From time to time, I receive email that might be of interest to Lawrentians.
Here is a selection.
Posted October 17, 2006
Interlocutor: Sewanee Philosophical Review/
is pleased to announce its most recent volume and a call for high
quality undergraduate essays for its upcoming volume.
Please send this announcement to students who might have an interest in
Our call for essays and instructions for submissions can be viewed at
The most recent volume is available at
If you or your students have questions, please feel free to contact me.
Professor and Chair, Philosophy
The University of the South
735 University Avenue
Sewanee, TN 37375
Posted October 17, 2006
Truth and Reality
Hosted by the Philosophy Department, University of Otago, Dunedin,
8-12 January 2007
Michael Devitt (CUNY)
D. H. Mellor (Cambridge)
John Heil (Washington University at St Louis)
JC Beall (Connecticut), David Chalmers (ANU), Mark Colyvan (Sydney),
John Fox (La Trobe), Frank Jackson (ANU), Fred Kroon (Auckland),
Robert Nola (Auckland), Greg Restall (Melbourne), J.J.C. Smart (Monash),
Michael Smith (Princeton), Paul Snowdon (UCL), Dan Stoljar (ANU),
Jamie Whyte (Author of Crimes Against Logic)
Questions about the nature of truth are as old as philosophy itself.
Recently, however, there has been a resurgence of interest in issues
surrounding the relationship between truth and the world. What is
truth? On the one hand, it seems obvious that it is something that
applies to the things we think and say. Many of our beliefs about
the world, and sentences describing it are, we think, true. On the
other hand, it seems intimately connected with the world we think
and speak about, for it is in virtue of the way the world is that
many of our sentences and beliefs are true. This conference will
investigate this relationship between truth and reality. Some of the
topics covered may include: truthmakers, realism and anti-realism,
correspondence theories of truth, deflationism and truth in ethics.
The conference will be a tribute to Professor Alan Musgrave, who has
led the Otago Philosophy Department for the last 36 years. Alan has
been a significant contributor to the philosophical literature on
the issues which form the focus of this conference.
Venue: Burns Building, University of Otago
The registration form is available to download from the conference
Further information regarding the conference programme and
accommodation will be posted on the website shortly.
Conference organiser: Heather Dyke (email@example.com)
About the Location
Dunedin is situated on the beautiful South Island of New Zealand
approximately 360km south of Christchurch. It is a 3-4 hour drive
from the lakes, mountains and vineyards of Central Otago. January is
mid-summer in New Zealand, so the conference will offer Northern
Hemisphere philosophers a welcome respite from the rigours of their
winter. For more information visit the following websites:
Dr Heather Dyke, Department of Philosophy, University of Otago, P.O
Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand
Tel: +64-3-479 8727
Fax: +64-3-479 5035
Posted January 20, 2006
This Week on the Guerrilla Radio Show! (Tuesday,
Live Webcast- GMT 12:00 am on Wednesday, 01.18.06
Philosophy of Science 101
What is the philosophy of science? What is it that
philosophers of science do? What sort of issues is the
philosophy of science interested in investigating? What is
the relationship between science and the philosophy of
science? How do philosophers add to the work of scientists?
Do scientists need philosophers of science? Can the
structure and history of science tell us anything about how
to do philosophy? What scientific fields ought to be studied
more by philosophers of science? Be sure and join the GRS
crew and special guest Christopher Smeenk, Ph.D. (University
of California, Los Angeles) for this important discussion!
The GRS airs on Tuesday nights 7:00-8:00 PM (PST) on KCSB
91.9 FM (Santa Barbara, CA) or Live on the World Wide Web
(via web-cast) at www.kcsb.org/webcast.
On Air Calls: 1 (805) 893-2424
Email comments: firstname.lastname@example.org
GRS PodCast Channel:
PLEASE DISTRIBUTE THIS ANNOUNCEMENT TO ANYONE INTERESTED IN
Dear Philosophy Enthusiasts, There’s a brand new philosophy
talk show assaulting the radio airwaves! The Guerrilla
Radio Show is the only Cutting Edge Philosophy Talk Show
of its kind. Just imagine the humor and wit of John
Stewart’s Daily Show or HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher
combined with the informative content of 60 Minutes or CNN’s
Crossfire. Now imagine a show that debates and discusses
foundational issues (e.g. What is real? What is knowledge?
How should we determine right and wrong? etc.) with logical
clarity and keen philosophical acumen. Welcome to the
Guerrilla Radio Show!
Committed to Waging War Against Idiocy and
Bringing Philosophy to the Masses, the Guerrilla Radio
Show offers listeners a fresh, no-nonsense perspective on
life and the world we live in. The show is educational,
exciting, cutting-edge and jam-packed with controversial
issues, expert guest opinions, live caller interviews and
enough wit and sarcasm to kill a horse! With a format like
that, the Guerrilla Radio Show is sure to make a forceful
impact on the fragile radio airwaves of America.
The Guerrilla Radio Show is unique, informative and wildly
entertaining. A philosophy talk show doesn’t have to be
stuffy, boring or incapable of attracting younger audiences.
Cool music, controversial topics and hilarious hosts make
the Guerrilla Radio Show one of the hottest tickets this
year... its Philosophy with a Sense of Humor. If
you’re interested in philosophy, you can’t afford to miss
this the Guerrilla Radio Show!
