He is gone. When someone is 94, you can't call it a surprise. But when someone has always been there as a part of just about everything you cared about politically your entire life, it somehow is. We are much the poorer.
Francesco del Punta, a well-known and much admired scholar of medieval philosophy, sadly passed away yesterday. Upon hearing the news from his former student Luca Gili, I asked Luca to write an obituary for NewAPPS, and here it is.
After a long and dreadful illness, Francesco Del Punta (1941-2013) passed away yesterday evening. He was a great scholar and a great man, and he will be much missed. Del Punta is well known especially for his edition of Ockham’s commentary on Aristotle’s Sophistici Elenchi (St. Bonaventure, New York, 1978), and for his edition of Paul of Venice’s treatises De veritate et falsitate propositionis and De significato propositionis (Oxford, 1978).
Fred Dretske was one of the most elegant
men I knew. I became friends with him at a conference that he was attending
together with his friend Berent Enç. Both could always make you laugh, but
first they’d make you feel wanted and at home. Fred had a quick and intimate
smile, the kind of smile that made you think he liked you. And he probably did.
It was his way to see, and perhaps more remarkably, to look at and attend to,
the best in everything and everybody. I remember his gestures and way of
talking: simple, economical; he’d smile a lot but laugh much less often. He had
the look of being comfortable in his body in the way that athletes are, but as
far as I know, he wasn’t an athlete.
His critical remarks were always
understated: you’d say something, and he’d say “You mean . . . ?” and it would
be clear he’d understood, but didn’t agree. Many people talk about discussing
some point with Fred for hours on end. With me, it wasn’t like that. It’d be a
word here and a word there, and he’d get it across how he was thinking about
something. I was usually able to take it from there. In my 2005 book, I was
quite critical of occasions when he didn’t seem to distinguish between
information-contained and information-extracted. When we talked about it, he
simply smiled. I asked why he hadn’t mentioned the point in his review of my
book. He smiled some more. I guess he thought I had him and it wrong. I thought
a lot about how. Later, some of the experts in the field taught me some of the
advanced moves, and maybe I would have written Chapter 3 of my book somewhat
differently if I had known them. Fred, however, didn’t think that it was his
role to teach me. He would have thought it overly forward.
Fred’s book Knowledge and the Flow of Information is one of the two or three
most important works on perceptual knowledge in the last fifty years or so.
Some philosophical works are argumentative—forcefully arguing for a
philosophical thesis. Such works are immediately controversial. They expand and
enrich the field, but are forever debated. In epistemology, externalism and
contextualism are programs of this sort.
KFI falls into another category: books that create new structures.
Brian Leiter has reported the passing of Fred Dretske; Brian also links to this gem on the Gettier paper. I met Dretske only a few times in graduate school and spent a few days with him when he visited Syracuse. (Chalmers has some nice pictures, including one of Dretske and Murat Aydede, who enthusiastically introduced me to Dretske's views in graduate school.) I recall a memorable exchange between Alva Noë and Dretske, where from the audience (I think) Dretske forcefully pressed his case against the embodied cognition approach.
Dretske got his PhD (1960) at age 28 at a very good (but not great)
department (Minnesota--then in the grip of logical positivism, I
suspect). Unlike a lot of twentieth century, analytic boy-wonders, he did not have a break-out (still famous) paper at the start of his career. (Correct me if I am wrong.) Rather, he published on a very regular basis in top journals on a range (of sometimes very quirky) topics, including time-travel--this morning I enjoyed reading "Counting to Infinity," which reminds us of that alternative world in which analytic metaphysics could have come in its own by reflection on the nature of infinity (recall my post). After a decade (or so), he published Seeing and Knowing and a remarkable group of papers, including a classic one on Epistemic Operators.
Between Knowledge and the Flow of Information (1981) and Naturalizing the Mind (presented in 1994) he seemed to capture and define the common sense of a whole philosophical era. A remarkable achievement.
An annoyingly inaccurate, but touching obituary in the Washington Post. Not only did he solve one of the grand conjectures - and one of the easiest to explain to non-mathematicians - but he launched a subliterature in epistemology, by providing the classic case of indirect evidence of the existence of a proof.
As we get on in life, we begin to collect first deaths: first grandparent to die, first parent, first friend. For many of us who have devoted much of our lives to intellectual pursuits, there is another category that is as important as these: teacher. I don't mean just someone who stands in the official role of teacher, someone with whom we took a class, but someone who guided our intellectual development, nurtured our intellectual autonomy, someone whose voice pops into our head at crucial and unexpected moments as we think through issues. For me, Joe Camp was such a person, and he is my first such teacher-death. (Adding to the pain of this moment is that it brings fresh to my mind also the untimely death of Joe's former partner Tamara Horowitz, with whom I took a class, but who I think of more as a dear friend and one of the finest humans I have known.)
Tyler Cowen reports that the economist, James M. Buchanan (Nobel, 1986), has just passed away. Together with his sometime co-author and colleague, Gordon Tullock, Buchanan 'invented' public choice economics. Buchanan had a non-trivial impact on the development of political philosophy in the second half of the twentieth century; he was a keen student of and interlocutor with philosophers, especially Rawls. I will always be very proud to have a paper published alongside the Buchanan-Rawls correspondence.
I also owe a personal debt to Buchanan: he participated in the very first conference on Adam Smith that I co-organized. He was very generous and critical, and made all the young scholars present feel that they were active in an important enterprise. (It's the conference where New Voices on Adam Smith was conceived.)
Some other time I may post a bit more on Buchanan's intellectual development alongside the 'Chicago' and 'Virginia' economists (Nutter, Vining, Knight, etc.) that are part of my scholarly focus (and occasional blogging here).
Oscar Niemeyer, the great Brazilian architect, just passed
away at age 104, 10 days short of turning 105. The news has been a bit
everywhere, so I suppose most readers will have seen it already, but some will
be surprised to hear that he was actually still alive until yesterday. What
most people probably do not know is that Niemeyer was not only alive but also
kicking: he continued to be productive as an architect all the way until the
end of his life. It was particularly remarkable that he continued to get
involved in projects whose completion he knew he would not live long enough to
see, but this did not deter him. (An uncle of mine was a long-time collaborator
of Niemeyer, from whom I heard this and other interesting bits about Niemeyer.)
It is fair to say that Niemeyer was one of the greatest,
most influential architects of the 20th century. He is perhaps best
known for his design of the government buildings of Brasilia, the
built-from-scratch capital of Brazil inaugurated in 1960, but his projects are
everywhere to be seen, mostly in Brazil but also elsewhere. (Check here for a
complete list of his works, H/T Luca Baptista.) If one had to use only two words
to define Niemeyer’s work, these would be: concrete and curves. He explored like no one else the aesthetic possibilities of reinforced concrete, in particular
through curvilinear shapes; see for example the famous Sambadrome arch in Rio
de Janeiro (below the fold).
The transition between graduate school and a tenure track position is (the few 'chosen' excepted) anxiety driven, and worse. I experienced APAs where I was apparently invisible to others at the Smoker. Papers would get rejected by journals without comment after a year's wait. So, all small tokens of kindness were much appreciated. The few genuine, critical engagements with my work, thus, stand out in memory.
Brian Leiter just reported that Ray Frey (1941-2012) passed away. I was not very close to Ray, and saw him less frequently than I would have liked. But I learned from him each time we met. In particular, he was the commentator on my paper at the "Adam Society" meeting at the central APA in 2003. (The article got published here.) It was the last "graveyard" session of the conference, and there were more people on stage than in the room when I started my talk. Ray offered incisive criticism. I emailed him after the conference, and much to my amazement he sent me detailed, elaborate further comments; we went back and forth, and then I finally realized I had to learn how to do real thinking. Five years later, I sent him a publication with a footnote that states, "This paper originates as a response to a serious question by Ray Frey on a paper." He wrote me to tell me how much he liked the paper, and that now he would have to think about his response. I had never felt more proud, and so grateful.
