People Profiles

John Bigelow, PhD, Philosophy

November 30, 2015

Meet Dr. John Bigelow: arts-addict, world-peace-promoter, and occasional whistle blower.

Bigelow is a professor emeritus with the Melbourne-based Monash University’s Department of Philosophy. He was one of our first graduate students, earning a Master’s Degree in Philosophy at SFU in 1970 before completing a PhD in the same discipline at Cambridge University.

Bigelow explains that one of the driving forces behind his four decades of research and teaching was a belief in the power of the humanities to transform society.

“The arts are part of a large project of enlarging our sympathies — and that's one of the most important factors in creating a peaceful world. People often call Islam evil because they don’t understand the thinking and feeling behind it. Through my work in philosophy, I aimed to get students to change their point of view and understand why people believe what they do,” he says.

Bigelow explains that it was that belief in the importance of the arts that drove him to challenge his university’s former vice-chancellor and sociology professor, Dr. David Robinson. “I found evidence of Robinson’s plagiarism and I couldn’t let that kind of academic dishonesty go unaddressed. It was unfortunate given that the arts is already struggling to demonstrate relevance in our current global ideology of economics but that was exactly why I couldn't ignore it,” says Bigelow.

As result of Bigelow’s allegations, the vice-chancellor eventually resigned from his leadership role. The experience was, according to Bigelow, a real-world example of what he feels his discipline stands for: Honesty, mutual respect and openness.

Bigelow is continuing to model his message about the importance of pursuing the arts through his latest project. He is passing up sunny afternoons at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club, to spend his retirement poring over Shakespearean texts in pursuit of a second PhD in English.

He admits that it hasn’t been easy jumping fields — the retired professor was failed during his defense and is now in the midst of rewriting the entire project. “I wrote in a philosophy style, not a English style. I was critiqued for that. It was a bit of a punch in the face but I’m not giving up,” he said.

Bigelow’s intense and unfailing dedication to the arts, he explains, is rooted in his experience as a graduate student at SFU. Though he admits he initially chose the university because it was the only Canadian school which didn’t have a language requirement, he was glad he did.

“There was a real love of the subject among the philosophy faculty at SFU, there was such an enthusiasm for argument. People got very excited by the issues, and whether the answer was true or false really mattered. It was very inspiring.”

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