Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Coconut-carrying Octopus

Julian K. Finn (Victoria Museum, Australia), Tom Tregenza (University of Exeter, UK), and Mark D. Norman (Victoria Museum, Australia) have found that invertrabae can show cognitive sophistication by filming octopuses using a tool. Here are the summary of the paper, videos about the phenomenon, and a link to the fullpaper.


"The use of tools has become a benchmark for cognitive sophistication. Originally regarded as a defining feature of our species, tool-use behaviours have subsequently been revealed in other primates and a growing spectrum of mammals and birds. Among invertebrates, however, the acquisition of items that are deployed later has not previously been reported. We repeatedly observed soft-sediment dwelling octopuses carrying around coconut shell halves, assembling them as a shelter only when needed. Whilst being carried, the shells offer no protection and place a requirement on the carrier to use a novel and cumbersome form of locomotion — ‘stilt-walking’."

As it is shown in the videos (see at the end of the post), they are one-coconut-carrying and two-coconuts-carrying octopuses. Instance of coconut's use is : sheltering against unknown intruder in the field (the octopus flees in the half of the empty coconut to escape the human observer).


Another video on the BBC website (with commentaries about the paper and remarks by biologists, including the authors of the paper) : Octopus snatches coconut and runs.

Other videos can be found on Current Biology, in the online version of the paper : Julian K. Finn1, Tom Tregenza, and Mark D. Norman, "Defensive tool use in a coconut-carrying octopus", Current Biology, Volume 19, Issue 23, R1069-R1070, 15 December 2009. (Full-text.)

Thursday, 10 December 2009

A Survey of philosophers' views

The PhilPapers Survey was a survey of professional philosophers and others on their philosophical views, carried out in November 2009. The Survey was taken by 3226 respondents, including 1803 philosophy faculty members and/or PhDs and 829 philosophy graduate students. The preliminary results can be found on "Preliminary results". Others results are coming soon. Materials can be downloaded on this page.

Work done by David Chalmers and David Bourget.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Aristotelian Society and Mind Association : Call for Papers for the 2010 Conference

The call for papers reads as following :



The Joint Session is the annual conference of The Aristotelian Society held in conjunction with The Mind Association. It is the largest and primary conference for philosophers in the UK. There is a wide subject base and international speaker profile.


A number of parallel sessions on Saturday and Sunday afternoons will be available for the presentation of papers not previously published. There will be a considerable number of these sessions available, allowing room for many submissions to be included. The intention is to accommodate all philosophical material suitable for presentation to a professional audience, so far as time and space in the programme allow, and not to operate a selective policy.

Each presentation should last no more than 20 minutes, so that a further 10-15 minutes may be allowed for discussion. Presented papers should aim to introduce material involving recent research. There are no restrictions on the areas of philosophy which papers may address. Philosophers whose papers are included in this part of the programme must be or become subscribing members of one of the organising societies.

Those wishing to make a presentation should submit by e-mail attachment a copy of their paper (no more than 2000 words), together with a 250-word abstract, to jointsession@ucd.ie by 1st February 2010. Decisions on whether papers have been accepted will be made by the end of March 2010. Authors wishing for an earlier response should submit papers as early as possible.

Papers accepted for the Open Sessions will not be published in the Supplementary Volume of the Aristotelian Society (unlike papers invited for the plenary programme of the conference); and expenses will not be paid.


Two parallel sessions on the Saturday afternoon will be devoted to short presentations by graduate students (or those who have recently obtained a postgraduate degree). Each student should speak for 20 minutes, allowing 10 minutes for discussion.

Students wishing to participate should send their paper, preferably by attachment in Word 98 or higher, otherwise in two hard copies, by 1st February 2010 to: The Executive Secretary, The Aristotelian Society, Room 281, Stewart House, Russell Square, London WC1B 5DN. Email: mail@aristoteliansociety.org.uk.

The paper should be about 2000 words but no more than 2500 words, including notes and bibliography, and should begin with a brief abstract. It should be typewritten in 12-point text, single-spaced throughout (i.e. including references and quotations), on one side of white A4 paper. All pages should be numbered and have margins of 1 inch or more. Papers containing symbols liable to distortion in transmission should be submitted as hard copies; otherwise electronic copy is welcome.

Please ensure that there are no self-identifying references in the text. Submissions should be accompanied by a separate page containing the title of the paper, the name of the author, institution and status, and email and postal addresses.

Authors are advised to consult supervisors about what may be suitable for presentation to a largely professional audience. Given the tight word-limit, they are advised to give as much space as they can to the statement of their own ideas.

The papers will be sent to referees, and a maximum of eight will be selected for presentation at the Joint Session. The programme will be settled in May 2010.

The selected authors will have their conference fee and accommodation expenses (but not their travel costs) paid by the Mind Association and the Aristotelian Society.

Some papers may subsequently be considered for publication in the Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society.

Nobody should submit a paper for both the Postgraduate and the Open Sessions, and only one paper may be submitted per individual. However, graduate students whose submission for the Postgraduate Sessions is unsuccessful may subsequently be advised that their paper has been accepted for the Open Sessions. Conference costs will not be paid by the organisers.


Inaugural Address – Anthony Duff


Rowland Stout and Mitch Green

Robert Audi and Jonathan Dancy

Miranda Fricker and Michael Brady

Dean Zimmerman and Penelope Mackie

Tim Maudlin and Cian Dorr

Peter Simons and Fraser McBride

For information about the Aristotelian Society & the Joint Session see: http://www.aristoteliansociety.org.uk

Phil Joyce
Executive Administrator
The Aristotelian Society
email: mail@aristoteliansociety.org.uk
website: http://www.aristoteliansociety.org.uk
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7862 8685

The Aristotelian Society is a charity registered in the UK. Registered address: Room 281, Stewart House, Russell Square, London, WC1B 5DN. Reg charity no. 254021."

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Studia Logica : Call for Papers about Trends in Philosophy of Mathematics

It reads as following :

"Call for Papers

Special Issue of Studia Logica on the Philosophy of Mathematics

Guest editors: André Fuhrmann, Ivan Kasa and Manfred Kupffer

For a special issue of Studia Logica, we invite papers that contribute to and try to advance current debates in the Philosophy of Mathematics. Accepted papers will be published together with selected proceedings from this year's conference Trends in the Philosophy of Mathematics, which has taken place in Frankfurt, Sep.1-4, 2009. Authors are invited to submit an anonymized paper, including an abstract, and a separate title-page including name, affiliation, title of the paper, and contact information. Submissions should be in PDF format. Please submit your paper no later than December 1st, 2009 by email to trends@uni-frankfurt.de

André Fuhrmann
Ivan Kasa
Manfred Kupffer

Goethe-University Frankfurt am Main"

However, the deadline for the special issue of Studia Logica has been moved to January 15th,2010.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Marc Jeannerod en librairie

Le bal des ardents, une librairie lyonnaise, organise le 2/12/2009 une rencontre avec Marc Jeannerod,spécialiste en sciences cognitives, à l'occasion de la sortie de son dernier opus : Le Cerveau volontaire, aux éditions Odile Jacob. Plus de précisions sur le site du bal des ardents.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Bad News for Kant's Aesthetic

At the Catholic University of Louvain, 28-30 April, will take place a workshop about Aesthetic (title : "L'art en valeurs")

Since Florian Cova and myself are working on objectivism in Aesthetic, we have submitted our work for the workshop. And it has been accepted ! Here is the summary of our work : Le sens commun peut-il fonder l'objectivisme esthétique ?

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Quinean dogma : analyticity and syntheticity

A discussion of the famous "Two Dogmas of Empiricism" written by Quine (republished in From a Logical point of View).

(Version française)

The two dogmas are the following :

  1. There exists a fixed and determined criterion for the distinction between analytic propositions and synthetic propositions.
  2. Reductionnism is true. (Reductionnism is a interpretation of verificationism. Verificationism is the thesis that the meaning of a proposition is the method by which the proposition is confirmed or infirmed ; reductionism is the method by immediate experience that infirms or confirms a proposition.)

