Thursday, 22 September 2016

Willard Van Orman Quine (1903 - ?) - Pilos Profiles Vol 3

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An amazing child, Quine learned a lot at school. He was born an American, and became one of the most influential American philosophers of all time. He came from Oberlin, Ohio, and made his own collections of things, and was interested in stamps. He made newsletters for all his friends about stamps, and wrote essays and debated. All in all a very intellectual boy.

As he grew up, this did not change. He became more and more clever, and by the time he reached university he was reading Principia Mathematica by Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead. He eventually wrote his doctoral thesis on these topics, and became a world-renowned researcher known for his clever, witty articles and smart arguments.

Quine was now typing at a very high speed, writing logical books for both researchers and students. He began to attend more colloquia, more widely, and there are many stories about him saying things in the car on the way to a conference. One is 'Will there be modal logic at the conference?' 'No' 'Then the car's fine'!

Quine's work became broader as he went on, and he had a whole vision of how mind and mathematics fit into the world, and the way to tell what exists, all regimented in austere logical symbolism. His was truly an impressive achievement.


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Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Quick Philosophy Memory (Before I gotta go teach a class!)

I am here to do a lovely philosophy post. As undergraduates, we all learn valuable lessons. But there are different lessons for different people, and we cannot underestimate how much we still have to learn. We learn about:

- Understanding and its relation to consciousness ('I am awake now' - is this conative?)
- The necessity for metaphysics and its explanatory power, notwithstanding deflationism
- A lens through which to see topics as diverse as number and action
- Basic tools of formal logic
- Stimulus and response

I could add to the list indefinitely, which is part of my point. This is an exciting time to be alive in philosophy, and I for one would like to know what people have to say. But first, a little story from when I first learned philosophy, before I gotta run and teach a class!

'You have a substance different from body, that is mind. This is the dualist picture.'
'OK, but I thought materialism was everything.'
'Well, that is what some people say. It's OK to disagree. But maybe all they mean is that all the stuffy stuff is physical, but you can still talk about mind as a separate, irreconcilable category.'
'Uhh, wow. OK'.

This was a real turning point for me. I stopped just pushing out essays and began to really approach the issues in my own way. Writing new results has been amazing for me, and I think I should stop to remember that when my desk piles up! Anyway, class beckons....
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Sunday, 11 September 2016

This is a pretty head-spinning stuff. (Evolution means we can't see!)

Thanks to Justin at the beautiful Daily Nou for this truely amazing link. ANd they said science wasn't philosophy enough! An amazing evolutionary biologist is challen ging literally centuries of metaphysical theorizing with simple evoltuoin. From this great NPR article
While there clearly is a world separate from us, Hoffman says, evolution does not give us access to that. Instead, he claims, it's our interactions as conscious agents that give shape to the reality we experience. "I can take separate observers," he toldQuanta Magazine, "put them together and create new observers, and keep doing this ad infinitum. It's conscious agents all the way down."
This is a pretty head-spinning stuff. Our perceived reality has nothing to do with the world in and of itself? That's the kind of thing that's bound to piss off a whole lot of people in a whole lot of fields.
That's sraight from the horse's mouth (Frege enyone? the concept of a horse is not a concept or a horse!) at NPR. I'd love it if you had your own ideas in the comments. We're going to need to work on this one together if we are going to make any headway at all.

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