Sunday, 24 April 2016
Friday, 18 March 2016
Five Years MCMP: Quo Vadis, Mathematical Philosophy?
MCMP, LMU Munich
June 2-4, 2016
On the one hand, the workshop will celebrate the five years of existence of the Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy (MCMP). On the other hand, and much more importantly, the workshop will be devoted to the question of where we should be heading in the future: what next, mathematical philosophy?
The workshop will consist of:
— a brief look back at five years MCMP;
— 16 short talks by young mathematical philosophers;
— three evening lectures on the logical empiricist background to mathematical philosophy;
— three general discussion sessions;
— and an "Ideas Session" in which the participants will be asked to contribute new ideas for the application of logical and mathematical methods to philosophical problems and questions.
Registration deadline: May 1st 2016
Prof. Dr. Hannes Leitgeb
Prof. Dr. Stephan Hartmann
Monday, 29 February 2016
40 full stipends
We invite applications for the first International Rationality Summer Institute (IRSI), which will take place from September 4-16, 2016, in Aurich (Germany). The topic of the Summer Institute is human rationality from a psychological, philosophical, and cognitive (neuro)science perspective.
Topics of the courses are: Rationality and normativity, Norms vs. evidence in reasoning research, Rational belief change, Inductive reasoning, Causal cognition, Probabilistic reasoning and argumentation, Language and reasoning, Mental models and rationality, Probabilities and conditionals, Bounded rationality, Neural bases of reasoning, Development of reasoning, Logical and probabilistic approaches to rationality, Intuition and analytic thinking, Scientific objectivity and inductive inference.
Faculty members are: John Broome, Vincenzo Crupi, Igor Douven, Aidan Feeney, York Hagmayer, Stephan Hartmann, Konstantinos Katsikopoulos, Martin Monti, David Over, Arthur Paul Pedersen, Jérôme Prado, Eva Rafetseder, Marco Ragni, Hans Rott, Jan Sprenger, Jakub Szymanik, and Valerie Thompson. In addition to the courses, we will have two keynote speakers: Gerd Gigerenzer and Johan van Benthem.
We invite applications by doctoral students and early-stage postdocs interested in human rationality and with a background in psychology, philosophy, cognitive (neuro)science, or related fields. Advanced Master’s students with a Bachelor’s degree in one of the disciplines and with an outstanding interest in the topic are also encouraged to apply.
The IRSI is generously funded by the Volkswagen Stiftung. Successful applicants will get a full stipend that covers the participation fee, board and lodging, and the reimbursement of traveling costs.
Applications close on April 15, 2016
The IRSI is organized by Markus Knauff, Patricia Garrido-Vásquez, and Marco Ragni (Giessen). Advisory board: Ralph Hertwig (Berlin), Gabriele Kern-Isberner (Dortmund), Gerhard Schurz (Düsseldorf), Wolfgang Spohn (Konstanz), and Michael Waldmann (Göttingen).
Please find more information on the Summer Institute and on how to apply at http://www.irsi2016.de. For inquiries, please send an e-mail to email@example.com.
Friday, 26 February 2016
Wednesday, 10 February 2016
Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending a one-day workshop on The Nature of Logic organized by the University of York. The focus of the day was Saul Krikpe's unpublished works on the 'adoption problem', an interpretation of Lewis Carroll's "What the Tortoise Said to Achilles". "What the Tortoise Said to Achilles" is probably my favorite piece of philosophy, ever; York is a day-trip away from Durham; and it was a chance to hear Kripke speak in the flesh, all three reasons to expect a very interesting and enjoyable day, and the workshop did not disappoint.
The talks were all thought-provoking, but it was the first, by Romina Padró, that set the stage for the day and also triggered the thoughts that I want to try to articulate here today. Padró recently completed her dissertation on What the Tortoise Said to Kripke: the Adoption Problem and the Epistemology of Logic. The "Adoption Problem" is detailed in S. 2.2, but the basic issue of this: Suppose you are confronted with someone, call him Harry, who has "no notion of the principles in question [modus ponens and universal instantiation] and has never inferred in accordance with them" (p. 31). Surely Harry has an impoverished reasoning ability and it would be useful to introduce him to these logical principles, such that he accepts them and can henceforth go on to reason according to them. This is the adoption of a logical principle:
By 'adopt' here we mean that the subject, Harry in this case, picks up a way of inferring according to, say, UI, something he wasn't able to do before, on the basis of the acceptance of the corresponding logical principle (p. 31, emphasis in the original).