The Guerrilla Radio Show can be heard live on KCSB 91.9 FM
(Los Angeles to Sacramento) or via World Wide Web-cast (http://www.kcsb.org)
every Tuesday night from 7:00-8:00 PM (Pacific Standard
Time). You can also listen to archived episodes of the show
by logging on to the Guerrilla Radio Show’s website @
Posted November 18, 2005
Sewanee Philosophical Review is
pleased to announce its most recent volume and a call for high
quality undergraduate essays for its upcoming volume.
Please send this announcement to students who might have an
interest in this opportunity.
Our call for essays and instructions for submissions can be
The most recent volumes is available at
If you or your students have questions, please feel free to
Posted September 14, 2005
Submit to the Yale
Philosophy Review: An Undergraduate Publication!
The Yale Philosophy Review
is a bi-annual undergraduate journal at Yale University that
showcases the best and most original of philosophic thought
by undergraduate students, worldwide. The goal of the Review
is to promote philosophic discourse of the highest standard,
and to bring together a community of young philosophers in
both the United States and abroad. Each issue contains a
selection of essays on a broad range of philosophic topics,
as well as book reviews and interviews of philosophic
For those who are university professors or graduate
students, please pass this information on to your
undergraduate students! For those who are undergraduates,
you can send submissions as attached email files to this
address or to
Please visit our website!
Book Reviews and Interviews Submission. If you
are interested in writing a book review or an interview for
The Yale Philosophy Review, please email the editors
with a proposed book (published within the last twelve
months) or interviewee. Final publication of book reviews
and interviews is at the discretion of the Editors.
Paper and Essay Submission. Papers should be
10-20 double-spaced pages in MLA format. Papers must be the
original work of the author, with all sources and references
While we do not take previously published papers, we do
accept simultaneous submissions, with the expectation that
we will be informed immediately if the paper is being
Please include a cover page with the following information:
Name, University or College, Major or
Degree, Year of expected graduation, Email,
Phone number, and Address. Do not include
any personal information on the paper itself. Please
include a short (500 word max.) abstract at the beginning of
Deadline and Submission Information. All
submissions for the Spring 2005 issue must be postmarked or
emailed by February 1, 2006.
Yale Philosophy Review
109 Church St. #309
New Haven, CT, 06510, USA.
Please send your submission as a Microsoft Word or Adobe
PDF formatted attachment to
Questions? Email the Editors at
The British Undergraduate Philosophy
Society is launching a new online philosophy discussion
group - Provocations Online - and all undergraduate-level
philosophers are invited to join in.
Provocations Online will offer two new topics every month
for open debate via our email discussion list BUPS-DIS. This
month's discussions will be
- The Status of Jacques Derrida's Philosophy
- The Incompatibility of Determinism and Responsibility
The format of the discussion is simple. The current
- Name the topic or question they are particularly
- Provide a brief summary of the different positions in the
- Give their own view on the subject
The topic is then open for discussion and reply by all list
Discussion will continue as long as people feel they have
something to add, and a new topic will be introduced every
The first provocation starts in a few days - why not swing
by our website and sign up to catch the action? If you know
anyone who might also enjoy our online discussions, please
let them know!
All undergrad-level philosophers welcome!
Details of June Discussions:
Starting Wed 8th June: 'The status of Jacques Derrida's
Philosophy' - Andrew Stephenson (Cardiff University)
'Derrida has repeatedly been named (against his own explicit
wishes) as the founder and foremost practitioner of
deconstruction - a continental school of philosophy with
American (and therefore analytic) truncations that focuses
on the close readings of texts, highlighting problems with
language and logic (such as metaphor and bivalence
respectively), authorial intent, and ultimately with all
aspects of binary oppositions (subject/object,
present/absent, inside/outside etc.). With his prolific
output, Derrida has been loved and reviled, but whatever
your relationship with him, he was one of the most
important, challenging, interesting and rewarding figures of
the history of Western philosophy.'
Starting Wed 22nd June: 'The Incompatibility of Determinism
and Responsibility' - Robert Charleston (Open University)
'Intuitively it seems that moral responsibility and
determinism must clash. If there are things - genetic
programming, cultural attitudes, physical events - which
cause us to act in a certain way, it seems we did not choose
that act. To hold somebody morally responsible for something
they did not choose seems unreasonable. So it seems that
determinism - the idea that all events have such causes -
must deny that we can be morally responsible for anything we
do. But can this intuitive problem be resolved
philosophically? Can determinism and responsibility be
reconciled? Can indeterminism deliver responsibility any
better than determinism? Are we perhaps looking at these
terms in the wrong way?'
If you would like to be a provoker in July or August, please
drop us a line at: email@example.com
If you would like to know more about the British
Undergraduate Philosophy Society, please visit our website:
See you on the list!
The BUPS Committee.
Paul Edwards (1923 – 2004)
Dr. Paul Edwards died at his
expansive Apthorpe Apartments, 79th Street and Broadway,
Manhattan, some time between 8:30 pm on Wednesday (8 Dec 2004)
and Thursday (9 Dec 2004), according to an e-mail from his aide
Alek Shlahet to Tim Madigan.
On Friday, the book-filled apartment of the editor of The
Encyclopedia of Philosophy and recent member of the New School
University faculty was sealed by the police. The body was
removed to the coroner's office, it is to be cremated, and
eventually friends will be invited to a ceremony at which the
cremains will be thrown, as was his wish, into the Hudson River.
