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Buffalo Logic Colloquium

Thursdays at 4:00 pm in Park 141 unless otherwise noted

Spring 2017

April 27, Thursday
4:00 p.m., 141 Park Hall

John Corcoran, (University at Buffalo)
Title: "Sentence, Proposition, Judgment, Statement, and Fact: Speaking about the Written English Used in Logic"
The five English words—sentence, proposition, judgment, statement, and fact—are central to coherent discussion in logic. However, each is ambiguous in that logicians use each with multiple normal meanings.  Several of their meanings are vague in the sense of admitting borderline cases.  In the course of displaying and describing the phenomena discussed using these words, this paper juxtaposes, distinguishes, and analyzes several senses of these and related words, focusing on a constellation of recommended senses.  One of the purposes of this paper is to demonstrate that ordinary English properly used has the resources for intricate and philosophically sound investigation of rather deep issues in logic and philosophy of language. No mathematical, logical, or linguistic symbols are used. Meanings need to be identified and clarified before being expressed in symbols. We hope to establish that clarity is served by deferring the extensive use of formalized or logically perfect languages until a solid “informal” foundation has been established. Questions of “ontological status”—e.g., whether propositions or sentences, or for that matter characters, numbers, truth-values, or instants, are “real entities”, are “idealizations”, or are “theoretical constructs”—play no role in this paper.  As is suggested by the title, this paper is written to be read aloud.

I hope that reading this aloud in groups will unite people in the enjoyment of the humanistic spirit of analytic philosophy.



March 2, Thursday
4:00 p.m., 141 Park Hall
Matt LaVine (SUNY Potsdam)
Title: The History of Logic (and Ethics)
One of the most unique, insightful, and accessible introductions to a piece of philosophy I have ever read comes from John Corcoran's under‑appreciated essay, 'The Inseparability of Logic and Ethics. It reads: "...many exemplary moralists, including Socrates, Plato, Kant, Mill, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, showed by their teachings and actions a deep commitment to objectivity, the ethical value that motivates logic and is served by logic [...]  It is important to investigate the hypothesis that the ethics of the future must accord logic a more central and explicit role. Connections between ethics and irrational subjectivities must be severed; human dignity and mutual respect can be based to a greater extent on the universal desire for objective knowledge. Likewise, it is important to investigate the hypothesis that the logic of the future must accord ethics a more central and explicit role."  

This paper is an attempt to further investigate these hypotheses in a number of different ways. And, since I also believe the history of logic to be an underappreciated sub‑discipline, I will do so by thinking about different ways to connect history, logic, and ethics.  In particular, I will discuss the following connections:

(1) The historical thesis that a better understanding of the history of the modern logical revolution (1847‑1970) will lead us to view logic and ethics as on a natural trajectory toward being combined to a greater extent.
(2) The ethical recommendation that historians of logic should try to conduct their investigations in a less Eurocentric fashion (e.g. we should pay more attention to Ancient Chinese logic, Medieval Indian and Arabic logic, contemporary Brazilian logic, etc.).
(3) Several interpretive claims about ways to connect logic and ethics that we can glean from reading some Ancient Chinese and Medieval Arabic logicians, in particular.

March 9, Thursday
4:00 p.m., 141 Park Hall
Julian Cole (Buffalo State College)
Title: Institutions and Abstract Objects
Provided that one is comfortable with a deflationary metaontological perspective, it is easy to establish that there are objects of a wide variety of metaphysically contentious kinds. This fact inevitably challenges naturalists to question how it is possible to fit these objects into a naturalistically acceptable account of reality. In this talk, I argue for a very simple answer to this question: institutions are responsible for there being these objects. Indeed, for many such objects, a single institution is responsible for their existence: the surrogate subject matter institution.