According to Quine, the two dogmas are correlated. Take the proposition "2+2=4". It is true whatever are the circumstances but nothing empirical can confirm or infirm it (it can only be exemplified). For Empiricism, as Quine understand it, this proposition has no meaning and contains only a linguistic part. Here is the theory of signification of Empiricism according to Quine : synthetic propositions are constituted by linguistic and factual aspects, as analytic propositions are constituted only by a linguistic aspect. If a proposition is meaningful, then it is a synthetic proposition. If the proposition has no specific meaning, and it is true whatever are the circumstances or false whatever are the circumstances, then it is an analytic proposition. Analyticity and syntheticity depend on the method of verification for every proposition taken individually.

How Quine addresses these dogmas ? Quine's reasoning is not easy to follow, but I think that the steps are the following. Here the first step of the reasoning. The topic is analytic propositions.

Step 1 :

1) Empiricists states that analyticity is the fact for a proposition to be true in virtue of the signification of the logical terms ("no", "every",...) of the proposition. (For ex., a proposition of the form "No x is non-x" is always true, whatever is the interpretation of the variable "x". Hereafter this type of proposition is named "class a".)
2) Empiricists (Carnap) states that there exists a class of proposition (class b) which are analytic in virtue of there logical components and of the meaning of the extra-logical components, and which can be reduced to propositions of class a. E.g. if y is synonymous of x, then the substitution of y to x, in the class a proposition P "No x is no-x", which permits us to form a class b proposition Q "No x is no-y", permits to form Q, which has the same meaning as P and which is analytic. When we say that a class b proposition Q is a synonymous interpretation of a class a proposition P, we mean that they have necessarily the same meaning and that Q is necessarily analytic.
3) But there are no plausible explanation (contradiction, definition, interchangeability salva veritate) of synonymy that can secure the fact that the substitution of extra-logical components that has been described preserves meaning and analyticity.
4) Thus Empiricists cannot states that there exist a class b propositions which must necessarily be analytic.

End of the first step. The capital consequence of this step is scepticism towards the theory of verification and its capacity to resolve the analyticity problem. Indeed, since analyticity and the theory of verification are two sides of the same coin, then, since we have established that signification is not sufficient to preserve analyticity, then the theory of verification may have not the means to explain analyticity.

Purpose of the second step : showing that there is no determined criterium between analytic propositions and synthetic propositions. Quine is wondering if the fact that an analytic statement is "analytic for" a given language may be true, such that the statement "the proposition S is analytic for language X", where S and X are variables whose field is limited to artificial languages, is true. Quine made a trial with a type of semantic rule, rejects it, then did a test with another rule. I followed literally his progress.

Step 2

1) Let us suppose that L' is an artificial language which has a semantical rule R which purpose is to discriminate the set of analytic propositions and the set of synthetic statements, that is to say to tell us that such statements are analytic and only those, and such statements are synthetic and only those.
2) But the rule R allows us only to recognize which statements are the analytical and which ones are the synthetic propositions, without defining analyticity. In other words, there is an ostensive definition of analyticity ("this set of statements") in L ', but not an intensional definition or a definition of the meaning of "analytic" in "analytic for L'" .
3) Since one has a sufficient intuitive knowledge of analyticity to assume that all analytic propositions in L ' belong to a subset of all true propositions in L', then we can perhaps say that a proposition S is analytic iff S is not only true, but true according to a semantical rule T which says that such statements belong to the set of all true propositions.
4) Now the status of "semantic rule T" can not be attributed to any statement that says that statements of a certain class are true, because all true statements consistent with T would be analytic. We must assume that the status of "semantic rule T" can only be attributed to certain classes of these truths. Yet all true statements can claim the status of "semantical rule T" since no true statement does intrinsically possess the property of being " the semantical rule T". In other words, the notion of "semantical rule T" is relative to an order of exposure of a given language. Therefore, if the notion of "semantical rule T" is the criterion to define analyticity, then all statements may claim the status of analytic proposition and classes of analytic propositions are relative to the order selected to describe L'.
5) Therefore, since there is no semantical rule that can establish a determined distinction between analytic and synthetic propositions, then analyticity is not a property that pertain "essentially" to a class of propositions.

End of the second step. Basically Quine has shown that there is no intrinsically fixed criterion for discriminating analytical propositions. Yet we remember that Quine argues that the second dogma of Logical Empiricism is the thesis of reductionism as an interpretation of the theory of verification. Quine does not abandon the theory of verification as a theory of signification, but he wants to refute reductionism as an interpretation of the theory of verification. This is the step 3 of his reasoning.

Step 3

1) If reductionism is true, then the meaning of a proposition is the immediate experience -which is the method of verification- that confirms or infirms this proposition.
2) If immediate experience as a method of verification is true, then an analytic proposition is the extreme case in which the proposition is confirmed (or infirmed) whatever are the immediate experiences, and a synthetic proposition is the case in which the meaning of a given proposition is established in respect of an isolated immediate experience alone and is confirmed or infirmed only relatively to this immediate experience.
3) If the thesis that the meaning of an isolated synthetic proposition is established by an immediate experience alone is true, then there are rules that correlate such isolated immediate experiences with their corresponding proposition.
4) But there is no rule that can make this correlation.
5) So reductionism is not true.

What are the consequences of this demonstration? 1) It is not possible to define analyticity as what is always empirically verifiable. 2) The division between the factual component and the linguistic component of a proposition is not as good as we thought. Indeed, we do not have at our disposal a criterion that can discriminate what makes a proposition a true proposition and the logical component. 3) There is no clear distinction between proposition based on facts and others not based on facts. In other words, there is no clear separation between natural science and metaphysics (in the sense of "speech that claims to be scientific but is not based on facts ").

I suppose that Quine is making another reasoning in the last part of his paper that is implied by his holism and that can be presented in the following manner :

Step 4

1) The entire body of our scientifical beliefs is a logically structured totality (our knowledge is true if and only if all our scientifical beliefs are true together : the logical operator between all propositions held true is a conjunction).
2) A conflict between experience and our beliefs leads to adjustments in the entire "field" of our beliefs (the truth values are redistributed).
3) Empiricists's theories are refuted by experiences and theoretical examination.
4) So scepticism upon all of the statements held true by Empiricists must be maintained until a satisfactory and complete redistribution of truth values is done.

Question: is Quine just stating an absolute truth? No! Here are some ways to address his reasoning.

The first way, the least interesting, is to notice that anyway, before 1950, Carnap, the leading advocate of verificationism, had abandoned the defense of reductionism. At that time Empiricism was already in an advanced revisionist phase because of/thanks to Carl Hempel.To put it in a nutshell, it means that Quine's paper is about an obsolete topic.

The second way is more interesting than the first . We can address the premise 3 of the first argument, which asserts that there is no plausible explanation of synonymy. Indeed, Quine's criticism is based on the distinction between extensional and intensional languages, ta distinction he has developed from the 1940s (see especially the chapter "Reference and Modality" in From a Logical Point of View). A language is extensional iff, a) when A and B are two terms or formulas of this language and A contains B, b) if B' has the same extension as B, c) if A' is the result of replacing B by B', d) then the extension of A' is the same as the extension of A. A language is intensional if it fails to meet these conditions. An extensional language has a limit. Take the proposition T : "All the rabbits and only the rabbits are necessarily rabbits. " T is an analytic proposition, even if it has no strict definition of" necessarily ". If we say "rabbit" and "domestic hare" are synonyms then we say that the proposition T ' "All the rabbits and only rabbits are necessarily domestic hare" is analytic. The adverb "necessarily" is the origin of the problem : what is the aspect of "necessarily" that can garantee us that T and T' have the same meaning, that the extension is the same in T and in T'. The problem is that if we answer that we know the meaning of necessity, then we already know what analyticity is. So the argument is circular. What we can do is criticizing Quine for rejecting completely intensional languages! Has he ever ask if there can be an answer to the question of whether there is a determined distinction between analytic and synthetic propositions in intensional languages? No!

