Monday, 29 October 2012

CfP: Models and Decisions (Munich, 10-12 April 2013)

6th Munich-Sydney-Tilburg conference on

Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy / 10-12 April, 2013

Mathematical and computational models are central to decision-making in a wide-variety of contexts in science and policy: They are used to assess the risk of large investments, to evaluate the merits of alternative medical therapies, and are often key in decisions on international policies – climate policy being one of the most prominent examples. In many of these cases, they assist in drawing conclusions from complex assumptions. While the value of these models is undisputed, their increasingly widespread use raises several philosophical questions: What makes scientific models so important? In which way do they describe, or even explain their target systems? What makes models so reliable? And: What are the imports, and the limits, of using models in policy making? This conference will bring together philosophers of science, economists, statisticians and policy makers to discuss these and related questions. Experts from a variety of field will exchange first-hand experience and insights in order to identify the assets and the pitfalls of model-based decision-making. The conference will also address and evaluate the increasing role of model-based research in scientific practice, both from a practical and from a philosophical point of view.

We invite submissions of extended abstracts of 1000 words by 15 December 2012. Decisions will be made by 15 January 2013.

KEYNOTE SPEAKERS: Luc Bovens (LSE), Itzhak Gilboa (Paris and Tel Aviv), Ulrike Hahn (Birkbeck), Michael Strevens (NYU), and Claudia Tebaldi (UBC)

ORGANIZERS: Mark Colyvan, Paul Griffiths, Stephan Hartmann, Kärin Nickelsen, Roland Poellinger, Olivier Roy, and Jan Sprenger

PUBLICATION: We plan to publish selected papers presented at the conference in a special issue of a journal or with a major a book publisher (subject to the usual refereeing process). The submission deadline is 1 July 2013. The maximal paper length is 7000 words.

GRADUATE FELLOWSHIPS: A few travel bursaries for graduate students are available (up to 500 Euro). See website for details.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Postdoctoral Research Assistant in Bristol (2 posts)

University of Bristol – Department of Philosophy 

Applications are invited for two three-year Postdoctoral Research Fellowships in the Department of Philosophy, University of Bristol as part of the ERC-funded research project Epistemic Utility Theory: Foundations and Applications, directed by Dr. Richard Pettigrew. 

The two postdoctoral researchers will work full-time on the project for three years, doing individual and collaborative research and helping organise project events. This post represents an excellent opportunity for someone early in their academic career to be an important part of a high-profile project and to gain experience of cutting-edge research, while also developing a substantial publication profile. 

Duration of appointment: 1 October 2013 – 30 September 2016. 

Contact: Dr. Richard Pettigrew, Department of Philosophy, University of Bristol, 43 Woodland Road, Bristol, BS8 1UU,

Closing date: 24 November 2012.


Friday, 26 October 2012

Suppes on neuroscience as foundations of mathematics

(I posted this originally at NewAPPS, which is where I usually post my thoughts on philosophical methodology, but on this topic in particular I look forward to the opinions of readers of M-Phi as well.)

Between today and tomorrow, the workshop ‘Groundedness in Semantics and Beyond’ is taking place at MCMP in Munich, co-organized with the the ERC project Plurals, Predicates, and Paradox led by Øystein Linnebo. The workshop’s program seems excellent across the board, but the opening talk is what really caught my attention: Patrick Suppes on ‘A neuroscience perspective on the foundations of mathematics’. The abstract:
I mainly ask and partially answer three questions. First, what is a number? Second, how does the brain process numbers? Third, what are the brain processes by which mathematicians discover new theorems about numbers? Of course, these three questions generalize immediately to mathematical objects and processes of a more general nature. Typical examples are abstract groups, high dimensional spaces or probability structures. But my emphasis is not on these mathematical structures as such, but how we think about them. For the grounding of mathematics, I argue that understanding how we think about mathematics and discover new results is as important as foundations of mathematics in the traditional sense.
I cannot stress enough how fantastic it is that someone like Suppes, who has done so much groundbreaking foundational work in the traditional sense, now turns his attention to this more ‘human’ aspect of mathematics. (And also how amazing it is that he is over 90 years old and rocking!)

To be sure, focus on mathematical practices as an alternative approach to the philosophy of mathematics has been gaining popularity in recent years (see for example P. Mancosu’s Philosophy of Mathematical Practice), but emphasis on the philosophical importance specifically of empirical findings from the psychology and cognitive science of mathematics is still quite rare (exceptions: Marcus Giaquinto, Helen de Cruz, Dirk Schlimm, among others). And yet, work on the cognitive science of numbers such as e.g. S. Dehaene’s seems to lend itself quite easily to philosophical theorizing. The point is not that this approach should supplant more traditional approaches, but rather that a number of philosophical questions cannot be adequately addressed unless we adopt such an integrative methodology (or so I have claimed several times at NewAPPS, here for example).

For those of us who couldn’t be in Munich this morning (myself included), we can now look forward to the video podcast of the talk which is bound to become available at the MCMP iTunes channel in due course. But for now, here is a picture of Suppes in action, courtesy of Olivier Roy.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The best medieval solution to the Liar ever

It's been much too long since I last posted here at M-Phi! (I've been unusually busy with all kinds of things.) What follows here is still not a proper post: it is in fact a review of Stephen Read's edition and translation of Bradwardine's treatise on insolubles, which I just wrote for Speculum. But I figured that it may be of general interest -- after all, any M-Phi'er worthy of the title should be familiar with Bradwardine on the Liar.

Thomas Bradwardine (first half of the 14th century) is well known for his decisive contributions to physics (he was one of the founders of the Merton School of Calculators) as well as for his theological work, in particular his defense of Augustinianism in De Causa Dei. He also led an eventful life, accompanying Edward III to the battlefield as his confessor, and dying of the Black Death in 1349 one week after a hasty return to England to take up his new appointment as the Archbishop of Canterbury.

What is thus far less well known about Bradwardine is that, prior to these adventures, in the early to mid-1320s, he worked extensively on logical topics. In this period, he composed his logical tour de force: his treatise on insolubles. Insolubles were logical puzzles to which Latin medieval authors devoted a considerable amount of attention (Spade & Read 2009). What is special about insolubles is that they often involve some kind of self-reference or self-reflection. The paradigmatic insoluble is what is now known (not a term used by the medieval authors themselves) as the liar paradox: ‘This sentence is not true’. If it is true, then it is not true; but if it is not true, then what it says about itself is correct, namely that it is not true, and thus it is true after all. Hence, we are forced to conclude that the sentence is both true and false, which violates the principle of bivalence. It is interesting to note that, in the hands of Tarski, Kripke and other towering figures, the liar and similar paradoxes re-emerged in the 20th century as one of the main topics within philosophy of logic and philosophical logic, and remain to this day a much discussed topic.

Bradwardine’s De insolubilibus has been recently given its first critical edition, accompanied by an English translation and an extensive introduction, by Stephen Read. One cannot overestimate the importance of the publication of this volume for the study of the history of logic as a whole; prior to this edition, Bradwardine’s text was available in print only in an unreliable edition by M.L. Roure in 1970. Moreover, Bradwardine’s treatise is arguably the most important medieval treatise on the topic. So far, the general philosophical audience is mostly familiar with John Buridan's approach to insolubles; the relevant passages from chapter 8 of his Sophismata have received multiple English translations and been extensively discussed. But Buridan's text pales in comparison to Bradwardine’s treatise; Bradwardine not only offers a detailed account and refutation of previously held positions (chapters 2 to 5), but he also presents his own novel, revolutionary solution (chapters 6 to 12).

The backbone of Bradwardine’s solution is the idea that sentences typically signify several things, not only their most apparent signification. In particular, they signify everything they entail. Moreover, Bradwardine postulates that, for a sentence to be true, everything it signifies must be the case; in other words, he associates the notion of truth to universal quantification over what a sentence says. Accordingly, a sentence is false if at least one of the things it signifies is not the case (existential quantification). He then goes on to prove that insoluble sentences say of themselves not only that they are not true, but also that they are true. Hence, such sentences say two contradictory things, which can never both obtain; so at least one of them is not the case, and thus such sentences are simply false.

Unlike Buridan, who merely postulates without further argumentation that every sentence implies that it is true, Bradwardine makes no such assumption, and instead proves (through a rather subtle argument, reconstructed in section 5 of Read’s introduction) that specific sentences, namely insolubles, say of themselves that they are true. In this sense, Bradwardine’s analysis can rightly be said to be more sophisticated and compelling than Buridan’s.

Bradwardine’s solution to insolubles is not only of interest to the historian of logic, and indeed Read and others have written extensively on its significance for contemporary debates on paradoxes of self-reference. In fact, a whole volume was published on the philosophical significance of Bradwardine’s analysis (Rahman et al. 2008). According to Read, the Bradwardinian framework allows for the treatment of a wide range of paradoxes as well as for the development of a conceptually motivated, paradox-resistant theory of truth in terms of quantification over what a sentence says. Alas, the latter project was not to succeed, for the following reason. As pointed out by Read himself in his critique of Buridan (Read 2002), a theory that says that every sentence signifies (implies) its own truth cannot offer an effective definition of truth, as every sentence becomes what is known as a truth-teller: one necessary condition for its truth is that be true (as it is one of the things it says), ensuing a fatal form of circularity. Now, as it turns out, while Bradwardine does not postulate that every sentence signifies its own truth, this does follow as a corollary from his general principles (Dutilh Novaes 2011). Thus, Read’s own criticism against Buridan’s approach applies to Bradwardine as well. This does not affect the Bradwardine/Read solutions to the paradoxes because all of them (paradoxes) come out as false, but ultimately Bradwardine cannot deliver a satisfactory theory of truth.

However, this observation should in no way be construed as a criticism of Read’s work in general and of his edition and translation of Bradwardine’s treatise in particular. It is indeed the job of a reviewer to spot shortcomings in a volume, even if only minor ones, but this reviewer failed miserably at this endeavor. Read’s volume is an absolutely exemplary combination of historical and textual rigor (for the edition and translation of the text) with philosophical insight into the conceptual intricacies of the material; it is both accessible and sophisticated. As such, it is to be emphatically recommended to anyone interested in the history of logic as well as in modern discussions on paradoxes and self-reference.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Dig into "Coherence"

The MCMP recently announced the publication of the 200th recording in the MCMP video channel on iTunes U. Today we are happy to announce the publication of the “Round Table on Coherence Media Package”! Many attended the working session with Branden Fitelson and Richard Pettigrew in July, the second edition of the MCMP Round Table series. Many have been asking about the video recordings we made on this occasion. The whole package is online now – videos, slides, and additional material are available on the MCMP website at Enjoy!

Saturday, 6 October 2012

CFP: Special issue on Infinite Regress in Synthese

My colleagues Sylvia Wenmackers and Jeanne Peijnenburg are editing a special issue on Infinite Regress for Synthese, and are looking in particular for formal/mathematical treatments of the topic - certainly something of interest to M-Phiers of all stripes! See the CFP below.


We are happy to announce this first call for papers on "Infinite regress", a special issue to appear in Synthese, edited by Jeanne Peijnenburg and Sylvia Wenmackers (University of Groningen).

The theme of the special issue is infinite regresses in various contexts, including epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of science, etc. The topic of infinite regress is an old one in philosophy, but recent developments in theoretical philosophy suggest that the time is right for a new approach to this ancient problem.

We invite novel contributions in which probabilistic models, logic, or other tools from contemporary formal philosophy are brought to bear on the problem of infinite regress. We are also interested in analyses of the relationship between aspects of traditional epistemology or metaphysics on the one hand and these technical results on the other hand.

Deadline for submission: July 1st, 2013.

For more information, please see the website:

Thursday, 4 October 2012

FEW2012 on iTunes

More than 30 videos have been published recently on iTunes U by the Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy. These are talks from the 9th edition of the Formal Epistemology Workshop (FEW2012), held in Munich last spring. You can also retrieve the videos very effectively from the MCMP fb page (scroll down a bit and check the items released around mid-September). It'll be like you were there ;-)

(Thanks Roland Poellinger and the LMUcast Team for this amazing work.)

UPDATE: The videos are now also linked directly on the FEW2012 webpage.