Fall 2016

  • Thursday, November 3, 2016
    John Beverley (University at Buffalo)
    Title: "Consequential Commands: A Defense of Imperative Inference"
  • Thursday, November 17, 2016
    Thomas Bittner (University at Buffalo)
    Title: “Forman ontology of space, time, and physical entities in Classical Mechanics”
  • Thursday, March 9, 2017
    Julian Cole, Buffalo State College
    Title: "Institutions and Abstract Objects"


Thursday, November 3
John Beverley (University at Buffalo)

Title: "Consequential Commands: A Defense of Imperative Inference"
Abstract: We use imperative sentences frequently, from the strongest commands to the gentlest advice. We also appear to use imperative sentences to make inferences, much like we use descriptive sentences to make inferences. Call the former imperative inference and the latter descriptive inference. That imperatives may be used in inference is a contentious claim. For what imperative sentences express, prescriptions, are not typically considered truth‑apt. Since inference traditionally understood requires truth‑preservation from premises to conclusion, it is claimed, putative examples of imperative inference must not be inferences. Moreover, many have claimed putative imperative inference are explainable by pragmatics, or, perhaps, are reducible to descriptive inference. While I agree that prescriptions are not truth‑apt, rather than reject imperative inference, I deny that inference should be solely concerned with truth‑preservation. To that end, I argue imperative and descriptive inference are in an important respect on a par, as any argument for treating one as a type of inference equally applies to the other, and any objection applying to one, applies equally to the other. I conclude we should expand inference to include relations holding in the general case between contents of sentences which may not be truth‑apt, having argued for the special case of prescriptions here.

Thursday, November 17
Thomas Bittner (University at Buffalo)

Title: Forman ontology of space, time, and physical entities in Classical Mechanics
Abstract: Classical (i.e., non-quantum) mechanics is the foundation of many models of dynamical physical phenomena.  As such those models inherit the ontological commitments inherent in the underlying physics. Therefore, building an ontology of dynamic phenomena requires a clear understanding of the ontology of physics -- mostly in the form of classical mechanics in its various formulations. The axiomatic theory presented here in conjunction with the specification of the class of its intended models aims to provide a formal framework that is general enough to formalize the ontological commitments of classical mechanics in a way that is consistent with its various formulations and the various underlying space-time ontologies

Spring 2016

  • Thursday, February 11, 2016
    Julian Cole, Buffalo State College
    Title: Dependence, Necessity, and Atemporality (see abstract, below)
  • Thursday, February 18, 2016
    Steve Petersen, Niagara University
    Title: TBA
  • Thursday, March 31, 2016
    Speaker: James Beebe, Dept of Philosophy, University at Buffalo
    Title: The Probabilities of Might and Would Counterfactuals
  • Thursday, April 28, 2016
    Graham Priest, Philosophy Department, Graduate Center, CUNY
    Title: None of the Above. The Catuskoti in Buddhist Logic


February 11, Julian Cole (BSC): Dependence, Necessity, and Atemporality
Abstract: In this paper, I introduce the notion of a facet of reality being representationally dependent on collective intentionality and outline a non‑descriptivist account of metaphysical terms such as 'necessary' and 'atemporal'. I go on to motivate and defend the thesis that an object can be both representationally dependent on collective intentionality and a necessary and atemporal existent.

February 18, Steve Petersen (NU): The Statistical and Unification Approaches to Explanation Unified Statistically
Abstract: The extended critique of unificationist explanation in Woodward (2003) says that the key question for the account is "whether our intuitive notion (or notions) of unification can be made more precise in a way that allows us to recover the features that we think good explanations should possess." Just pages later, Woodward suggests that the unificationist account "seems to be at bottom one of descriptive economy or information compression." This means the key question for unificationist explanation is whether we have a precise notion of information compression. But of courseCthanks to Shannon, Turing, and KolmogorovCwe do have a precise notion of information compression.

I apply algorithmic information theory to give a formal account of explanatory unification. The result is a mix of unificationist and statistical‑relevance accounts of explanation that I think gains advantages from both while avoiding problems with either.