Tim Madigan and I upon several occasions visited Paul, and
during the Thanksgiving weekend Tim had a long conversation with
him, one that always ended with a scrambled eggs meal at a diner
within walking distance.
Paul had complained about his health for decades, and during the
last year or so his teeth gave him big problems.
Alek has assured us that he has complete files on Paul's "almost
complete" (Paul's words) final book, one probably to be titled
God and the Philosophers. Tim has helped in the past and both of
us have seen the boxes filled with chapters of material.
As of Sunday, 12 Dec 2004), no obituaries have appeared,
possibly because The New York Times staff has been unable to
locate the executor of the estate. That staff, however, has been
supplied by us with the executor's name. Unfortunately,
photographs have always been difficult to find because Paul
disliked being photographed. I took one photo surreptitiously
one day several years ago in his Intro to Philosophy course at
New School University.
Paul was a proud member of FANNY (Freethinking Activist
Non-believing New Yorkers).
For further details, and a rare photo of Paul, see
Warren Allen Smith
Philosopher Nozick dies at 63
University professor was major intellectual figure of 20th
|Professor Robert Nozick
University Professor Robert Nozick, one of the late 20th century's
most influential thinkers, died on the morning of Jan. 23 at the age
of 63. He had been diagnosed with stomach cancer in 1994.
Nozick, known for his wide-ranging intellect and engaging style as
both writer and teacher, had taught a course on the Russian Revolution
during the fall semester and was planning to teach again in the
spring. His last major book, "Invariances: The Structure of the
Objective World," was published by Harvard University Press in October
According to Alan Dershowitz, the Felix Frankfurter Professor of
Law and a longtime friend, Nozick had been talking with colleagues and
critiquing their work until a week before his death.
"His mind remained brilliant and sharp to the very end," Dershowitz
He added that Nozick was "constantly probing, always learning new
subjects. He was a University Professor in the best sense of the term.
He taught everybody in every discipline. He was a wonderful teacher,
constantly rethinking his own views and sharing his new ideas with
students and colleagues. His unique philosophy has influenced
generations of readers and will continue to influence people for
generations to come."
Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers said of Nozick's passing, "I
was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Robert Nozick. Harvard
and the entire world of ideas have lost a brilliant and provocative
scholar, profoundly influential within his own field of philosophy and
well beyond. All of us will greatly miss his lively mind and spirited
presence, but his ideas and example will continue to enrich us for
years to come."
Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Jeremy R. Knowles said,
"Bob Nozick was a luminous and wide-ranging philosopher who engaged
students and colleagues from across the University and beyond. The
loss to philosophy and to Harvard is grievous."
Philosophy Department Chair Christine Korsgaard described Nozick as
"a brilliant and fearless thinker, very fast on his feet in
discussion, and apparently interested in everything. Both in his
teaching and in his writing, he did not stay within the confines of
any traditional field, but rather followed his interests into many
areas of philosophy. His works throw light on a broad range of
philosophical issues, and on their connection with other disciplines.
The courage with which he faced the last years of illness, and the
irrepressible energy with which he continued to work, made a very deep
impression on all of us."
Nozick's controversial and challenging views gained him
considerable attention and influence in the world beyond the academy.
His first book, "Anarchy, State, and Utopia" (1974), transformed
him from a young philosophy professor known only within his profession
to the reluctant theoretician of a national political movement.
He wrote the book as a critique of "Theory of Justice" (1971), by
his Harvard colleague John Rawls, the James Bryant Conant University
Professor Emeritus. Rawls' book provided a philosophical
underpinning for the bureaucratic welfare state, a methodically
reasoned argument for why it was right for the state to redistribute
wealth in order to help the poor and disadvantaged.
Nozick's book argued that the rights of the individual are primary
and that nothing more than a minimal state - sufficient to protect
against violence and theft, and to ensure the enforcement of contracts
- is justified. "Anarchy, State, and Utopia" won the National Book
Award and was named by The Times Literary Supplement as one of "The
Hundred Most Influential Books Since the War."
A former member of the radical left who was converted to a
libertarian perspective as a graduate student, largely through his
reading of conservative economists Friedrich Hayek and Milton
Friedman, Nozick was never comfortable with his putative status as an
ideologue of the right.
In a 1978 article in The New York Times Magazine he said that
"right-wing people like the pro-free-market argument, but don't like
the arguments for individual liberty in cases like gay rights -
although I view them as an interconnecting whole. ..."
Whether they agreed or disagreed with the political implication of
the book, critics were nearly unanimous in their appreciation for
Nozick's lively, accessible writing style. In a discipline known for
arduous writing, Nozick's approach was hailed as a breath of fresh
He explained his approach in the article cited above: "It is as
though what philosophers want is a way of saying something that will
leave the person they're talking to no escape. Well, why should they
be bludgeoning people like that? It's not a nice way to behave."
Despite the notoriety and influence that his first book brought
him, Nozick moved on to explore very different territory in his second
book, "Philosophical Explanations" (1981). This need to be
intellectually on the move at all times characterized his career. He
once told an interviewer, "I didn't want to spend my life writing 'The
Son of Anarchy, State, and Utopia.'"
