Sunday, May 10, 2009

15 Susan Stebbing

To begin with the end this time: Susan Stebbing became Professor of Philosophy at Bedford College in the University of London in 1933. She was the first woman professor in Brittain.

She was successively President of the Aristotelian Society and of the Mind Association. There is no doubt that she was a supreme professional and a highly successful writer.

Let's listen to what she has to say: "His (Russell) whole treatment of the notion of a class is obscured by the confusion, to which Russell is singularly prone, of the symbol with the symbolized.

This point raises the question of Russell's treatment of symbolism. Nowhere in Principia Mathematica is there any discussion of the nature and conditions of symbolism and its relation to mathematics.

(...) But the account which follows does not explain whether symbols are essential or whether they are employed merely because human intellect, being finite, is limited in apprehension.

The latter alternative is suggested, but the former seems to be the one required. If, however, symbols are essential, then in what sense have these symbols significance? A non-significant symbol is a contradiction in terms. Yet, if they have significance, whence is their significance derived?"

It may sound a little to technical for some of you, but what Susan Stebbing does here is questioning the great philosopher Bertrand Russell himself. Just focus on that last sentence and maybe you can feel the excitement it causes philosophically.

If you use symbols, where do they come from and from where do they get their significance? This is such a fundamental philosophical question, especially in those days. [ This quote is from 'A Modern Introduction to Logic", 1931 ], because it was the time that Russell and Whitehead were famous for their work "Principia Mathematica".

To end this for those who like this kind of philosophical discourse, here the clifhanger: "Symbolism is, indeed, essential to mathematics, and not adopted merely for convenience. The symbolism must, however, be adequate to that which is symbolized." DON'T start a discussion on this issue here.....(^_^)

To begin at the beginning: L. (Lizzie) Susan Stebbing (December 2, 1885 – September 11, 1943) was a British philosopher. Just like that....she was a British philosopher.

No more pleading for the right to be admitted to higher education. Just an ordinary development. The years from 1860 on show the recognition of what Anne-Maria Van Verschuur, as one of the first, in 1650 pleaded for: the right on education.

You may remember Radcliffe in the US, a women's college. Susan Stebbing went to Griton College, Cambridge in the UK in 1907. Girton College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, England.

The College was established on 16 October 1869 by Emily Davies and Barbara Bodichon, as the first residential college for women in England. The college became mixed in 1977 with the arrival of the first male Fellows; male undergraduates have been admitted since 1979.

Initially she intended to study history, but after reading F.H. Bradley's "Appearance and Reality" she realized that philosophy was what she wanted to study.. She was first fascinated by the new formal logic; Bertrand Russell and A.N. Whitehead were both in Cambridge at that time.

She became sufficiently expert in the subject to write, twenty years later, an interesting and original textbook for students called "A Modern Introduction to Logic", in which the ideas of Russell and Whitehead's "Principia Mathematica" were introduced. You may recall the former mentioned quotes.

From an historical point of view it is interesting to note that Susan Stebbing read Bradley. He rejected the utilitarian and empiricist trends in English philosophy represented by John Locke, David Hume, and John Stuart Mill.

Instead, Bradley was a leading member of the philosophical movement known as British idealism, which was strongly influenced by Immanuel Kant and the German idealists, Johann Fichte, Friedrich Schelling, and G.W.F. Hegel, although Bradley tended to downplay his influences.

However, Bradley's philosophical reputation declined greatly after his death in 1924. British idealism was practically eliminated by G.E. Moore and Bertrand Russell in the early 1900's.

Did Susan Stebbing's philosophical ideas develop from idealism into logical positivism too? Fact is that she was strongly influenced by the epistemology of G.E. Moore.

Moore's "A Defence of Common Sense" (1925) and "Proof of an External World" (1930) were wholly original in their insistence that words in common use must be understood as they are really used.

In 1897 Moore submitted a dissertation on ‘The Metaphysical Basis of Ethics’ in which he acknowledges his indebtedness to Bradley and presents an idealist ethical theory. But already a year later he turns decisively against idealist philosophy, both in its Kantian and Bradleian forms.

Susan Stebbing was in the center of the latest modern philosophical developments of het time. An important aspect of Moore's rejection of idealism was his affirmation of a ‘common sense’ realist position, according to which our ordinary common-sense view of the world is largely correct.

And that is the direction in which Susan Stebbing developed her ideas too. In her book "Philosophy and the Physics" (1937), in which she demonstrates how physics produce nonsense by mixing their scientific language with common sense, ordinary language, for instance by claiming that a plank of wood isnt solid because it consists only of a bunch of atoms.

So, Susan Stebbing, the first British female professor, "A Modern Introduction to Logic" (1931) and "Philosophy and the Physics" (1937), two books ( among a number of other publications by her) still worth reading and still read as well.

The Discussion

[13:23] herman Bergson: I hope this give you an impression of the active philosophical life of this woman
[13:23] Daruma Boa: yes a bit
[13:24] hope63 Shepherd: physics produce nonsense.. and if it were the other way philosophy produces nonsense?
[13:24] Alarice Beaumont: I think she is great... i have missed some.. but she seems to be the first who is really into it and given her knowledge to others
[13:24] herman Bergson: Yes Alarice, I agree
[13:25] Daruma Boa: why does physic produces nonsense?
[13:25] herman Bergson: She was really in the middle of it and a good teacher as well, al,most like mary Calkins in the US
[13:25] Elia Scribe: Planks of wood are not solid.
[13:25] herman Bergson: Moore was an ordinaly language common sense language is truth
[13:25] Elia Scribe: Depending on the level of analysis.
[13:26] herman Bergson: the word solid applies to wood, or stone....
[13:26] hope63 Shepherd: a very limited view of what is--
[13:26] herman Bergson: to say that it is not solid is nonsesne
[13:26] Gemma Cleanslate: don't evem aslk
[13:26] Gemma Cleanslate: Elia
[13:26] herman Bergson: no...Hope..just different language games
[13:26] Alarice Beaumont: wood is solid
[13:27] Daruma Boa: it can burn
[13:27] Elia Scribe: No, I mean from the point of view of physics. Its a different meaning of the word solid.
[13:27] hope63 Shepherd: she would have to expain what is solid..and if she referrs only to the poor observation capacities of mankind..
[13:27] Alarice Beaumont: oh ok
[13:27] herman Bergson: What she fights in hetr book Philosophy and the Physics is the kind of pseudo mysticism they generate by saying that a plank of wood is just a bunch of atoms, thence not solid
[13:28] hope63 Shepherd: lol.. if x.rays could talk.. lol
[13:28] Anne Charles: Susan was a member of the Vienna Circle and thus active in logical positivism. Logical positivism was an attempt to introduce the methodology and precision of mathematics into the field of philosophy. It seems to me that the application of logical positivism into philosophy wouold tend to inhibit it.
[13:28] Alarice Beaumont: well... if someone hits you with a plank of wood... one certainly will find it is very solid ,-)
[13:28] herman Bergson: Unless you are in SL Alarice..:-)
[13:29] Elia Scribe: Right. Solid to your head. Not solid to xrays.
[13:29] Daruma Boa: LOL
[13:29] hope63 Shepherd: hit it through the air.. how solid would it be..
[13:29] Elia Scribe: Solid has more than one meaning.
[13:29] herman Bergson: But yes Anne LOgical positivism had its severe verification principle
[13:29] Alarice Beaumont: mmhhh good point Elia
[13:29] Elia Scribe: Depending upon frame of reference. Isn't this a problem with her thinking?
[13:29] hope63 Shepherd: that's what i meant.. no use using a word without going any deeper in a definition..
[13:29] Laila Schuman: maybe it is all "relative"
[13:30] herman Bergson: Solid in common sense language has a pretty clear meaning to me
[13:30] herman Bergson: regarding materials
[13:30] hope63 Shepherd: its as simple like saying good or bad..
[13:30] Gemma Cleanslate: molecules close together
[13:30] Gemma Cleanslate: touching
[13:30] Gemma Cleanslate: with little space
[13:30] hope63 Shepherd: but who is regarding.. and with what..
[13:30] Gemma Cleanslate: and teh closer they are
[13:30] Gemma Cleanslate: the more solid
[13:30] herman Bergson: And just that is contested by Moore and Susan Stebbing...
[13:31] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:31] herman Bergson: mixing common sense language with technical language of physics leads to nonsense
[13:31] herman Bergson: and in fact I agree
[13:31] Alarice Beaumont: at least for the common people
[13:31] hope63 Shepherd: may be common sense language is nonsense..
[13:32] herman Bergson: you can say that a plank of wood is solid...that is a true statement
[13:32] hope63 Shepherd: why?
[13:32] herman Bergson: you also can say...a plank of wood consists of atoms
[13:32] herman Bergson: also true
[13:32] herman Bergson: simple ordinary realistic observation Hope
[13:33] herman Bergson: but given these two statements you cant say: thence a plank of wood is not solid
[13:33] hope63 Shepherd: why is the statement solid for a plank true.. if not only because WE cannot explain it differently due to our COMMON SENSE
[13:33] herman Bergson: that is nonsense
[13:33] hope63 Shepherd: our observation..
[13:33] herman Bergson: because when I cut it I only find wood inside
[13:33] Elia Scribe: Well, herman, you don't see at a sufficent level of detail.
[13:33] hope63 Shepherd: ok.. ays long as we i
[13:33] herman Bergson: Point is....when you say it is not DONT mean it is hollow...
[13:34] herman Bergson: there you see the nonsense
[13:34] hope63 Shepherd: imagine ourselves the image of god and our observation is like his..ok..