Most of our readers will know that Annette Baier died recently. This is a loss that is shared by students, friends, and philosophers in general. I invite others to post rememberances, thoughts, etc. in the comments to Lynne's post. (ML)
Memoriam: Annette Baier
Baier was my teacher and a steadfast friend for over 30 years. That number
staggers me, in part because I realize that I am now around the age Annette was
when we first met, back in 1980, when I arrived at Pitt. She was such a brilliant,
sophisticated, witty, and cosmopolitan person—unlike anyone I had ever met. With
annual hikes in the Alps, traveling the earth from end to end, befriending people
everywhere, Annette had a commodious life. Coming into her own, as she really
did after 50, she showed us, by example, that one’s best work may be yet to
come. Those who know her writing are
familiar with her insightful approach to the history of philosophy, are awed by
the depth and breadth of her knowledge, and swayed by the power of her original
ideas. But to those who knew her personally, Annette was a generous,
compassionate, and deeply loyal friend. When Annette was in your corner, you
were lucky indeed, because her confidence in you was a great gift through thick
Eric recently paid tribute to Elinor Ostrom (here and here). I thought I'd take up the relay and post some notes I made on an article of hers: "Policies that Crowd out Reciprocity and Collective Action." In Herbert Gintis, Samuel Bowles, Robert Boyd, and Ernst Fehr, Moral Sentiments and Material Interests: The Foundations of Cooperation in Economic Life. Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 2005: 253-275. (There's a PDF version here, on the page for a course on Evolution and Biology of Morality I've been teaching fairly regularly.)
Ostrom begins by reviewing evidence for strong reciprocators, which contradicts RCT's assumption that rational egoists (utility maximizers driven only by external rewards / punishments) are the only type of agent that needs to be modeled to account for social behavior. Thus we need to model different ratios of strong reciprocators and rational egoists and how those ratios change over time given different conditions.
Today I heard the sad news of the passing of the great Dutch medievalist Lambertus Marie de Rijk, at age 87. De Rijk almost singlehandedly founded the field of inquiry on Latin medieval logic and semantics, in particular but not exclusively thanks to his painstaking and groundbreaking work as an editor of manuscripts. The field would not be what it now is had not been for the publication of his seminal work Logica Modernorum (vol.1 in 1962, vol. 2 in 1967), where he retraces the birth of the ‘modern’ tradition in Latin medieval logic (i.e. the body of doctrines and theories which do not refer directly to Aristotle’s logical texts), including the edition of a large number of fundamental (often anonymous) texts.
De Rijk officially retired in 1988, but remained intellectually active all the way until the end of his life – as an editor of medieval manuscripts, of course, but also as a historian of philosophy more generally. In particular, he published a two-volume monograph on Aristotle, Aristotle: Semantics and Ontology, in 2002. De Rijk is without a doubt the founding father of the field of Latin medieval logic and semantics in the Netherlands, but his influence is almost equally felt in all parts of the world where the field is alive and kicking. An annotated bibliography retracing his impressive productivity is available in four chronological parts:
If apropos anything, someone asks you what side you are on, it is always felicitous to respond, "truth and beauty."
In this respect, I highly recommend Tim Kreider's NY Times tribute to Ray Bradbury HERE (if you are blocked by the pay-wall, just reset your cookies or "Clear Recent History" in Firefox).
When I read Bradbury's books as a young child I had no idea that the stuff of his nightmares were actually coming to pass. Nor could I have realized the extent to which I would later organize my life around fleeing those very things.
