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Thursday, August 03, 2006

Summer reading

A new blog is born - Modulo Truth - to a Harvard student John Cobb. Although still only an undergraduate he is already reading proofs that "left invariant vector fields always generate a global flow on the Lie group", while rereading Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue. If only I had advanced so far down my own path at his age.

Perhaps he would enjoy my Summer reading, which arrived in the post today - MacIntyre's The Tasks of Philosophy, a collection of essays published by Cambridge University Press. Now, I already described how I admired the connectivity of MacIntyre's philosophy in this post:
This is the kind of connectivity that interests me. Not that science through its theories – genetics, cosmology, etc. – has a bearing on philosophical theses, but that a moral philosopher may learn from philosophers of science, as may a philosopher of mathematics from moral philosophers.
(See also this post.) I suspected that he had learned a very important lesson from Kuhn, Lakatos, Feyerabend and others, but now it is official. In the Preface to the collection we read about how the first essay, which marked a "major turning-point" in his thinking in the 1970s,
...was elicited by my reading of and encounters with Imre Lakatos and Thomas Kuhn and what was transformed by that reading was my conception of what it was to make progress in philosophy or indeed in systematic thought more generally. Up to that time, although I should have learned otherwise from the histories of Christian theology and of Marxism, I had assumed that my enquiries would and should move forward in a piecemeal way, focusing first on this problem and then on that, in a mode characteristic of much analytic philosophy. So I had worked away at a number of issues that I had treated as separate and distinct without sufficient reflection upon the larger conceptual framework within which and by reference to which I and others formulated those issues. What I learned from Kuhn, or rather from Kuhn and Lakatos read together, was the need first to identify and then to break free from that framework and to enquire whether the various problems on which I had made so little progress had baffled me not or not only because of their difficulty, but because they were bound to remain intractable so long as they were understood in the terms dictated by those larger assumptions which I shared with many of my contemporaries. And I was to find that, by rejecting the conception of progress in philosophy that I had hitherto taken for granted, I had already taken a first step towards viewing the issues in which I was entangled in a new light. (vii-viii)
Perhaps, once I have worked through all of the essays, I'll be in a position to finish this essay off.


John Cobb said...

Thanks for the welcome into the blogosphere. Your blog is definitely one of the ones that has inspired me to put some thoughts out there. I think the appearance of rapid travel down my own path is a function of enjoying reading things that I don't really understand more than anything else. Thanks also for the suggested reading. In the next couple days, I hope to write a few posts on where I think the "historical stance" should figure into philosophy of math.

August 03, 2006 7:56 PM  

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