion that Charles Sanders Peirce, via Frank Ramsey, may well have been a major influence in the development of Wittgenstein’s thought. The paper also contains a very lucid exposition of what became known as Wittgenstein’s private language argument. It has been judged to be of sufficient quality and interest to warrant its being made publicly available.

Non-philosophical publications

'Examinations and the Aims of Education', (Melbourne, 1945; second edition, 1948; reprinted 1968.)

'The Historian's Craft, and Scientific History', Historical Studies, vol. 4, no. 14 (May, 1950), pp 112-20.

Notes, drafts, conference papers, and other material of Gasking’s, deposited in the Melbourne University Archive.

Unpublished work

The material below was not deemed by Gasking to be suitable for publication, and some of it is rough, some of it incomplete, and some of it now outdated. Nonetheless, some of it is very good, and much of it gives a strong impression of Gasking’s character as a philosopher, and could be of interest to anyone researching either Gasking himself, or the development of philosophical thought from the 1940s to the 1970s.

Talks and papers

(Some of the papers listed below are hand-written, and some of those which are typed, were typed, not always very well, without Gasking having an opportunity to make corrections. Corrections made in the margins were made by others.)

Untitled paper, suggested title “Types of Reductionism”, hand-written, 29 pages, possibly early 1960s. Deals with different logical relations between statements about the things being reduced and the things to which they are being reduced.

'A Dialogue on Logic'. Hand-written (H-W), 35 foolscap pages, no date. Deals with propositions, synonymy and other matters.

'Induction, Popper and Confirmation', H-W, 17 foolscap pages. (May be roughly dateable by some references to Stove).

Untitled paper, suggested title: 'What is an inductive argument?”' 23 double-spaced H-W pages.

Untitled paper, possible title: 'Reductive Phenomenalism', 35 H-W pages.

'Learning-Theory, Language and Reality' approx. 22 pp mixed H-W and typed. Latest reference to a work in 1958. The paper includes discussion of some Whorffian themes, but ranges more widely.

'How to Distinguish Deductive from Inductive Arguments' approx. 32 pp or H-W double-spaced foolscap. Apparently written in first half of 70s, judging from the references to other published works.

'Interim Statements and the Rule of Candour', 17 pp of H-W quarto. Develops the ideas and conceptual machinery later used in “The Logic of Deceit”. Discusses Toulmin (The Uses of Argument, published 1958) on probability statements. Folder dated “Discussion Club 3/17/61’

'Assertions', 18pp of H-W foolscap. Date unknown.

'The Argument from Religious Experience', 19 pp double-spaced typed quarto. Date unknown.

'Kinds of Necessary Truth', 25 pp double spaced A4 (recently re-typed). An analysis and discussion of different sorts of necessary truth. This was written before Gasking became concerned with (or perhaps was even aware of) the Quinean attack on analyticity and other notions of necessity, on which Gasking wrote (and published) later.

'Notes on a Course of Lectures given by Wittgenstein', 11 pages, typed double spaced. Headed “Circa 1938”, and with the subject “Principally Mathematics”. It is noted that Lewy and Turing were present.

'Concept Formation', 22 pp double spaced typed. Somewhat rough early work on concepts. Date unknown. (Also HW copy).

'History as Science', 7 pp single spaced typed. Discusses the idea of laws and explanations in history, and makes reference to the work “Professor Crawford” – presumably Prof Max Crawford, professor of history at Melbourne University from 1937 to 1971.

'Locke and Kinds', 9 pages handwritten foolscap, with typed version. A largely expository discussion of Locke’s account, with references to Whewell and Mill.

Untitled paper; suggested title: 'Saying the same thing”' 11 pp, single spaced typescript. Appears to date from around 1950 or soon after. (Refers to a “recent paper” that was in fact published in 1949) Deals with propositions, and a range of different ways in which two utterances may be “saying the same thing”.

'Facts and Language', 12 pp single spaced typescript. Apparently written in the 1960s, this paper discusses the theories of Benjamin Lee Whorff. It also makes reference to views of Kuhn and Quine.

'The Teaching of Philosophy', 15pp handwritten foolscap. Some reflections of philosophical pedagogy.

'Reflections of Philosophy', 21 pp handwritten foolscap. Metaphilosophical reflections on methodology. Some reference to John Wisdom.

'Tough- and tender-minded philosophers', 29 pp double-spaced handwritten foolscap Discusses forms of explanation found in the sciences and the social sciences. Probably written in the mid-1970s.

Notes prepared for students in his courses

With the exception of the notes of free will for first year students, the notes were typed (single spaced) on foolscap and then duplicated (by Roneo machine) for distribution to students. Notes would be highly revised from year to year, sometimes with totally new topics added.

Notes for first year students
  • Notes on free will, issued in 1967. Described on the front page as a 'Rough and Brief Outline', the notes are 53 foolscap pages of 1.5 spaced typing.
  • Notes on logic (usually also involving discussion of topics in epistemology, and in some case directed explicitly to assist students to deal with the study of Plato’s Republic.) There are several sets of notes from 1949 and following years, an undated set, and sets from 1962 (43 pages) and 1963 (50 pages).
Notes for students in the course “Logic (Pass)”

This course was taught over many years by Gasking to second and third year undergraduates. The subject matter was only marginally formal logic, (which was taught separately, mostly by other lecturers), and included a good deal of “informal logic” or “philosophical logic”, and much epistemology, philosophy of language and some probability theory. (The course was later renamed, appropriately, “Epistemology, Logic and Methodology”.)

  • 1964. 91 foolscap pages, covering issues in epistemology as well as philosophical logic, philosophy of language, and probability theory.
  • 1961 set of notes on 'Quine and Bennett on the Analytic-Synthetic Distinction'. 1961. 16 foolscap pages, single spaced.
  • Undated notes for students in this course, on various topics. (The first heading is 'Sense and Reference'.) 37 pages.

In addition, there are two folders of notes concerned with the preparation of some of the material listed above:

  • Synopses and revision notes, mainly relating to the 1964 logic notes.
  • Drafts of notes from first year logic teaching (believed to be late 1960s, or early 1970s)

Gasking’s Theses

Necessary Propositions “A Thesis submitted for the degree of B.A. (Special Studies) in the School of Philosophy”. Undated, and without a reference to the university concerned. Presumed to be a Cambridge University Thesis.

The A Priori in Early English Philosophy “A Dissertation submitted for the Fellowship Competition at Trinity College, Cambridge, 1938”.

Papers relating to, but not by, Professor Gasking

  • Obituaries and a funeral oration
  • CV, references, and correspondence relating to his employment at Melbourne University.

Four files of (largely handwritten) manuscript for a projected book on logic

A file of the hand-written originals of papers first published (posthumously) in 1996 (Language, Logic and Causation: Philosophical Writings of Douglas Gasking, edd Tim Oakley and Len O’Neill, Melbourne University Press.)

Nine folders of teaching notes

mainly for the subject Logic (Pass), later re-named Epistemology, Logic and Methodology.

Folders of notes, drafts etc on various research topics

including propositions, concepts, induction, probability, causation, the analytic/synthetic distinction, entailment and implication, Collingwood on art, religion, free will and determinism, the inner/outer distinction and central state materialism, warranted claims, phenomenalism, and education and assessment.

This document was prepared by Tim Oakley, March 2019.