From construction worker and kitchenhand to pinball machine repairman and theatre director, Dr Hugh Breakey hasn’t followed a typical route to academia.
His day job spans political theory, governance studies and applied philosophy, exploring the ethical challenges in peacekeeping, climate change, sustainable tourism and international law.
“It definitely wasn’t your typical journey into academia, but I think it gave me breadth of life experience,” he said.
“It’s great to have people that just knew they wanted to be philosophers from 12 years old, but it’s also good to have people who have been on a long journey come into the university and bring a different type of understanding and a different approach.
“I’ve done lots of different things in the world and been exposed to lots of situations, and it does force you out of that ivory tower thinking that philosophers can stumble into.
“I think having real-world experience allows you to come at the work with a little bit of humility, and the awareness that people behaving ethically in the workplace and in their ordinary lives can be tough.”
Dr Breakey has consulted for several Australian government agencies and served as President of the Australian Association of Professional and Applied Ethics since 2013.
He is a popular media pundit, helping untangle a host of thorny ethical issues, from cancel culture to climate change.
Now he is approaching life’s big questions through art.
His literary debut, The Beautiful Fall, is being translated into several languages and has attracted the interest of filmmakers keen to bring the story to the big screen.
The book started life as a screenplay more than two decades ago. Dr Breakey was inspired to dig the first draft out of the bottom drawer by his wife, New York Times bestselling author Kylie Scott.
Dr Breakey said his career as a philosopher had helped him craft the novel.
“It helped enormously being able to draw on my career in moral philosophy, which is a very creative and deep-thinking way of engaging with the world,” he said.
“It helped nourish the novel in terms of its themes and the kinds of situations that my characters faced.”
“Art can be a great entry point into philosophy, and it can make it more interesting and accessible for readers in a way that a dry philosophical tract wouldn’t.”
There is a long tradition of big philosophical questions explored through novels and films – the groundbreaking book Sophie’s World originally inspired Dr Breakey to embark on a career in moral philosophy.
“For me, a novel like Sophie’s World was the first time I was really exposed to genuine philosophical thought.
“It was extraordinary for me to realize that other people had the same weird thoughts that I did and they pursue them with rigour and depth.”