The adoption problem is then whether such principles as MP and UI can be adopted. Padró's talk at the workshop was directed at arguing that they cannot: That in order to apply MP after it has been accepted, one must already be able to appeal to a notion of modus ponens. This is precisely what the Tortoise is pointing out to Achilles in Carroll's classic piece.
I remain unconvinced by Padró's argument, in part because it seems to me that Harry can accept a principle without applying it, and that once he has accepted it, he can then go on to apply it -- if he cannot apply it, then I would argue he hasn't in fact accepted it, contrary to assumption. But I will leave this point aside, and assume that there are some principles which cannot be adopted, and that MP and UI are, if anything are, prime candidates for such principles. The questions that I had -- and they are only questions, I don't have any idea how one would go about answering them, which is part of why I'm writing this, in case the collective power of the internet is smarter than me (it almost certainly is) -- stem from generalising the issue.
Padró's talk focussed on whether or not MP and UI are adoptable, and mentioned briefly other logical principles that may be similar, such as &I and &E, as well as some that likely can be adopted, such as disjunctive syllogism. This raises a general methodological point: How does one determine if a principle is adoptable? If every logical principle is adoptable, then we have no problem; if no logical principle is adoptable, then we have no problem. But if some are and some are not, then it would be useful to have a principled way of identifying them, preferably in advance. The argument for MP and UI is that in order to apply them, one must invoke the principles themselves:
If someone who never inferred in accordance with MPP were to be told that "For any A and B, if A then B, and A, then B," the subject wouldn’t be in a better position to perform a MPP inference. For the principle to be of use with any particular inference, she will need to infer in accordance with the MPP pattern that she does not use in the first place: in any particular case, she will only get to B from her premises by performing a MPP inference on the instantiation of 'For all A and B, if A, and if A then B, then B,' but that is exactly what she couldn't do to begin with (p. 36).
It seems then that one could argue that &I and &E cannot be adopted, since one must already have a concept of conjunction in order to introduce or eliminate conjunctions. But surely this is a matter of how the rule is formulated: With sufficient cleverness, I'm sure I could define &I and &E in a way that doesn't use 'and' at all, but only 'or' and 'not'. Would the principle then be adoptable, because it is formulated without appeal to the notion it is purporting to introduce?
If the answer is yes, then it immediately raises this question: If whether a principle can be adopted depends on how it is formulated, how do we know that MP and UI cannot be reformulated in a way that doesn't invoke them? For example, surely one could formulate MP in such a way that all Harry needs to know is disjunction and negation. If one wishes to maintain that MP-formulated-with-conditionals is not adoptable while MP-formulated-with-disjunction-and-negation is, then there is good reason to think that one must maintain that these are distinct logical principles. In that case, we're left with what I suspect is an extremely difficult question to answer: What are the identity conditions of logical principles?
At this point, I have no good intuitions about how to begin answering these questions.
© 2016 Sara L. Uckelman.
Saturday, 30 January 2016
Meta-arithmetical results and their philosophical meaning
Ghent, May 30 - June 1, 2016
Logicians and mathematicians devoted considerable effort to investigate the properties and limitations of arithmetical theories. Unfortunately, philosophical motivations and implications of some of these results are either not known or not clear. The main aim of the workshop is to present philosophically relevant meta-arithmetical results and discuss their philosophical implications in more depth. The workshop is focused on, but not restricted to formal theories of truth, theories of provability in arithmetic, logic of provability and philosophically relevant results about complexity or computability. Keynote speakers will deliver invited lectures and give extended tutorials. The title of the workshop comes from the fact that philosophical approaches to mathematical results are rather tricky.
Diderik Batens (Ghent University)
Cezary Cieśliński (University of Warsaw)
Jeffrey Ketland (University of Oxford)
Lavinia Picollo (Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy)
Saeed Salehi (University of Tabriz)
Peter Verdée (Université Catholique de Louvain)
Albert Visser (Utrecht University)
We welcome submissions of papers that strike a balance between technical developments and philosophical discussion. If you’re interested in presenting at the workshop, please send your extended abstract (1000-1500 words) prepared for double-blind review in PDF format to
by March 1, 2016. Authors of accepted papers will have 30-45 minutes to present their work.
