Saturday, 20 November 2010

Monday, 18 October 2010

En l'honneur de Gerhard Heinzmann

Pierre Edouard Bour, Manuel Rebuschi, Laurent Rollet are the editors of a book published for celebrating Gerhard Heinzmann's works. Here is the description :

This Festschrift is published on the occasion of Gerhard Heinzmann's 60th birthday. Its title "Construction" refers to Heinzmann's philosophical options (intuitionism, dialogical pragmatism, constructivism), as well as to his exceptional involvement in the building of many scientific enterprises and new scientific institutions. Sixty authors contributed to the volume, and the gathered essays witness the various centers of interest and intellectual achievements of Heinzmann. They are organized in five sections: (1) Henri Poincaré; (2) History and Philosophy of Mathematics; (3) History and Philosophy of Logic; (4) Pragmatism; and (5) Miscellaneous.

Contributors :
Evandro Agazzi, Michael Astroh, Hervé Barreau, Thomas Bénatouïl, Denis Bonnay, Hélène Bouchilloux, Pierre Edouard Bour, Michel Bourdeau, Christophe Bouriau, Christiane Chauviré, Michael Detlefsen, Pascal Engel, Dominique Fagnot, Virginie Fiutek, Didier Galmiche, Paul Gochet, Jeremy Gray, Marcel Guillaume, Jaakko Hintikka, Bertram Kienzle, Ralf Krömer, Jacques Lambert, Dominique Larchey-Wendling, Philippe Lombard, Kuno Lorenz, Igor Ly, Ulrich Majer, Mathieu Marion, Alexandre Métraux, Michel Meulders, Philippe Nabonnand, Michel Paty, Roger Pouivet, Joelle Proust, Shahid Rahman , Narahari Rao , Manuel Rebuschi, Laurent Rollet, Séverine Rollet, Giuseppina Ronzitti, Philippe de Rouilhan, Helge Rückert, Fabien Schang, Anne-Françoise Schmid, François Schmitz, Elisabeth Schwartz, Hourya Sinaceur, Antonia Soulez, Claudine Tiercelin, Richard Tieszen, Frédérick Tremblay, Tero Tulenheimo, Johan van Benthem, Louis Vax, Denis Vernant, Joseph Vidal-Rosset, Henk Visser, Klaus Volkert, Gudrun Vuillemin, Scott Walter.

Pierre Edouard Bour, Manuel Rebuschi Laurent Rollet (ed.) (2010). Construction. Festschrift for Gerhard Heinzmann. College Publications.

Full table of content.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Empathy and artistic creation

Can empathy play a role in Literature ?

This morning, while reading the French journal La Croix, I came accross this interesting piece, written by the French novelist Christian Bobin

Je vois une araignée et je deviens araignée, j'entends parler une personne et je suis cette personne. Lorsque dans une journée, vous avez été une libellule, un désespéré, une page de livre, une rose étourdie de chaleur, si vous n'écrivez pas vous êtes accablé (I see a spider, I am a spider ; I hear someone talking I am this person. If you don't write the day you are a dragonfly,  a desesperate person, the page of a book, a rose stunned by the sun, you will be overpowered).
Bobin C. & Nativel C. (22/07/2010). L'oubli du temps et de soi. La Croix, p. 18.

The message is quite clear : Bobin believed he has the ability to be something or somebody else than himself, to feel and think what others feel and think, to the point of being the thing or the person himself and stop being Bobin. Writing, for Bobin, is a way to keep the extreme consequences of empathy at bay, to keep in mind that he is Bobin only and nothing else, that there is a frontier between him and the world. 

Empathy is a common topic in Literature. See for this extract of the Deuxième rêveries du promeneur solitaire : 
L’état auquel je me trouvai dans cet instant est trop singulier pour n’en pas faire ici la description. La nuit s’avançoit. J’apperçus le Ciel, quelques étoiles, & un peu de verdure. Cette premiere sensation fut un moment délicieux. Je ne me sentois encore que par là. Je naissois dans cet instant à la vie, & il me sembloit que je remplissois de ma légere existence tous les objets que j’appercevois. Tout entier au moment présent je ne me souvenois de rien ; je n’avois nulle notion distincte de mon individu, pas la moindre idée de ce qui venoit de m’arriver ; je ne savois ni qui j’étois, ni où j’étois ; je ne sentois ni mal, ni crainte, ni inquiétude.
Rousseau J-J (1782). Les Rêveries du promeneur solitaire. Deuxième promenade.

This extract describes the feeling of the Rousseau after an accident, near Menilmontant, in October 1776. The sentence : "il me semblait que je remplissais de ma légère existence tous les objets que j'appercevois (literally : "it felt like I was filling every object I saw with my lightweight existence") is vague. But it is clear 1) that there is no real border between him and the world, and 2) that feelings and sensations are not linked to an delimited individual (Jean-Jacques Rousseau) who would not be supposed to share them.

Others example can be found in Literature (remember the famous : "Emma Bovary, c'est moi", by Flaubert) and others aspects can be seen as an indirect form of empathy (e.g., the bond between Nature and states of mind in the Brontë' sisters's novels). Intuitively, for me, it seems that empathy play a keyrole in Literature. But what is that role ? Psychology of Literature may be choosing the wrong path if it tries to identify and explain this role only through the sudy of classical texts of Literature. Don't laugh ! Many psychological analysis of Literature content themselves with this sort of study. After all this is what psychoanalysis of Literature was all about. But I think a more productive path would be the testing of hypothesis in the field ! From a cognitive and neurological point of view, what authors do when they write ? What happen when they include more than one speaker in their novels ? How can they make each character of a novel a individual ? What is the psychological basis of these phenomenon ? Is the psychological basis different when, in a novel, we see the world from the point of view of another species than human (as in Lassie Come Home, by Eric Wright ; or the Call of the Wild and White Fang, by Jack London) ? What cognitive abilities are they using ?

Friday, 2 July 2010

Leviathan & Poincaré

A terrific discovery in Paleontology (Nature) : the fossil of the skull of a whale (3 m. long), very alike to the skeleton of a sperm whale in size and in appearance. This whale seemed to be a very aggressive predator : a massive jaw with huge teeth, teeth on the upper and lower jaws, probably 17m. long. The team call this whale : Leviathan melvillei. Watch the nice video and read the article. A summary of both can be found at the BBC.

Note also a very important step in Mathematics : the conjecture de Poincaré is now considered a theorem, thanks to G. Perelman. See  Pour la Science.

MAJ (3/07/2010) : Perelman did not accept the prize associated with the solving of the problem. See : Brilliant & reclusive Russian Mathematician doesn't need your money.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Call for papers : The Extended Mind

The Extended Mind

In the decade or so since the publication of Clark and Chalmers' seminal paper, the extended mind thesis has had a highly significant influence on the philosophy of mind and cognitive science. This comes from the fact that it promotes a view of mind and cognition that breaks away from other such views popular in the late 20th century. Thus, the extended mind thesis promotes: one, functionalism, without the restrictions imposed by biological implementational structure; two, externalism, not only regarding mental contents, but also regarding the vehicles of content; and three, postcognitivism, where cognition is not simply a matter of internal symbol manipulation. The result is, thus, a view that could be labelled "situated and embodied functionalism".
Critics have reacted in different ways. Some have objected, on behalf of intracranialism, that the extended mind thesis is too radical, in that it flouts the distinction between intrinsic and derived intentionality in the characterization of the mental; or in that it mistakes extracranial aids to cognition for the real vehicles of cognition. Other critics, though, have argued that the development of Clark and Chalmers' insights has sometimes been too conservative, insofar as it supports a representationalist, rather than an antirepresentationalist, version of postcognitivism; or insofar as it continues to give pride of place to processes in the brain/CNS, precluding the extension of the idea of cognition to other less complicated life forms.
Teorema invites submissions on these and related topics for a special issue to be published in 2011. Papers must be written in English or in Spanish, and should not exceed 6000 words. For the presentation of their manuscripts, authors are requested to adhere to the details that can be found at Teorema. Electronic submissions, both in .doc and .pdf formats and prepared for blind refereeing, must be sent to the Editor by October 1st, 2010. Notification of intent to submit including title (tentative) and subject matter (a brief abstract) will be greatly appreciated as it will assist with the coordination and planning of the special issue.

