“To be is to be the value of a variable”
—Willard Van Orman Quine

“To be is to be a value of a variable (or to be some values of some variables).”
— George Boolos

I only twice attempted to take philosophy classes. Both were mistakes, in different ways. Maybe if I had not made those mistakes, I would not now have such a low opinion of philosophy… nah, it’s objectively rubbish.

Anyway. George Boolos…
Whenever a math class got REALLY INTERESTING, the professor would say “now, if this were a foundations course, we’d ask the following question,” and I’d be like YES YES THAT IS THE QUESTION I WANT ANSWERED, and they’d say “but instead we’ll go through the proof of lemma V.7.c”
Finally I stuck around after class one day and said “so what IS the foundations course, that’s what I want” and the professor looked startled because in 37 years of teaching real analysis no one had ever asked that, and then
and then the professor looked blank, because he realized he had no idea, and mumbled “well maybe the philosophy department has something, or you could try Harvard,” and walked away as fast as he could.

So George Boolos… en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Bo…
So I looked in the course catalogs, and there was nothing and Harvard, and the only thing at MIT was an intro course on philosophical logic, which was George Boolos. I turned up for the first day of classes, during which he introduced 2x2 truth tables and laboriously did AND.
He said that the next class was going to spend an hour on OR, so—having had a pretty decent grasp on predicate calculus since I was twelve—I decided the course was not for me.

Being taught Boolean algebra by Boolos was a fun concept, but only for about thirty seconds.
I suspect Boolos was dumbing down too far, misunderestimating MIT philosophy undergrads.

He was a major logician, and could have answered my burning questions about mathematical ontology in a way that would have satisfied me at the time. (I wouldn’t accept those answers now.)
“(or to be some values of some variables)” expresses Boolos’ theory of “plural quantification” which gets at both the foundational problems in mathematics and general philosophical ontology.

“Existential commitment” here is not a pun, exactly…

It’s difficult now to imagine, but in the mid-20th century, it was perfectly normal to think that the “existence” Sartre talked about and the “existence” of ∃ in mathematical logic were the same thing.

Quine’s “to be is to be the value of a variable” was serious!
I get the impression some readers think the “logicist rationalism” I critique in _The Eggplant_ is a straw man, but people are still doing it!

Random example, first that popped out of search engine:

“To Know is to Know the Value of a Variable” aiml.net/volumes/volume…
Speaking of knowledge, the other philosophy course I attempted to take was J. F. Thompson on epistemology. He was also a logician… I don’t know much about his work, but I suspect I’d have less retroactive respect for him than for Boolos.

You can see here that he tackled the Big Issues in logicist rationalism (most covered in Part One of _The Eggplant_).

He’s best known for an erroneous mathematical proof that you can’t perform an infinite number of actions in finite time.

Analytic philosophy is deeply silly…
Anyway, in the first lecture of the course, Thompson announced that he was going to demolish skepticism. “For example, a skeptic might say we can’t be sure there isn’t a tiger in the room. But, we can look around and see there isn’t one. So that’s that.”
I am actually more sympathetic to this argument now than when I was twenty, but I still feel that as a philosophical “proof” it lacks a certain something.

At twenty, I thought it was the lamest thing I’d ever heard, and that was the end of my attempts to take philosophy classes.

• • •

Missing some Tweet in this thread? You can try to force a refresh

Keep Current with David Chapman

David Chapman Profile picture

Stay in touch and get notified when new unrolls are available from this author!

Read all threads

This Thread may be Removed Anytime!


Twitter may remove this content at anytime! Save it as PDF for later use!

Try unrolling a thread yourself!

how to unroll video
  1. Follow @ThreadReaderApp to mention us!

  2. From a Twitter thread mention us with a keyword "unroll"
@threadreaderapp unroll

Practice here first or read more on our help page!

More from @Meaningness

2 Sep
“Rationalism”: whenever I use the word on twitter, I get replies—often but not always angry ones—from people who think I’m talking about a particular tiny, recent subculture.

