What’s it all about then?

I’ve one more chapter of Berto’s Gödel book to comment on here, which I’ll do very shortly, and I mean to get back to the rest of Franks’s The Autonomy of Mathematical Knowledge (I got rather stuck on Franks’s tussle with Herbrand: I think I’ll just have to skip over that — but watch this space).

Meanwhile I’ve started dipping into Conceptions of Philosophy, a newly published collection of lectures given to the Royal Institute of Philosophy on the nature of philosophy.

Most of the contributors are my generation or older. Is that because reflecting on what we’ve been idling our time away with, hopefully finding something positive to be said for it, is a game for us old lags? Maybe. But I have to report that, so far, I don’t recognize very many of my own concerns in these contributors’ descriptions of what they think philosophers are/should be up to. Perhaps that’s because — though I’ve comfortably enough spent my time tucked away in philosophy departments — I’m not really philosophically minded. Well, I’m not if philosophy involves e.g. arm-waving blether about the True and the Good (David Cooper) or ignorant balderdash about the nature of mathematics (Peter Hacker).

Actually, it seems here that age  tends to bring not wisdom but bollocks.

2 thoughts on “What’s it all about then?”

  1. Bertrand Russell

    You are philosophically-minded. The problem is with the profession. Philosophy thrives best when it battens off non-philosophy. Examples of the best work include that of Tim Williamson (applying logic & linguistics to epistemology and philosophy of language) and John Broome (applying economics to ethics). But most philosophy, even most of what is considered to be good philosophy, is written by philosophers without a deep knowledge of another subject. Examples: Mike Martin, Chris Peacocke, Quassim Cassam, Simon Blackburn, even John Hawthorne – and most of the profession. Their unscientific musings do not really advance the subject. Of course because their work is relatively uncontaminated by another discipline, it easier to read, hence making it easier for them to make a name for themselves. Broadly speaking those in the second camp have studied philosophy only (or PPE, which comes to the same thing if they aren’t doing political philosophy), while those in the first camp have university-level experience of the other subject their philosophy feeds off. You are firmly in the first camp, Peter! Three cheers for your kind of philosophy and your brand of it in particular.

  2. Could I please ask you to comment (at some point) on some of the work in cognitive science devoted to understanding the nature of mathematical knowledge. For instance, what do you think of the conversation between Connes and Changeaux in their ‘Conversations on Mind, Matter, and Mathematics’? Do you prefer that to ‘arm waving’ or do you think it’s largely of a piece. Thank you.

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