Contact details for queries and submissions:

Prof. Luis M. Valdés Villanueva
Director de teorema
Departamento de Filosofía
Universidad de Oviedo
E-33071 Oviedo (España)
E-mail: lmvaldes at

Thursday, 24 June 2010

The Geometry of Visual Space and the Nature of Visual Experience, by Farid Masrour

Next Tuesday, June 29th at the Colloquium du DEC, (12h à 13h3O – Salle Paul Lapie – 29 rue d’Ulm – 1er étage) : The Geometry of Visual Space and the Nature of Visual Experience, Farid Masrour (Assistant Professor, NYU).

Abstract :

Empirical research shows that we see bent lines as straight, we see an object oriented along the depth axis as having a different size than a same-sized object oriented along the horizontal axis, as a result objects seem to change their shape as they rotate in space. Our visual experiences seems to systematically falsify some of the basic principles that are required to make sense of fundamental geometrical notions such as straight lines, distances and planes. This paper argues that these results have significant philosophical implications about the nature of our perceptual experience. In particular, I shall argue that they put pressure on accounts that regard our visual experiences as constituted by relations to external facts, as well as those accounts that assimilate our visual experience to pictures.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Second Paris-Nancy PhilMath Workshop

November 17-19, 2010, Paris

This is the second in an annual series of workshops on the philosophy of mathematics organized by a team of scholars from Paris, Nancy and elsewhere in France. The three-day meeting will feature both invited and contributed talks. The invited speakers, who have confirmed their participation, are:

- Patricia Blanchette (Notre Dame University)
- Jacques Bouveresse (Collège de France, Paris)
- John Burgess (Princeton University)
- Gabrielle Crocco (University of Provence, Aix-Marseille)
- Gilles Dowek (Ecole Polytechnique, Paris)
- Ignasi Jané (University of Barcelona)

Call for papers

Submissions of full-text papers are invited in the philosophy of mathematics for presentation at the workshop as one of six contributed talks. The languages of the workshop are English and French. Presentations should be no longer than 45 minutes, and will be followed by 30 minutes of discussion. In particular younger scholars and graduate students working on their dissertations are encouraged to submit, as the workshop provides them with an opportunity to discuss their work with experts from around the world. The deadline for submission is August 31st. Receipt of submissions will be acknowledged by email. The Program Committee will evaluate all papers and announce its decisions by the end of September. The papers should be sent by email in DOC, RTF, or PDF format to the following address:

Steering Committee: M. van Atten, D. Bonnay, G. Crocco, J. Dubucs, S. Gandon, G. Heinzmann, P. Mancosu, S. Shapiro, I. Smadja.

Program Committee: A. Arana, M. Detlefsen, B. Halimi, P. Nabonnand, M. Panza, J.-J. Szczeciniarz, S. Walsh

Local Organizing Committee: M. Panza, P. Cardon, M. Detlefsen, A. Rodin, J.-J. Szczeciniarz.


Call for papers: June 10st

Deadline for submission of papers: August 31st

Notification of acceptance: September 30st

Support: Chaire d’excellence ANR (senior) Michael Detlefsen.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Jean Nicod Prize 2010 : Tyler Burge

Tyler Burge (University of California, LA) was awarded the Jean Nicod Prize (2010). The Jean Nicod Prize winner will give 4 conferences in a few days in Paris. (More details here).

(Photo : T. Burge, on the right, with Jerry Fodor. Source : Alan Chalmers.)

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Chimpanzees : learning and language


Here is the abstract of a very interesting article written by Victoria Horner1, Darby Proctor1, Kristin E. Bonnie, Andrew Whiten, Frans B. M. de Waal, about some social aspects in learning, for chimp. The (free access) article can be read here : Prestige Affects Cultural Learning in Chimpanzees.

