These pages are by me, Peter Smith. I retired in 2011 from the Faculty of Philosophy at Cambridge. It was my greatest good fortune to have secure, decently paid, university posts for forty years in leisurely times, with a very great deal of freedom to follow my interests wherever they led. Like many of my generation, I am quite sure I didn’t at the time really appreciate just how lucky I and my contemporaries were. Some of the more student-orientated areas of this site, then, such as the Teach Yourself Logic Guide, constitute my small but heartfelt effort to give something back by way of thanks.
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 got a distinction in Part III Maths (it’s really 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). Nearly thirty 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 relatively readable and even useful.
Rather more recently I wrote a philosophy of science book Explaining Chaos (CUP, 1998), which has some pretty maths, if you like that kind of thing. The book’s main point was to deflate some over-excited philosophical views about ‘chaos theory’. (I’d put a few things just a bit differently now; 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 foundations of mathematics, and increasingly sceptical about the value of 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 An Introduction to Gödel’s Theorems (CUP 2007, second edition 2013). It is somewhat misleadingly in an ‘Introduction to Philosophy’ series, but 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, and indeed which has already been reprinted. 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 have other logical projects to keep me from getting bored in retirement, which will I suppose make up for all those misspent years when I got diverted into philosophy when it seems that at heart I’m really just another Trinity mathmo.
One day I even hope to properly understand a little category theory.
Contact peter_smith AT me DOT com