News from May 2001


Some advice: If you're an undergraduate attempting to take the short-cut to a good grade on an essay, by plagiarising. For your own sake, attempt to plagiarise from someone writes no better than you do. There is something thoroughly disconcerting about the jump from turgid, knotted, ungrammatical prose to smooth, well written text. It's dead easy for us to spot.

Of course, if you can't tell the difference yourself, it's rather hard for you to follow this advice. Learning to read well goes hand-in-hand with learning to write well. Learning how to plagiarise well should hopefully go hand-in-hand with not needing to plagiarise.


As life is rather hectic at the moment, updates here from next month will be rather less frequent. Enjoy the quality, not the quantity.



Thinking, thinking, thinking. Not just about work, but about our future. There's some decisions which need making. Big decisions. Really big decisions. Anyone got any advice? How do you approach life-direction-changing decisions?




Once upon a time them was a universe. In this universe there was a planet. On this planet there was virtually no laughter. Nothing like ``humor'' was really known. People never laughed, nor jested, nor kidded, nor joked, nor anything like that. The inhabitants were extremely serious, conscientious, sincere, hard-working, studious, well wishing, and moral. But of humor they knew nothing. All except for a small minority who had some feeling for what humor was. These people occasionally laughed and joked. Their behavior was extremely alarming to everyone else and was regarded as an obviously pathological phenomenon. These few people were called ``laughers,'' and they were promptly hospitalized. What was so alarming about their behavior was not only the strange noises they made and the peculiar facial expressions they bore while ``laughing,'' but the utterly pathological things they said! They seemed to lose all sense of reality. They said things which were totally irrational, indeed sometimes logically self-contradictory. In short, they behaved exactly like anyone else who was deluded or hallucinated, hence they were put into hospitals.

Raymond Smullyan Planet Without Laughter. For more...


This article from today's issue of The Australian could amount to one of my fifteen minutes of fame.


Are you a philosopher? Are you a good philosopher? Are you looking for a good job, with future prospects? Do you want to work in a healthy, growing, lively department with good students? If so, look here.


There's no doubt about it: Caring for small children really takes it out of you. I'm tired in ways I haven't been tired for ages. Christine is moreso. At least I get the chance to take a break and teach classes. Christine is on call for most of the day. Zack is an incredibly good baby (almost invariably sleeping through from around midnight to around 5am) but the hours before midnight can be trying for all three of us. The point? Please understand if your friends with newborns change after the birth of their child. If they don't, they're not doing it right.

Actually, I can say more: if they don't they're probably male and are not involved in childcare. It has been interesting to hear the debate over Susan Maushart's new book Wifework. The basic thesis of the book is sound: it's so very easy for a man in a heterosexual relationship to leave everything to do with running the household and looking after kids to his partner. It's an insidious form of infantilism, and it's inherently unstable as anyone familiar with Hegel's analysis of the Master/Slave dialectic will recognise.

As Christine and I joke to each other: everyone should have a wife. Unfortunately, it's a lot easier for men to find them than women.



This is loads of fun. (At least, to a logician like me.) It's Grammatical Framework: a collection of packages in the functional programming language Haskell which help you do interesting things with language. It's beautiful because it uses some technology from logics I like, and it can do really neat things, such as translation. One simple but striking example results from when you translate a formal proof like this:


into a piece of English text like this:
Theorem. For all numbers x, x is even or x is odd.

Proof. We proceed by induction. For the basis, by the first axiom of evenness, zero is even. A fortiori, zero is even or zero is odd. For the induction step, consider a number x and assume x is even or x is odd with x=x (h). By the hypothesis h, x is even or x is odd. There are two possibilities. First, assume x is even ( a ). By the hypothesis a, x is even. By the second axiom of evenness, the successor of x is odd. A fortiori, the successor of x is even or the successor of x is odd. Second, assume x is odd ( b ). By the hypothesis b, x is odd. By the third axiom of evenness, the successor of x is even. A fortiori, the successor of x is even or the successor of x is odd. Thus the successor of x is even or the successor of x is odd in both cases. Hence, for all numbers x, x is even or x is odd.