Humans follow the example of prestigious, high-status individuals much more readily than that of others, such as when we copy the behavior of village elders, community leaders, or celebrities. This tendency has been declared uniquely human, yet remains untested in other species. Experimental studies of animal learning have typically focused on the learning mechanism rather than on social issues, such as who learns from whom. The latter, however, is essential to understanding how habits spread. Here we report that when given opportunities to watch alternative solutions to a foraging problem performed by two different models of their own species, chimpanzees preferentially copy the method shown by the older, higher-ranking individual with a prior track-record of success. Since both solutions were equally difficult, shown an equal number of times by each model and resulted in equal rewards, we interpret this outcome as evidence that the preferred model in each of the two groups tested enjoyed a significant degree of prestige in terms of whose example other chimpanzees chose to follow. Such prestige-based cultural transmission is a phenomenon shared with our own species. If similar biases operate in wild animal populations, the adoption of culturally transmitted innovations may be significantly shaped by the characteristics of performers.


It is believed that language is the privilege of the human species. Well, this belief may be wrong :

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Mirror Neurons observed in human action.

In Current Biology, a nice study of mirror-neurons (about mirror neurons). Mirror-neurons were directly observed in certain species of primates, but not in humans. Here is a study that shows, as believed previously to this experiment, that mirror-neurons fire when a human acts and when he/she observes another human acting : Single-Neuron Responses in Humans during Execution and Observation of Actions.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

The Epistemological Argument against Mathematical Platonism

An amended version of my "epistemological argument against mathematical platonism" (forthcoming in Bruce & Barbone, Just the Argument : 100 of the most important Arguments in Western Philosophy, Blackwell) can be read here : draft.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Une somme en français sur le darwinisme contemporain

Les Mondes darwiniens (Syllepses, 2009, 30 euros), sous la direction de Thomas Heams, Philippe Huneman, Guillaume Lecointre, Marc Silberstein, est une somme sur le darwinisme contemporain, y compris bien sûr les aspects théoriques fondamentaux (fonction, variation, espèce, etc), mais aussi l'enseignement de la théorie de l'évolution, le débat entre le créationnisme et le darwinisme, l'application du paradigme darwinien à d'autres champs de recherche (morale, éthique, linguistique, sciences humaines, etc). Une cinquantaine d'auteurs ont participé à la réalisation de cet ouvrage, indispensable pour tous les chercheurs et les étudiants travaillant sur des questions liées plus ou moins directement au darwinisme.

Notez que le livre est accompagné par un site intéressant : lesmondesdarwiniens, et que Florian Cova a réalisé un compte-rendu du livre sur NonFiction.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Paleontology is hot

Two important discoveries were made recently in Paleontology. Both are described in the lastest online issue of Nature. The first is all about the presence of the first tetrapod on earth : it seems they appeared 20 millions years before when we thought they had (400 millions and not 380 millions years before today). The second is about the discovery of a new human species, in Siberia, who share a common ancestor (homo erectus) with homo neandertalis and homo sapiens, and migrated before homo heidelbergensis, the ancestor of homo neandertalis, from Africa (between 300 000 and 500 000 years ago).

1) Tetrapod : an article in french (La Recherche) and a video on Nature.
2) New human species : Nature.

Both are really worth seeing and reading !

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Aesthetic Realism is doomed

Voici le papier que Florian Cova et moi allons prononcer à l'Université de Louvain-la-Neuve, le 29 avril 2010, pour le colloque Arts en valeur : Le sens commun peut-il fonder le réalisme esthétique ? Enjoy !

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Le Philosophe dans la Cité, Florian Cova et moi

Florian Cova et moi avons publié sur le site Philosophe dans la Cité. Il a fourni un intéressant article d'introduction à la philosophie morale dans la tradition analytique. Et j'ai proposé un article sur la manière dont Bouveresse interprète le postmodernisme et le post-structuralisme dans Rationalité et Cynisme.

