Books

Three books

“God has all possible perfections.” Ah yes, I would say sagely (in first-year supervisions of yesteryear), so He has perfect conductivity, perfect insulation, 20/20 eyesight and a first-class honours in social anthropology …

The joke, of course, is Michael Frayn’s. And it is very good to see a new selection of his old pieces for the Guardian and Observer just published, called simply Collected Columns. There’s lots more lovely philosophy-by-jokes scattered around (didn’t Wittgenstein say to Norman Malcolm that you could write a philosophy book containing just jokes?). Perhaps my all-time favourite remains ‘The monolithic view of mirrors’ about the debate in the Carthaginian Monolithic Church on the vexed question of the use of rear-view mirrors. After all

looking backwards while travelling forwards is categorically and explicitly forbidden by God, since it was for doing this that He visited instant fossilisation on Lot’s wife. In this context ‘looking back’ has always been interpreted as frustrating the natural forward gaze of the traveller, whether by turning the head (visus interruptus) or by the imposition of a mechanical device such as a mirror. …

Such pieces — some of them forty years old now — still explode theological bollocks wonderfully effectively as well as being exceedingly funny.

So I’ve been rereading Frayn over the last few days. I also finished Melvin Fitting’s book, which I think is terrific, though I’ll want to reread it more carefully before writing more of a review here. (For those wondering about getting it/reading it, let me just say that although it takes little for granted, it is quite compressed and is perhaps best for readers with a reasonable amount of mathematical sophistication — perhaps one step up, then, from e.g. Smullyan’s Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems and two steps up from my book).

And talking of my book, Keith Frankish’s posted comment helped wonderfully in recovering my sense of proportion about that silly mistake about ACA0! Thanks!

Forthcoming book of interviews on philosophy of mathematics

I stumbled across a link to this, announcing a forthcoming book Philosophy of Mathematics, 5 Questions, in which a pretty impressive line-up of people (from Jeremy Avigad, Steve Awodey, John L. Bell alphabetically through to Philip Welch, Crispin Wright, and Edward N. Zalta) respond to five questions about the philosophy of mathematics. Some quite extended excerpts from answers are available on the website, and they indicate that the questions posed were these: “1. Why were you initially drawn to the foundations of mathematics and/or the philosophy of mathematics? 2. What examples from your work (or the work of others) illustrate the use of mathematics for philosophy? 3. What is the proper role of philosophy of mathematics in relation to logic, foundations of mathematics, the traditional core areas of mathematics, and science? 4. What do you consider the most neglected topics and/or contributions in late 20th century philosophy of mathematics? 5. What are the most important open problems in the philosophy of mathematics and what are the prospects for progress?” Some authors seem to have answered point by point, others written reflecting more generally. It looks as if the result will be very readable and will provide an interesting snap-shot of the state of the philosophy of mathematics at the moment.

The book is announced for October: no price seems to be given, though previous books in the series have been very inexpensive.

Hurry, hurry, while stocks last …

A knock on my office door an hour ago, and the porter brought in two boxes, with half a dozen pre-publication copies each of the hardback and the paperback of my Gödel book.

It looks terrific. Even though I did the LaTeX typesetting, I’m happily surprised by the look of the pages (they are symbol-heavy large format pages in small print, yet they don’t seem off-puttingly dense).

As for content, I’ve learnt from experience that it’s best just to glance proudly at a new book and then put it on the shelf for a few months — for if you start reading, you instantly spot things you don’t like, things that could have been put better, not to mention the inevitable typos. But of course, the content is mostly wonderful … so hurry, hurry to your bookshop or to Amazon and order a copy right now.

Forthcoming attractions …

Well, having perhaps rather foolishly said I was thinking about blogging on the Absolute Generality collection edited by Agustin Rayo and Gabriel Uzquiano, I’ve been asked to review it for the Bulletin of Symbolic Logic. So that decides the matter: it is unrestricted quantification, indefinite extensibility, and similar attractions next! Oh what fun …

You can get a good idea of what is in the collection be reading the introduction here. And I’ll start commenting paper by paper next week — starting with Kit Fine’s paper — as a kind of warm up to reviewing the book “properly” for BSL. All comments as we go along will of course be very welcome!

Two books

Church’s Thesis After 70 Years edited by Adam Olszewski, Jan Wolenski and Robert Janusz looks as if it might be a very useful collection. The bad news is that the hard copy is a steep 129 Euros. But the good news is that you can download a PDF version for just 22.50 Euros. Even better, although the publishers’ site says “Windows only”, that actually isn’t true as I quickly discovered. Buy it and then send in your Adobe reader digital ID and you’ll be sent a version that runs on your Mac. Great. Surely an unmissable bargain!

A tiny grumble though. Why do editors of collections such as this one too often take the easy way out and just print pieces in the alphabetical order of the authors’ names? They know their way around the contributions, and know what a sensible reading order would look like ….

My Introduction to Formal Logic is perhaps not quite so terrific. But it has its moments, and those who have used it quite like it. But the sales figures I got this morning aren’t very hot. There would seem to be two options. Either sigh, wish I’d listened to the wise advice not to bother to write Yet Another Logic Book for an overcrowded market, and let it go. Or try to persuade CUP to have a relaunch with a revised improved edition two or three years hence. Of course, the former is the wise move! But the proud parent would inevitably like to see the tottering toddler do better …

On Opera

A number of collections of Bernard Williams’s papers have been put together posthumously. But surely the best has to be the latest, the newly published On Opera which collects together a number of pieces he wrote for various scattered occasions. The four short pieces on Mozart, in particular, are simply wonderful: insightful, subtle, humane, passionate in their commitment to the idea that the best opera is worthy of our fullest engagement and of serious critical response. Read them.

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