Another way would be to say that Quine confuses analyticity and a priori in some parts of his paper (step 3 of my presentation). Indeed, in the first section of his article, he proposes the following definition of analytic propositions "a statement is analytic when it is true in virtue of meanings" (Part 1: Perspectives on the analyticity). But later, analytical statements are "true in all circumstances" (Part 6: Empiricism without dogmas). The first definition of analyticity given by Quine fits the definition of analyticity in semantical terms, but the second is very remote from this fitness. Using the experience to distinguish what is independant from experience and what is dependent of it permits to discriminate (and not define) a priori and a posteriori, but not to discriminate analyticity and syntheticity, let alone define it. (On a priori and analyticity, see also the recent post by Florian Cova on the a priori and the debates it has provoked.)

A fourth way would be to distinguish between metaphysical analyticity and epistemic analyticity: "According to the metaphysical concept, a sentence is analytic if it owes its truth entirely to its meaning and without any contribution from the 'facts'. By contrast, I took a sentence to be epistemically analytic if grasp of its meaning can suffice for justified belief in the truth of the proposition express it. "wrote Paul Boghossian in his article" Epistemic Analyticity: A Defense ". This article and "Analyticity Reconsidered" are available on his homepage.

A fifth way would be to address the premises 1-2 of the fourth step of my presentation, that is to say, Quine's holism. But that will probably the topic of my next post !

Do you see other weakness in Quine's reasoning ? Or do you think my presentation does not do justice to Quine's paper ? Or do you think that we must defend Quine's paper ?

W. V. O. Quine, "Two Dogmas of Empiricism", Philosophical Review, 60/1 (Jan. 1951) ; 20-43.

W. V. O. Quine (1953), From a Logical Point of View. Nine Logico-Philosophical Essays. Harvard University Press.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Philomaton : Videos of Philosophy

The Philosophy Department of the University of Geneva is lauching "Le Philomaton mobile", a serie of videos about philosophy. Three videos have been published : 2 on God and one about "Wishless Unluck" (by Olivier Massin !). A video by week will be published. You can suggest your topics for the next presentations !

This project is part of a bigger programme about the vulgarization of Philosophy : "Découvrir la philosophie". All the best for this excellent initiative !

Tuesday, 20 October 2009


Really worth seeing.

Kseniya Simonova is a Ukrainian artist who just won Ukraine's version of "America's Got Talent." She uses a giant light box, dramatic music, imagination and "sand painting" skills to interpret Germany's invasion and occupation of Ukraine during WWII.

If you cannot watch video, try this link : youtube.

And here is the rest of it.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Rimbaud : une querelle d'éditeurs

En philosophie, même en histoire de la philosophie, on a parfois un peu de mal à se représenter la nature du travail éditorial et ses enjeux scientifiques et académiques. Voici un exemple tiré de l'histoire de la littérature française qui permet de montrer comment, quand on dispose de plusieurs versions d'un texte, quand on est jalousé par ses pairs, quand on a des incertitudes sur les textes... on essaie de sauver sa peau entre Charybde et Scylla.

Les éditions NRF Gallimard publient la troisième édition Pléïade des Oeuvres complètes du fameux poète Artur Rimbaud. La première édition fut publiée par André Rolland de Renéville et Jules Mouquet (1946), la deuxième par Antoine Adam -spécialiste de la littérature française du XVIIème siècle- (1972). La présente est éditée par André Guyaux, professeur de Littérature française du XIXème siècle à Paris-IV-Sorbonne et directeur du centre de recherche sur la littérature française du XIXème siècle.

Le travail d'édition de M. Guyaux est présentée par Romain Jalabert ici. Son travail essuie une critique de Jean-Jacques Lefrère reproduite dans la Quinzaine Littéraire de Maurice Nadeau et dans le blog de cette revue ("Rimbaud dans une Pléïade sans étoiles). Le maître d'oeuvre lui-même lui répond, non pas dans la Quinzaine littéraire, qui a refusé de publier son estocade, mais sur le site de recherche littéraire Fabula : "Les étoiles sans Pléïade de M. Lefrère".

La polémique bien sûr est alimentée par d'autres personnes :

*Jacques Bienvenu répond dans la Quinzaine littéraire à l'article de J.-J. Lefrère concernant la nouvelle édition des oeuvres de Rimbaud en Pléiade: "Droit de réponse concernant la Chasse spirituelle". Et aussi "Les vrais faussaires de La Chasse spirituelle d'Arthur Rimbaud".

Anne Brouillet : "Conflits de lecture autour de Barbare : Rimbaud lu par Jean-Pierre Richard et Sergio Sacchi."

Source : Fabula.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Philosophy, Mathematics, Linguistics: Aspects of Interaction

The St. Petersburg Department of Steklov Mathematical Institute of Russian Academy of Sciences organizes in collaboration with

- Faculty of Philosophy of St. Petersburg State University
- IHPST/Chaire d'Excellence "Ontological Structure and Semantics Structure"
- Arché-St Andrews
- CSMN "Centre for the Study of Mind in Nature"

a conference in November the 19-22, 2009 (with pre-conference Workshop: November 17-18, 2009) about the relations between Mathematics, Linguistics and Philosophy.

The conference in meant to provide a forum for an interdisciplinary dialogue between mathematicians, logicians, philosophers, computer scientists and linguists.

Organizing Committee

Herman Cappelen (Arché, University of St.Andrews)
Edward Karavaev (St.Petersburg State University)
Elena Lisanyuk (St.Petersburg State University)
Anatoly Migounov (St.Petersburg State University)
Friederike Moltmann (IHPST, Paris), co-chair
Vladimir Orevkov (PDMI, St.Petersburg)
Oleg Prosorov (PDMI, St.Petersburg), co-chair
Anatol Slissenko (University Paris 12)
Sergei Soloviev (IRIT, Toulouse)
Nikolai Vasiliev (PDMI, St.Petersburg)
Maxim Vsemirnov (PDMI, St.Petersburg)
Chiara Tabet (CSMN, IFIKK University of Oslo)

We invite submissions of two-page abstracts relating to the interface beween philosophy, mathematics and linguistics, for a 20 minute presentation.
Submissions from any tradition and from a wide variety of perspectives are welcome, including but in no way limited to the following topics:

* Logic and foundations of mathematics
* Ontology of mathematics and the nature of mathematical truth
* The problem of abstract entities in mathematics, philosophy and linguistics
* The mathematical concept of a function
* Complexity of finite objects
* Philosophical and mathematical aspects of informatics
* Philosophical aspects of the use of natural language in mathematics
* Mathematical investigation of natural language structures
* Mathematical models for compositionality in the study of language, mind and brain
* Formal models of verbal communication

Interdisciplinary submissions particularely welcome.

Presentations can be given in Russian or in English.

Important Dates

* 1st October, 2009: Extended abstracts submission deadline
* 15 October, 2009: Notification of acceptance
* 1st November, 2009: Camera-ready copy due for the proceedings
* 17-22 November, 2009: Conference and associated Workshop

Keynote Speakers

Grigori Mints (Stanford University)
Friederike Moltmann (IHPST, Paris)
Graham Priest (CUNY Graduate Center/Arché)
Anatol Slissenko (University Paris 12)
Stephen Yablo (MIT)
Elia Zardini (Arché, University of St.Andrews)

Pre-conference Workshop

Friederike Moltmann (IHPST, Paris)
Graham Priest (CUNY Graduate Center/Arché)


Web site: http://www.pdmi.ras.ru/EIMI/2009/ph/index.htm

Please direct all inquiries to the Organizing Committee by e-mail: PhML_2009@pdmi.ras.ru.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Event in Philosophy of Mathematics


Paris-Nancy PhilMath Workshop (P-NPMW), October 21-22, 2009, Nancy.

Next October (21-22/11/2009) a workshop in the philosophy of mathematics will be held at the University of Nancy 2. The provisional name of the workshop is the Paris-Nancy PhilMath Workshop (P-NPMW). This is envisioned as the first in a continuing, annual series of workshops organized by a team of scholars from Paris, Nancy and elsewhere in France. The two day meeting will feature both invited and contributed talks. The invited speakers, who have confirmed their participation, are:

1. Harvey Friedman, Dept. of Mathematics, The Ohio State University
2. Volker Halbach, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford
3. Michael Potter, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Cambridge
4. Shahid Rahman, Dept. de Philosophie, Universite Lille 3
5. Stewart Shapiro, Dept. of Philosophy, The Ohio State University & University of St.Andrews
6. Hourya Sinaceur, Université Paris I/CNRS

There will be five contributed talks (Languages: English/French). We encourage all interested persons to submit papers for presentation at the workshop. Presentations should be no longer than 45 minutes, with a 30 Min period of discussion to follow each. We wish to make it clear that younger scholars, including those working on their PhDs, are particularly encouraged to submit papers. The workshop is intended to provide an unusually rich opportunity for younger scholars to discuss their work with experts from around the world.

The deadline for submission is July 31st. Receipt of submissions will be acknowledged by e-mail. A committee will read and evaluate all papers (full text) submitted by that date and will return a notice of decision by September 15th.

The papers should be sent by email in DOC, RTF, or PDF format to the following address: p-npmw@univ-nancy2.fr

Whether or not your paper is selected for inclusion on the program, we hope you will join us for what looks to be an excellent workshop.
Steering Committee: Michael Detlefsen, Jacques Dubucs, Sébastien Gandon, Gerhard Heinzmann, Jean-Jacques Szczeciniarz
Program Committee: Michael Detlefsen, Marco Panza, Gabriel Sandu, Ivahn Smadja, Mark van Atten
Local Organizing Committee: Gerhard Heinzmann, Manuel Rebuschi, Olivier Schlaudt, Frédérick Tremblay, Joseph Vidal-Rosset.

May, 5: call for paper
July 31: deadline for submission of papers
September 15: notification of acceptance

Support: Chaire d’excellence (senior) Michael Detlefsen (http://www.univ-nancy2.fr/poincare/idealsofproof/events.html)
Contact: p-npmw@univ-nancy2.fr


Appel à contributions

Paris-Nancy PhilMath Workshop (P-NPMW), 21-22 Octobre 2009, Nancy

En octobre 2009 un symposium en philosophie des mathématiques se tiendra à l’Université de Nancy 2. Le nom provisoire de ce symposium est "Paris-Nancy Philmath Workshop" (P-NPMW). Il est conçu comme le premier d’une série annuelle de rencontres organisées par une équipe de scientifiques de Paris, Nancy et d’ailleurs en France. La réunion de deux jours donnera lieu à des exposés d’invités et de contributeurs. Les conférenciers invités qui ont
confirmé leur participation sont :

1- Harvey Friedman, Dépt. de Mathématiques Université de l’Etat de l’Ohio
2- Volker Halbach, Faculté de Philosophie, Université d’ Oxford
3- Michael Potter, Faculté de Philosophie, Université de Cambridge
4- Shahid Rahman, Département de Philosophie, Université de Lille 3
5- Stewart Shapiro, Dépt. de Philosophie, Université de l’état de l’Ohio et Université de St.Andrews
6- Hourya Sinaceur, Directeur de Recherche, Université Paris I/CNRS

Il y aura également cinq conférences de contributeurs. Nous encourageons les personnes intéressées à procéder à une soumission (en anglais ou en français). Les présentations ne doivent être plus longues que 45 minutes, avec un temps de 30 minutes de discussion à prévoir pour chacune. Nous souhaitons affirmer clairement que les jeunes scientifiques, y compris les doctorants sont particulièrement encouragés à soumettre des papiers. La réunion a pour objectif de leur offrir une opportunité d’exposer et de discuter leurs travaux avec des spécialistes du monde entier.

La date limite de soumission est le 31 juillet. La bonne réception des soumissions sera confirmée par retour de courriel. Un comité va lire et évaluer tous les
papiers soumis (texte complet) à cette date et renverra une note avec la décision le 15 septembre au plus tard.
Les soumissions doivent être envoyées par email sous format DOC, RTF ou PDF, à l'adresse : p-npmw@univ-nancy2.fr

Que votre papier soit ou non retenu pour faire partie du programme nous espérons que vous vous joindrez à nous pour cette manifestation qui se présente comme un excellent « workshop ».

Le comité de pilotage : Michael Detlefsen, Jacques Dubucs, Sébastien Gandon, Gerhard Heinzmann, Jean-Jacques Szczeciniarz.
Le comité de programme : Michael Detlefsen, Marco Panza, Gabriel Sandu, Ivahn Smadja, Mark van Atten
Le comité d'organisation : Gerhard Heinzmann, Manuel Rebuschi, Olivier Schlaudt, Frédérick Tremblay, Joseph Vidal-Rosset.

5 Mai : appel à contribution
31 Juillet : date limite de soumission
15 Septembre : notification des acceptations

Avec le soutien de: Chaire d’excellence (senior) Michael Detlefsen (http://www.univ-

Monday, 1 June 2009

Run for your life

Peu d'activités me procurent plus de plaisir que la course à pied. Voici deux vidéos sur la course, que je trouve assez réussies. La première est une transposition intéressante du monologue Smeagol/Gollum dans The Lord of the Rings pour imager les problèmes de faiblesse de la volonté du coureur (s'arrêter ou continuer). La seconde... je vous la laisse découvrir. (J'ai écrit un post sur la première vidéo ici.)

Running is one of the activities I am addicted to. Here are two videos amazing about running. The first one is about the conflict between the desire to continue and the desire to stop. The admaker used the monologue Smeagol/Gollum (Lord of the Rings) to illustrate this conflict. And the other video... is a surprise. Enjoy !

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Williamson by Williamson

An interview with Timothy Williamson (click on "more?").

Prof. Timothy Williamson has been the Wykeham Professor of Logic at Oxford since 2000. His main research interests are in philosophical logic, epistemology, metaphysics and philosophy of language. He is the author of Identity and Discrimination (Blackwell 1990), Vagueness (Routledge 1994), Knowledge and its Limits (Oxford 2000), The Philosophy of Philosophy (Blackwell 2007) and over 120 articles. Williamson on Knowledge, edited by Patrick Greenough and Duncan Pritchard (Oxford, forthcoming) contains fifteen critical essays on his work and his replies.

Original article : here.

Your last two books, Knowledge and Its Limits and The Philosophy of Philosophy are astonishingly radical. Your 1994 book on Vagueness has already become a classic of analytic philosophy. Yet outside of professional philosophy circles they have not become well known. Jerry Fodor once noted that whereas Sartre, Foucault and Derrida could easily be found in bookstores his own books, and those of others like yourself, were much more difficult to locate. This seems to be a general tendency for much work in analytic philosophy. So before discussing specifically what they’re about, I’d like to ask about this. Why do you think this is the case? Sartre is no easier than Dummett, say, and yet many self-described intellectuals will have heard of Sartre but not Dummett. Is it to do with the writing, the subject matter or just that analytic philosophers tend to undersell their radicalism and the alternative tradition overplays their claims? (I tend to think this is the case; so with you, your ideas blow away many so-called radicals such as Foucault and your conclusions, couched in very cool, precise language, belie their corrosive impact!)

Of course Sartre’s high public profile depended on his novels, plays and political writings as much as on his philosophy, so he is a rather special case. Bertrand Russell is an example of an analytic philosopher who was comparably well known to the wider public, as a result of his provocative writings on marriage and morals, atheism, nuclear weapons and so on rather than the brilliant technical work in logic on which his reputation in philosophy is based. Nevertheless, there is obviously something to the contrast you draw. Michael Dummett is a good example, because he was a leading activist in the anti-racism campaign of the 1960s and he has written books on a variety of topics outside philosophy, including voting systems and tarot games, but still without becoming widely known outside philosophy. One reason may be that in his public interventions he did not invoke his authority as a philosopher. He never pretended that his writings on the philosophy of language were crucial texts in the struggle against racism. Maybe if he had done, people would have believed him! Not long ago I had a revealing discussion with a professor of ancient Greek literature, who was convinced that, by contrast with the tradition of Sartre, Foucault and Derrida, contemporary analytic philosophy had nothing useful to offer the study of poetry ― a common view in departments of literature. He claimed that it could not handle phenomena such as meaning more than one says. I discovered that he didn’t know of the analytic philosopher Paul Grice’s analysis of just such phenomena, which has had a huge impact on linguistics as well as philosophy. The point is that he had never even looked at Grice’s book (Studies in the Way of Words); he wasn’t reacting negatively to its content or manner of presentation. That’s not untypical. Outside philosophy departments, many people are taught that analytic philosophy is sterile logic-chopping, so they don’t feel the incentive to do the hard work that is needed to master the ideas and see how they can be applied to literary texts and other material. Of course, it doesn’t help that since comparatively few analytic philosophers present such applications, it is not immediately obvious that they can be made. Analytic philosophers have a sound methodological instinct to start with simpler, more ordinary cases and build up gradually to the complicated, sexy ones; for advertising purposes, that’s a drawback.

I think the three books of yours I mentioned above are all radical and have made a profound impact in the way we have to think about their subjects. For instance, your approach to vagueness is striking because it takes seriously the limits to human knowledge. And it undermines several claims that on the face of it seem plausible, such as the idea that you always know when you’re in pain. Can you say a little bit about how you came to this theory – I mean, was it something you suspected before you’d worked out the logic or was it as startling to you as it has seemed to others? And why were you drawn to vagueness in the first place - was it philosophy or reality that drew you to it?

I was aware of vagueness as a challenging issue from my undergraduate days. It seemed to present the strongest challenge to the classical, realist picture that has always rung true to me, on which the world is largely independent of us, and the principle of bivalence holds ― every proposition is either true or false (and not both), even if we do not and perhaps cannot know which ― and other standard principles of logic hold too. The problem was that, on an unqualified realist picture, there must be a point at which subtracting just one grain from a heap takes it from being true to being false that there is a heap in front of you, which seems to be incompatible with the vagueness of the concept of a heap, which has no precise definition. For a long time I could see no satisfactory way round that objection. Then, as I was finishing my first book, Identity and Discrimination, I started thinking about the way in which ordinary knowledge requires a margin for error. It dawned on me that the need for a margin for error would explain why, even though ordinary concepts have sharp boundaries, we can’t know where those boundaries are located. That explanation solved the main objection to the logical view that I had always wanted to hold. So the hard part was working out the epistemology; the logic was the easy bit. The larger purpose underlying my book Vagueness was to argue for realism like this: if realism is wrong about anything, it is wrong about vagueness (that premise was generally agreed); but realism is not wrong about vagueness; therefore it is not wrong about anything.

How far is your commitment to the principle of bivalence something that shapes your philosophical outlook and what are your thoughts about philosophical traditions that tend to dismiss it, such as Hegelianism?

I regard classical logic, in a broad sense that includes the principle of bivalence, as the best guide we have in philosophy. That doesn’t mean that I think it crazy to challenge bivalence. Many able philosophers have argued against it in various interesting ways for various domains, including the past, the future, the infinite, and the quantum world, as well as vagueness. I don’t dismiss their arguments; I try to show in detail where they have gone wrong. I would put Hegelianism low on the order of challenges to bivalence, because Hegel was writing long before the development of modern logic, at a time when logic was in a terrible state, and so he had no idea of the resources of logic. There are profound things in Hegel, such as the master-slave dialectic in The Phenomenology of Spirit, but he was no logician. Although some contemporary advocates of non-classical logic refer to Hegel from time to time, I have never seen a powerful Hegelian critique of classical logic.

Are there fields of enquiry that would benefit from taking vagueness more seriously than it does at the moment? For instance, are there aspects of evolutionary theory that might be less secure once vagueness comes into play?

Cats evolved from animals that were not cats. If you ask when the first cat appeared, you realize that vagueness is involved. As it happens, I discussed vagueness-related problems about the individuation of species in Identity and Discrimination. One of the main theories is that two animal populations belong to the same species if and only if they can interbreed with each other. The trouble is that there are chains of populations where each can interbreed with its immediate neighbours but the population at one end of the chain can’t interbreed with the population at the other end. The theory seems to imply identity of species at each link of the chain but difference of species between the endpoints, which is a contradiction. I showed how to achieve a logically consistent best approximation to the original inconsistent theory in situations like that. However, that is really just a matter of tidying up loose ends. Vagueness throws no doubt on the spirit of evolutionary theory.

I think somewhere you suggest that AI engineers need to consider vagueness if they’re to engineer thinking like ours. How far has AI taken up this thought?

Vagueness is a much more serious issue in AI and related fields. If robots are going to have concepts that they apply in real time primarily on the basis of perception, then those concepts are likely to be vague, which raises the question of how they should be reasoning with those concepts ― a central issue in philosophical discussion of vagueness. Unfortunately, one of the most influential theories of vagueness in those fields has been fuzzy logic, which is much cruder and more naïve even than the best of the non-classical theories of vagueness. Fuzzy logic has been applied to the design of washing machines, although I don’t think they were using the most distinctive implications of the theory. Recently I looked at a paper for Artificial Intelligence Journal that used the framework of my theory of vagueness, so it is having an impact in that area too.

Were practical applications important to you or was it just the fun of working out the theory that drew you in?

I must admit that practical applications were the last thing on my mind when I developed the theory. I was just interested in the theoretical questions. But it is normal in science that theories developed for no practical purpose later turn out to have practical applications. In fact, worrying too much about practical applications may be counter-productive, because it tends to inhibit the kind of radical questioning that in the long run drives major innovations. Turing developed the concept of a computer in response to a purely theoretical question in mathematical logic.

The third book, Knowledge and its Limits, puts forward what Tim Crane called ‘a daring new picture of knowledge’, Brian McLaughlin and John Hawthorne considered ‘…the most important contribution to epistemology in many years…’ and Patrick Greenough called ‘…one of the most important and refreshing books on epistemology written in the past 20 years.’ In it you argue that knowledge isn’t to be understood in terms of a kind of ‘true belief.’ Can you briefly say a little bit about this position?

The basic distinction in epistemology is between knowledge and belief. Beliefs can be false but knowledge can’t be. Someone may believe that the earth is flat but they can’t know that it is flat, they just believe (falsely) that they know that it is flat. The traditional direction of explanation in epistemology is to start with belief and analyze knowledge in terms of it: knowledge is belief plus truth plus various other factors. The trouble is that there have turned out to be counterexamples to all such analyses that have been proposed. In the book, I reverse the direction of explanation, starting with knowledge and treating belief as a state that aspires to the condition of knowledge. There is a deeper motivation behind this reversal. Knowledge is the success state, whereas belief is neutral between success and failure (it may be true or false). The idea is to understand malfunctioning in terms of successful functioning, rather than treating them on a par. In the case of action, trying is the thing neutral between success and failure ― you try and you may succeed, you may fail. But our analysis shouldn’t start with trying, because trying can only be understood in relation to what it is aiming at, i.e. succeeding. Similarly, believing can only be understood in terms of what it is aiming at, i.e. knowing. Knowledge and its Limits is a further step in the development of a tradition in the philosophy of mind known as externalism, which goes back to the work of philosophers such as Hilary Putnam, Tyler Burge, Gareth Evans and John McDowell in the 1970s. The idea is that mental states are not internal to the brain; their very nature involves relations between the brain and the external environment. Those philosophers were interested in the way that the contents of mental states involve the world: someone on a planet causally disconnected from ours can’t want to meet Obama. I’m interested in the way that states like knowing, remembering and seeing involve the world: you can’t see that it is raining unless it is raining (if it is not raining, you can only believe that you can see that it is raining).

Were you aware how groundbreaking the argument was? Did you have certain targets in mind when writing the book?

I remember, several years before the book was published, I put forward some of the ideas in it in a lecture at an American university, and someone in the audience said that if he thought I was right, he would give up philosophy! That struck me as a rather extreme reaction. I knew that I was proposing a view of knowledge that challenged the framework within much of twentieth-century epistemology had been done, although I was also building on the ideas of previous philosophers. What I didn’t know was what reaction it would provoke. I was afraid that since it didn’t fit into the standard terms of debate, it would be marginalized. It has had much more impact than I expected. Maybe the time was right for such a theory.

Were there positions being taken and arguments being made, implicitly or explicitly, not just in circles of analytic philosophy, that you were dissatisfied with?

The picture that I was criticizing is not confined to analytic philosophy ― it goes back to Plato. Internalism about the mind is extremely common amongst non-analytic philosophers and non-philosophers. Films like The Matrix raise all sorts of questions about internalism and externalism.

Since writing it, have you reconsidered any of your positions in the book?

I recently had to write replies to fifteen critical essays on Knowledge and its Limits, to appear with the essays in a book called Williamson on Knowledge. I had to clarify some things I said but the essays didn’t make me change my mind on anything. For independent reasons I have changed my view on a few things that are peripheral to the main line of argument. There are lots of points on which I now think that, although what the book says is correct as far as it goes, it does not go far enough, and the theory needs to be developed further. I have carried the development forward in subsequent articles.

Outside philosophy are there areas where you think your work would be well learned? It seems that sceptical arguments and much continental philosophy grounded in luminosity e.g. post-structuralism and phenomenology - are seriously challenged by the book. Have there been counter arguments coming from those areas?

Some linguists (and at least one missionary!) have been interested in the ideas about assertion in the book, and some lawyers in the ideas about evidence. It would be interesting to see reactions from post-structuralists or phenomenologists to the book, but most of them don’t read any analytic epistemology. In the last years of his life Richard Rorty started using me as a paradigm of what he regarded as the wrong turning analytic philosophy has taken. I was hoping that he would attack The Philosophy of Philosophy, since that would have been good for sales, but he died before it appeared.

This book and Vagueness, indeed everything you’re writing, seem to suggest that human fallibility and the limits to what we as humans can know are a key insight. How far is this a view that has been developed by the philosophy, and how far was it an already established insight that then suggested the contours of your theorising?

It’s pre-theoretically obvious that in almost every domain of human thought our beliefs are fallible and our knowledge limited. Many philosophers have regarded our own minds as some kind of exception, a ‘cognitive home’ as I once called it, in which those limitations did not apply, so that there is no cognitive limitation to knowing one’s own present mental states (they are ‘luminous’, in the book’s jargon). Theoretical argument was needed to show that the same fundamental limitations apply even to one’s knowledge of one’s own mind.

In your last book you again insinuate yourself into contemporary philosophical thought and say that not only has it made errors but it has actually taken a disastrous wrong turn. You call this the ‘linguistic turn’, which develops into ‘the conceptual turn’. This is radicalism without a hat. Could you briefly outline the main argument that philosophy that thinks that its sole job is to analyse language/concepts is wrong and why this is such an important point?

The linguistic turn and the conceptual turn took many different forms. All of them were, in one way or another, responses to a methodological challenge to philosophy that the development of modern experimental science has made more and more urgent: how can philosophers expect to learn about the world without getting up out of their armchairs to see what it’s actually like? The idea was that whatever philosophers have to do, they can do on the basis of their understanding of their native language, or perhaps of some ideal formal language, or their grasp of the corresponding concepts, both of which they already have in the armchair. In some sense philosophical questions are linguistic or conceptual questions, either because they are about our own language or thought, or because they are the kind of questions that can be answered from principles that we implicitly accept simply in understanding the words or grasping the concepts. In reply, I argue that the attempts to rephrase philosophical questions as questions about words or concepts are unfaithful to what contemporary philosophers are actually interested in. For example, philosophers of time are interested in the underlying nature of time, not just the word ‘time’ or our concept of time. As for the principles that we implicitly accept simply in understanding words or grasping concepts, I argue that there aren’t any. A language is a forum for disagreement; contrary to what many philosophers have thought, it doesn’t impose an ideology. People who take wildly unorthodox views, even about logic, are not ‘breaking the rules of English’. Although the linguistic turn and the conceptual turn involve radical misconceptions of philosophy, in my view, I don’t regard them as avoidable accidents. Probably they were stages that philosophy had to go through; we can only determine their limitations if lots of able people are doing their utmost to defend them. But by now we can see their limitations. As an alternative, I show how we can answer the methodological challenge to armchair philosophy without taking the linguistic or conceptual turn. For example, thought experiments, which play a central role in contemporary philosophy, involve offline applications in the imagination of cognitive skills originally developed through online applications in perception. Those skills go well beyond the minimum required for understanding the words or grasping the concepts. Our ability to perform thought experiments is really just a by-product of our ability to answer non-philosophical questions of the form “What would happen if …?” Philosophy is much more like other forms of inquiry than philosophers have often pretended.

When you wrote the book did you intend to shake everything up?

I felt that the predominant self-images of philosophy hadn’t properly adjusted to its current practice, in part because the ‘big picture’ narratives of philosophy were mainly being written by people like Rorty who were unsympathetic to the most fruitful recent developments. Although our practice can be better than our theory of our practice, if we have a bad theory of our practice it is likely to have some distorting effect on the practice itself. I thought it time to a philosophy of philosophy more in tune with philosophy as it is actually being done.

Has the book caused analytic philosophy to re-imagine itself?

TW: It is too soon to say how much impact the book will have. Some philosophers, especially in the USA, have strongly agreed with it. Others regard it as crazy. Several debates on the book between me and other philosophers have been published or are about to be.

Many of my friends are Wittgensteinians, others phenomenologists. Should they stop?

It would be unhealthy as well as boring for philosophy if everyone did it in the same way. We need a wide gene pool of ideas and methods. Nevertheless, some ideas and methods are better than others. When it comes to writing the history of twentieth century philosophy, the works of Wittgenstein, Husserl and Heidegger will presumably remain major texts, given their originality and vast influence. But from a historical point of view, it also seems clear that in recent decades the Wittgensteinian and phenomenological traditions have not adequately renewed themselves. Although books continue to be published in both traditions, they are recycling old ideas rather than engaging with new ones. Part of the attraction of such a tradition for its adherents is that it constitutes an intellectual comfort zone in which they are given pseudo-justifications for not bothering to learn new ways of thinking. At their best, the Wittgensteinian and phenomenological traditions share the virtue of patient, accurate description of examples. In that respect the analytic tradition has learned from them, I hope permanently. But once the examples started giving results that didn’t suit them, Wittgensteinians retreated into their dogmatic theoretical preconceptions while pretending to do the opposite. As for phenomenology, if a phenomenological description of experience is one that mentions only facts the subject knows at the time, fine. But it shouldn’t be confused with a description of facts about appearances, since one often knows facts that go beyond them. You can know that you are seeing a computer screen, not just that you seem to be seeing a computer screen. I argue in Knowledge and its Limits that the privileging of appearances results from the fallacy of assuming that we must have a cognitive home.

Regarding philosophers’ intuitions, you have strong things to say about these in The Philosophy of Philosophy when discussing evidence. At one point you say, ‘The point of such maneuvers is primarily dialectical, to find common ground on which to argue with the opponent at hand.’ Do you think that this may be a reason for why analytic philosophers haven’t found a broader readership; it hasn’t managed to find common ground, its intuitions have been faulty?

I was arguing that the idea of ‘intuition’ is mystifying and unhelpful in discussion of philosophical method. What we are really talking about are philosophers’ judgments. There is no special faculty of intuition. When analytic philosophers take their opponents seriously, they go out of their way to find common ground with them ― perhaps they sometimes go too far doing that, for example in arguing with extreme skeptics. Of course analytic philosophers often make faulty judgments ― they are human, after all ― but that isn’t what explains why they haven’t found a broader readership. Plenty of books packed with faulty judgments sell well.

Returning to the afterword of your last book where you address us like a headteacher admonishing us all to do better, do you think that there no room for continental philosophy? Given that you argue that so much of the analytic tradition, so called, has been wasting its time taking the linguistic/conceptual turn, might not someone from the continental field suggest that that in itself is a reason for looking for different approaches to philosophy?

The linguistic/conceptual turned wasn’t confined to analytic philosophy; it occurs in a different form in ‘continental’ philosophers like Derrida (of course, the label ‘continental philosophy’ covers a wide variety of approaches, but it is convenient shorthand). Nor was it a mere waste of time. Analytic philosophy learned much about language and mind in the course of it, and thereby contributed to linguistics and cognitive science too. One philosophical gain is that we have become much better at analyzing the structure of arguments, by thinking about the semantics and syntax of the sentences that make them up; as a result, we have become much better at determining whether they are valid or not, even though the arguments themselves are not about words. As for learning from continental philosophy, analytic philosophy has become a much broader, more varied and more tolerant tradition than it once was. It is not afraid of learning from non-analytic philosophers ― you can find analytic philosophers discussing Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty and Derrida from time to time. However, it tends to learn much less from such continental philosophers than it does from non-philosophers ― linguists, psychologists, biologists, physicists, mathematicians. In philosophy in continental Europe (as opposed to ‘continental philosophy’), the most important development over the past thirty years has been the massive spread of analytic philosophy. ‘Continental philosophy’, by contrast, is stagnating.

Are there no writers from this other field that interest you?

When I was a graduate student, I used to go to meetings of a Radical Philosophy group and read Derrida and Foucault because I was curious about whether continental philosophy had intellectual resources that I could use. Although I occasionally found something intriguing in their works, I eventually came to the conclusion that they were not worth the trouble. The texts were obscure and dogmatic. At first I thought other people in the Radical Philosophy group understood them better than I did, but then I discovered that they didn’t ― they were simply more willing to go on talking in that way, without trying to clarify the obscurity. They couldn’t answer my questions. In general, although the rhetoric of liberation is far more prevalent in continental than in analytic philosophy, I’ve found the world of continental philosophy far more hierarchical and authoritarian than that of analytic philosophy. In a department of analytic philosophy, if the most famous philosopher in the world comes to give a lecture, graduate students are expected to put tough objections to them; if the famous philosopher tries to fob them off, that’s noticed and disapproved of. The attitude in continental philosophy tends to be more deferential and fawning. I find it a depressing world. It isn’t much fun arguing with people who don’t know how to discriminate between sophistry and valid reasoning. I admire Nietzsche as a brilliant writer and culture critic rather than philosopher.

Do you think analytic philosophy can change? Do you see yourself as a radical leading such a change?

Analytic philosophy has been changing throughout its history, and will continue to do so. I don’t think a radical change in how it operates (as opposed to how it thinks it operates) is needed. What I was suggesting is that by conscious reflection and training we can improve our performance incrementally. Although that sounds dull, the long-term effects can be dramatic. Tycho Brahe was just a bit more accurate and comprehensive in his astronomical observations than his predecessors, but the result was data good enough to discriminate between the Ptolemaic and Copernican systems.

Can you say a little about the ontological commitments of your general philosophical position?

My work on vagueness and ontology doesn’t really concern ontology. Probably my most distinctive ontological commitment comes from my defence of a controversial principle in logic known as the Barcan formula, named after the American logician Ruth Barcan Marcus, who first stated it. An application of this principle is that since Marilyn Monroe and John F. Kennedy could have had a child (although they actually didn’t), there is something that could have been a child of Marilyn Monroe and John F. Kennedy. On my view, it is neither a child nor a collection of atoms, but rather something that merely could have been a child, made out of atoms, but actually has no location in space and time. The argument can be multiplied, so there actually are infinitely many things that could have been located in space and time but aren’t. It takes quite a bit of work to show that the Barcan formula is better than the alternatives! That’s what my next book will be on. The working title is Ontological Rigidity.

You wrote a wonderful piece about Barcan. Though the logic is too hard for me to understand you still managed to indicate to me the intellectual excitement of her discoveries and the journey this remarkable woman has travelled. You also expressed great sympathy and admiration for her; you seemed to be writing almost as a fan.

That piece is the speech I gave when Ruth was awarded the Lauener Prize for a lifetime’s achievement in philosophy. I’m glad that I managed to communicate something of that achievement. Of course, there are many other philosophers for whom I have a deep respect. For instance, an important experience for me as a first-year undergraduate was listening to Saul Kripke lecture at Oxford: the combination of clarity, logical power and good judgment struck me then, and continues to strike me, as a model for how to do philosophy.

Currently, who and/or what excites you most and why?

Intellectually, what excites me most at the moment is an obscure branch of logic known as second-order modal logic, which I’m going to use in Ontological Rigidity. It excites me because it is beautiful and rigorous and casts light from unexpected angles on metaphysical disputes that had become rather stuck, and so enables us to move them on.

What do see as the great challenges facing humans and what role do you think philosophy has in helping us face them?

Obviously, a central challenge facing our species is to survive on this planet for as long as it can. It’s hard not to despair when one thinks about the destruction of the environment and the tenacity of irrational belief. Philosophy can help us face these challenges. My colleague John Broome, who is the professor of moral philosophy at Oxford, has a book on Counting the Cost of Global Warming. There are difficult philosophical issues about how to take into account the interests of actual or possible future generations in present decision-making. There are even logical issues: how can we reason about future individuals who will never exist if we wipe ourselves out first? Interestingly, the Barcan formula provides a solution to the purely logical problem, but unfortunately not to the others.

Has the recent credit crunch raised issues that philosophy can address?

I’ll leave it to non-analytic philosophers to pontificate on the credit crunch in ignorance of economics.

Are there any non-philosophers you’d say are worth reading?

I don’t know any philosophers who think that only philosophers are worth reading! I know some who seem to think that only non-philosophers are worth reading. It’s frightening to go into a bookshop and realize how many of the books are worth reading and how few of them one will find time to read. In fiction, I like novelists who are as clever and clear-eyed as good philosophers, and as exact in their use of words, but who don’t attempt to do philosophy. Jane Austen is an obvious example (my taste in literature, art and music is as classical as in logic). Those virtues can be found in less exalted branches of fiction too; Dashiell Hammett has them. The poets I return to most often are Shakespeare and Yeats. I’d be more receptive to ‘experimental’ literature if I knew how to tell whether it refutes the author’s theory.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, April 25th, 2009.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Naturaliser la morale

Colloque "Naturaliser la morale", à Paris-Sorbonne, les 15 et 16 mai 2009. Un excellent colloque ! Tous nos encouragements à Christine Clavien, à Florian Cova et aux autres conférenciers !

Vendredi 15 mai (salle Jules Ferry, 29, rue d'Ulm)

Chair : Alberto Masala

14h-15h15 Christine Clavien (Université de Lausanne) « Trois sortes d’altruisme et leurs rapports à la morale »

15h15-16h30 Jérôme Ravat (Paris IV) « Fondements méta-éthiques et conséquences normatives de la critique du réalisme moral naturaliste : de l’absolutisme moral au pluralisme moral naturaliste »

16h30-17h pause

17h-18h15 Hichem Naar (Institut Jean Nicod) « Qu'y a-t-il de bien dans l'hypothèse de la Grammaire Morale Universelle? »

Samedi 16 mai (salle Cavaillès, 29, rue d'Ulm)

Chair : Jérôme Ravat

9h-10h15 Philippe Descamps (CNRS) « Naturaliser la morale, moraliser la nature : le tournant bioéthique de l'éthique de la discussion »

10h15-11h30 Alberto Masala (Paris IV) « Les limites de la psychologie morale de la vertu classique »

11h30-12h00 pause

12h-13h15 Ruwen Ogien (CNRS) « Extension du domaine de l'éthique »

13h15-15h déjeuner- buffet

Chair : Hichem Naar

15h-16h15 Florian CovaPierre Jacob (Institut Jean Nicod) « Psychologie morale : état des lieux »

16h15-17h30 Alex Rosenberg (Duke) « Must naturalism be nihilistic? »

17h30-17h45 pause

17h45-19h Nicolas Baumard (Nash/Institut Jean Nicod) « Les implications normatives d'une théorie mutualiste »

19h diner final

Sunday, 10 May 2009

From Philotropes I to Philotropes II

Julien Dutant's weblog Philotropes has been the object of a virus. All posts and messages from the 2/03/2009 have been lost. But Julien Dutant's perseverance must be encouraged. He is starting at the present time a new weblog : Philotropes II. I wish all the best for the reborn weblog and hope the Philotropes' adventure to come will be at least as good as it were.

Addendum (11/05/2009) : Thanks to Cédric Eyssette, the missing parts of Philotropes I have been restored. Nonetheless, the adventure continues on Philotropes II.

Addendum (13/05/2009) : Julien Dutant has published the letter the "pirat" sent him while destroying Philotropes I.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Dan Sperber: Guru Effect

I am sorry I am not around at lot. Among all the things I do, one might interest you. I am currently translating, for a french journal, a quite famous essay written by Dan Sperber: "The Guru Effect". It is a really nice approach of all recondite manner of thinking, including Postmodernism, through a relevantist point of view. Really worth reading.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Philosophy and Foundations of Mathematics : Epistemological and Ontological Aspects

SCAS, Uppsala, May 5-8, 2009. A conference dedicated to Per Martin-Löf on the occasion of his retirement.

Speakers include:

*Peter Aczel
*Mark van Atten
*Steve Awodey
*Thierry Coquand
*Peter Dybjer
*Juliet Floyd
*Jean-Yves Girard
*Sten Lindström
*Colin McLarty
*Per Martin-Löf
*Peter Pagin
*Erik Palmgren
*Jan von Plato
*Dag Prawitz
*Christine Paulin
*Aarne Ranta
*Michael Rathjen
*Giovanni Sambin
*Anton Setzer
*Stewart Shapiro
*Wilfried Sieg
*Sören Stenlund
*Göran Sundholm
*William Tait
*Jouko Väänänen

Scope and aim

The aim of the conference is to bring together philosophers, mathematicians, and logicians to penetrate current and historically important problems in the philosophy and foundations of mathematics. Swedish logicians and philosophers have made important contributions to the foundations and philosophy of mathematics, at least since the end of the 1960s. In philosophy, one has been concerned with the opposition between constructivism and classical mathematics and the different ontological and epistemological views that are reflected in this opposition. A central philosophical question concerns the nature of the abstract entities of mathematics: do they exist independently of our epistemic acts (realism, or Platonism) or are they somehow constituted by these acts (idealism)? Significant contributions have been made to the foundations of mathematics, for example in proof theory, proof-theoretic semantics and constructive type theory. These contributions have had a strong impact on areas of computer science, e.g. through Martin-Löf's type theory.

Two important alternative foundational programmes that are actively pursued today are predicativistic constructivism and category-theoretic foundations. Predicativistic constructivism can be based on Martin-Löf constructive type theory, Aczel's constructive set theory, or similar systems. The practice of the Bishop school of constructive mathematics fits well into this framework. Associated philosophical foundations are meaning theories in the tradition of Wittgenstein, Dummett, Prawitz and Martin-Löf. What is the relation between proof-theoretical semantics in the tradition of Gentzen, Prawitz, and Martin-Löf and Wittgensteinian or other accounts of meaning-as-use? What can proof-theoretical analysis tell us about the scope and limits of constructive and (generalized) predicative mathematics? To what extent is it possible to reduce classical mathematical frameworks to constructive ones? Such reductions often reveal computational content of classical existence proofs. Is computational content enough to solve the epistemological questions?

A central concern for the conference will be to compare the different foundational frameworks - classical set theory, constructive type theory, and category theory - both from a philosophical and a logical point of view. The general theme of the conference, however, will be broader and encompass different areas of philosophy and foundations of mathematics, in particular the interplay between ontological and epistemological considerations.


The workshop will take place at the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study (SCAS), Linneanum, Thunbergsvägen 2, Uppsala, Sweden. Map of Uppsala with a walking path from the Central Station indicated.

Organization and programme committee

Peter Dybjer, Sten Lindström, Erik Palmgren (Chair), Dag Prawitz, Sören Stenlund, Viggo Stoltenberg-Hansen.


The scientific programme starts at 10.00 on Tuesday, May 5 and ends at 16.00 on Friday, May 8. A conference dinner is planned for Friday evening. More details about the programme will appear in a few weeks.


Attendance is open, and there is no registration fee. However, anyone planning to attend should preregister by emailing PFM[at]math.uu.se no later than April 5, 2009.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Conversations with Quine

In this program, Professor Quine (1908-2000) is questioned about his views on some of the major topics in philosophy of mind. His linguistic behaviorism is carefully examined and compared with programs in linguistics and neuroscience, and he gives his opinions on the field of cognitive science. The program concludes with Quine's views on the topics of mental causation and consciousness.

This video is distributed by LSE. Many thanks to Flame0430 who shares his collection.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

SOPHA: International congress

The "Société de Philosophie Analytique" (SOPHA) organises an international congress every three years. This year, the congress will be held for the first time in Switzerland.

The official languages of the congress are English and French.

More information: click here.

Université de Genève, 2-5 September

Organising committee

The SOPHA 2009 is organised by the following committee : Philipp Keller (Genève) [coordinator], Fabrice Correia (Genève), Michael Esfeld (Lausanne), Richard Glauser (Neuchâtel), Kevin Mulligan (Genève), Martine Nida-Rümelin (Fribourg), Alexandrine Schniewind (Lausanne), Gianfranco Soldati (Fribourg), Daniel Schulthess (Neuchâtel), Jiri Benovsky (Fribourg), Marc-André Weber (Neuchâtel), Alain Zysset (Lausanne)

SOPHA 2009 is organised in close collaboration with the commitee of the SOPHA : Mélika Ouelbani (Univ. Tunis, présidente), Michael Esfeld (Lausanne, vice-président), Françoise Longy (Paris, trésorière), Alain Voizard (Montréal, trésorier), Paul Egré (Institut J.Nicod), Philipp Keller (Genève), Max Kistler (Paris), François Lepage (Montréal), Pascal Ludwig (Paris), Frédéric Pascal (Paris), Gianfranco Soldati (Fribourg).

Local organising committee: Philipp Keller, David Furrer, Loriane Morand

Invited speakers and symposia

There are four invited speakers, one of which is the dialectica lecture:

  • Christine Tappolet, Montréal
  • François Clémentz, Aix-en-Provence
  • Jérôme Dokic, Jean Nicod
  • Penelope Mackie, Nottingham (dialectica lecturer)

There are four invited symposia:

  • Logic and Philosophy [organisers: Fabrice Correia, Philipp Keller] with Paul Egré, Benjamin Spector and Dennis Bonnay
  • Political Philosophy [organisers: Kevin Mulligan, Philipp Keller] with Soumaya Mestiri, Ridha Chennoufi, Mounir Kchaou and Francis Cheneval
  • Dispositions [organiser: Michael Esfeld] with Claudine Tiercelin, Jean-Maurice Monnoyer and Max Kistler
  • Rationality and Norms [organiser: Pascal Engel, with Daniel Laurier, Gianfranco Soldati, NN and NN

Parallel sessions

There are 20 slots for parallel sessions (40 minutes, including discussion), in the following sections:

  • metaphysics
  • epistemology
  • language/logic
  • mind
  • philosophy of science
  • applied ethics, political and social philosophy
  • normative and meta-ethics, action and decision theory
  • aesthetics and philosophy of religion
  • history of philosophy

Selection committees for contributed papers

  • metaphysics: François Clementz, Philipp Keller, Friederike Moltmann, Frédéric Nef, Cyrille Michon, Joëlle Proust
  • epistemology: Yves Bouchard, Pascal Engel
  • language/logic: Fabrice Correia, François Lepage, Pascal Ludwig
  • mind: Filip Buekens, Jérôme Dokic, Luc Faucher, Pierre Poirier, Gianfranco Soldati
  • philosophy of science: Michael Esfeld, Max Kistler, Thierry Martin, Christian Sachse
  • applied ethics, political and social philosophy: Bernard Bärtschi, Ruwen Ogien, Christine Tappolet
  • normative and meta-ethics, action, decision: Daniel Schulthess
  • aesthetics, philosophy of religion: Roger Pouivet
  • history of philosophy: Alexandrine Schniewind

Call for Papers: Deadline 1st of May 2009

The Call for Papers is now open. Please go to our online submission site to submit a 250-word abstract and a one-page summary (presenting the main argument).

Decisions on whether papers have been accepted will be made by the end of May 2009.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Dennett versus Plantingua

There is a very vivid account of a discussion (minute by minute) between Alvin Plantingua and Daniel Dennett at the American Philosophical Association (21/02/2009) about the compatibility of Theism and Science (notably, evolution): here.