News from January 2002


Dave Scarratt sent me a link to the Ethical Philosophy Selector. Find out which philosopher you best match, when it comes to ethics. I managed to match Augustine, which struck me as not-quite-right, but then I don't think I match too many other people on the list anyway. Who do you match?


Zachary and I enjoyed a swimming lesson at Leichhardt Pool yesterday. Very exciting, and lots of fun. He was the oldest baby there, and the month or two he had on the other babies really made a difference. He was completely unfazed and relaxed in the water. (It might have been the previous times we've been swimming together, too, I suppose.)


I think I'm glad that has not made it to Australia.

I'm also glad that you can't seem to browse the archive by discipline. It's just too prurient to browse a list of philosophers to see who's popular and who's not, among undergraduates.


Comments are back. They're different, and hopefully better. Visit


I'm preparing for my move to Melbourne.

  • Christine gave me the great Lonely Planet guide to Victoria, for my birthday, and I've been planning enough little and big excursions to keep us occupied for the next few years. Victoria may be small, but there's lot's of different stuff there.
  • The database of real estate ads at the newspaper is emailing me a list likely rental properties in my Favoured Spots, weekly. I have no idea how we're going to actually arrange renting a property at this distance (I can't exactly pop down to Melbourne at the drop of a hat, can I?) but I'll cross that bridge when we come to it.
  • I've also been checking out public transport. The official website is a usability disaster, and the pages of the major corporations are no better. However, there's a significant collection of people keen to provide information about public transport and advocate its cause to the community and government. I like that a lot.


An interesting observation emailed to me from David Scarratt:

I saw from the train on the way to work yesterday a billboard with an ad for Logicin: "Logical relief from coughs and colds". Perhaps they're offering formal systems that alleviate nasal congestion, etc. The Old English reading group at work came up with a couple of rules for such a system: a conjunctivitis elimination rule, and the law of the excluded middle ear. We also wondered whether disjunctivitis would be inflammation of the disjuncts. I can see a whole new field of medical (remedial?) logic opening up; satisfaction would no doubt figure prominently. I'd hate to think what would happen to someone who contracted a contradiction...
What surprises me is that they have an Old English reading group at his workplace.


It's freaky seeing the inside of your book on I mean, someone took the time to scan the pages you can read the preview? That's amazing. Anyway, go buy my book, please!


The problem with logic is not that it's too simple, it's that it has bad press, and as a result, people think it's too simple. After all, only bad press could explain a critique like that. Surely you wouldn't say after some genuine reflection and engagement with logic. Let me be a little critical and note the unfounded slides and slips in that paragraph.

(None of this ought to be taken to say I don't like Mitsu's Synthetic Zero -- it's deep, interesting, and lots of fun to read. It's just that when it comes to logic, he's wrong.)

  1. "The problem with logic is not that it is wrong or useless, but that it is too simple." Logic is too simple for what? Unpack the unstated part here. Nothing is "too simple" by itself. It's too simple for this, or that, or something else. What is logic too simple for? Hammers are too simple to be the solution to the problem of injustice in this world, but it would be misleading to say that hammers are too simple, just because of that. Maybe hammers are just fine for some tasks -- maybe they're fine for the tasks for which their designed. I suspect the same might be the case for logic.
  2. "A logical proposition is always stated within a formal system as either true or false. But real-world propositions only make sense in context..." But hang on: why are being stated in a formal system and being true or false supposed to be in tension with and making sense in only in a context ? That's like saying "A good pasta is always made with extra virgin olive oil. But pasta they serve here is only available on Wednesdays."
  3. "...and they [real world propositions] are often dynamic..." I never knew that formal systems had difficulties with modelling dynamic phenomena. Tell that to the applied mathematicians.
  4. "Real-world propositions also rarely map into absolute truth values --- is "it is hot" true or false?" Hang on. When did the talk of truth values in logic become talk of absolute truth values? Does the fact that something is stated in a formal system give it a kind of sheen or stature not otherwise available to it?
  5. Still on whether or not it's hot: "it's hot" is true if and only if it's hot. Any vagueness or context sensitivity in our ascription of truth to the claim is inherited from the vagueness and context sensitivity in the claim itself. This holds whether we want to talk about its truth in the vernacular, or whether we represent it formally by assigning "truth values". They're no mystery.
  6. "Logic is a toy, like a set of building blocks..." Yes, logic is a toy, but it's lots of other things too. It's a picture, a theory, a body of law, and many many other things indeed.
This critique of logic is not unlike a critique you might make of counting:
"To say that there are five apples in the bowl is to miss out on the rich dynamic properties of the apples. Some time ago there were seven, now there are five, and tomorrow there might be three, or there might be eight. Talk of counting the apples leads to ignoring their other rich properties of their texture, flavour, colour, and their individuality. Apples are in a state of flux. You can never say when an apple blossom makes the transition to being an apple, and when a rotten apple finally ceases being an apple and becomes one with the earth in the compost heap. To count the apples is to abstract away from the dynamic flow of the world around us."
Yes, of course to count is to abstract away from other things. All talk of things is not-talking of other things. But to say somethings and not others is not necessarily to speak falsely. To talk of truth or falsity is to ignore many of the other rich phenomena which are a part of speech and reason and dialogue and imagination. But again, it's not necessarily a mistake. If you can't count, you miss out on some of the rich phenomena in the world around you. If you can't reason, if you don't have some idea of the logical connections between things, you're missing out on an incredible amount.