In "Philosophical Explanations," Nozick took on subjects that many
academic philosophers had dismissed as irrelevant or meaningless, such
as free will versus determinism and the nature of subjective
experience, and why there is something rather than nothing. In dealing
with these questions, he rejected the idea of strict philosophical
proof, adopting instead a notion of philosophical pluralism.
"There are various philosophical views, mutually incompatible,
which cannot be dismissed or simply rejected," he wrote in
"Philosophical Explanations." "Philosophy's output is the basketful of
these admissible views, all together." Nozick suggested that this
basketful of views could be ordered according to criteria of coherence
and adequacy and that even second- and third-ranked views might offer
valuable truths and insights.
Nozick continued to develop his theory of philosophical pluralism
in his next book, "The Examined Life" (1989), an exploration of the
individual's relation to reality that, once again, emphasized
explanation rather than proof.
In his book, "The Nature of Rationality" (1995), Nozick asked what
function principles serve in our daily life and why we don't simply
act on whim or out of self-interest. "Socratic Puzzles" (1997) was a
collection of essays, articles, and reviews, plus several examples of
Nozick's philosophical short fiction.
His next work, "Invariances: The Structure of the Objective World,"
(2001) looks at the nature of truth and objectivity and examines the
function of subjective consciousness in an objective world. It also
scrutinizes truth in ethics and discusses whether truth in general is
relative to culture and social factors.
Nozick's teaching followed the same lively, unorthodox,
heterogeneous pattern as his writing. With one exception, he never
taught the same course twice. The exception was "The Best Things in
Life," which he presented in 1982 and '83, attempting to derive from
the class discussion a general theory of values. The course
description called it an exploration of "the nature and value of those
things deemed best, such as friendship, love, intellectual
understanding, sexual pleasure, achievement, adventure, play, luxury,
fame, power, enlightenment, and ice cream."
Speaking without notes, Nozick would pace restlessly back and
forth, an ever-present can of Tab in his hand, drawing his students
into a free-ranging discussion of the topic at hand.
He once defended his "thinking out loud" approach by comparing it
with the more traditional method of giving students finished views of
the great philosophical ideas.
"Presenting a completely polished and worked-out view doesn't give
students a feel for what it's like to do original work in philosophy
and to see it happen, to catch on to doing it."
He also used his teaching as a way of working out his ideas, often
leading to views that he would later present in book form. "If
somebody wants to know what I'm going to do next, what they ought to
do is keep an eye on the Harvard course catalogue," he once told an
Nozick, who grew up in Brooklyn and attended public school there,
came to philosophy via a paperback version of Plato's "Republic,"
which he found intellectually thrilling. Nozick described the
experience in his 1989 book, "The Examined Life" - "When I was 15
years old, or 16, I carried around on the streets of Brooklyn a
paperback copy of Plato's ‘Republic'; front cover facing outward. I
had read only some of it and understood less, but I was excited by it
and knew it was something wonderful."
Nozick obtained an A.B. degree from Columbia College in 1959, and
M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Princeton in 1961 and 1963, respectively.
After stints at Princeton and the Rockefeller University, Nozick came
to Harvard as a full professor in 1969, at the age of 30. He became
Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of Philosophy in 1985 and in 1998 was
named the Joseph Pellegrino University Professor.
Nozick was the recipient of many awards and honors, among them the
Presidential Citation from the American Psychological Association in
1998, which described him as "one of the most brilliant and original
Nozick was also a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and
Sciences, a member of the Council of Scholars of the Library of
Congress, a corresponding fellow of the British Academy, and a senior
fellow of the Society of Fellows at Harvard. He served as the
president of the American Philosophical Association's Eastern Division
from 1997 to 1998, was a Christensen visiting fellow at St.
Catherine's College, Oxford University, 1997, and a cultural adviser
to the U.S. Delegation to the UNESCO Conference on World Cultural
Policy in 1982.
In the spring of 1997, he delivered the six John Locke Lectures at
Oxford University. He held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation,
the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities,
and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences.
He is survived by his wife, Gjertrud Schnackenberg, and his two
children, Emily Sarah Nozick and David Joshua Nozick.
Nozick will be buried in a private ceremony. A memorial service is
being planned for sometime in February.
David Lewis, Philosopher And Metaphysician, Dies at 60
(By Sarah Boxer, NYT)
"David Lewis, Philosopher And Metaphysician, Dies at 60 (By Sarah
Boxer, NYT). David Kellogg Lewis, a metaphysician and a philosopher of
mind, language and logic at Princeton University, died on Sunday at
his home in Princeton, N.J. He was 60. The cause was heart failure,
Princeton University said. Mr. Lewis was once dubbed "a mad-dog modal
realist" for his idea that any logically possible world you can think
of actually exists. He believed, for instance, that there was a world
with talking donkeys. Mark Johnston, the chairman of Princeton's
philosophy department, called Mr. Lewis "the greatest systematic
metaphysician since Gottfried Leibniz." And Alex Oliver, reviewing one
of Mr. Lewis's recent books, "Papers in Metaphysics and Epistemology,"
in The Times Literary Supplement of London, said he was "the leading
metaphysician at the start of this century, head and beard above his
contemporaries." Others considered Mr. Lewis's philosophy pure
nonsense, a twisting of ordinary language. Mr. Lewis wrote
"Convention: A Philosophical Study" (1969), which won the Matchette
Prize in Philosophy for scholars under 40; "Counterfactuals" (1973);
"On the Plurality of Worlds" (1986); "Parts of Classes" (1991); and
many papers. In "Counterfactuals," he introduced his curious turn on
the idea of possible worlds, explored by Saul Kripke and before that
by the pre-Socratic philosopher Parmenides: "I believe, and so do you,
that things could have been different in countless ways. But what does
this mean? Ordinary language permits the paraphrase: there are many
ways things could have been besides the way they actually are. I
believe that things could have been different in countless ways; I
believe permissible paraphrases of what I believe; taking the
paraphrase at its face value, I therefore believe in the existence of
entities that might be called `ways things could have been.' I prefer
to call them `possible worlds.'" In "On the Plurality of Worlds," Mr.
