Help sought for a biography of Richard Montague

Ivano Caponigro at UCSD writes:

I’m working on a biography of Richard Montague (1930-1971) that aims to reconstruct his intellectual and personal life, his contributions, and his legacy.  Please contact me if you knew him personally (or just met him a few times) or have any material from him or about him (letters, manuscripts, pictures, audio recordings, etc.) or if you know anybody who knew him or may have material about it.

Thanks!

ivano@ucsd.edu

Mancosu on Pasternak (!)

My Doktorvater Paolo Mancosu has a new book: Inside the Zhivago Storm, on the publication history of Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago.

That’s the kind of scholar Paolo is: write a 400-page literary thriller because his duties as department chair at Berkeley keep him from doing his “real” work as a logician and philosopher of mathematics.

UPDATE: He now has a website/blog on the book as well.

From the publisher:

In Inside the Zhivago Storm. The Editorial Adventures of Pasternak’s Masterpiece, Paolo Mancosu, Professor of Philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley, provides a riveting account of the story of the first publication of Doctor Zhivago and of the subsequent Russian editions in the West. Exploiting with scholarly and philological rigor the untapped resources of the Feltrinelli archives in Milan as well as several other private and public archives in Europe, Russia, and the USA, Mancosu reconstructs the relationship between Pasternak and Feltrinelli, the story of the Italian publication, and the pressure exercised on Feltrinelli by the Soviets and the Italian Communist Party to stop publication of the novel in Italy and in other countries.

Doctor Zhivago, the masterpiece that won Boris Pasternak the Nobel Prize in 1958, had its first worldwide edition in 1957 in Italian. The events surrounding its publication, whose protagonists were Boris Pasternak and the publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, undoubtedly count as one of the most fascinating stories of the twentieth century. It is a story that saw the involvement of governments, political parties, secret services, and publishers. In Inside the Zhivago Storm. The Editorial Adventures of Pasternak’s Masterpiece, Paolo Mancosu, Professor of Philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley, provides a riveting account of the story of the first publication of Doctor Zhivago and of the subsequent Russian editions in the West. Exploiting with scholarly and philological rigor the untapped resources of the Feltrinelli archives in Milan as well as several other private and public archives in Europe, Russia, and the USA, Mancosu reconstructs the relationship between Pasternak and Feltrinelli, the story of the Italian publication, and the pressure exercised on Feltrinelli by the Soviets and the Italian Communist Party to stop publication of the novel in Italy and in other countries. Situating the story in the historical context of the Cold War, Mancosu describes the hidden roles of the KGB and the CIA in the vicissitudes of the publication of the novel both in Italian and in the original Russian language. The full correspondence between Boris Pasternak and Giangiacomo Feltrinelli (spanning from 1956 to 1960) is also published here for the first time in the original and in English translation. Doctor Zhivago is a classic of world literature and the story of its publication, as it is recounted in this book, is the story of the courage and of the intellectual freedom of a great writer and of a great publisher.

Post Doc in History of Geometry/Epistemology of Math at MPI Berlin

A postdoc in history of geometry is being advertised at Vincenzo de Risi’s group at the MPI for History of Science,Berlin!

https://www.h-net.org/jobs/job_display.php?id=47973

Research projects should concern the history of geometry, the history of mathematical epistemology or the history of the concept of space from the Ancient to the Early Modern Age. Possible topics include: The history of elementary geometry and Euclid’s Elements in Antiquity and the Renaissance. The philosophy of mathematics from Antiquity to the 18th century. The conception of space from Descartes to Kant. The beginnings of projective geometry. Optics and the theory of vision.

Philosophy in the SSHRC Insight Grant Competition

The Insight Grant Adjudication Committee (Committee 1C) for the 2013 Insight Grant competition of SSHRC, on which I served, prepared the following statement when the results of the competition were announced in April. We sent it to the CPA to distribute, but somehow it fell throught the cracks.  They did post an excerpt of an earlier letter which was sent to all Canadian philosophy departments inApril on their forum a month ago though.  I’m posting it here and now for the record.

(La version française suit)

The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) funds research projects by Canadian philosophers through its Insight Grant program. This program replaced the Standard Research Grant program in 2011. In the 2012 competition, the results of which were just announced, 13 applications were funded.  This represents a success rate of 21%, down from last year’s 18 applications funded (success rate: 26.5%).

This is bad news. But Canadian philosophers should understand some hidden factors driving the trend. Under SSHRC’s old system, each disciplinary committee was allocated a separate pot of money, where the size of the pot was determined by a formula involving the number of applicants to that committee and the total budget requested in each application. After ranking applications on their merits, committees were at liberty to trim the budgets of successful applicants in order to fund more applications (but to a lesser degree), and Philosophy was quite aggressive about doing so (resulting in a higher success rate for our committee than for some others).  

Under the new Insight Grant system, the application success rate is standardized to be the same across all committees.  For the 2012 competition, committees in all disciplines (Economics, Linguistics, etc.) had the same 21% application success rate.  Instead of tinkering with individual budgets, the appropriateness of an applicant’s budget was factored into the “feasibility” score, so applicants whose budgets were sharply out of line with the norms (median request: $23k per year) tended to suffer numerically.  It remained possible for the committee to make a rough budget cut on an excellent proposal (say, funding just 50% or 75% of what someone asked), but it was hard to do this while still allocating that proposal the near-perfect score on feasibility needed to make the top-of-the-list position that was necessary for funding. Some large projects were certainly funded, but they needed excellent justifications for their large budget requests.

It is important to understand that the drop in the national success rate was driven not primarily by increased stringency on SSHRC’s part, or a decrease in overall funding, or any bias against Philosophy, but by an increase in the number of applications across all committees: the Insight Grant went from 1,821 applications in 2011 to 2,220 applications in 2012, an increase of 399 applications (21.9%).  Meanwhile, Philosophy marked an exception to this general trend: we went from 68 applications in 2011 to 62 applications in 2012, a decrease of 8.8%.  If Philosophy had increased on a par with other disciplines, we would have had 83 applications, and with this year’s standardized success rate of 21% we would have been able to fund 17 of them, very close to last year’s 18 applications funded.

One factor for the decrease in Philosophy applications may have been that last year’s success rate was lower for Philosophy than it has been in the past, and applicants may have been discouraged from even trying.  This is exactly the wrong thing to do, especially in a climate in which disciplines other than Philosophy are responding to the fixed success rate by sharply increasing their number of applications.  

In many departments, SSHRC grants are vital both to the support and to the training of graduate students. It is in the interest of Canadian Philosophy and our graduate programs that as many eligible faculty members as possible apply.  It may be a pain, and discouraging not to be funded. But it can be useful to prepare a research plan, and it’s not much work to do some small revisions to research plans that were unsuccessful in the past. The very same proposal can pass from an insufficient ranking in one year to being funded in the next, for a number of reasons (budget appropriateness, different letters of assessment, different adjudication committee, different fields of applications). There were many excellent proposals this year that very narrowly missed being funded.


Le Conseil de recherches en sciences humaines du Canada (CRSH) subventionne les projets de recherche des philosophes canadiens par son programme des subventions Savoir. Ce programme a remplacé en 2011 le programme des subventions ordinaires de recherche. Au concours de 2012, dont les résultats viennent tout juste d’être annoncés, 13 subventions ont été approuvées. Cela représente un taux de succès de 21%, alors que l’année dernière, 18 projets avaient été financés pour un taux de succès de 26,5%.

Ce résultat est une mauvaise nouvelle. Les philosophes canadiens doivent comprendre que certains facteurs peu apparents ont joué.

Sous l’ancien régime, chaque comité disciplinaire disposait d’une somme donnée, déterminée par une formule qui tenait compte du nombre de demandes reçues par le comité, ainsi que du total des budgets demandés. Après avoir classé les demandes au mérite, les comités pouvaient à leur gré réduire la somme accordée aux candidats retenus pour subvention afin de financer plus de projets (de façon un peu moins généreuse). Le comité de philosophie usait assez largement de cette possibilité, ce qui assurait à ce comité un taux de succès plus élevé qu’à d’autres comités.