Le Philosophe dans la Cité propose des documents remarquables, notamment le tout récent "La société et l'État chez Marx et Honneth" (Julien Rajaoson), ou des tables rondes (sur Entre d'eux, le 15 mai 2010, dans l'Amphithéâtre Guizot de la Sorbonne, avec l'auteur Céline Huot, et Laura-Maï Gaveriaux), etc. Mais aussi un blog, une École, des réflexions sur l'art et la littérature... Bref, un site très complet à découvrir.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Paraconsistent Foundations of Mathematics : a weblog.

Paraconsistent Foundations for Mathematics is a new blog created for a new project at the University of Melbourne. The project is under the direction of Pr. Graham Priest, Ass. Pr. Greg Restall, and a research associate Francesco Berto. Zach Weber is the author of the blog. I am looking forward to read the next posts !

(Introduction to Paraconsistent Logic.)

Friday, 26 February 2010

Descartes and his missing letters

A letter written by Descartes to Father Mersenne has been recently discovered. A very interesting letter indeed, because it is about the effects of censorship. All the story here.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

DSM-V and debates about what is a mental disorder

The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a manual of Psychiatry published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), is due in 2013. But, if you are interested in this topic, you can have a look at the APA website, where drafts of the articles (initial versions) written by the DSM-V group can be read and commented upon (until April 2010). The originality of the DSM is the fact that it does not only describe disorders, it gives the criteria to identify each disorder and a diagnosis. The definition of what is a mental disorder is at the core of this enterprise, and is the topic of many debate about the DSM.

The third version, the DSM-III (1980), was strongly orientated by an operationalist definition of what is a mental disorder. Spitzer and Endicott (DSM-III's editors) were influenced by the work of C. Hempel in Philosophy of Science. According to this approach, in order to define what is a mental disorder, we only need the experimental procedures which enable us to tell the conditions through which the concept can be applied. If we want to define what is cerebral activity, we only need to say that a subject has a cerebral activity iff, linked to encephalograph, we see indications of his brain activities on an encephalogramm. The authors tried to define mental disorder according to the operationalist approach. Of course, the main points of this strategy were to avoid any circular definition based on normality and to use the means provides by an empirical approach. As Spitzer said, mental illnesses are subcategories of medical disorders.

Wakefield, in his famous 1992 paper, shows that the DSM-III's idea of mental illness is at its core fonctionalist and not at all operationalist, by reinterpretating the whole definition in fonctionalist terms. He holds an hybrid position, which takes into account 1) harm and sufferings according to social value and 2) dysfunction, based in evolutionary theory. Wakefield's remarks were taken into account by the committee of specialists of mental health who enclosed a clinical criterion among the official criteria to define mental illness in the DSM-IV ("distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning"), published in 1994.

So, what's new in the DSM-V ? 5 criteria are featured to define mental illness. Here they are :
  1. A behavioral or psychological syndrome or pattern that occurs in an individual.
  2. The consequences of which are clinically significant distress (e.g., a painful symptom) or disability (i.e., impairment in one or more important areas of functioning).
  3. Must not be merely an expectable response to common stressors and losses (for example, the loss of a loved one) or a culturally sanctioned response to a particular event (for example, trance states in religious rituals).
  4. That reflects an underlying psychobiological dysfunction.
  5. That is not primarily a result of social deviance or conflicts with society.
First, the emphasis on the biological nature of a mental disorder is obvious (criterion 4), and is absent from the DSM-IV (here are the criteria of the DSM-IV). Second, the etiology is more and more evacuated from the criteria. Compare : "Is associated with present distress (e.g., a painful symptom) or disability (i.e., impairment in one or more important areas of functioning) or with a significantly increased risk of suffering death, pain, disability, or an important loss of freedom", in the DSM-IV, and "The consequences of which are clinically significant distress;(e.g., a painful symptom) or disability (i.e., impairment in one or more important areas of functioning)" in the DSM-V. The notion of risk (for the present distress or the disability to be the cause of death and pain) has disappeared. Third, the intensity of pain is taken into account into the DSM-V, which was not in the DSM-IV. Compare : "present distress" in the DSM-IV and "clinically significant distress" in the DSM-V. No universal scale is needed for this kind of scale. To be clinically significant, the scale is standardized by the patient himself.