A Studia Logica volume on the philosophical aspects of meta-arithmetical and set-theoretic results will be edited by the organizers. Participants are welcome to submit papers for the volume some time after the conference. Details TBA.
Presentation abstract submission: March 1, 2016
Acceptance notification: April 15, 2016
Fee payment deadline: May 1, 2016
Workshop: May 30, 2016 - June 1, 2016
Faculty: 60 EUR
Students: 40 EUR
Late fee: 30 EUR + basic fee
If your attendance will not be covered by any grant or if you are a student with financial difficulties, please include a statement saying so at the end of your extended abstract, so we can consider you for a conference fee waiver.
Organizers: Rafal Urbaniak, Pawel Pawlowski and Erik Weber
Wednesday, 27 January 2016
*** Two Doctoral Fellowships at the MCMP ***
which we are advertising right now (as part of the European Training Network DIAPHORA that includes philosophers from Barcelona, Munich, Neuchatel, Stirling, Stockholm, Edinburgh, Paris).
More information can be found at:
Tuesday, 8 December 2015
This afternoon, I lectured to my 2nd year students on Lewis and Stalnaker on possible worlds (with a bit of Kripke thrown in since we'd done the 1st lecture of Naming and Necessity two weeks ago). I included these two papers in the syllabus for the same reason I did last year -- because they are pieces of work of historical importance for their role in the debate on realism w.r.t. possible worlds. And like last year, I found both pieces difficult to lecture on, not because they are especially difficult, or especially problematic, but because, as a modal logician, I simply don't care. Resolving this debate -- whether possible worlds really are "out there" like Lewis thinks or whether they're more of a pragmatic tool as Stalnaker thinks -- will not change my practice one whit.
I try not to let my students know that I feel this way (I try to keep my philosophical "politics" out of the classroom -- except when the opportunity to rant on why I think "not philosophical enough" is a horrible criticism, but that is not apropos here), but I do try to let them know that there is more to the issue than resolving the debate, there is the question of whether the debate needs to be resolved before modal logicians can go about their business with impunity. Last year I put it as an essay question, but I don't remember if anyone took it up. This year, in yesterday's tutorial I divided the group into two and randomly told one "You prepare a case in favor of realism", and the other group "You guys get anti-realism", and during the ensuing discussion, I heard someone sort of whisper to someone else "Does it matter?", which I thought an appropriate to revisit the issue. We discussed it some in the tutorial, with one person feeling quite strongly that if one didn't properly settle the 'foundational' issues, then there would be no guarantee that the modal logician wouldn't one day be led astray. At the end of lecture today I posted two questions hoping to get people's gut feelings -- who thinks Lewis is right, who thinks he's not, and who thinks the question has to be resolved, and who thinks it doesn't. As expected, I got roughly equal hands for each, and was lucky enough to have two people willing to articulate their gut feelings. One (on the side of "yes, we do") argued from the basis of metaphysical possibility: If we're going to use possible worlds for analysing metaphysical possibility, we're sure going to want to know if they are metaphysically possible! The other said that you might need to look at reality to determine which axioms you adopted, but after that, it shouldn't matter what possible worlds in fact are when you start using them as a tool in modal reasoning.
All of this set me up to spend some more time thinking this afternoon about why I don't care. It's a rather scientific, rather than philosophical, position to take -- scientists don't care what the "real nature" of particles are (well, except for the foundationalists, i.e., the physicists), mathematicians don't care what numbers "really" are, modal logicians don't care what possible worlds "really" are, etc. The foundational issue raised in the tutorial yesterday gave rise to an apt comparison with mathematics: Mathematicians don't really care about what numbers are, because whatever they are, they sure work really really well, and by now it seems highly unlikely that we could discover something about what numbers are that would cast the results that we've derived using them into doubt. Modal logic isn't in quite the same position with respect to possible worlds, but it seems similar.