Rationalism has existed for 2600+ years and is one of the two dominant Western ideologies.
So, I thought, wow, maybe this tiny subculture has been amazingly effective at marketing itself? So now everyone thinks “rationalism” means them, not the Western cultural mainstream?

That would be a remarkable achievement.
So I did a google search for “rationalism.”

In its first ten pages of results, zero concerned the LessWrong/Berkeley subculture.

(N.b. google gives you results it thinks will be personally relevant, so if you have any connection to that subculture, your results may vary.)
Read 10 tweets
24 Jul
A meandering 🧵 on how to do science, creativity and execution, political censure, research universities, Silicon Valley, and stuff, prompted by @paulg's latest post: paulgraham.com/conformism.html
@paulg .@paulg's 2004 essay "What you can't say" is a classic. The points he made may be obvious to the independent-minded, but his exposition is exceptionally excellent. paulgraham.com/say.html 2/
@paulg "What you can't say" is exceptionally relevant now, as increasingly you might be punished for saying almost anything. @paulg's new post is about that. But this meandering 🧵 isn't! 3/
Read 41 tweets
1 Jul
🧵 I will tweet 1-2 chapters of _In The Cells Of The Eggplant_ per week, in a 🧵 starting with this tweet. I’ll mark them 🆕 as I do, but ~40 chapters are ready now.

Meta post explaining what this is about and why you might or might not want to read it: meaningness.com/metablog/eggpl…
🆕 Learning to wield an invisible power: an introduction to meta-rationality.

You may find this book exciting if…

🆕 "True—in what sense?" is a first step toward a more sophisticated understanding than both rationalist absolutism and anti-rationalist relativism.

Read 10 tweets
10 Mar
🎙 Robert Kegan explaining his adult developmental theory, with @dthorson

“If you want to be Stage 5 because all the cool kids are, that’s a Stage 3 aspiration. If you want it because Stage 5 is the Correct way of thinking, that’s a Stage 4 aspiration.”

@dthorson Daniel asked Kegan about his claim that no one reaches Stage 5 before age 40. Kegan said that’s what’s in the data from their measurement process: zero cases.

This is somewhat puzzling…
@dthorson Other researchers using similar but not identical measures find “meta-systematic cognition,” seemingly analogous to Kegan’s Stage 5 thinking, starting for some in late 20s (partial intellectual understanding of it sometimes starting early 20s).

Informally I think I see this too.
Read 11 tweets
12 Jan
@KevinSimler @context_ing Right, I nearly added a tweet about principal-agent when originally replying to you!

There are lots of categories of things that offer pieces of the service one would want, but most of them are fatally compromised by principal-agent conflicts.
@KevinSimler @context_ing To take the original example, there are insurance advisors and insurance agents (different things), but they are mainly or entirely compensated by the insurance companies, acting as outsourced/freelanced sales people, so their “advice” is unreliable.
@KevinSimler @context_ing And, they don’t do the main thing you actually want, which is not selecting an insurance company, but dealing with their paperwork and screw-ups and (likely-fraudulent gray-area) coverage denials.
Read 18 tweets
30 Dec 19
@reasonisfun Hopefully maybe soon, but I haven’t done any work on that page since 2007, so possibly not very soon. (I still care about all the parts of the book and “intend” to finish them, but get <10% time for writing, so most of it may never happen.)

However, I can answer questions :)
@reasonisfun So a meta explanation first, addressing possible confusions… this is not “ordinary language philosophy” so it’s not analyzing how people use the word “special” (although that may be helpful). It’s pointing at a “stance” meaning a complex of thoughts, feelings, and ways of acting
@reasonisfun The particular stance this “special” wants to point at is something like “chosen by Destiny,” although not always *quite* so grandiose as that phrase.
Read 21 tweets

Did Thread Reader help you today?

Support us! We are indie developers!

This site is made by just two indie developers on a laptop doing marketing, support and development! Read more about the story.

Become a Premium Member ($3/month or $30/year) and get exclusive features!

Become Premium

Too expensive? Make a small donation by buying us coffee ($5) or help with server cost ($10)

Donate via Paypal Become our Patreon

Thank you for your support!

Follow Us on Twitter!