Kreider's conclusion is perfect:
I think of Ray Bradbury’s work often these days. I remember “The Murderer” whenever I ask for directions or make a joke to someone who can’t hear me because of her ear buds, when I see two friends standing back-to-back in a crowd yelling “Where are you?” into their phones, or I’m forced to eavesdrop on somebody prattling on Bluetooth in that sanctum sanctorum, the library. I think of “Fahrenheit 451” every time I see a TV screen in an elevator or a taxi or a gas pump or over a urinal. When the entire hellish engine of the media seemed geared toward the concerted goal of forcing me to know, against my will, about a product called “Lady Gaga,” I thought: Denham’s Dentifrice.
It is thanks to Ray Bradbury that I understand this world I grew into for what it is: a dystopian future. And it is thanks to him that we know how to conduct ourselves in such a world: arm yourself with books. Assassinate your television. Go for walks, and talk with your neighbors. Cherish beauty; defend it with your life. Become a Martian.
Also check out the song at right. Bowie understood Ray Bradbury. For all the suffering it entails, it is still infinitely better to be Martian than caveman.
With some delay, today I found out that the Dutch philosopher and Indologist Frits Staal, Emeritus Professor of philosophy and South/Southeast Asian studies at Berkeley (having retired in 1992), passed away on February 19th at age 81 in Thailand, where he had lived since his retirement. Staal was in particular a specialist on Vedic rituals and mantras; he also wrote extensively on the Indian grammarian Panini, and on the history of science in general. He argued convincingly for the view that the development of science in the so-called western world can only be understood as a very complex story, involving intertwined events in at least three continents (Europe, Africa and Asia).
Leiter brings us the sad news of the untimely death of Jonathan E. Adler, professor of philosophy at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center. Since Leiter did not open the post for comments, I thought it would be nice to have a place where we can share our memories and impressions of Jonathan.
I remember him with much fondness from the time I spent at the CUNY GC as a post-doc in 2005/2006. We mostly interacted at the legendary Wednesday Faculty Colloquium at the CG; he made an impression on me not only for the philosophical sharpness of his questions and remarks, but also for his extreme friendliness. For a while he was in charge of the colloquium, and so took the speakers out for dinner; I would often join the group, and chatting with Jonathan was always a pleasure.
I haven’t been in touch or seen him since, but in 2008 he published a very important volume co-edited with Lance Rips: Reasoning – Studies of Human Inference and its Foundations. The volume is the first real attempt at bringing together psychologists, cognitive scientists and philosophers to talk about reasoning and thinking – something that should have happened ages ago. It is a great volume, one which I often consult (I hardly ever buy books, but this one I did not hesitate for a minute before getting it).
This is a real loss for the philosophical community; Jonathan will be dearly missed.
I first met Ruth Barcan Marcus when I was first starting out in philosophy. She was sometimes attending the meetings of the American Philosophical Association. Someone -- I don't recall who -- introduced me to this legend, a woman I had only read about in books, a person whose logic I had studied for years. Of course, I already knew that Ruth would be extremely insightful but I quickly learned that she was also a lot of fun, supportive, forward-looking and adventurous.
After our initial encounter at the smoker we agreed to have lunch the following day. I was still addicted to cigarettes back then and after lunch I was going out for a quick smoke. To my surprise Ruth joined me. She even had half a cigarette with me. "I haven't smoked for years," she said, "but I still enjoy one now and then." Ruth told me that she was working on a grand theory of belief. Sadly, she never finished it.
As widely covered in the international media, the Brazilian football player Sócrates passed away yesterday. Football fans around the world are familiar with his feats in the field (and a search on youtube will yield countless videos with his best moments). Here, however, I’d like to highlight the political significance that Sócrates has had in Brazil, in particular for the transition from a military dictatorship to democracy in the 1980s, as this aspect of his life is bound to be less well-known outside Brazil.