I also thought about what a situation in which it mattered what possible worlds were, metaphysically, would look like -- in what sort of situation would the metaphysical nature of possible worlds make a difference? Well, when discussing metaphysical possibility/necessity, as noted above. I happen to find that concept a highly dubious one (on extra-logical grounds), so I'm happy to simply put up my hands and say "that is not a modal concept I am interested in explicating". But as I tried to come up with concrete scenarios in which modal logic is applied, rather than simply theorized about, in each of these cases, the notion of possible world was interpreted as something quite concrete: For example, states of a computer programme. Then I thought about the other student's comment about needing to hash out what the right axioms were, and that possibly being when it was necessary to know something about the metaphysical status of possible worlds. But what is it that axioms specify? Do they specify anything about the worlds themselves? No: What modal axioms do is specify how the worlds are related to each other, and these axioms will hold (or not) in virtue of the relations between the worlds -- whatever the worlds may be. They may be Lewisian possible worlds, they may be states of a computer, they may be moments in time, they may be pebbles, they may be fruitcakes. The axioms -- that which really is the meat of modal reasoning -- are all about how the worlds are related to each other, and not about how the worlds are composed .
And that is at least part of the reason why I, as a modal logician, don't really care about what possible worlds are.
 At this point, I realize that everything that I've been saying is about propositional modal logic, and that if what you're interested in is quantified modal logic, then you might object that how the worlds are composed, i.e., what objects are in them and what properties those objects have, is of crucial importance, AND that the axioms adopted will have consequences for the internal composition, e.g., whether the Barcan or Converse Barcan formulas are axioms. To which I would reply: Hmmm, this is very interesting, I will have to think on the case of quantified modal logic further.
© 2015, Sara L. Uckelman
Monday, 2 November 2015
Monday, 26 October 2015
Another instance of some shameless self-promotion... Here is a podcast with an interview with me by the ever-wonderful Peter Adamson -- the host of the fabulous podcast series History of Philosophy without any Gaps -- on Latin medieval logic, more specifically the senses in which medieval logic can (or cannot) be said to be formal -- both according to contemporary notions of formality and medieval ones. Hope some of you will enjoy it!
Saturday, 17 October 2015
Back in January, I posted some reflections on what fictional languages can tell us about what meaning can and cannot be, here and here. Those thoughts eventually became a paper jointly written with one of my students, Phoebe Chan, which is forthcoming in Res Philosophica next April, "Against Truth-Conditional Theories of Meaning: Three Lessons from the Language(s) of Fiction".
For those who are interested in these topics, I gave a talk based on this paper at the Durham Arts & Humanities Society last Thursday evening. The talk was recorded, and is available to listen to on Soundcloud, for a few months at least.
© Sara L. Uckelman, 2015.
Wednesday, 14 October 2015
Monday, 12 October 2015
Friday, 9 October 2015
Thursday, 8 October 2015
Wednesday, 7 October 2015
This is the third installment of my series of posts on the beauty, function, and explanation in mathematical proofs (Part I is here; Part II is here). In this post I start drawing connections (later to be discussed in more detail) between beauty and explanatoriness.
We acknowledge a theorem's beauty when we see how the theorem "fits" in its place, how it sheds light around itself, like a Lichtung, a clearing in the woods. We say that a proof is beautiful when such a proof finally gives away the secret of the theorem, when it leads us to perceive the actual, not the logical inevitability of the statement that is being proved. (Rota 1997, 182).
- · Serious: connected to other mathematical ideas
- · General: idea used in proofs of different kinds
- · Deep: pertaining to deeper ‘strata’ of mathematical ideas
- · Unexpected: argument takes a surprising form
- · Inevitable: there is no escape from the conclusion
- · Economical (simple): no complications of detail, one line of attack
Tuesday, 6 October 2015
Monday, 5 October 2015
I am currently working on a paper provisionally entitled 'Beauty, function, and explanation in mathematical proofs', and so this week I will post what I have so far as a series of blog posts. Here I start with a discussion on the current literature on the presumed beauty of some mathematical proofs. As always, comments very welcome!
Monday, 28 September 2015
Monday, 7 September 2015
(This post can be safely classified as an instance of shameless self-promotion, but here we go anyway...) Last week Stephen Read and I delivered the full manuscript of the forthcoming Cambridge Companion to Medieval Logic to Cambridge University Press. We still need to go through the whole production process (including indexing), but at this point it is safe to assume the volume will appear somewhere in 2016. We've been working on this volume for nearly 3 years, and so we are suitably thrilled to be nearing completion!
Many people asked me about the Table of Contents for the volume, and so I figured I might as well make it public -- now that we know there will not be any changes to chapters and/or contributors. Here it is: