The Status of Logic in Philosophy

It is a commonly accepted view (among logicians working in philosophy [departments]) that while logic was considered central to philosophy in the mid-20th century, it has since moved closer and closer to the margins. It is said, e.g., that while in the 1950s and 60s it was common to find “pure” logicians working in philosophy departments (and consequently, that as a pure logician you could find a job in a philosophy department), this is no longer the case to a similar extent. It is also believed that while a few decades ago logicians enjoyed a reputation (among philosophers) as people who were doing important (and hard) work, now much of logic is just not considered philosophy anymore. I wonder how accurate this cluster of suspicions (henceforth “the belief”) actually is .

Anecdotal evidence certainly suggests that it’s difficult to find a job as a logician. But is it more difficult than finding a job, period? And is it more difficult now than it was 30 or 40 years ago?

Anecdotal evidence also suggests that logic is not held in particularly high regard among some (many?) philosophers. But is this more true now than it was 30 or 40 years ago?

These are difficult questions to answer; difficult to answer, that is, other than by adducing more anecdotal evidence. One would think that if the belief is correct, then the number of logic jobs advertised should have declined over the last 30 years (as a percentage of all philosophy jobs). One would also think that the philosophy curriculum would have changed reflecting the changing status of logic in philosophy as a whole. Thirdly, it would likely be the case that as fewer logicians were trained and hired by philosophy departments, there should be fewer logic papers published by logicians in philosophy departments.

I have no idea of how to come up with hard data on the first two cases, but I’d be interested to hear anecdotal evidence, especially on the second point. Does your department offer fewer advanced logic courses now than it did 20 or 30 years ago? Did your department use to require a graduate logic course of its grad students but no longer does?

There is some hard data on the third issue, thanks to the Web of Science. I’ve done some searches on logic papers in the past three decades. The data is a little skewed, I’m sure, since they don’t have extensive coverage of the period 1975-1984, but the results are nevertheless interesting. I tried to compare output by people working in philosophy departments (in the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand) in logic journals (The Journal and Bulletin of Symbolic Logic, and the Journal of Philosophical Logic). The results are interesting:

1975-1984 1985-1994 1995-2004
Journal of Symbolic Logic +
Bulletin of Symbolc Logic
Journal of Philosophical Logic 32/252
Total logic papers 52/3,406

In the first two lines, I gave the ratio of papers by authors in US/ Canadian/ British/ Irish/ Australian/ New Zealand philosophy departments to the total number of papers in the respective journals. In the last line, you have the ratio of logic papers to all papers in the index (by authors in US/Canadian etc. departments). It looks like the output of logicians in English-speaking philosophy departments has increased since the 1970s.

I conjecture that what happened in philosophy vis-à-vis logic is not that logic has become (seen as) less central, but that as philosophical logic has matured over the last 50 years, it has been integrated into the appropriate areas of philosophy. So perhaps it isn’t logic per se that’s seen as less central to philosophy, but the kind of logic you could still commonly find being done in philosophy departments in the 50s and 60s, which wasn’t that much different from the logic done in math departments.

UPDATE: Updated the table to include New Zealand, as well as Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

UPDATE: Followup posted here.

UPDATE: More followups:
Thoughts on logic in philosophy grad programs
Survey of logic in US grad programs
Brian Weatherson’s JfP analysis and logic jobs
Session on logic in graduate philosophy programs at the ASL Spring Meeting/APA Pacific
Logic in America vs Logic in Europe

18 thoughts on “The Status of Logic in Philosophy

  1. Umm, I would have thought New Zealand was as much a part of “Anglo-American” philosophy as Canada or Australia—and there are plenty of logicians working in philosophy departments here… 8-)Posted by Nick Smith,

  2. From Peter Smith, Philosophy, Cambridge University ( few responses to your very interesting piece.1) JOBS My impression is that almost no UK philosophy department would employ a logician who couldn’t teach courses on philosophical logic, philosophy of maths and/or philosophy of science. But that’s been the case since the 1970s. 2) SYLLABUS CHANGE What has changed in the UK (outside Oxbridge and a very few other places) is that formal logic has been increasingly squeezed from the syllabus as departments have moved to “pick’n’mix” course structures driven by student demand. Not so long ago at least those doing “single honours” philosophy — i.e. majoring in philosophy — would have done a compulsory introductory formal logic in their first year; and then had one or two more optional formal/mathematical logic courses available to them over the next two years. Now there is often only one introductory course available, and that’s optional. (For example, that’s now so even in Sheffield, a top-rated UK department: when I left the first-year logic module was replaced by “critical thinking”, sigh!) And the UK graduate programs typically don’t require students to make up the shortfall.3) My VERY impressionist sense, however, is that there is — after a dip when the ambitious top-flight grad students were all doing philosophy of mind! — an increasing number of the best grad students in the top grad programs again wanting to work in e.g. philosophy of maths or philosophical logic (and taking it that this requires some reasonable technical proficiency in logic). And they are getting placed into jobs. So there are reasons not to be too downhearted.

