About PS

These pages are by me, Peter Smith. I retired in 2011 from the Faculty of Philosophy at Cambridge. My successor is Tim Button.

Before returning to Cambridge in 1998, I was in the Philosophy Department at the University of Sheffield for ten years, and before that was at  UCW Aberystwyth (as it then was called, and where there was once a small but rather good department, closed as a result of the ‘Thatcher cuts’). In ancient history, I was at Trinity for eight years, where I took Part II Maths at the end of my second year, and then in my third year took Part III Maths (it’s been downhill all the way since). In my fourth year, I took Part II Moral Sciences  for light relief. Then, instead of going back to DAMPT, I stayed on trying to become a philosopher, for not-very-good reasons, and thereby foolishly missed out on some of the glory days of elementary particle physics.

My amateurish philosophical curiosity used to range pretty widely. For twelve years until the end of 1999, I was editor of the philosophy journal Analysis, which was great fun and suited my butterfly mind (I could really never get the hang of this specializing malarky). But it was ludicrously time-consuming because I’m bad at delegating.

I also wrote (with my then Aber colleague O.R. Jones) a once quite widely used textbook, The Philosophy of Mind: An Introduction (CUP, 1986). Over twenty five years on, it now looks very much a product of its time; but when I have had occasion to dip into it, it still seems to have its moments. Beginning students should still find it readable and even useful.

Rather more recently I wrote a philosophy of science book Explaining Chaos (CUP, 1998), which has some really rather pretty maths, if you like that kind of thing. The book’s main point is to deflate some over-excited philosophical views about ‘chaos theory’. (I’d put a few things just a bit differently now, and there are one or two technical glitches, and I was perhaps unnecessarily pessimistic about the question whether you could ‘define’ chaos neatly covering the usual paradigms: but the basic deflationary story still seems right to me.)

Lately, however, I find myself back where I started in philosophy, most interested in core logic and the philosophy of mathematics, and increasingly frankly rather sceptical about much of the rest.

I co-edited Vagueness: A Reader with Rosanna Keefe (MIT 1997) which collects many of the classic articles with a long introduction — but the more I thought about that, the less I understood (either about vagueness or about the rules of the game for giving a theory of vagueness).  Then, because the world so obviously needed yet another elementary logic book, I wrote up my first-year Cambridge lectures as An Introduction to Formal Logic (CUP 2003, a significantly revised reprint 2009, a further corrected printing in late 2013), which presents logic by trees — there are extensive pages about the book here on this website.

My most recent book is the perhaps somewhat mis-titled An Introduction to Gödel’s Theorems (CUP 2007, second edition 2013). It actually has rather a high ratio of maths to philosophical commentary, but still aims to be accessible to advanced undergraduates and beginning graduate students. There are also many pages relevant to this book here. Many sections, especially earlier in the book, have been substantially rewritten for the second edition which is now available. The main text is now about 25 pages longer; but the aim is to significantly improve reader-friendliness rather than to add much new material.

I am also far-too-slowly writing a book about small ordinals and the consistency of arithmetic, and have other purely  logical projects to keep me from getting bored in retirement, which will I suppose make up for those misspent years when I got diverted into philosophy when at heart I’m really just another Trinity mathmo.

One day I even hope to properly understand category theory.

Contact peter_smith AT me DOT com