Sócrates himself claimed to be an anti-athlete. He was a heavy smoker and a heavy drinker (the drinking habit in particular eventually led to health complications and ultimately his demise), also during his career as a player. Moreover, he had a degree in medicine (he only started to focus on his football career at age 24, when he moved to Corinthians in 1978, the team that is most strongly associated with his club career), was extremely articulated (not that there is an incompatibility between being a football player and an intellectual!), and highly politically engaged. Here is an accurate account from the Guardian obituary:
... and Troy Davis' sister. She died after more than 10 years of fighting against breast cancer, and only 2 months after the execution of Troy Davis. Martina Correia was a highly regarded advocate against the death penalty; according to this news item,
Correia was chair of the Steering Committee for AIUSA’s Program to Abolish the Death Penalty and was Amnesty International’s coordinator in Georgia for the death penalty program. She is a recipient of the Georgia Civil Liberties Award from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Frederick Douglass Award from the Southern Center for Human Rights.
I can only say: what an extraordinary woman. She will be dearly missed. (See also my previous post on the execution, with additional info on her in the comments section.)
The great biologist Lynn Margulis, one of the foremost scientists of the 20th Century, died yesterday. This Spanish language obituary is the only one available so far. I'll add links to others as they become available.
Eric has been urging me to start new posts when I have significant comments to other ones, so I'll take that advice here. I'm following up on the post about Parfit, in which he says that his life would have been wasted if his ethical views turn out wrong. I don't really understand this claim. In fact, it seems so obviously wrong that I feel I must be missing something. How could the falsity of a philosophical approach entail either that the process of pursuing it did not help philosophy, or that the life was of no value?
By way of illustrative counter, I thought I'd pass on a story about Peter (Carl) Hempel, who counts as an analytic philosopher if anyone does. I took his last graduate course. It was our proseminar in the philosophy of science at Pitt. (Yes, in philosophy - not HPS - we had a required proseminar in philosophy of science.) The course was essentially structured around the rise and fall of positivism. We went through all the issues and approaches in a roughly historical manner. Hempel was a superb, smart, patient, clear teacher, even at around 80. At the end of the course, the conclusion was that it had all been wrong. He reckoned that they had not just been wrong in the particulars, but in the whole approach, the methodology, even asked the wrong questions often. But there was not the slightest hint of regret in this. His view was that no one could have possibly known that this approach didn't work unless smart people had given it a go, pushed it to the point where it was clear that it couldn't work. Now, he said, he was too old to try new things, but he knew that the young people around him would develop some other new approach - "maybe something building on Kuhn".
On July 11, the TARK XIII conference gave a party in Groningen for the attendees. Afterwards, Horacio and I had a small dinner in a plaza in Groningen. Only two weeks have passed and he is already gone.
But he will be honored by various events at Columbia, at CMU and most likely also in Munich and in Buenos Aires.
For me, he was a student who became an affectionate and long standing friend. We met each other frequently in New York, where he gave several talks at CUNY. But we also met in Pittsburgh, Florence (where he introduced me to Vann McGee), and of course in Groningen. He knew my family and I knew his wife Claudia.
Horacio was a person of immense scholarly integrity and an ability to produce impressive original research. He was surely a world expert in the foundations of probability and aspects of conditionals and modal logic. It was quite frequent for me to ask him a question and get an instant answer. Some have said he was a walking encyclopedia. This is a fair assessment.
He shared my interest in Borges (or perhaps I shared his), in Tagore and in Blake. There was a deep spiritual sense in him, which apparently his father also had and which he celebrated in his eulogy to his late father. I read part of the same eulogy at Horacio’s funeral in Westchester. What Horacio said about his father, in large part, applied also to Horacio himself.
I am sure his work will be carried on by others, especially his student Arthur Paul Pedersen. I look forward to being in touch with Paul, with Horacio’s colleagues at CMU and his many friends at Columbia.
Margaret Whitford was a noted UK feminist philosopher, most well known for her work on Irigaray, but also very active in organizational work; she was a key founder member of the UK Society for Women in Philosophy. A heart-felt memorial notice is here at Feminist Philosophers.