Sound and Fury

Signifying nothing

Journal availability woes and dissertation meandering worries

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Since Bristol University philosophy department lists, as one of its principal research areas, the philosophy of science, you would expect the unviersity to have access to the journal entitled “Philosophy of Science.” Not so. I have spent some time trying to get at two articles from that journal with no luck. They are listed on Jstor, but the actual article isn’t on there and it directs me back to the Chicago Journals website, which asks me to log on. All in all rather frustrating. In desperation I just tried searching Google for “Psillos structure” and lo! I was directed to the PhilSci Archive which contained a version of the paper I wanted. In fact, the other article I wanted was also available through that archive. So God bless you Pittsburgh! I can’t believe I haven’t come across this resource before. The papers I got were from conference proceedings, but there are also some articles that are forthcoming in various journals. It would be nice to see the PhilSci archive grow into a repository of preprints, much like arXiv has for physics papers.

Rather than actually working on the fundamentals of my dissertation, I have been borrowing books and downloading papers tangentially related to my topic. I have a core idea for my dissertation, and then many sattelite projects. Hopefully I can somehow glue it all into a cohesive whole. More for my benefit than anyone else’s I shall summarise the myriad directions my current project is taking. The main nexus of the dissertation is about geometry and structuralism. So a detailed look at Shapiro’s and Resnik’s accounts of ontology and epistemology in the context of geometry. Often when they are discussing the struturalist’s stock example “the natural number structure” they say things which are supposed to be true of all mathematical structures. In the case of geometry, it isn’t apparent that this is as straightforward as they imagine. My main aim is to look at whether structural interpretations of geometry will work. Some of the intellectual meanderings that I might also write about are:

  • The history of geometry, particularly 19th century. Interpreted as a move toward structuralism? (Shapiro argues as much in his 1997 book)
  • Bourbaki-type set theoretic structure and Klein’s Erlangen Programme as kinds of structuralism
  • Genetic Epistemology. Can how we learn geometry be interpreted structurally? (Piaget wrote a book on the child’s conception of geometry which would be my main source for this.)
  • Structural realism about spacetime. How this squares with structuralism about mathematical/axiomatic geometry.
  • Shapiro talks of “linguistic resources” limiting what we can do. In the case of geometry, it might be better to discuss “conceptual or imaginative resources” instead.
  • Our limits as a benefit. Why it is good for structuralism that we aren’t aware that any circle isn’t perfect and that any line we draw actually has a thickness. These defects in our perception make pattern recognition and abstraction easier.

So that should keep me going. All I need to do now is read all this stuff and then write loads. Pff. Easy.


Written by Seamus

July 8, 2008 at 12:59 pm

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