Year: 2021

Procrastinating with Logicbites …

I’ve just been checking the February figures for downloads from Logic Matters and for sales of the print-on-demand versions of the Big Red Logic Books.

  1. The sales — modest! — of the physical books fluctuate quite a bit. But last month’s best seller was Gödel Without (Too Many) TearsInterestingly, the sales have gone up since I also made that book freely available as a PDF download. Make of that what you will!
  2. The most popular download of the three books (and second most popular download overall) was IFL2, which was downloaded just over a 1000 times. Who knows how it is being received? It is one of the better intro logic books out there, and it certainly beats most of the competition on price! I’ve newly added a page on the front of the PDF version warmly encouraging comments/feedback from readers. We’ll see.
  3. But more popular still was Logic: A Study Guide which was downloaded just over 2000 times. This rate is pretty consistent over the months. Lots of people must be being pointing students to it — but I haven’t much idea who is doing the pointing and where and why. But it does mean I need to continue working on the as-yet-unrevised chapters.
  4. The third most popular download — and this really is puzzling, though again is pretty consistent — is what used to be the Appendix to the old Teach Yourself Logic Guide, which brings together notes on some seventeen of the Big Books on Mathematical Logic (I haven’t updated this for some time).
  5. The next most popular PDF was the second part of the Study Guide (the as-yet-unrevised chapters), closely followed by the Gentle Introduction to categories, downloaded 550 times. As I’ve said before, this really is getting embarrassing; I must take my increasingly stiff and inflexible brain back to the gym and do some category fitness training, so I can revise/finish off that document in a way I don’t feel too ashamed by!
  6. So far, the Logicbites I’ve just been recently writing — the introductory chats to chapters of IFL2 — have hardly been downloaded at all. It is very early days, however, and I’ll have to see in due course whether there is much interest. The plan is for three series of IFL Logicbites, one on the propositional logic chapters (not including the chapters on natural deduction), one on quantification theory (again not including ND), and one on natural deduction. I should finish the first series this week. I’ll then pause to decide whether it is worth writing up more.

Actually, I have rather enjoyed doing the (not-very-challenging!) homework involved in writing those early Logicbites, looking at how others have handled various introductory  themes in elementary logic, and thinking a bit too about how things might be improved in a perhaps-to-be-written IFL3. OK, that’s been procrastinating when I should really have been getting back to revising the Logic Guide and the Gentle Introduction. But it is productively structured procrastination.

One sidetrack I’ve been (re)exploring after a long time, also partly prompted by Jonathan Barnes’s Logical Matters, is Aristotle’s logic — I mean the real thing, not the travesty that you get in logic books like Hurley’s A Concise Introduction to Logic (which of course nowhere discusses what Aristotle cared about, the systematization of his meta logical investigations). It would be good to weave a few such Aristotelian threads into IFL3.

Logical Matters

How did I miss that the second volume of Jonathan Barnes’s papers on ancient philosophy goes by the title Logical Matters? A must read, surely, for Logic Matters!

Better late than never, following a thread that started some days ago when reading Susanne Bobzien’s piece on Frege and the Stoics, I found myself led to a couple of long pieces by Barnes, not easy to get hold of. So now — really rather extravagantly, but lockdown rather reduces the opportunities for other extravagances — his 800 page book of collected essays has arrived on my desk. I’ve already read a couple of hundred pages with real pleasure and considerable enlightenment. It isn’t in fact taking me far from themes I’ve been worrying about, thinking again around and about my intro logic book with a distant third edition in mind.  After all, the ancients — Aristotle, the Stoics (such as we have them), the ancient commentators — were concerned with logical basics. They were wrestling with ideas of consequence, of form, of predication and so on; and thinking through their struggles can’t but help throw some sidelight on modern preoccupations when we (re)turn to basics. For example, I found Barnes’s hundred page paper on ‘Logical form and logical matter’, much of it keeping company with the ancient commentator Alexander of Aphrodisias, genuinely instructive.

Collections of papers like this don’t seem to get reviewed. Do they just fall as dead weights onto the shelves of libraries with generous funding? This one doesn’t even seem to have been made available by OUP in its online “Oxford Scholarship” service. That’s more than a pity. Barnes’s logical papers have been very scattered so need to be brought together like this to be more available; his voice is engaging, many of his topics of considerable interest, his discussions seem insightful (though I’m no classic!); the work collected here surely adds up in a very impressive way. And as I said, it is far from being just of interest to those working specifically on ancient philosophy. Do look it out (if you can persuade your local librarian …).

It is though rather depressing to reflect that this is only one of four similarly sized volumes of collected papers. To be added to an equally impressive sequence of earlier books …

More music for lockdown 3: two concerts from Ivana Gavrić

It’s been often remarked, how odd our experience of time is in lockdown. The days are long; the weeks disappear so quickly. It seems just a few days since I watched a hugely enjoyable concert by the painist Ivana Gavrić playing Grieg, with great warmth and humanity, in the intimate setting of a lovely drawing room. I was about to put up a link where you could subscribe to the archived recording … and it has sadly gone.

Sorry about that. However, all is not lost! For a start, you can still of course get her captivating 2013 Grieg CD (“Everything glows with affection” said the Gramophone). And even better, there are still two more concerts to come in her current online series. You can get details here (where you can buy tickets for the live stream: the concert then becomes available for a while on City Music’s archive). I’m particularly looking forward to the second of these, when Ivana Gavrić will be playing early Schubert and Janacek — I so admire her earlier recording of the Janacek, which made me fall in love with the music, and her only recording of Schubert so far is really very fine too. Two forthcoming concerts to relish, then.

More logicbites

There are now 10 logicbites, very much intended for students. They introduce Chapters 1 to 10 of IFL, varying from one page to five, often quoting from other people’s textbooks (and sometimes criticizing them!).

I’ve found it surprisingly fun to go back, in most cases after many years, looking at how others have handled introductory topics. My book is very far from perfect, and needs a third edition (yes, really); but I can see why I was originally moved to write it, back in the day!

More music for lockdown 2: Chiaroscuro Quartet play more Haydn

In these troubled times, I do find Haydn’s music a particular delight and solace (I’m surely not alone in this!). Particularly the inexhaustible quartets. Four years ago, we had two outstanding CDs of the Op. 20 quartets from the Chiaroscuro Quartet, on gut strings with what has become the quartet’s distinctive and addictive sound. And then last year, to equal acclaim, they released a recording of the first three of the Op. 76 quartets. Now we have the remaining three quartets. This has already been Radio 3’s new release of the week. It really is extraordinarily fine. All the Chiaroscuro Quartet’s virtues are here. Appropriately to their name, all their constrasts of light and shade, now exuberant, now subtly serious, passionate and then playful again, make for quite wonderful listening. Indisputably great music played by what is now an indisputably great quartet.

Frege, a Stoic logician?

I’m a couple of weeks off the pace. This has been making a bit of a splash — Susanne Bobzien’s just-published fifty-page piece ‘Frege plagiarized the Stoics’ (the book of lectures in which it is published is available open access here).

The headline claim is that Frege had closely studied the 95 page chapter on Stoic logic in the first volume of Carl Prantl’s monumental four-volume Geschichte der Logik im Abendland (History of Western Logic), published in 1855. While Prantl himself was pretty dismissive of the Stoics, he gives most of the available sources: and Bobzien traces out what she counts as over a hundred places where, she claims, Frege’s own doctrines and their mode of presentation very closely follow unacknowledged Stoic originals. You don’t have to tackle the whole paper to get the broad message: the opening pages of Bobzien’s paper before she gets down to the nitty-gritty details are already a fascinating read.

Although the thought that there are some parallels between Frege and the Stoics is an old one, Bobzien’s thesis is at a quite different level, giving multiple passage-by-passage parallels on a range of topics. I must say I found it all rather startling. But I’m no historian. Martin Lenz is, and here’s his reaction (“groundbreaking”). It might be a while before the dust settles.

More music for lockdown 1: La Nuova Musica with Lucy Crowe

Lucy Crowe in stunning voice, singing Purcell’s The Plaint “Oh, oh let me weep”. This is from a concert “FolkBaroque” from the Baroque at the Edge series. And it very worthwhile paying the extremely modest subscription charge to view and listen to the whole concert (the rest of the programme is more cheeringly upbeat! — but this for me is the quite extraordinary highpoint).

Not the podcasts

I was so tempted by the idea of recording podcasts to accompany IFL. After all, that is a longish book — well over 400 pages, with 42 chapters. There is a lot of signposting as we go through.  But I thought that some student readers might still appreciate a series of orientating chats, giving relaxed introductions to some main topics, which could be listened to over a coffee before tackling chapters from the book. 

But on second thoughts podcasts were of course a dumb idea. We very soon have to start juggling with symbols in logic — and how can we do that in a podcast, without being able to use a blackboard or whatever? A bit of experimentation suggested that the audio format wasn’t going to work very well (even if I included instructions like “look at page 123”). So I’m going to compromise. Yes, we want something that is as relatively informal as a podcast, which is still relaxed, short and snappy. But we also want to be able to use some symbols, or eventually state theorems which you might need to look at twice to understand; so we need  something bite-sized but text-based. Call the compromise a ‘logicbite’ — with an admiring nod to that wonderful series of philosophybites podcasts.

I’ve made a start, and the first five seven logicbites are now online here. They’ve developed in a way I didn’t really plan or predict — but rather than summarize my own words in my own words, I’ve found myself giving quotes (sometimes extensive ones) from other textbook authors, introducing key ideas in their wordsIt is always good for students to hear more than once voice.

And if I quibble with the quoted authors (especially in Logicbite 4, at some length), that’s not because I want to be particularly captious. Rather it is good for students to see it isn’t easy to get things spot on. We want to encourage students to read even logic texts — including mine! — with a sharply critical eye. Anyway, I hope some will find the logicbites useful. (At the moment IFL is being downloaded over a thousand times a month, so I guess some students out there are indeed being directed to it.)

Properties, propositions, and the concept horse

Having said that I needed to focus, I’ve immediately found myself distracted by reading Robert Trueman’s new book Properties and Propositions, just published by CUP.

I’ve three excuses. First, I’ve always been gripped by Frege’s claim that the concept horse is not a concept (I encountered this the very first year I was doing philosophy as a student, and vividly remember all those years ago a heated argument with a friend in a corridor of the UL, trying to persuade them that there really was a genuine issue here!).  And it is central to Rob’s project to extract what he sees as the truth underlying Frege’s seemingly paradoxical formulation.  Second, it’s not that much of a distraction to be looking at this book; its subtitle is ‘The Metaphysics of Higher Order Logic’ and the next bit I want to update in the Study Guide is the section on second-order logic. So I’ve just been thinking around and about related matters. Third and not least, I know Rob from the days just before retirement, when he was a lively and engaging presence among the logic-minded Cambridge grad students. So it is very good to see that ideas which he was starting working on then have come to fruition.

The headline news is Rob defends a view he calls Fregean realism (though, as he frankly acknowledges, it could almost equally well be called Fregean nominalism). This is a theory about properties, driven by what he takes to be Frege’s insight that properties (‘concepts’ in Frege’s unusual usage) are not objects. Rob presses the Fregean line in a strong form, arguing that is nonsense to say that a property is an object. “Properties and objects are … incomparable: we have a way of saying things about objects, and a way of saying things about properties, but these two ways cannot be mixed and matched.” So what are properties? On Rob’s view,  properties are nothing but the satisfaction conditions of predicates. Stress the ‘are’ and the view has a sort-of-realist flavour, stress the ‘nothing but’ (though those are my words) and the view has a sort-of-nominalist flavour. Though even talk of satisfaction conditions can be misleading: “Fregean realists must … acknowledge that, strictly speaking, it is misleading to call the referents of predicates ‘properties’, or ‘satisfaction conditions’, and come up with something better” (which indeed Rob aims to do). We are, in Tractarian style, crashing up against the limits of what can be said.

There’s a co-ordinating theory of propositions too: if properties are (if we are allowed to speak this way) satisfaction conditions, propositions are truth conditions, which Rob also identifies with states of affairs. I said things are getting Tractarian! And he ends up with an  identity theory of truth, the theory that true propositions are identical to obtaining states of affairs.

I was going to say ‘this is heady stuff’ — but that would be the wrong word, as it is very deflationary in spirit: we are certainly in a different ballpark from those recent metaphysicians who have made play with a substantial metaphysics of properties.  And I’m sympathetic to this sort of deflationary project.  Anyway, if wrestling with ideas which have their roots in Frege, the Tractatus, and Ramsey is your thing, then Rob’s invigorating book is to be warmly recommended. It’s a challenging read in the good sense of that it might disturb some received ideas (though perhaps not so much if you have thought carefully about your Dummett on Frege). But it is not challenging in the bad sense of being hard going: it is tightly focused, written in shortish chapters with model clarity. Indeed, I found that it zips along, and read most of the book in an enjoyable day. And I’ll want to return to work through parts of it more carefully.

I’ll not say more now. Except take as read my grumble about the absurd prices that CUP are now charging for print-on-demand hardback books like this one. But all the same, you should make sure your library gets a copy (or gets the online version via the Cambridge Core system).


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