Lewis argued that the actual world is just one among an infinite
number of worlds, each one equally real. This view comported well with
the "many worlds" interpretation of quantum mechanics. But some
philosophers argued that Mr. Lewis was simply misusing the word
"real." Mr. Lewis was also considered by some philosophers a
Meinongian, a follower of Alexius Meinong, who believed that there
were things that had being but not existence. Mr. Lewis's views of
possible worlds often led to talk about the reality of Conan the
Barbarian, Middle Earth and the planets depicted in "Star Trek"
episodes. They also evoked some skepticism. In an article this year
titled "Multiverses and Blackberries" in The Skeptical Inquirer,
Martin Gardner wrote, "Lewis seriously maintains that every logically
possible universe — that is, one with no logical contradictions such
as square circles — is somewhere out there." This view, he added, goes
back to Leibniz's idea "that God considered all logically possible
worlds, then created the one he deemed best for his purposes." The
"mad multiverse" espoused by Mr. Lewis, Mr. Gardner wrote, is the
stuff of fiction, including Larry Nivens's 1969 story "All the Myriad
Ways"; Frederick Pohl's 1986 novel, "The Coming of the Quantum Cats";
and Jorge Luis Borges's story "The Garden of Forking Paths." But, Mr.
Gardner said, it had no business in the philosophy of science. Born in
Oberlin, Ohio, on Sept. 28, 1941, Mr. Lewis was educated at Swarthmore
College, Oxford University and Harvard, where he earned his doctorate,
under the supervision of W. V. Quine, in 1967. He taught philosophy at
U.C.L.A. from 1966 to 1970, and then at Princeton University, where he
became the Class of 1943 University Professor of Philosophy. He was a
fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and received
honorary degrees from the University of York and Cambridge University,
in England. Mr. Lewis, who loved Australia, also got an honorary
degree from the University of Melbourne and was an honorary fellow of
the Australian Academy of the Humanities. He is survived by his wife,
Stephanie; a brother, Donald; and a sister, Ellen. Paul Benacerraf,
the James McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy
at Princeton, said Mr. Lewis loved riding trains. "He was a railroad
buff; he had elaborate model trains," he said. Mr. Lewis would often
hop on a train in the morning and spend the entire day on the rails,
traveling to other worlds and back again."
"To the Editor [of the NYT]: We strongly disagree with your Oct. 20
obituary's characterization of the philosopher David Kellogg Lewis of
Princeton University. You mention his views about "possible worlds,"
but you would never know from your obituary that most of his work was
independent of these views. You don't have to believe in possible
worlds to accept his seminal treatment of linguistic convention, his
version of materialism in the philosophy of mind, his contribution to
the role of probability in the natural sciences, his ingenious theory
of personal identity over time or his account of the compatibility of
free will and determinism. In these domains, as in many others, Mr.
Lewis's work has not just been influential. It has set the agenda for
recent work in philosophy. MARK JOHNSTON -- GIDEON ROSEN -- Princeton,
N.J., Oct. 23, 2001. The writers are, respectively, chairman and
associate professor in the philosophy department, Princeton
"Princeton philosopher who formulated ground-breaking theories on
everything from language to identity to alternative worlds. Jane
O'Grady. Guardian. Parallel universes and other possible worlds are
currently much in vogue, as evinced by the films Sliding Doors and
Possible Worlds. In science, these intriguing intuitions assume rigour
through the many-worlds theory of quantum mechanics, and in philosophy
through the possible-worlds theories of the Princeton professor David
Lewis, who has died, aged 60, of complications from diabetes. Lewis is
most celebrated for his "modal realism", a theory which argues that
possible worlds are not just a concept for explaining possibility and
necessity, but as real as our own universe. He also produced
outstandingly innovative theories on scientific laws, chance,
probability, causation, the identity and functionalist theories of
mind, (linguistic) convention and a vast range of other issues.
Together, his ideas in different areas form a grand, all-embracing
theory, and to his many devotees he ranks as one of the great
metaphysicians in this, or perhaps any, era. Born in Oberlin, Ohio,
Lewis was an undergraduate at Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania,
initially in chemistry."
"While spending a term at Oxford, he attended lectures by Gilbert
Ryle, who had disputed the existence of the mind in his controversial
book, The Concept Of Mind, and became so enthused that he changed to
philosophy on returning to the US."
