September 22, 2007

David Lewis Conference


Title / Between Logic and Intuition: David Lewis and the Future of Formal Methods in Philosophy

Synthese hosts its first annual conference at the Carlsberg Academy in Copenhagen, October 3- 5 , 2007. The conference is sponsored by PHIS - The Danish Research School in Philosophy, History of Ideas and History of Science and Springer.

Abstract / David Lewis is one of the most important figures in contemporary philosophy. His approach balances elegantly between the use of rigorous formal methods and sound philosophical intuitions. The benefit of such an approach is reflected in the substantial impact his philosophical insights have had not only in many core areas of philosophy, but also in neighboring disciplines ranging from computer science to game theory and linguistics. The interplay between logic and intuition to obtain results of both philosophical and interdisciplinary importance makes Lewis' work a prime example of formal philosophy. Lewis' work exemplifies the fruitful interplay between logic and intuition that is central to contemporary philosophy. This conference serves as a tribute to Lewis and as a venue for adressing questions concerning the relationship between logic and philosophical intuition.

This first Synthese Annual Conference is the venue for discussing the future of formal methods in philosophy.

Invited Speakers
John Collins, Alan Hájek, Hannes Leitgeb, Rohit Parikh and L.A. Paul

Berit Brogaard and Joe Salerno, John Cantwell, Vladan Djordjevic, Ulrich Meyer, Neil Tennant

Program Committee and Conference Chairs
Johan van Benthem, Vincent F. Hendricks, John Symons (SYNTHESE) and Stig Andur Pedersen (PHIS)

Conference Manager
Pelle Guldborg Hansen

Please write conference manager Pelle Guldborg Hansen to register:

Department of Philosophy and Science Studies
Roskilde University, P6
P.O. Box 260
DK4000 Roskilde, Denmark
Phone: (+45) 4674 2540
Cell: (+45) 2334 2175
Fax: (+45) 4674 3012

A conference fee is to be paid cash upon final registration (Wednesday, October 3, 2007). The conference fee is 150,00 Danish kroner a day, thus participation for the entire duration of the conference (Thursday, October 3 – Saturday 5, 2004) is 450,00 Danish kroner. The conference fee covers the lunches with free beverages, conference booklet, tea and co¤ee during the breaks. NOTICE: Please remember exact amount. Deadline for registration Monday, October 1, 2007. If email is used include ‘SAC 2007’ in the subject entry. All questions pertaining to registration and accommodations should be directed to Pelle Guldborg Hansen.

Conference Website:

Academic Satire by Emily Beck Cogburn

The Breaking of Things is a novel by Emily Beck Cogburn. The story is told from the point of view of an overweight male philosophy professor stuck in a dead-end job in Louisiana. Below is an excerpt from Chapter 1, which is available in its entirety here.

... The rest of the philosophy faculty ignored Brady’s tantrum. Near the door, two men whispered together, their desks almost touching. One had a long Santa Claus beard, but his mad-scientist eyebrows and skeletal frame would have frightened the bravest of children. The other man’s distorted face looked like it had been shaped from modeling clay by a careless child. I wondered if the obstetrician had used forceps to pull him out of his mother. He leaned forward and said something in a French accent. Santa Claus stroked his beard and answered inaudibly.

Directly in front of the whisperers, a short, trim Indian man stood and walked across the room to the windows. He grabbed the sash and pulled up. The window didn’t budge, but he kept trying, grunting each time he yanked on it. Even from across the room, I saw his forehead vein bulge from the exertion. I expected him to break the glass with his fist, or maybe throw a chair through. “Sack of shit janitors,” he muttered, returning to his seat.

After glancing around to make sure no one was watching, I slipped off my tie and hid it under the campus newspaper. Just as I unfastened the top button of my shirt, Richard Matthews, the Chair of the department, looked over at me. I feigned a stretch and smiled, and he quickly went back to shuffling through a folder of papers. My first day on campus, Matthews had introduced himself and then stood there, as though waiting to take my order. Restraining myself from saying, “I’ll have a cheeseburger and a Coke, please,” I’d talked inanely about how I loved Louisiana so far. He’d nodded, finally shuffling off when the secretary called him.

The only other person I could positively identify was Jane Campbell, the lone woman in the department. Sitting behind Matthews, she tapped a Birkenstock on the tiled floor and read Harper’s Magazine. Her gray hair was cut short, and she wore a dark cotton dress that reached her ankles. She glanced at her watch, shaking her head as though she’d long ago become resigned to this kind of irritation.

I leaned forward and pulled at the back of my shirt, trying to let in some air. Sweat dripped from my scalp and ran down my face like tears. I was trying to remember if I’d ever felt hotter when someone said, “Don’t panic until they start handing out the soap.”

I laughed, the noise echoing in the quiet room. Here we were, effectively trapped in a steaming room, waiting for something. Was the university administration planning to gas the whole philosophy department? Get rid of the undesirables?

The silence grew more pronounced as Santa Claus and the Frenchman stopped whispering. Six philosophy professors looked at me as though I’d broken a sacred pact. I slid down in my chair as much as my bulk would allow, trying to disappear.

The joker lifted his desk by its arms and turned it until he faced me. I wondered why I hadn’t noticed him before. He wore wire-rimmed glasses and a yellowing dress shirt. He wiggled the bare toe sticking out of his canvas sneaker and assessed me for a few seconds. “After class, Miller.” Smiling conspiratorially, he returned his desk to its original position.

The other faculty gradually returned to their diversions. The last one to stop staring at me was the Indian man. If he’d been a cartoon character, smoke would have been coming out of his ears.