  3. I agree that the role of logic in philosophy is changing, but I agree with Peter that the situation is not completely disheartening one. It is a difficult thing to get a job, and the evidence is that if you are logician only (and do not teach in any other area of philosophy) you’re pretty unemployable. But the same is the case in mathematics or computer science or linguistics departments too.As to the role of logic in philosophy: there’s do doubt that it’s integrated into some areas of philosophy (around here every second philosopher seems to be talking about “two dimensional modal logic” and its applications in semantics, metaphysics and philosophy of mind). I reckon that it’s not going to go away, but that the role of the relationship of research in logic to philosophy comes in cycles. At some times the emphasis is on application of pretty well worked out logical ideas (I’d think that the 2D semantics work is like that) and at other times, there’s a great deal of constructive activity in logic itself (the 1960s and 1970s development of modal logic, and the development of classical metatheory in the first half of the 20th Century is like this, I think). Is there any current work in logic proper which is awaiting integration into the body of philosophy? I’d like to hope that there is something somewhere, but I’d be hard pressed to pick something.Thanks for the thought provoking post.

  4. For Nick: Articles in JSL, BSL, and JPL from philosophers in New Zealand: 1975-84: 0, 1985-1994: 5, 1995-2004: 4.

  5. Well, thanks for looking up those figures. But putting them in a separate table is a bit like responding to a Tasmaninan complaining that she has been left off the map of Australia by giving her her own separate map of Tasmania! My point was that if we are looking at trends in Anglo-American philosophy, and we have included Canada and Australia in our figures, then we should include New Zealand too. But enough of this: let’s file my disgruntled whinings with the complaints of Canadians who have been mistaken for Americans, Australians who have been told by Americans that they have a cousin in Vienna (true story), etc., and move on :)Here are a few qualms about your original post as a response to the claim that logic’s status within philosophy is declining. (i) The data from 1975-84 do indeed seem problematic. Your figure for the number of articles in JSL, BSL and JPL from philosophers in New Zealand in that period is 0, but a quick scan of Max Cresswell’s CV at reveals a JPL paper from ’80 and a JSL paper from ’84. (ii) You look at a narrow selection of journals. I’m not sure how it would affect the results to include e.g. NDJFL and Studia Logica, but these journals certainly publish a lot of work of interest to philosophers. (iii) Your starting date of ’75 seems too late, as those who think that logic’s status within philosophy is declining would probably say it peaked somewhere in the 50’s through late 60’s/early 70’s, and this is compatible with an increase in the output of logicians in philosophy departments since 1975.So, I don’t think your data do that much to support your conclusion, but for what it’s worth, I agree with that conclusion—i.e. that what’s happened is that a lot of logic has been integrated into certain areas philosophy.Anyway, thanks for a very thought-provoking original post, and thanks also for the figures for New Zealand.– Nick Smith

  6. I agree with most of Nick’s points. In my defense: Cresswell’s papers aparently didn’t have his department affiliation listed, only the university. So they didn’t show up in my search for “Address contains PHILOSOPHY and NEW ZEALAND”. But I’m not going to wade 1,700+ papers by hand! I would have looked at more journals, too, but JPL and JSL are apparently the only ones for which ISI has entered data going back to 1975. And they don’t have anything before 1975. (I couldn’t get Math Reviews to search by country or department.)Of course I wasn’t putting these admittedly sketchy stats up as a knock-down refutation of “the belief.” There are lots of possible explanations. One someone made to me by email is that the increase in logic papers may be attributable to more people publishing earlier in their careers (all those grad student logicians publishing in the JSL and then not getting jobs?). Another might be that logicians just become more productive. Or that logicians published in other journals in the 1970’s than they do now. Or that the decline of logic in philosophy just hasn’t been felt yet (i.e., most of the papers were written by people who got jobs before logic went out of style).And I do sympathize with Nick feeling slighted. If I had a dollar for every time I heard “Oh, do you know so-and-so in Sydney” when I tell people (i.e., Americans) I’m from Austria, … So again, apologies. I’ll edit the table.Thanks, also, to Peter and Greg for their comments. The situation of logic courses in UK philosophy programs does look interesting/disturbing. Is this the case for graduate programs as well? I looked at approx. the top 40 US PhD programs and almost all of them have a logic requirement of some form, with the majority requiring more than just introductory logic (i.e., proofs of completeness, undecidability, incompleteness theorems). More in a later post.That logicians who can’t at least teach phil of math, language, or science are next to unemployable in philosophy is not surprising. The sad thing (well, for us logicians) is that logicians who can teach those things seem to have a much harder time than philosophers of language, of science, etc., who can also teach logic classes.

