History of the BPA

The predecessor of the Association, the Standing Conference of Philosophers and the National Committee for Philosophy, was set up in the early 1980′s (largely through the efforts of George Macdonald Ross), at a time when the future of a number of Philosophy Departments appeared to be under threat as universities responded to the first round of cuts in government funding in 1981, and subsequent rounds. The National Committee sought to act as a voice for Philosophy within the UK HE system, and organised the Standing Conference’s annual meetings, to which departments affiliated to the National Committee sent delegates. The Standing Conference elected the members of the National Committee. The Committee’s link with the profession was thus through having departments affiliated to it. (In particular, it had an NCP representative in each department serving as a contact through whom information could flow, in both directions.)

Around the turn of the millenium, a feeling developed both within the National Committee and beyond, that the National Committee was not able to function with full effectiveness to represent the views and concerns of the profession. To improve its communication with the profession, the National Committee decided to produce a newsletter, called The Gadfly, which it aimed to circulate free to all professional philosophers, irrespective of whether they were in departments affiliated to the National Committee or not. It approached the major philosophical learned societies late in 2001 to find out whether they might be prepared to provide financial assistance to make this wide circulation of The Gadfly possible. The learned societies for their part were aware that there was a job of speaking for and promoting interest in Philosophy which needed to be done, but which they did not wish to take on themselves, and which the National Committee was not succeeding in doing entirely effectively, partly because it lacked the authority of a body directly answerable to the body of individual professional philosophers, but also because it was under-resourced. This feeling found expression in a proposal from the Mind Association Committee that a meeting should be convened of British philosophical learned societies and the National Committee to discuss how the discipline might be more effectively represented.

(A relevant footnote here: most academic disciplines have subject associations of one kind or another, which represent and promote their disciplines. Some have substantial funds at their disposal, whether because they are also professional bodies in the a non-academic sense or because they have an income stream from the publication of a journal; while in contrast others, which have no such source of income, operate on a shoestring. The National Committee – like quite few other subject associations – those for English and History, for example – has always been in this latter category; and its activities have been heavily constrained by its very limited finances.)

The proposed meeting was arranged and took place during the Joint Session at York in July 2001. The Mind Committee produced a paper for discussion at this meeting, proposing that an Association be formed to replace the National Committee and Standing Conference, having individual professional philosophers as its members, and that, as an incentive to join this body, learned societies which publish journals should be asked, if they could afford it, to offer a discount on their journals to the members of the new body.

The meeting expressed interest in this proposal, and commissioned a Working Group with representatives from the learned societies and the National Committee, to work out detailed proposals, with a view to coming back to a further meeting at the 2002 Joint Session. A preliminary report from the Working Group was discussed at the meeting of the Standing Conference in Birmingham in October 2002, and a fuller report, with a set of proposals for the structure of the British Philosophical Association (as it was to be known), was circulated for comments to the learned societies and the departments affiliated to the National Committee at the end of 2002. This envisaged a body with three categories of members: individuals, departments (or equivalent units) and philosophical learned societies; individual membership was to be restricted professional philosophers or those qualified to be so, while there would be a category of associate individual members which would be open more widely. The new body, once established, could review and amend its structure and mode of operating.

The Working Group produced a further report, responding to comments received on these proposals, and adding some further detailed proposals. This was discussed at a meeting during the Joint Session in Glasgow in July 2003, at which the proposals were agreed, with a few amendments – including restricting the electorate for the Association’s Executive Committee to the individual members. The Working Group was commissioned to draft a Constitution for the new body, for consideration at the annual meeting of the Standing Conference in October 2003 in Liverpool. At this meeting, the draft Constitution was formally accepted and adopted. Under its provisions, the current members of the National Committee became the members of a Transitional Committee, charged with getting the new Association functioning and organising recruitment to the three categories of membership. It was envisaged that once the Association had elected its own Executive Committee, the Standing Conference and National Committee would dissolve themselves, with any remain assets being transferred to the Association. The BPA’s first AGM was held in the House of Commons in 2003.

Presidents of the BPA

2003-04: Professor Roger Trigg
2004-06: Baroness Onora O’Neill
2006-09: Professor Brad Hooker
2009-12: Professor M. M. McCabe