"After graduating in 1964, Lewis took a PhD at Harvard under the
great Willard van Orman Quine (obituary, December 30 2000). Even as a
graduate, Lewis had enormous standing in the philosophical world. The
much-debated theory that had replaced Ryle's analytic behaviourism
argued that mental states will ultimately turn out to be nothing but
physical processes in the brain, and JJC Smart, one of the initiators
of this identity theory of mind, visited Harvard in the mid-1960s. "I
taught David Lewis," he said afterwards, "or rather, David Lewis
taught me," and in 1966, the year before obtaining his doctorate,
Lewis produced the essay An Argument For The Identity Theory, which
improved on Smart's position. Typically, Lewis not only got to the
nerve of the issue, but took it in a new direction. Trying to rebut
the commonsensical dualist objection that surely "experiences are
non-physical and physically inefficacious", he said that experiences
should be (in fact, implicitly were) considered as the effects of
certain stimuli and the causes of certain behaviour. Pain, for
instance, is whatever causally links a certain sensory input (having
your eyes gouged out, for instance) with behavioural output
(screaming) and other mental states (urgent desire to be rid of the
pain). Neural science will eventually show this causal "whatever" to
be a particular state in the brain, just as (Lewis wrote in his 1972
paper, Psychophysical And Theoretical Identifications) a detective who
knows in detail the roles - but not the identities - of conspirators
involved in a murder will ultimately be able to establish who exactly
these conspirators are. Simultaneously, Lewis was setting the agenda
in other areas of philosophy. In 1966, Convention: A Philosophical
Study (his rehashed thesis) broke new ground in the philosophy of
language, in which it remains a seminal work. He became assistant
professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, in the same
year, associate professor at Princeton in 1970, and full professor
there three years later. In Counterfactuals (1973), and many articles
before and after it, he was working out his controversial theory of
modal realism, which is most fully expressed in On The Plurality Of
Worlds (1986). Since Leibniz's formulation of the idea in the 17th
century, philosophers had treated possible worlds as a purely
conceptual notion useful for explaining concepts of possibility and
necessity: anything that we can coherently conceive as possible can be
called a possible world, but if something is necessarily true, then it
is true in all possible worlds. Lewis argued that possible worlds were
not concepts, but real - existing in the same way as our universe does
and no different from it except in the details of what happens there.
"The inhabitants of other worlds may truly call their own worlds
actual, if they mean by 'actual' what we do," just as "the inhabitants
of other times may call their times 'present', if they mean by
'present' what we do". After all, "our present time is only one time
among many". "Actual" is on a par with "I", "here" or "now"; what it
refers to depends on who says it and the world at which (Lewis's terminology) it is said. As for counterfactuals, which appeal to
what might have been, the counterfactual "If he hadn't pressed the
alarm, she would have been killed," for instance, is true if there is
a possible world in which he didn't press the alarm, and she was
killed, that is more similar to our own world than one in which he
pulled the cord and she wasn't killed. Of course, the person who was
killed is only a counterpart to her equivalent in the actual world,
even if both play similar roles in each of their worlds. And there is
no spatial, temporal or causal connection between possible worlds and
our own. To postulate the reality of possible worlds is to spin
metaphysics out of logic, and when Lewis spoke about it he usually met
with "an incredulous stare" - this expression became a philosophical
joke and the name of a section of On The Plurality Of Worlds. Yet it
was, he said, the only way to make sense of everything. Soon
incredulity gave way to a cottage industry of objections and
interpretations. For what possible worlds actually are (and virtually
no one, perhaps not even Lewis, accepted their reality) does not
affect the brilliant, sophisticated way he used them, analysing
problematic notions in causation, universals, the content of thought,
properties, probability, and the nature of propositions. Modal realism
mowed down problems like a combine harvester (to paraphrase an
admiring colleague) not only in philosophy, but in semantics,
linguistics, game theory and economics. Sometimes Lewis spoke as if he
discovered his intentions, both practical and intellectual, almost by
trial and error, and the same sort of induction seems to have occurred
with his metaphysics. He said in the introduction to his Philosophical
Papers Volume II (1986) that, like any analytic philosopher, he had
set out to tackle problems piecemeal, but that he seemed almost
inadvertently to have produced a coherent, unified thesis. This, which
he called "Humean supervenience", says that the world is a "vast
mosaic" of tiny facts and, at any instant, what it is, and what we can
truly say about it, depends upon the patterns that these exemplify,
just as in a pointillist picture what is depicted is determined by the
dots. Nothing that happens at one point logically fixes what happens
at any other point, but it is the totality of what happens that fixes
everything else. All Lewis's theories seemed to converge in this
thesis, he said, but he admitted that there was a bug in the system -
chance - which could subvert the whole thing. This was a problem he
was still struggling with at the last. Lewis expressed his esoteric
ideas in brisk, sturdy, lucid prose, whether on paper or orally, but
he was famously incapable of small talk. Shy, pale and lengthily
bearded, he was affectionately nicknamed Machine in the Ghost (turning
Ryle's disparagement of dualism on its head). But he could be
unflamboyantly funny, especially in print, and his philosophical
examples are witty without facetiousness or self-congratulation (a
famous article contrasted a Martian whose response to painful stimuli
is the inflation of cavities in his feet with a madman whose reaction
is indifference). Lewis was astoundingly modest and unpompous for a
successful philosopher, always ready to respond to criticism, and
unfailingly generous to students. Perhaps his dislike of
pretentiousness and convention led to his love of Australia. His
contacts with the Australian theorists Jack Smart and David Armstrong
led to a lasting connection with the country, where he became a huge
philosophical figure. Almost every year he and his wife stayed there
for two or three months, and he became an aficionado of Australian
rules football (he was buried with the Essendon club's season ticket),
and its Bush ballads, birds and trains. English railways were his
favourites, however; he would travel on them for the sake of the
journey. His basement was occupied by a model railway set, which the
privileged were also allowed to play with, and walls were knocked down
to accommodate it. Asked why he did not have a credit card, he said he
did not want to be in debt. Lewis restored philosophical
respectability to systematic metaphysics. Like Hume, he tried to
reconcile a scientific conception of the world with how it actually
appears to us. He called himself "a commonsensical fellow (except
where unactualised possible worlds are concerned)". The paper he was
last working on used possible worlds to link personal identity with
immortality. This may not sound commonsensical, but it is poignant for
the many people that loved him as a philosopher and as a man. He is
survived by his wife, Steffi. David Kellogg Lewis, philosopher, born
September 28 1941; died October 14 2001."