  7. Posted by Nicole Wyatt ( must confess to being a philosopher of language who got her job in part because of her ability to teach logic. But as far as anecdotal evidence goes, the time I sat on a hiring ctte for a job where the primary brief was to hire someone who could teach logic up to and including proofs of completeness, undecidability, incompleteness theorems (AoS was wide open), we got very few pure logicians as applicants (we did hire one of them). Of course pure logicians may not be applying to philosophy departments because they don’t get hired in general. Cause and effect is hard to trace.

  8. What is clear at the end of 2004, in New Zealand, is that new jobs in Logic are being advertised at both Auckland Uni, and Victoria Uni. in Wellington — both in Philosophy. The Auckland Department has close to 1500 students (1200 in Stage One) in its formal logic programme, and about 500 in Critical Thinking. So, Critical Thinking is not “squeezing out” formal logic in Auckland.These students constitute a very substantial part of the Auckland Philosophy Department’s 4500 students.(Yes, it’s the largest Department in the Faculty of Arts.)Logic in Auckland, together with the rest of the Logic students in New Zealand, is a very bright spot for formal logic in the antipodes.I post this as a positve counter to the whingeing.

  9. I don’t know much about other departments, but what seems to me to be quite a fair amount of logic is taught at Penn, mostly by Scott Weinstein but also others. We regularly have two logic courses that are quite advanced, plus courses on topics like finite model theory, formal modal logic, etc. At least two students are doing disertations on logic, there is now a fair amount of formal decision theory going on here, as well as work in “philosophical” logic. We have more logic classes than epistemology classes, for what that’s worth. (Depsite this, penn was foolishly, in my opinion, left off the logic section of the philosophical gourmet report.) There is also an interdisciplinary Logic and Computation undergrad major here, and a logic colloqium, both joint w/ math and comp sci.

  10. The University of Sussex has a 25 week core course in Logic for its 1st year students. It sets things up well for the 2nd year options in Epistemology, Philosophy of mind, and Metaphysics.

  11. The University of Sussex has a 25 week core course in Logic for its 1st year students. It sets things up well for the 2nd year options in Epistemology, Philosophy of mind, and Metaphysics.

  12. Some more anecdotal evidence: until June last year I was in the PhD programme at Princeton, and it seemed to me that logic was held in extremely high regard there. I think part of the reason was that every graduate student, whatever their interests, had to take PHIL 312 – the Logic and Computability course. (This was officially an undergraduate course, but it was one of those undergraduate courses in which most of the students are graduate students.) I suspect that there’s nothing like spending hours and hours on a logic problem set to give one respect for logicians. (Incidently, Nick Smith was the TA when I took that course!)In fact, there were even some worries that logic might held in too high a regard at Princeton. Legend has it that the department looks out for, and perhaps only takes seriously, philosophers with the “X-Factor” – exceptional technical ability. Some felt that good philosophers might exhibit a variety of different abilities (no, really?!), and were worried that if Princeton passed over job candidates or graduate students on the grounds that they had no talent for logic, they might miss out on some exciting talent…

  13. I’m not a philosophical logician (or only a very amateurish one), but to judge from my colleagues, it does seem to be true that mathematical logic and philosophical logic are slowly drifting further and further apart. Of course, the standards of precision and rigour are the same, but my impression is that what strikes a philosophical logician these days as important and interesting work will strike most mathematical logicians as completely uninteresting (if not incomprehensible), and vice versa. If my impression is right, then alas, the great days of interdisciplinary work between philosophical logicians and mathematical logicians may well be behind us.

  14. now much of logic is just not considered philosophy anymore This isn’t a really new development. Betrand Russell thought this. (See the preface  to Unger’s new book.) Posted by Matt Brown

  15. It is funny for Russell to write this, since he was in large part responsible for the opposite opinion to be prevalent among many Anglo-American philosophers at th time he was writing (1948) or shortly thereafter. I’m wuite sure that the likes of Carnap, Quine, Putnam, Dummett did consider logic, if not part of philosophy, then certainly to be philosophically important.  Posted by Richard Zach

  16. Logic is to philosophy as engineering is to architecture. Unfortunately for much of the last century it was believed by many, including students of philosophy, that engineering was  architecture.Now you have people dreaming up buildings with their roofs in the basement, almost as acts of revenge. Who can blame them? Posted by seth edenbaum

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