The Florida Student Philosophy Blog is proud to present this interview with noted logician, Graham Priest. Professor Priest received his Ph.D. from the London School of Economics and has spent many years promoting a position within philosophical logic studies known as ‘dialetheism’ This controversial position asserts the existence of true contradictions. Professor Priest’s work is widely recognized and I, along with several of my student colleagues, have used the 2nd edition of his textbook, An Introduction to Non-Classical Logic. The Florida Student Philosophy Blog is very thankful for Professor Priest taking the time to answer the following questions gathered from several Florida Philosophy majors.
I have split the interview into two parts. This posting is the first part of the two. There will be an activist comment review policy, as in comments will be strictly regulated on this and the other part.
Q: When did you know you wanted to pursue philosophy academically, as in pursuing a Ph.D.?
Well, I read mathematics as an undergraduate, but I did some philosophy as well, and I found that logic and the things that surrounded it intrigued me. In those days (early 70s) it wasn’t as hard to get an academic job as it is now, so there was no reason not to pursue my interests. So I decided to do a doctorate in logic (in a maths department). By the time I had finished this, I knew that, for me, philosophy was a lot more fun than mathematics, so I tried to get a job in a philosophy department, which luckily I did. I figured that if I ever got bored with being a philosopher, I could always bale out into law or journalism. It’s never happened though. I’ve always had a lot of fun being a philosopher, and I still do.
Q: What constitutes your philosophical interests, and when did you know that they were going to be your areas of focus?
My initial interests in philosophy started out with logic and the philosophy of mathematics (unsurprisingly, given my background). I became interested in paraconsistency and dialetheism very soon, and those have been a major interest ever since. The interest in paraconsistency is part of a much larger interest in non-classical logic, the philosophy of logic, and the philosophy of language. Thinking about dialethiesm made me go off and read much history of philosophy, and I became interested in that. Over the years, I’ve written on Plato, Arsitotle, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Derrida. This reading also made me acutely interested in a number of problems of metaphysics. About 15 years ago I discovered that the Asian philosophical traditions were also profound and important, so since then I have had an interest in these – especially the Buddhist traditions. I guess there isn’t much in philosophy that does not interest me: even ethics and political philosophy have been something of an amateur interest.
Q: Is philosophy held in higher regard in Australia, as it is in France, when compared to how it is regarded in the United States.
No, it is not held in high regard at all. I think that it is even less well regarded than it is in the US. In many ways, Australia is a distinctly anti-intellectual country. Things of the body tend to be much more highly valued than things of the mind. (Of course, this is a sweeping generalization.) Universities are not thought of as terribly important by the general populace. It is quite different from the US and the UK, where everyone wants their kid to go to college (university), to get on. The government tends to see universities as just things that produce an economic labour force. Unsurprisingly, most of the people who go to university want to do things which (they think) lead directly into a job (law, medicine, IT, economics). So philosophy is not even regarded as particularly important even within universities.
Q: In Beyond the Limits of Thought, you included chapters on Heidegger and other ‘non-analytic’ philosophers. Is the Analytic-Continental distinction useless? Perhaps a historical construct?
I don’t set much store by the distinction. The labels are meaningless for a start. When you look at Husserl, Heidegger, Foucault, Derrida, etc., many of the things at issue are the same as those in Frege, Wittgenstein, Rawls, Quine, etc. And of course, all these philosophers are responding to the same philosophical tradition(s). No doubt there are some differences of style between and approach between the way that the English tend to approach philosophy, and the ways that the French and Germans do (and, of course, the ways of the Ancient Greeks and the Medievals as well); but these have been blown up out of all proportion by things such as turf-wars. Of course, there is bad philosophy on the continental side, verbose and pretentious. But there is bad philosophy on the analytic side as well, pedantic and boring. There is good philosophy on both sides. And what should all be looking for is good philosophy. I spend quite a lot of time nowadays working on philosophy in the Asian traditions (especially Buddhist ones). And from the perspective of the East, looking towards the West, the division in question looks no more distinctive than, say, that between the rationalists and the empiricists. For what it is worth, I think that the distinction is slowly being transcended. I look forward to that, as I do to the transcending of the distinction between Eastern and Western philosophy.
Q: Is the progress in philosophical logic applicable to, say, Computer Science? (Your textbook, Introduction to Non-Classical Logic, is used in some Computer Science courses.)
I’m not really up on developments in computer science logic, though it is clear that many areas in non-classical logic have been developed mainly in computer science departments – or whatever they are called nowadays: non-monotonic logic, belief-revision, linear logic, intuitionist logic (proof and types). None of these plays a major role in INCL. Much use of modal logic is made in the area of “knowledge representation” (which does). This has been taken over (often, I think, somewhat uncritically) from philosopher-logicians.
Q: Is Australia the last bastion of consistent physicalism?
Well, for a start, it may depend on what you mean by physicalism. I take it to be something like the view that there is no more to the world, ontologically speaking, than physics tells us. In particular, there are no “mental substances”. Now I’d have thought that this view is held by most contemporary analytic philosophers (and most continental ones as well as far as I know). Of course, if you hold such a view, there is a problem about how to understand the mind. Again, I have no hard data, but I would have thought that some kind of functionalism is the dominant view amongst analytic philosophers. (Of courses, you could be a dualist functionalist as well as a materialist functionalist, but that doesn’t seem a common view.) Functionalism, and materialist views of the mind in general, of course have problems. The most obvious is what to say about “raw feels” (though the problem of intentionality is also a hard one). There are different possibilities about what to say about this. I guess that most of them are consistent, but how adequate they are is much debated. (I’ve never heard anyone suggest that dialetheism might help with the matter.) As to Australia, it is true that many of the most influential physicalists have been Australian: Smart, Armstrong, Lewis (we count him as an Australian!), but Australian philosophy is not a homogeneous community about this (or any other topic). Jackson and Chalmers, for example have (or at least have had) rather different views.
This concludes the first part of the interview. Part II will feature more philosophy oriented questions and will be posted within two days.
ADMIN NOTE: Part II is now available here.