If only all my students could write so well.


Rory asks: Is weblogging a form of autism? I'm not sure. What do you think?


Sometimes things are linked to other, quite different things. Looking up Richard Heck's work on Frege I found his involvement in the Harvard Living Wage Campaign. That reminded me to check up on how the campaign was going (you don't know about it? It was a student-led sit in to encourage the Harvard Administration to pay every full time worker at Harvard enough to actually survive on. Radical idea, I know.) Anyway, this page gives you the run-down on how the campaign has gone. In summary, there are improvements, but the situation is not ideal. That's the most we can expect in these sorts of political action, but it's obviously not the most you can ask or campaign for. (What's an ideal if it's not something to aim at?)


Note to self: choose highly politically charged example to get discussion going in philosophy tutorials.


A few days ago, a postcard appeared in my pigeonhole at work: it advertised the website e-news on higher education, at which you can see what the Federal Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs takes to be interesting news in higher education. It's not particularly gripping reading, but I suppose I have to keep in touch with what those with the purse strings take to be important.

Browsing around there, I was lead to the page Which Course? Which University?, which attempts to give an overview of undergraduate courses available in the higher education system, with an aim to advising potential entry level students. What you actually get is another thing. It's a hodge-podge where every institution provides its own marketing-speak designed to cover as many bases as possible. So, where can I study philosophy? It turns out that a cursory search leads me to a list of 130 pages which mention the word "philosophy" (including all of those which mention different institutions' teaching philosophy). The site is of little value for anyone wanting to know the distinctives of this or that university. Even the main websites of each university are little help, as they all speak the usual corporate language, pushing the same buttons, offering everything to everyone. No university material I have ever seen says "Don't come here for subject X, we're not particularly good at that. Come here for subject Y. The people over at institution B are the place to go to learn X." In these times of maximising enrolment, this will not happen any time soon, either. It is a pity, because some honesty would not only be good for the students -- it would benefit staff too, who would get students more suited to their own special abilities and interests.


I never thought I'd see someone tout their knowledge of logic in quite this way:

I repeat, I have *taught* logic. I have studied First Order Logic, Dynamic Logic, Modal Logic, Hybrid Logic, Type Theory, Model Theoretic Semantics, Substructural Logics, Feature Logics, and some more. At grad level. I'd advise you to not take my knowledge here for granted.

[From a thread at Slashdot]

I think I'll try that line sometime. I'm sure it will impress or intimidate all who hear it.


"Virtually everything we were told in Indonesia turned out not to be true, sometimes almost immediately. The only exception to this was when we were told that something would happen immediately, in which case it turned out not to be true over an extended period of time."

Douglas Adams (1952-2001), from A Last Chance to See.


I never thought of the stoning scene in Monty Python's Life of Brian as a good illustration of the distinction between use and mention, but it is.


A new Philosophical Gourmet Report is out. The report is notorious among philosophers for being idiosyncratic, opinionated and wrong, chiefly because almost no-one is happy for where their institution appears in the rankings, but also because the rankings (determined by one man and his contacts) influence the choices of graduate students deciding where to study. Any ranking like this is bound to be personal, biased, and as a result, get up the nose of lots of academics. After all, we're pretty picky about our own turf.

I'm not so interested in the rankings (and not because we don't (yet?) appear in the "Top 5 Australasian Programs"). I'm more interested in the reflections about the relationship between so-called "analytic" and so-called "continental" philosophy. There's some genuine insight there.


If a picture is worth a thousand words (and if the worth of pictures is additive) then Picture Australia (at is worth at nearly half a billion words.

The website is a central repository, not of pictures, but of links to pictures from galleries and museums all over Australia. Using some tricky databasing and indexing, some people at the National Library have made a single resource out of a massively scattered collection. If you want images which reflect on Australia's culture and heritage, start your browsing or searching at Picture Australia.