Of course, all the anti-rationalists and all the anti-naturalists in the field of Psychiatry will be infuriated by the publication of the DSM-V. And it is not difficult to see why. I suppose that, as always, anti-DSM will state that the DSM-V is the product of the Western thought, that it holds a dogmatic approach, that it cannot account for behavior and disorder in non-Western areas of the World, and that it mixes up social features and behavioral syndromes. I wonder how long will they use the ineffective sophism of the origin to address the DSM. I wonder how long will they use old data (the debate about the presence of homosexuality in the DSM-II, in the 1960's and 1970's) to produce relevant, up-to-date and fruitful critics.

See also :
An article, by Anna Lieti, in Le Temps (19 février 2010) : "Tous des malades mentaux".
Wakefield, J. C, 1992, “The Concept of Mental Disorder: On the Boundary Between Biological Facts and Social Values.” American Psychologist 47:(3) 373–88.
Mental illness (SEP)

Friday, 19 February 2010

Philosophy and Human Evolution. Is it right to Clone a Neandertal ?

As it is shown in "Should we clone neandertals", we are facing a unique moment in the human history : the possibility to give a second chance to an old relative of ours, Homo neandertalensis, is within our reach. In the article, the author, Zach Zorich, analyses several issues concerning this possibility : biological, ethical and legal.

First things first. How are we (Homo sapiens) related to Homo neandertalensis ?

Our direct and common ancestor is Homo heidelbergensis, an extinct species of the genus Homo, who lived less than 1 million years ago. Sometimes in the last 450 000 years, Homo neandertalis appeared and became distinct from Homo heidelbergensis. Neandertals may have disappeared 35 000 years ago. The modern Homo sapiens may have appeared 160 000 years ago and is now the only living species of the genus Homo.

Why re-create Neandertals ?

Scientists have two reasons :

  1. Knowledge : the more we know about Homo neandertalensis, the more we know about Homo sapiens. By re-creating a Neandertal, we can have the answers of many questions concerning our species and the genus Homo : Did all the members of Homo possess language ? (The fact that Homo neandertalensis possess the genetic ability -he possess the gene FOXP2-  is not a sufficient for having a language -birds have FOXP2 too-.) Were all members of Homo able to produce highly sophisticated reasonings ? Who was the smarter ? And so on.
  2. Therapy : If Homo neandertalensis is sufficiently distinct from us, he may be immunized to Homo sapiens specific diseases, such as HIV, Polio... Neandertals cells would be use to find cure, through gene treatments.

How can we re-create Neandertals ?

If the author asks the question "Should we Clone Neandertals ?", it is because he is taking seriously the latest technical progress, which put in our hands the very possibility to do so. According to the author, there are several possibilities : altering the DNA of the Neandertals to make it compatible with a living human cell (but this would required, according to George Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, "10 million changes to make a modern human genome match the Neanderthal genome") ; transfering the DNA of the Neandertal in an donor egg, from which the cell's genetic material has been removed (but most frequently, the cell dies) ; creating stem cells that have Neandertals' DNA, and, from the state of pluripotency of the cell, creating parts of a body or a living Neandertal. And it is highly probable that this last solution may work.

Are the reasons to clone Neandertals sufficient to do so ?

The author shows several arguments against the cloning of a Neandertal. For Bernard Rollin, a bioethicist and professor of philosophy at Colorado State University, it would be unfair to put a human into an environnment in which he does not belong. That is precisely why scientists considered the possibility to clone not only one, but a group of Neandertals, and the possibility to re-create their entire environnment. But is it right ?

