William Mitchell

Professor of Philosophy, University of Adelaide

(1) The Place of Minds in the World (2) The Power of Minds in the World

In his first series of lectures, Mitchell asserts that natural phenomena reveal what is on the surface, but not the depths of nature itself, just as one’s surface knowledge does not include the depths of the brain. Put another way: one’s perception of an object cannot be conflated with the object itself. His second series was destroyed in the Blitz, and Mitchell was unable to reconstruct it due to old age. Therefore, his work ends mid-argument, making an assessment challenging.


William Mitchell was born on 27 March 1861 in Northern Scotland. A prolific philosopher, his work in philosophical psychology is often referred to as Australian Idealism, which has roots in Scottish Idealism. Mitchell spent the entirety of his career at the University of Adelaide in South Australia, beginning as Professor of English Language and Literature and Mental and Moral Philosophy in 1894, a position he held until 1922. He became Vice-Chancellor in 1916 and Chancellor in 1942, retiring six years later. 

An enthusiast for literary societies, he was a founding member of the South Australia Literary Societies’ Union in 1883, serving as President in 1901. Mitchel published widely, and his first publication was in the academic journal Mind as an undergraduate. Important works include Lectures on Materialism (1903), Structure and Growth of the Mind (1907), Christianity and the Industrial System (1912), Lecture on the Two Functions of the University and Their Cost (1917), Jubilee Celebrations, 1876–1926 (1927), Nature and Feeling (1929), and ‘The Quality of Life’, Proceedings of the British Academy (1934).

Published/Archival Resources