Willie's Diary gives you some inside information into the U2 tour as it wends its way around the globe.


Do you work in a university? I do. Do you work in a university with a policy of building inspired and inspiring architecture? I don't. But they do.


The geek in me likes the new Mac DevCenter at O'Reilly. There's a lot of useful Mac OS X information there, and it's a simple way to get a sense on how the open source community are responding to the new operating system.


I'm noticing that this afternoon we've lost our connection to the outside world. That probably means that you can't read this. It's the usual story: lots of rain, then the cable gets flooded and we lose the link. Expect connection here to be spotty for a few days.


On counterfactuals, and on whether a life is worth living:

... when the chorus in Oedipus at Colonus gloomily declares, "Not to be born is best of all," the appropriate riposte is: How many are so lucky?
Well, perhaps, perhaps not. If the chorus is saying that for each and every one of us, it would have been better for us not to be born, then that's not an appropriate response at all. The point is not how many people are lucky enough not to have come into existence, but rather, of the people who do exist, their existence is a misfortune. It's like when you say that it's a good idea to avoid harming others. Exactly how many harms have the good fortune of not existing?

It's tricky, counting denizens of the shadowy underworld of the nonexistent.


"I'm confused. I keep hearing that big companies are giving big money to political parties. Aren't the people responsible for these donations the same ones who say that giving the shareholder's money to charities or to fund a less profitable service to people in the bush is morally wrong because they have a duty to use it for the benefit of shareholders? I guess political donations must have a good rate of return. If they don't then the donations would be a kind of stealing from shareholders wouldn't they? So where's the path to the bottom line?"




Family, family, family.

Today is my mother's birthday. Happy birthday, Mum!

2001 is the year I am half my mother's age. Were she alive today, she would have been 64. I am 32. Zack is zero (plus three and a bit weeks). When I'm 64, Zack will be 32.


This weekend is also a family weekend. We're spending time with relatives from Brisbane: my dashing older brother (also featured in the "hug me" picture), his lovely wife and two charming kids, and Christine's uncomparable younger brother. This is too many people to (legally) fit in our tiny car (at least if we want to go anywhere in it) so we'll have to be creative about entertaining ourselves and getting out and about. Let's see if the public transport system can withstand our onslaught. It's either that, or walking, or staying at home.



I'm back on the train to and from work. This image does not inspire confidence in the Sydney Rail system.

The image was found at the great Town Hall Steps, your resource for everything community and Sydney oriented. If you're coming here from there, and you're looking for the Summer Hill and Dulwich Hill pictures. Browse last month's entries. This month is closeup and art month.


At lunchtime today, the photos I had ordered on Friday from Metro Photo arrived. The quality is fantastic, of both the 4x6s and 5x7s. A two megapixel camera is truly your friend. Except to your hard disk. My aged (that's one-and-a-half years old!) PowerBook's drive is slowly filling up. (Though the images folder is 300MB full for 700 items, so there's some way to go yet before I fill the drive and I feel the insane desire to upgrade.)


I'm back at back at work after taking a few weeks off to get to know Zachary, and helping set up new routines in our household to accomodate this new little person.

But now, I have to trek in to work and attempt to teach philosophy, despite having a brain fogged up with thoughts of Zack: nappies, baths, finding out new things, learning to live, calming him when he's agitated, and enjoying exploring the world. It's a lot like falling in love. Your thoughts and life have a new focus. No, that's wrong, it's not like falling in love again, it is falling in love again. As always, everything is not the same. Certainly things are different for Zack. He has entered a foreign, exciting and dangerous world, full of delights and terrors, after leaving the comparative safety of a womb.

So, in a way, have I.


I’m Greg Restall, and this is my personal website. I am the Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews, and the Director of the Arché Philosophical Research Centre for Logic, Language, Metaphysics and Epistemology I like thinking about – and helping other people think about – logic and philosophy and the many different ways they can inform each other.


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