Dans le nouveau système des subventions Savoir, le taux de succès est normalisé de façon à être identique pour tous les comités. Donc, en 2012, toutes les disciplines ont eu le même taux de succès de 21%. Il n’est plus question d’ajuster les budgets de façon détaillée, mais seulement de vérifier s’ils sont globalement adéquats, en notant la « faisabilité » du projet : ainsi toute demande dont le budget s’écarte significativement de ce qui apparaît raisonnable (compte tenu d’un budget moyen demandé de quelque 23K$) tend à être numériquement défavorisé dans l’évaluation. Quoiqu’il demeure possible de réduire (par exemple de 25% ou même 50%) un budget jugé excessif pour un excellent projet de recherche, le fait d’avoir à le faire fait perdre des points au chapitre de la faisabilité, alors qu’une note quasi maximale est requise pour figurer en tête de liste et être financé. Certains projets au budget élevé ont été certes approuvés, mais seulement moyennant d’excellents justifications.

Il est important de comprendre que la baisse constatée du taux de succès général n’a été due ni à un resserrement des critères de la part du CRSH, ni à une baisse du financement disponible, ni à un quelconque préjugé contre la philosophie. Elle résulte uniquement de l’augmentation du nombre total des demandes pour l’ensemble des comités, nombre qui est passé de 1821 en 2011 à 2200 en 2012, soit 399 demandes ou 21,9% de plus. La philosophie a fait exception à cette tendance générale, avec 62 demandes en 2012, 8,8% de moins qu’en 2011 où il y en avait eu 68. Si les philosophes avaient fait comme les chercheurs des autres disciplines, nous aurions eu 83 demandes, ce qui, compte tenu du taux de succès normalisé de 21% aurait vraisemblablement donné 17 subventions octroyées, soit presque le même nombre que les 18 de l’an passé.

Le nombre décroissant des demandes en philosophie pourrait s’expliquer du moins en partie par le fait que le taux de succès, l’année dernière, avait été plus faible qu’antérieurement, ce qui pourrait avoir dissuadé certains philosophes de tenter leur chance. Or il faudrait réagir de manière exactement contraire, surtout dans un contexte où les autres disciplines s’ajustent au taux de succès fixe en augmentant nettement le nombre de leurs demandes.

Les subventions du CRSH jouent un rôle essentiel dans le financement et la formation de nos étudiants gradués. Il est de l’intérêt de la philosophie au Canada et de nos programmes d’études supérieures que le plus grand nombre de professeurs et chercheurs éligibles se portent candidats. Il peut être pénible, voire décourageant de ne pas être financé. Mais il peut être profitable d’élaborer un programme de recherche et le modeste effort requis pour réviser un projet, précédemment refusé, peut valoir amplement la peine : il semble bien établi, en effet, qu’un programme similaire de recherche peut recevoir une note insuffisante une année et se voir financer l’année suivante, pour diverses raisons (ajustement du budget, lettres d’évaluation différentes, changement dans la composition du comité, autres champs d’application). Cette année, plusieurs excellentes demandes ont manqué de très peu d’être financées.

SEP Entry on Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem

The Stanford Encyclopedia now has a separate entry on Gödel’s incompleteness theorem (by Panu Raatikainen).

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/goedel-incompleteness/

(Juliette Kennedy’s entry on Gödel also covers incompleteness.)

LaTeX for Philosophers

This last Thursday I held a little workshop to tell our graduate students about LaTeX.  Since LaTeX is fairly commonly used by philosophers, I thought they should at least know what it’s all about.  I made a presentation (the handout version contains additional info).  I didn’t have time to provide a list of documents/sites to check out or detailed instructions (and wouldn’t really know how to do that, as e.g., I haven’t installed TeX on a Windows machine in at least a decade, and never on a Mac).  We did play around with a few packages and experiment with BibTeX as a group.  Nice that WriteLaTeX lets you do that without even signing up for a free account!

PDFs of the presentation are attached to this post if you want to have a look, and the source code is on my GitHub.  I unlicense’d it, so feel free to use it for your own workshops on LaTeX for Philosophers (or other non-techy acedemics).  Suggestions for additions, requests for changes, typos, etc.: comment and/or file an issue on GitHub.