Robert Nozick, influential Harvard Philosopher, died yesterday.


The Moscow Times is a great English language daily with news from Russia. I was put on to it by some fun Russian students (Hi Anna! Hi Dmitry!) at ESSLLI 2001 in Finland. Their reflection on the 1991 coup attempt 10 years later is especially good reading. When you read things like:

"Ten years ago, Vladimir Putin was an aide to St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak, who quickly sided with President Boris Yeltsin in opposing the Communist coup in August 1991. But what role Putin played is much less clear."
you know that you're reading some interesting investigative journalism. See the whole article for yourself.


Are you a member of the Binary Proletariat? The era of 12 hour workdays has ended for me. (And when I did slave at work for 12 hours a day it was never drudgery, being fortunate enough to have a job which aligns pretty closely with what I love doing anyway.) Having a child has seen to that. Looking after him has pushed many things aside. I just hope it has pushed the right things aside, leaving a balanced sort of existence. But to be in my place, to be able to ask such questions, and to have the flexibility to organise my life in a reasonable way, is a great thing.


Michael Dummett is an enormously influential analytic philosopher who has worked on logic and the philosophy of language. His work is often thought of as difficult and very abstract. He is also a committed campaigner for the cause of refugees. Here is an example of his writing on the topic. I've just read his book On Immigration and Refugees. Read it if you're interested in understanding the rights and wrongs of the ebb and flow of people across borders in this world. (I wish I had seen this interview on Australian TV months ago.)


Yesterday it transpired that we had little in the house to offer our supper guests when they came over after Zack was asleep. I checked the pantry, and once I obtained a few easy-to-get items (like eggs) we had enough to make some simple chocholate brownies. They were dead simple to prepare (eggs, butter, cocoa, flour, sugar, baking powder -- then bake, cool and slice) and rewardingly delicious to eat.

I am embarrassed to admit that at this ripe old age of 33, this was the first time I'd ever baked any cake-like thing which wasn't a packet mix. After this experience, I am thoroughly convinced that packet cakes are purely designed to rip you off. Making things from first principles is much more fun, and no more difficult. I am now officially sworn off packet mixes.


NASA's Visible Earth site has pictures of the smoke from the fires in New South Wales in December and January. There was a great deal of smoke, given that it trailed many hundreds of kilometres out into the Pacific Ocean.


Interesting reading awaits you at Philosophers on Holiday. In their own words

Philosophers on Holiday is a quarterly 'zine launched in the summer of 1997 as the "hippest, nowest, coolest thing in the philosophical travel-and-leisure genre."
Take time to immerse yourself in The General Theory of Not Dancing. There are some pearls of wisdom there.

Now be honest: you didn't know there was a philosophical travel-and-leisure genre, did you?


The most thought provoking Christmas gift was A Force More Powerful, a thought provoking book about non-violent conflict in the 20th Century. The authors discuss the famous cases such as Gandhi's campaign against the raj's salt tax in India, the Solidarity movement in Poland, and the campaigns for civil rights in the American South. These were interesting enough. But the discussions of other areas of conflict even more compelling. I had no idea of the French and Belgian invasion of the Ruhr in 1923, or about the campaign to oust General Martínez from El Salvador in 1943. The discussion of the intifada in Palestine, including the examination of the tensions between those who take violence to be an essential part of the struggle and those who don't, is apposite right now, too.

The central message in the book is the important role that citizens of a country have in providing legitimacy for the powers that be, and the way that this legitimacy can be withdrawn, and hence, the legs cut out from under a power, by nonviolent means. Eschewing violence is not simply a moral choice -- it may also be a strategic one. If you use violence against a regime, then this may be seen to legitimate a violent response by the regime itself, and in consequence, lend the regime a legitimacy that it doesn't otherwise deserve. It's interesting and important food for thought.


This photo is a detail from a larger shot I took roughly this time last year. It's interesting how a new program gives you a totally new way of looking at pictures you've had for ages. Putting my 1023 (so far) digital shots into a little database, tagging them with simple descriptions like (Zachary, Home, Sydney, Holidays etc) and then browsing the collection looking for all pictures of Zachary at home, or all pictures of when we're having holidays but staying in Sydney gives you a different and interesting insight into what you've been doing in the last year.

For the rest of this month, I'll treat you with little details from shots taken last year.


Well why is everything the way that it is? Well, if you work with M. C. George you might be able to find out. (Don't you think that the name "M. C. George" makes him sound like he or she is a late 20th Century rap artist?)


I'm slowly clawing my way back on top of work, after an enjoyable (but tiring!) Christmas to New Year break in Brisbane seeing family and friends. My computer has finally arrived, repaired, after an 8 week hiatus, so I can get back to writing rather more efficiently than before. And there are many things which need writing, so you won't be hearing from me here very much, I'm afraid.

Oh, by the way, tomorrow I turn thirty-three. That's not quite a third of a century, but pretty close to it. (I've entertained ideas of holding a "33-and-a-third" party, which by my reckoning, should be around May 13.)


Zack smiling, by the pool (Fremantle, November 2001)

Welcome to 2002! Happy new year, all.


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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