When Ludwig met
threaten Popper with a red-hot poker in Cambridge 55 years ago? John
Eidinow and David Edmonds on the truth behind a row described as a
watershed in 20th-century philosophy
Saturday March 31,
On the evening of Friday October 25 1946, the Cambridge Moral
Science Club - a discussion group for the university's philosophers
and philosophy students - held a meeting. The members assembled in
King's College at 8.30pm, in a set of rooms in the Gibbs Building -
number three on staircase H.
Although its tenant was a don, Richard
Braithwaite, H3 was just
as neglected as the other rooms in the building, squalid, dusty and
dirty. Heating was dependent on open fires and the inhabitants
protected their clothes with their gowns when humping sacks of coal.
That evening, the guest speaker was Dr Karl Popper, up from
London to deliver an innocuous-sounding paper, Are There
Philosophical Problems?. Among his audience was the chairman of the
club, Professor Ludwig Wittgenstein, considered by many to be the
most brilliant philosopher of his time. Also present was Bertrand
Russell, who for decades had been a household name as a philosopher
and radical campaigner.
Popper had recently been appointed to the position of reader in
logic and scientific method at the London School of Economics. The
Open Society and Its Enemies, his remorseless demolition of
totalitarianism, had just been published in England. It had
immediately won him a select group of admirers, among them Russell.
This was the only time these three great philosophers - Russell,
Wittgenstein and Popper - were together. Yet, to this day, no one
can agree precisely what took place. What is clear is that there
were vehement exchanges between Popper and Wittgenstein over the
fundamental nature of philosophy. These instantly became the stuff
of legend. An early version of events had Popper and Wittgenstein
battling for supremacy with red-hot pokers.
In Popper's account, found in his intellectual autobiography,
Unended Quest, published in 1974, more than two decades after
Wittgenstein's death, he put forward a series of what he insisted
were real philosophical problems. Wittgenstein summarily dismissed
them all. Popper recalled that Wittgenstein "had been nervously
playing with the poker", which he used "like a conductor's
baton to emphasise his assertions", and when a question came up
about the status of ethics, Wittgenstein challenged him to give an
example of a moral rule. "I replied: 'Not to threaten visiting
lecturers with pokers.' Whereupon Wittgenstein, in a rage, threw the
poker down and stormed out."
Those 10 or so minutes in October 1946 still provoke bitter
disagreement. Above all, one dispute remains heatedly alive: did
Karl Popper lie in his published account of the meeting?
If he did, it was no casual embellishing of the facts but
directly concerned two ambitions central to his life: the defeat at
a theoretical level of fashionable 20th-century linguistic
philosophy and triumph at a personal level over Wittgenstein, the
sorcerer who had dogged his career.
To an outsider, a violent confrontation between Wittgenstein and
Popper might have seemed implausible. They were both Jews from
Vienna and, superficially, they had in common a civilisation - and
its dissolution. Although Wittgenstein was the older by 13 years,
they had shared the cultural excitement of the last years of the
Austro-Hungarian Empire. They had in common, too, the impact on
their lives of the lost first world war, the attempt to raise a
modern republic on the ruins of the monarchy, the descent into the
corporate state, and the maelstrom of Hitler and Nazism. With their
Jewish origins, interest in music, contacts with cultural radicals,
training as teachers, and their connections with the fountainhead of
logical positivism, the Vienna Circle, Wittgenstein and Popper had
many potential links. That they had never met was remarkable.
Of the great figures in 20th-century philosophy, only a very few
have given their names to those who follow in their path. That one
can be identified as a Popperian or a Wittgensteinian is a testament
to the originality of these philosophers' ideas and the power of
their personalities. Those extraordinary qualities were on display
in H3. The thrust of the poker becomes a symbol of the two men's
unremitting zeal in their search for the right answers to the big
Three years after Popper's death, a memoir published in the
proceedings of one of Britain's most learned bodies, the British
Academy, recounted essentially Popper's version of events. It
brought down a storm of protest on the head of the author, Popper's
successor at the LSE, Professor John Watkins, and sparked off an
acerbic exchange of letters in the Times Literary Supplement. A
fervent Wittgenstein supporter who had taken part in the meeting,
Professor Peter Geach, denounced Popper's account of the meeting as
"false from beginning to end". A robust correspondence
followed as other witnesses or later supporters of the protagonists
piled into the fray.