For Lori Andrews, a professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law, the fact that the Neandertal has access to human rights will automatically undermined the reasons why he has been created. Well, if cloning a Neandertal is not a paradox, I am no philosopher. From a scientific, medical, and legal point of view, if a Neandertal is cloned, since he has access to every human rights, he cannot be experimented upon and studied according to the willing of the scientists. Thus the reason why scientists want the Neandertal to be cloned is the cause that he can neither be the object of scientific and medical experimentations. Even the success or the failing of the cloning is a paradox : from a legal and ethical point of view, if we succeed to clone a Neandertal, then, since he has immediate access to human rights, it is not right. But if the cloning fails, since he has immediate access to human rights, he is the victim of a murder.

This is why the alleged-reasons are not sufficient. But, since a mammoth is currently being cloned or will soon be, some scientists do not see why we should not clone a Neandertal...

How it feels to have a stroke ?

Prof. Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroanatomist, experienced a stroke in her 30's. In this video (click on "more"), she tells what she experienced and analysed what was happening from a neurological point of view. A very powerful story. And not a sad one.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Doctoral Positions in Philosophy

The PETAF FP7 Marie Curie Initial Training Network is pleased to announce seven 3-year pre-doctoral positions in philosophy:

Marie Curie Early Stage Researcher at the University of Barcelona
Marie Curie Early Stage Researcher at the University of St. Andrews
Marie Curie Early Stage Researcher at the University of Geneva
Marie Curie Early Stage Researcher at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris
Marie Curie Early Stage Researcher at the University of London
Marie Curie Early Stage Researcher at Stockholm University
Marie Curie Early Stage Researcher at the Central European University, Budapest.

PETAF is the first research and training network exclusively in philosophy ever to be financed by the European Commission. It aims to serve as a European research and training platform for joint philosophical research on perspectival thought, its linguistic expression and its consequences for our conception of objective, mind-independent reality. PETAF’s research programme, which runs for 4 years, addresses both general issues in metaphysics and in logic and semantics and specific issues in more specialised areas in which perspective-bound cognition plays a pivotal role.

Successful candidates will be recruited by the respective institution under renewable one-year contracts (starting date: 01 October 2010). Salaries vary according to the country where the appointing institution is located, reflecting differences in living expenses. Successful applicants will immediately be admitted to the local doctoral programme without having to pay tuition fees. Throughout the time of their appointment, they will pursue research in one or more of the four philosophical subdisciplines covered by PETAF’s research programme, i.e. the philosophy of logic and language, metaphysics, the philosophy of mind, and the theory of norms and value. They will spend up to 30% of the time of their appointment with other network partners, some of this percentage in secondment at PETAF’s non-academic partners.

This call is open to candidates of all nationalities as long as they comply with the European Commission’s Mobility Requirement (see Further Particulars). Eligible candidates must be in the first 4 years of their research careers, starting at the date of obtaining the degree that would formally entitle them to embark on a doctorate in philosophy. The appointing institutions endeavour to ensure a fair female representation by promoting real equal access opportunities between men and women throughout the selection process.

All applications must be submitted by email to the Coordinator under Applications must include a completed Application Form, an up-to-date CV, a two-page research proposal, a written work sample of preferably no more than 5000 words, and two letters of reference. Candidates should ask their referees to write to the Coordinator directly. Proof of a master’s degree, or equivalent, in philosopy or cognate disciplines, and proof of English language proficiency must also be provided. Applicants can apply for more than one position, but must provide one application per position applied for and submit a Preference Form. (Only one set of reference letters is required.) The deadline for applications is 19 March 2010, 12pm (Central European Time).

Further Particulars can be found under PETAF.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Altruistic Behaviours and Insects.

We all know that certain species of animals which can have a social life are altruistic : human, elephant... All are vertebrate and mammals. But what about invertebrate ?

We know that certain species of social insects can have altruistic behaviors. The example of the kamikaze bees is well-known (Hamilton, 1964). The behavior of the bees can be explained altruistically : they are dedicated to their community. And despite the fact that this behavior can contribute to the extinction of the species, the sterile kamikaze bees have a genetic material which is selected by evolution. Since the bees have only one set of chromosomes (the same mother, no father), they have a common genetic heritage with their sisters. This is precisely why it is interesting for them to sacrifice themselves rather than trying to preserve themselves. By sacrificing themselves, they lose their genetic material, but they save the one of their sisters. Of course, this type of selection may be applied to human being, more specifically, in the context of parental love.

Jurgen Heinze and Bartosz Walter decided to study a difficult case -difficult because occasional, non-systematic, and difficult to predict- : why, in certain cases, an individual from a certain society isolate himself from the others, in order to die ? The question is quite general because it can be applied to elephants, human beings and other species. But they did a thorough examination of the question with the help of a colony of ants (Temnothorax unifasciatus).

They introduced in the vivarium a lethal parasitic fungus called Metarhizium anisopliae. And the result of the observation is univocal : a large part of the workers who died from the fungal infection left the colony before death (hours or days before), and died isolated, far from the colony.

But the researchers had to make sure that the fungus was not the cause of this behavior. Because it is a parasite that manipulates the host to improve its transmission. It happens that this fungus "transforms" the ants into zombies, impelling them to climb up a stem where they die. From this elevated position, in the wind, the fungus is well distributed to others. But, by exposing the surviving ants to CO2, and significantly reducing the lifespan of the ants, they observed that ants left the colony before death took hold (which leads to the interesting observation that agonizing ants are not carried away from the colony by others, they leave by themselves). Thus, this altruistic behavior is not caused by the manipulation of the fungus, but by death.

But why can this behavior be considered "altruistic" ? I think that the researchers used a very intuitive definition of altruism :
a behavior is said to be altruistic if the consequences of the behavior are the well-being of the others rather than its own. In this case, the consequences of the dying ants are the well-being of the others ants, rather than death in a social environment. The dying ants leave the colony and face death alone rather than risking to infect the others. They may struggle against the impelling need to climb up a stem, as the parasite required, to face death in a remoted and isolated area. Behaving this way, they are choosing the well-being of the others rather its own.

Hamilton, W.D. 1964. "The Genetical Evolution of Social Behaviour". I & II. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 7 pp.1-52.

Chapuisat, M. 2010. "Social Evolution: Sick Ants Face Death Alone". Current Biology, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp. 104-105.

See also : Current Biology and a summary at the BBC website.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Constructivisme versus Naturalisme sur la question de la maternité

Un entretien très intéressant avec Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, auteur de Mother Nature: A history of mothers, infants and Natural Selection (1999) et Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding (2009), sur le site Biblios, à propos de son approche naturaliste sur la question de la maternité et des problèmes posés par l'approche constructiviste d'Elisabeth Badinter : réponse à Elisabeth Badinter.

Maj. :
1) Un entretien d'Elisabeth Badinter, "Tyrannie de la maternité", qui répond à Sarah Hrdy.
2) Merci à Florian Cova, Laura-Maï Gaveriaux et Jennie Gellé pour le débat passionnant sur Facebook !

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Topoï : Epistemology of Mathematics

The next volume of Topoï has several articles about the epistemology of Mathematics : innateness of mathematical concepts, intuition of mathematical objects, mathematical knowledge. Worth reading for all interested in Philosophy of Mathematics and mathematical cognition !

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

The Epistemological Argument against Mathematical Platonism

I found a few weeks ago this call for proposals :

"Call for Proposals:
Just the Arguments: 100 of the Most Important Arguments in Western Philosophy

Wiley-Blackwell is pleased to announce a call for proposals for Just the Arguments: 100 of the Most Important Arguments in Western Philosophy, edited by Michael Bruce and Steven Barbone. The completed text will be a survey and presentation of 100 of the most important arguments in Western philosophy, wherein experts will write brief encyclopedia-like entries presenting arguments in their essence, including a representative quotation, explication of the context and aim of the argument, and the argument’s logical form. "

An philosophical encyclopedia like this one is a very interesting manual for students, amateurs and professional in Philosophy. I am willing to answer this call. Here is my contribution. Any comments are welcome.

A description of the call for proposal can be found here.