About the Department / History

About the Department / History


The Department of Philosophy at UP is one of the oldest in the country, having been established in 1908.

The department started off with a chair in History and Philosophy, and in 1911 a chair in Philosophy and Political Economics, occupied by Prof. W.A. Macfayden, was introduced. By 1924 the department also taught Psychology. In 1925 Prof. Macfayden was succeeded by Prof. T.J. Hugo.  In 1938 it was decided to divide the department in two: Ethics and History of Philosophy; and Logic and Metaphysics.  The Department of Ethics and History of Philosophy was headed by Prof. C.H. Rautenbach from 1938 – 1948, after which Prof. Rautenbach became Principal of the University of Pretoria.  Prof. C.K. Oberholzer and Dr. A.M.T. Meyer acted successively as Heads of Department until Prof. C.K. Oberholzer was permanently appointed as Head of Department in 1953.  The Department of Logic and Metaphysics was headed by Prof. T.J. Hugo from 1938 to 1951.  He was succeeded by Prof. C.K. Oberholzer.  With Prof. Oberholzer’s appointment as Head of the Department of Ethics and History of Philosophy in 1953, Dr. A.M.T. Meyer was appointed as Head of the Department of Logic and Metaphysics.  With Dr. Meyer’s appointment as Professor and Head of the Department of Philosophy at Unisa, Dr. P.S. Dreyer acted as Head of the Department of Logic and Metaphysics from 1958 – 1960.


In 1960 the department once again became one department of philosophy under the headship of Prof. C.K Oberholzer.  Later Heads of the Department included Prof. P.S. Dreyer (1970 – 1986), Prof. A.P. du Toit (1986 – 2000), Prof. A.J. Antonites (acting), Prof. M.M. E. Schoeman (acting), and Prof. G.J. Rossouw (2004 – 2010).  Prof. D.J.F. Maree acted as Head of the Department for a period in 2011. In September 2011 prominent philosopher of science, Prof. E.B. Ruttkamp-Bloem, took over as Head of Department.


From August 2014 to January 2017 Prof DE de Villiers, emeritus professor of the Department Dogmatics and Christian Ethics, who earlier collaborated with the Department of Philosopy in founding a Centre for Business and Professional Ethics and in teaching Business Ethics and Engineering Ethics at UP, acted as Head of the Department. In February 2017 Prof. L Praeg, previously from the Department of Political and International Studies at the University of Rhodes, took over as permanent Head of Department


The department has traditionally offered education centred on social philosophy and the human condition, and most of its research during this time could be classified as falling into the western ‘continental’ tradition, although there were exceptions. Even though the focus was primarily on sub-disciplines such as social and political philosophy, phenomenology, existential philosophy, postmodern philosophy, history of philosophy, and hermeneutics, the curriculum also included philosophy of science and cognitive philosophy modules.  In response to the demand to decolonise knowledge production at South Africa’s universities the department undertook a substantial review of its existing curriculum in July 2017. For more information on its ‘decoloniality engaged’ curriculum – which will be phased in from 2018 – please see ‘Message from the HoD’ on this website.


Prominent former graduate students of the Department include Prof. Christoff Heyns (United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions), Prof. Johan van der Walt (Professor of Philosophy of Law at the University of Luxembourg), Prof. Pieter Duvenage (Head of the Department of Philosophy at the University of the Free State), Prof. Bert Olivier (well known South African Philosopher), Mr. Willem Punt (Group Ethics Officer and Head of Fair Market Conduct at First Rand Group Limited), Mr. Kris Dobie (Manager: Organisational Ethics Development at the Ethics Institute of South Africa), Prof John Findlay (1903-1987, University College London, Yale University, Boston University), Prof Fanie de Beer (well known Philosopher and Information Specialist), Prof Braam Roux (former HoD of the Department of Philosophy, Unisa & former Editor of the South African Journal of Philosophy), Prof Bertie Kilian (former HoD, Fundamental Paedagogics, Unisa), Prof Cas Janse van Vuuren (former Principal, Unisa), Prof Catherine Botha (HOD of the Department of Philosophy, UJ), Prof Johann Rossouw (Department of Philosophy, UFS), and Prof Danie Goosen (Department of Religious Studies and Arabic, Unisa)


Prominent former members of staff of the Department include Prof. C.H. Rautenbach (Principal of the University of Pretoria from 1948 to 1970), Prof. Deon Rossouw (Chief Executive Officer at the Ethics Institute of South Africa and Extraordinary Professor of Philosophy at the University of Stellenbosch), Prof. Mollie Painter-Morland (Professor at Nottingham Business School, Academic Director of the Academy of Business in Society, and Editor-in-chief of the Business and Professional Ethics Journal), and Ms. Lea Annandale (Risk Management Specialist at the National Treasury EU Project, formerly Chief Risk Officer at the South African Government).


Published by Stephan Greyling

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