There was a delightful irony in the conflicting testimonies. They
had arisen between people all professionally concerned with theories
of epistemology (the grounds of knowledge), understanding and truth.
Yet they concerned a sequence of events where those who disagreed
were eyewitnesses on crucial questions of fact.
But why was there such anger over what took place more than half
a century before, in a small room, at a regular meeting of an
obscure university club, during an argument over an arcane topic?
Of the 30 present that night, nine, now in their 70s or 80s,
responded by letter, phone and, above all, email from across the
globe to appeals for memories of that evening. Their ranks include a
former English high court judge, Sir John Vinelott. There are five
professors. Professor Peter Munz had come to St John's from New
Zealand and returned home to become a notable academic. His book,
Our Knowledge of the Search for Knowledge, opened with the poker
incident: it was, he wrote, a "symbolic and in hindsight
prophetic" watershed in 20th-century philosophy.
Professor Stephen Toulmin is an eminent philosopher, co-author of
a demanding revisionist text on Wittgenstein, placing his philosophy
in the context of Viennese culture and fin de siècle intellectual
ferment. As a young King's research fellow, he turned down a post as
assistant to Karl Popper.
Geach, an authority on logic, lectured at Birmingham University,
and then at Leeds. Professor Michael Wolff specialised in Victorian
England, and his academic career took him to the US. Peter
Gray-Lucas became an academic and then switched to business, first
in steel, then photographic film, then papermaking. Stephen Plaister
became a classics master.
"Consider this poker," Geach hears Wittgenstein demand
of Popper, picking up the poker and using it in a philosophical
example. But, as the discussion rages on between them, Wittgenstein
is not reducing the guest to silence (the impact he is accustomed
to), nor the guest silencing him (ditto). Finally, and only after
having challenged assertion after assertion made by Popper,
Wittgenstein gives up. At some stage he must have risen to his feet,
because Geach sees him walk back to his chair and sit down. He is
still holding the poker. With a look of great exhaustion, he leans
back in his chair and stretches out his arm towards the fireplace.
The poker drops on to the tiles of the hearth with a little rattle.
At this point Geach's attention is caught by the host, Braithwaite.
Alarmed by Wittgenstein's gesticulating with the poker, he is making
his way in a crouching position through the audience. He picks up
the poker and somehow makes away with it. Shortly afterwards,
Wittgenstein rises to his feet and, in a huff, quietly leaves the
meeting, shutting the door behind him.
Wolff sees that Wittgenstein has the poker idly in his hand and,
as he stares at the fire, is fidgeting with it. Someone says
something that visibly annoys Wittgenstein. By this time Russell has
become involved. Wittgenstein and Russell are both standing.
Wittgenstein says: "You misunderstand me, Russell. You always
Russell says: "You're mixing things up, Wittgenstein. You
always mix things up."
Munz watches Wittgenstein suddenly take the poker - red hot - out
of the fire and gesticulate with it angrily in front of Popper's
face. Then Russell takes the pipe out of his mouth and says firmly:
"Wittgenstein, put down that poker at once!"
Wittgenstein complies, then, after a short wait, gets up and
walks out, slamming the door.
From Gray-Lucas's standpoint, Wittgenstein seems to be growing
very excited about what he obviously believes is Popper's improper
behaviour and is waving the poker about. Wittgenstein is acting in
"his usual grotesquely arrogant, self-opinionated, rude and
boorish manner. It made a good story afterwards to say that he had
'threatened' Popper with a poker."
Plaister, too, sees the poker raised. It really seems to him the
only way to deal with Popper, and he has no feeling of surprise or
shock. To Toulmin, sitting only six feet from Wittgenstein, nothing
at all out of the ordinary is occurring. He is focusing on Popper's
attack on the idea that philosophy is meaningless and his production
of various examples. A question about causality arises and at that
point Wittgenstein picks up the poker to use as a tool in order to
make a point about causation. Later in the meeting - after
Wittgenstein has left - he hears Popper state his poker principle:
that one should not threaten visiting lecturers with pokers.
Vinelott alone sees the crucial point - whether Popper makes what
was probably an attempt at a joke to Wittgenstein's face - in
Popper's way. Vinelott hears Popper utter his poker principle and
observes that Wittgenstein is clearly annoyed at what he thinks is
an unduly frivolous remark. Wittgenstein leaves the room abruptly,
but there is no question of the door being slammed.
The debate continues and the story has achieved the status, if
not of an urban myth, then at least of an ivory-tower fable. The
story goes beyond the characters and beliefs of the antagonists. It
is also the story of the schism in 20th-century philosophy over the
significance of language: a division between those who diagnosed
traditional philosophical problems as purely linguistic
entanglements and those who believed that these problems transcended
language. In the end, of course, it is the story of a linguistic
puzzle in itself: to whom did Popper utter what words in that room
full of witnesses, and why?
And what of the sine qua non of this story? The fate of the poker
remains a mystery. Many have searched for it in vain. According to
one report, Braithwaite disposed of it - to put an end to the prying
of academics and journalists.
• This is an edited extract from Wittgenstein's Poker: the
Story of a Ten- Minute Argument Between Two Great Philosophers,
published on April 9 by Faber, price £9.99. To order a copy for £7.99
plus p&p, freephone Guardian CultureShop on 0800 3166 102.
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