Forcing myself to look away, I picked up The Daily Crawfish. The main article was a list of tips for incoming freshman: wear both straps of your backpack, leave your tube tops at home, and take notes in every class. Good advice all around, I thought. In this heat, I could almost understand the tube tops, but the thought of exposing that much of my flabby midriff was frightening. This summer, I’d started wearing a T-shirt while swimming. Diet starts tomorrow, I reminded myself. No more cheeseburgers.

The Indian man grumbled and fanned himself with a yellow folder. I was sure the sweat stains under my arms had met in the middle of my back. As I contemplated unfastening another button on my shirt, two overweight women in cheap suits entered the classroom. Holding cardboard boxes, they flanked the door while a tall, lanky man entered. Everyone stood up. I tried, but only managed to crush my gut against the desktop.

The man wore an obviously expensive suit that provided an arresting contrast to his polka dot bow tie and goofy smile. He waved his hand to indicate that we should sit. As he strode toward the front of the room, he nodded to Matthews, but said nothing. I wondered if he remembered our Chair’s name. Behind the lectern, he surveyed the sweating philosophers.

“My friends,” he began, “as President of Louisiana A&M, I wanted to come and show my gratitude in person for all the great work you do here. It is very important to me to meet you in small groups like this. To meet you all and know those who work so hard to make this institution what it is.

“Too often administrators don’t show their appreciation to the faculty. We think we are too busy to make the little gestures that mean so much. You all work hard. Today I want to give credit where credit is due. I want each of you to realize how important you are. The classes you teach enlighten our youth— our future! Your research ennobles us all. You are what this is all about. Without faculty, what is a university? Just a bunch of buildings.

“Nothing I can do for you is too much. Whatever I do will be too little. But today I just want to make a small gesture of my appreciation. Psychology is a very important subject.” At this point one of the women set down her box, came a few steps closer and staged-whispered, “Philosophy.”

“Philosophy. Of course,” the president continued. “Always been one of my favorites. And we have a first-class department here. You are all doing a bang-up job. I say, keep up the good work! Keep thinking! And here’s to that.”

He nodded and watched, smiling, as the women distributed a shiny apple to each of us. “May they give you energy to pursue the truth,” he said as he left. His entourage trailed behind like two dowdy bridesmaids. ...

September 12, 2007

Links and Photos

Duncan Pritchard has posted most of the papers and commentaries from the Social Epistemology Conference held at the University of Stirling.

Still waiting on Declan Smithies' photos from the Value of Knowledge Conference held at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

PHIBOOK - The Yearbook for Philosophical Logic now has a web presence.

Among my favorite philosophy blogs is Jon Cogburn's. Here's a recent dark post about the philosophy job market for newbies.

In case you haven't seen the Philosophy Journal Information wiki go here. Includes info on editorial practices, response times, backlogs on publishing, policies on providing comments to authors, etc.

...and last but not least, some photos from a party at Declan Smithies' bitchin' crib.

September 09, 2007

Philosophical Progress (Bryan Frances)

Intelligent, smart-assed, freshman will often say, in class, that philosophy never settles anything or answers any questions. This is a good challenge, I think. I tell them that it’s easy to prove that there is tremendous philosophical progress. Moreover, I claim that they will experience it for themselves over the next fortnight, for that is all the time it takes for the proof.

I start my freshman course by going over epistemological concepts. After several centuries of experience, I know that in their minds ‘knowledge’, ‘belief’, ‘evidence’, ‘justified’, ‘true’ and related concepts form one big messy conceptual structure. They form one big blob. After two weeks, the blob has taken form: there are now several blobs, and they have some idea how the blobs may be related. It’s as though things are starting to come into focus; there are many more pixels per square inch. I don’t care what anyone else says: this is genuine and personally significant philosophical progress.

I tell them about John Madden. He was the head couch of the Oakland Raiders football (American) team for many years. Then he became a “color” commentator. He started out using terms like ‘force’, ‘momentum’, and ‘energy’ pretty much as synonyms. Then some incredibly geeky physics types wrote him letters and tried to straighten him out on how those are different concepts and are related in certain interesting ways. (This was back when I actually watched TV, especially sports.) He tried to mend his ways, presenting his new understanding on the air like a brave soul.

Something similar happens in students in a philosophy course. I don’t care what anyone else says: this is genuine and personally significant philosophical progress.

I remember talking with Adam Pautz when he was an undergraduate at Minnesota (he’s now an excellent philosopher at Texas). I was a graduate student and he wanted to diss David Lewis a bit. He accosted me in the hallway and started to talk about the feebleness of David Lewis’s system of laws, counterfactuals, possibilia, etc. I was blown away of course; how can an undergraduate at Minnesota be so fucking smart and well read? I tried to defend Lewis by saying that he had the virtue of showing how many seemingly disparate concepts are really related in fascinating ways. If I remember right, Adam thought this was an interesting response.

There are other forms of philosophical progress. For one thing, there are good questions that only philosophical reflection reveals. Who would have thought of the all the good questions regarding truth, vagueness, and material constitution without the liar, sorities, tibbles, and statue-clay paradoxes? In these cases philosophy reveals problems that science and other intellectual pursuits miss entirely.

I personally think that these forms of progress are tremendously valuable. But what other forms of philosophical progress are there? Maybe things of the form: if you buy into theses X, Y, and Z, then the arguments and evidence say you should also accept theses A and B.

But is there more than this?

September 02, 2007

Expressivism Conference Photos

Expressivism, Pragmatism and Representationalism Conference 2007

Update: Chalmers has thoughts about the conference here, and more pics here, and Brit has pics here.