2020 Papers

Below is a list of accepted speakers and their talk titles for the 2020 Annual Meeting to be held on 19-21 June 2020. The meeting will be held online due to COVID-19, and is locally and virtually organized by our president, David Blitz.

  • Landon D. C. Elkind (University of Iowa) “Generalized Molecular Formulas in Logical Atomism”
  • Gregory Landini (University of Iowa) “Gödel Incompleteness Doesn’t Hold in Principia Mathematica
  • Giovanni Battista Ratti (University of Genoa) “On Russell’s Ways Out”
  • Laurie Thomas (Independent Scholar) “On the Notion of Cause”
  • Thom Weidlich (Independent Scholar) “Keynes Russell: How Much Did Keynes Influence Russell’s Economic Views?”


Landon D. C. Elkind (University of Iowa) “Generalized Molecular Formulas in Logical Atomism”

In his 1918 logical atomism lectures, Russell argued that there are no molecular facts.  But he posed   a problem for anyone wanting to avoid molecular facts: we need truth-makers for generalizations of molecular formulas, but such truth-makers seem to be both unavoidable and to have an abominably molecular character. We might call this the problem of generalized molecular formulas. I clarify  the problem here by first distinguishing two cases: incompletely generalized molecular formulas and completely generalized molecular formulas. I next argue that, if empty worlds are logically possible, then the model- theoretic truth-functional considerations that are usually given address the first kind of formula, but not the second kind. I then show that the commitments Russell has already made provide an answer to the problem of completely generalized molecular formulas. An upshot of this discussion is that, assuming empty worlds are logically possible, some truth-makers will be general facts that have no constituents.

Gregory Landini (University of Iowa) “Gödel Incompleteness Doesn’t hold in Principia Mathematica

Gödel’s article “On Formally Undecidable Propositions of Principia Mathematica and related systems” (1931), offered in its title the promise of obtaining an important result concerning Whitehead and Russell’s Principia. I want to argue that, taken literally, it fails to make good on this promise. Of course, one may feel justified in interpreting the promise as having been made in the context, not of Principia itself, but of the modifications to Principia Gödel’s thought are needed to make it viable as a theory in which natural numbers are abstract particulars that are identified as classes under an ontology of simple types of classes. Fair enough. But we must evaluate Gödel’s first theorem as applied to the actual
Principia (modified only by adding its wff infin ax as a new axiom). If we take seriously Principia thesis that there are no natural numbers as abstract particulars, Gödel’s first theorem cannot apply. Its famous diagonal function does not exist.

Giovanni Battista Ratti (University of Genoa) “On Russell’s Ways Out”

Regarding his views on ethics, Russell is typically saddled with charges of (mainly pragmatic) inconsistency for holding that ultimate ethical valuations are subjective, while at the same time expressing emphatic opinions on ethical questions. In this paper, I will re-examine some of the ways out of these accusations Russell himself proposed, mainly by pointing to the weaknesses of objectivism (among which its failure in matching Occamist rigor is paramount). I shall also put forward some other possible replies that he did not expressly explore. In particular, I will stress that the object-language/meta-language distinction, which has its historical roots in Russell’s theory of types, can be used to hold that there is no possible contradiction in maintaining a subjectivist meta-ethics and defending substantive ethical claims. Along these lines, I will argue that Russell should have not been concerned with the charges of inconsistency of any kind, for second-order ontological claims about the nature of moral judgments are not conceptually apt to ground first-order substantive moral views.

Laurie Thomas (Independent Scholar) “On the Notion of Cause”

In his 1912 paper On the Notion of Cause, Bertrand Russell explained some of the problems with the early 20th century ideas about causality, and why some scientists and many philosophers would rather avoid the entire subject of causality. Yet from a 21st century perspective, it is clear that the American educational system, from K-12 to medical school, needs to do a better job of teaching people about causality. Causality is of practical and political importance whenever we are faced with choices whose consequences matter. Causality is not a mathematical or logical concept but a form of mythology. To serve our emotional needs, we human beings tell ourselves stories about the relationships among the events that we perceive. Yet our perceptions are inevitably limited, biased, or imprecise, and the act of observation is itself an event that could affect other events. Although all theories of cause and effect are mythoi, not all mythoi are created equal. Some mythoi clearly have better explanatory and predictive power than others have.

Thom Weidlich (Independent Scholar) “Keynes Russell: How Much Did Keynes Influence Russell’s Economic Views?”

We know Bertrand Russell was interested in economics — he even considered becoming an economist — and he did write about the subject. But given his friendship, or at least knowledge by acquaintance, with John Maynard Keynes, it’s interesting to ask how much the great economist influenced Russell’s economic thinking. The answer is not easy to get at. This paper attempts that, but also touches on the relationship between the two men and what we can say about Russell’s economic views.

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