Woodward, James. 2003. Making Things Happen: A Theory of Causal Explanation. Kindle edition. Oxford University Press.

March 31, 2016, James Beebe (UB): The Probabilities of Might and Would Counterfactuals
Lewis (1973a and 1973b) argued that there is a duality between might and would counterfactuals, such that the negation of ‘If p were true, q would not be true’ is equivalent to ‘If p were true, q might be true.’ Lewis also defended a view about the probabilities of counterfactuals that—when combined the thesis of might and would duality—leads to the implausible consequence that the probability of ‘If p were true, q might be true’ will be quite high if the probability of q conditional on p is high but low if the probability of q on p is low. We maintain that the probabilities of might counterfactuals like this should be both high and independent of the conditional probabilities in question (as long as the probability is greater than zero). In the first part of our paper, we show the thesis of might/would duality together with Lewis’ views about the probabilities of counterfactuals does indeed have the counterintuitive consequence in question. In the second part of the paper, we report the results of a series of empirical studies that show that the intuitions of ordinary individuals about would counterfactuals accord both with our preferred perspective and the perspective implied by Lewis’ combination of views. However, our results also reveal the surprising extent to which the intuitions of ordinary individuals about might counterfactuals fail to correspond very well to either our preferred perspective or the Lewisian view. We conclude with some reflections on how ‘might’ might actually function in ordinary discourse and the circumstances in which one should trust or reject folk intuitions.

Lewis, D. (1973a). Counterfactuals. Harvard University Press, Cambridge.
Lewis, D. (1973b). “Counterfactuals and Comparative Possibility,” Journal of Philosophical Logic 4: 418-446.

Download: The Probabilities of Might and Would Counterfactuals


April 28, 2016, Graham Priest (CUNY): None of the Above. The Catuskoti in Buddhist Logic
Abstract: In early Buddhist logic there is a principle called the catuskoti (for corners). According to this, given any statement, there are four possibilities: that it is true, false, both true and false, or neither true nor false. Later Buddhist thought adds a fifth possibility to this: that it is ineffable–or even effable and ineffable. It might be thought that all this is incoherent. But it can be shown to be logically coherent using the techniques of modern non-classical logic. In this talk I will show how. No knowledge of Buddhist philosophy will be presupposed.


  • Thursday, February 5, 2015
    John Keller, Niagara University
    "Logical Form Minimalism"
  • Thursday, February 19, 2015
    Greg Frost-Arnold, Hobart and William College
    Logics of Confusion and Ambiguity: Motivations, Model Theory, Proof Theory, and Applications
  • Thursday, March 5, 2015
    Lorraine Keller, Niagara University
    "Logical Form, LF, and Propositional Structure"      
  • Thursday, October 22, 2015
    4:00 pm, Park 141
    John Kearns, University at Buffalo
    "Locutionary and Illocutionary, Acts and Arguments"
  • Thursday, November 5, 2015
    4:00 pm, Park 141
    Neil Tennant, Ohio State University
    "Core Logic"


  • March 6, 2014: 4:00-6:30
    141 Park Hall, UB North Campus
    Alan Ruttenberg, Director of Data Warehouse, Institute of Health Informatics
    The Web Ontology Language OWL:  What it can and can’t do
  • April 3, 2014: 4:00-6:30
    141 Park Hall, UB North Campus
    Maureen Donnelly, Philosophy Department, UB
    Positionalism Revisited
  • April 17, 2014: 4:00-6:30
    141 Park Hall, UB North Campus
    Daniel Cunningham, Department of Mathematics, Buffalo State College
    Set Theory: An intersection of mathematics and philosophy
  • Thursday, October 23, 2014
    3:30 pm, Park 141
    John Kearns, University at Buffalo
    "Designing a More User-friendly Form of First-order Logic"
  • Thursday, November 6, 2014
    4:00 pm, Park 141
    Julian Cole, Buffalo State
    "Can Social Constructs be Atemporal and Amodal?"