[13:34] herman Bergson: While when I see a solid object I can say it is not hollow
[13:34] hope63 Shepherd: what you say herman is a language question..
[13:35] herman Bergson: yes was the view on language by Moore, Stebbing, those days
[13:36] herman Bergson: At least this discussion shows that it is still worth the time to read her book "Philosophy and the Physics" :-)
[13:36] herman Bergson: In that book she actualy attack two specific physicists who wrote such popular scientific books on the universe and so on..
[13:37] herman Bergson: One was Eddington....
[13:37] herman Bergson: forgot the other name
[13:37] Elia Scribe: Does not solid mean hollow?
[13:37] hope63 Shepherd: give me a clue to what they said..
[13:38] Alarice Beaumont: no Elia... i wouldn't make that interpretation
[13:38] herman Bergson: exactly the example I gave you....
[13:38] Alarice Beaumont: I would say that a pudding isn't solid
[13:38] Alarice Beaumont: oh..
[13:38] Gemma Cleanslate: well it is more solid than air
[13:38] herman Bergson: or the statement that I try to step on a next plank that moves with 20 miles a second
[13:38] herman Bergson: (due to the rotation of the earth)
[13:39] Alarice Beaumont: hihi it is Gemma
[13:39] herman Bergson: or the statement that I am hanging upside down , my head streched into the direction of space..
[13:39] Elia Scribe: Chocolate pudding might start off solid, but ends up a mush.
[13:39] Alarice Beaumont: ,-)
[13:39] Daruma Boa: everthing depends on anything. time, movement, situation, physics, language etc.;-)
[13:39] Daruma Boa: so, nothing is solid + everything is solid;-)
[13:39] Gemma Cleanslate: ah ys daruma
[13:39] Gemma Cleanslate: lol
[13:40] hope63 Shepherd: upside down in universe has no meaning..
[13:40] Daruma Boa: no^
[13:40] Gemma Cleanslate: in physics
[13:40] Elia Scribe: pudding. :))
[13:40] Daruma Boa: it has no meaning + do not panic^
[13:40] herman Bergson: the book, Hope and enjoy :-)
[13:40] Anne Charles: It is how we perceive things, at the quantum level, nothing is solid
[13:41] hope63 Shepherd: don't tell your boy friend anne
[13:41] herman Bergson: It was probably popular to create such a mystic atmosphere around reality, the world and the universe in those days
[13:41] Anne Charles: True there too, it my perception that counts, hope
[13:42] herman Bergson: I prefer to see language split up in language games in a Wittgensteinian way
[13:42] Gemma Cleanslate: :-)
[13:42] herman Bergson: it keeps the mind clear :-)
[13:42] Alarice Beaumont: that is needed in such discussions :-)
[13:42] herman Bergson: Just one remark on Anne's observation...
[13:43] herman Bergson: it is striking indeed to see the parrallel with MAry Calkins
[13:44] herman Bergson: And what is interesting too is the fact that there existed women colleges.....
[13:44] Alarice Beaumont: ah..hello Rodney :-)
[13:44] Daruma Boa: hi rodney
[13:44] hope63 Shepherd: came to say good bye to us rod?
[13:45] herman Bergson: For accuracy sake.....Girton College became part of the Univerity of Cambridge onbly in 1948
[13:45] herman Bergson: So before that it was just an institution of higher education
[13:46] herman Bergson: Well..I think we may conclude our discussion on Susan all know what to read now..:-)
[13:46] herman Bergson: Thank you for participating.^_^
[13:46] Daruma Boa: thxs herman
[13:47] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:47] Gemma Cleanslate: as usual
[13:47] Gemma Cleanslate: :-)
[13:47] Alarice Beaumont: what i find really astonishing that men only in 1075 started going there!
[13:47] herman Bergson: lol..nice typo Alarice.....sending in the neanderthalers
[13:48] Alarice Beaumont: lol
[13:48] herman Bergson: 1979 or so it was
[13:48] Alarice Beaumont: yes!
[13:48] Alarice Beaumont: something i find incredible....
[13:48] Gemma Cleanslate: why?
[13:48] hope63 Shepherd: alarice was thinking of the troubaqdours..
[13:49] herman Bergson: Yes...while it was a College of Cambridge since 1948
[13:49] hope63 Shepherd: who cherished women and put them on a pedestal..
[13:49] Gemma Cleanslate: many colleges were divided into men's and women's
[13:49] Alarice Beaumont: yes.... but in earlier times!
[13:49] Gemma Cleanslate: :-)
[13:50] herman Bergson: I am not an historian on the history of educational institutes, but it would be interesting to see when such women college emerged..
[13:50] Daruma Boa: sorry, i must leave u know + work a bit;-)
[13:50] Gemma Cleanslate: Bye
[13:50] Gemma Cleanslate: daruma
[13:50] Gemma Cleanslate: see you soon
[13:50] herman Bergson: You are excused Darma :-)
[13:50] Ze Novikov: bye
[13:50] Gemma Cleanslate: somwhere
[13:50] Anne Charles: bye daruma
[13:50] Daruma Boa: bye
[13:50] Alarice Beaumont: bye Daruma
Posted by herman_bergson on 2009-01-27 15:22:34

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