Saturday, December 1, 2012

David Papineau's "Philosophical Devices"

David Papineau has a BSc in mathematics from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and a BA and PhD in philosophy from Cambridge. Since 1990 he has been Professor of Philosophy at King's College London. He was President of the British Society for the Philosophy of Science from 1993 to 1995. In 1999-2000 he was a Leverhulme Research Fellow and in 2007 a Mind Fellow. He was President of the Mind Association for 2009-10. In 2010 he gave the Rudolf Carnap Lectures in Bochum, Germany and in 2011 the Gottlob Frege Lectures in Tartu, Estonia.

Papineau applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Philosophical Devices: Proofs, Probabilities, Possibilities, and Sets, and reported the following:
On page 99 I come to the end of my introduction to subjective probabilities and start on objective probabilities. As I explain, ‘subjective probabilities’ are simply psychological states, the degrees to which we subjectively expect certain outcomes. Objective probabilities are quite different—they are out in the world, not in people’s heads. They quantify the objective tendency for certain kinds of results to happen, and would still have existed even if people with degrees of expectation had never evolved.

Probability is just one of the ‘philosophical devices’ discussed in my book. The aim of the book is to introduce philosophy students and others to some of the technical ideas assumed in present-day philosophical writing. Once philosophy students get beyond the foothills, they are likely to start coming across passing references to ideas like denumerability, Bayesian conditionalization, modal scope distinctions, logical completeness, and so on. Yet often there will be nothing in their education designed to explain these technical notions to them.

The book aims to remedy this. As the subtitle explains, it deals, not just with probability, but also sets, possibilities and proofs. More specifically, the book contains four sections, each of three chapters. The first section is about sets and numbers, starting with the membership relation and ending with the generalized continuum hypothesis. The second is about analyticity, a prioricity and necessity. The third is about probability, outlining the difference between objective and subjective probability and exploring aspects of conditionalization and correlation. The fourth deals with metalogic, focusing on the contrast between syntax and semantics, and finishing with a sketch of Godel’s theorem.

I do this all in under 50,000 words including exercises and solutions. Some will think that a book like this can only be a bluffer’s guide. But I think I explain everything properly, and moreover make it philosophically interesting. Of course I don’t provide the depth available from higher-level courses in mathematical logic and the like. But for readers who will never go near such courses, I at least offer a way of understanding what the experts are talking about.

When I explained the idea of this book to one of my more technical colleagues, he complained ‘But you’re just picking all the plums!’ Exactly. I want readers of this book to enjoy the juicy fruit that are normally available only to specialists.
Learn more about Philosophical Devices at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue