Friday, May 28, 2010

Befriending numbers nominalistically

I probably should've posted this sooner. On Monday I'm giving a talk at Oxford, criticizing Nathan Salmon's argument against nominalism, to be found in his recent paper in Analysis titled Numbers versus Nominalists. Feel free to pop in if you're around. Details below.

Rafal Urbaniak (Ghent University/ Gdansk University) 'Yellow card for Salmon'
Monday, 31 May, 16:30 - 18:30, Ryle Room, Faculty of Philosophy,10 Merton Street, Oxford.

Nathan Salmon (Numbers versus nominalists, Analysis 68.3:177-182,2008) argues that nominalists cannot plausibly deny the inference from(A) `there are exactly two Martian moons' to (B) `something is such that it is number two and there are exactly that many Martian moons'.He insists that the latter claim commits one to the existence ofnumbers. Salmon in effect argues that nominalism faces a rather serious challenge, for (as he claims) the inference can be denied only at the expense of giving up on higher-order logic, which is very unlikely to be an independently motivated strategy. After briefly describing Salmon's argument I will sketch a variant ofthe nominalist position on which the troublesome and apparently committing sentence is ambiguous between a statement that is derivable from (A) but non-committing, and another, which is committing but (onthe nominalist's view) not derivable from (A), even if the nominalistfinds higher-order logic a reliable source of legitimate inferences

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Boredom in philosophy

In Florida Philosophical Review David McNaughton has an amusing and somewhat to the point paper about why philosophy tends to be tedious and boring. Here.
Why is so much philosophy so tedious? Not, or not simply, because it is technical and complex, but because—too often—it displays mere cleverness. Implausible theories are defended against objections by ever more sophisticated technical fiddling with the details. Originality and creativity are in short supply. I argue that this is bad for philosophy, bad for philosophers, and almost inevitable given various structural features of the profession which require early and prolific publication. As a profession we are autonomous—we could change our structures if we chose.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Łukasiewicz at Harvard, 1926

I was browsing a volume of a Polish philosophical journal (Ruch Filozoficzny) dating back to 1928, looking for something quite unrelated when I came across Łukasiewicz's report about the Sixth International Congress of Philosophy, Harvard, Sept 13-17, 1926, which, as it turns out, he attended. I did find his report slightly unusual, so here's a juicy bit, in my rough translation:
Almost everything made the worst impression on me. Perhaps this was only bad luck. I wasn't present and the most interesting talks by Driesch, Weyl and Whitehead, which took place before my arrival. Although, having seen the content in print, I infer that perhaps I wouldn't have gained much had I actually heard them. From what I've experienced, a few details.

In the plenary session, Bougle from Sorbonne was talking about philosophy and peace movement, and E. Becher from Munich about darwinism and international relations. Both talks were on the level of newspaper articles; and the topics were more propagandistic than scientific. Becher said that Darwin's theory cannot be applied to human societies, because at war it is the bravest who perish, and the weak hide behind the lines. It came across my mind that had the Germans won, one could find a philosopher who'd say that according to Darwin's theory the bravest have the right to live and the weakest have to die. In the logic session Schiller from Oxford was trying to eradicate the difference between facts and values saying that facts become values and values become facts. I didn't understand anything and even now I think he was only playing with words. J. E. Heyde from Gryfia [not sure what place Ł meant, RU] was teaching in Rehmke's spirit how to solve the "ultimate" "problem of knowledge". He emphasized that what is not extended cannot occupy space. I reminded him that mathematicians don't take points to be extended and yet they locate them in space. He seemed surprised, opposed softly, and eventually said that he'd like to correspond with me about this. I gave him my address. So far, no message. Other talks weren't any better, maybe except for an interesting talk about the meaning of the concept of probability by C. J. Ducasse from Providence, Rhode Island.

On the last day, in the logic section, after five boring talks a short discussion took place. I spoke, giving critical remarks about the talks and expressed the view that the level of philosophical conferences is way lower than the level of other scientific conventions. A few people nodded, in general my impression was they didn't get it.

My only profit from the congress is that it supported my conviction that philosophy, as it is nowadays practiced, and as it has always been practiced, can have various values, can be uplifting, can satisfy your heart's needs, but is devoid of the most important value I think it should have: scientific value.