The Pitt/CMU grad conference was on Saturday. I like to think it went well despite the weather turning awful the day before. I was worried that some of the speakers were not going to make, but they all arrived without fuss. The conference turn out was pretty good. The student talks were all solid. I got to meet Ole and Errol. I hope they both found the trip worthwhile. Both of their talks went well. I commented on Ole’s talk. I was pleased with how it went. I’m still developing some of the ideas from that, so there might be more here on that topic. I might put my comments online here. They would only be coherent to people that have read Ole’s paper though. Ole’s presentation was quite good. I want to say that was the most people I’ve seen at a philosophy of logic talk, but I think the audience was slightly larger when Dag Prawitz gave a two lecture series at Stanford a few years ago. Errol’s talk was good.

Other treats from the conference were Gordon Belot’s paper on geometric possibility, an idea for developing relationalism about space. I’m teaching relationalism to my undergrads, so it was cool to see a more “high tech” version of the idea be spelled out. One of the speakers presented a paper criticizing van Fraassen’s epistemology. Since van Fraassen was the keynote, he was given the opportunity to reply to the paper. He did an excellent job laying out his reasons for moving away from traditional epistemology and bringing out the nature of the disagreement. I want to write something on that topic, but I need to look at some of his post-Scientific Image writings first. The response helped shed light on how his project and philosophy of science were working. There was a paper on social science methodology which provoked some good discussion from some of the philosophers of science in the crowd.

Van Fraassen’s talk was titled “Representation.” A lot of it was going over why representation isn’t resemblance. He was hesitant to draw any large scale conclusions in the talk since he thinks representation is a family resemblance or cluster concept. Nonetheless, he did give us one thesis, namely that representation makes sense only when one considers the way in which the concrete thing is used as, taken as, or made a representation of something. (This isn’t quite the way he formulated it, but it is pretty close. The important thing is that he wants to make representation depend on instances of using or taking something as a representation.) He closed by considering how representations are used in scientific contexts, from interpreting bubble chamber pictures to building models, computerized or mathematical, of empirical phenomena. All in all it was very interesting. I’m now very curious to look into some of his more recent work. The questions afterwards were good and they were asked, I believe, entirely by grad students. The answers were illuminating and helped clear up some things about his view that I was stuck on, particularly how he was understanding models and their relation to phenomena.

On a more personal note, at the party the night before van Fraassen told some stories about Pittsburgh “back in the day,” or back in the early 60s. It was neat to hear some stories about Sellars in his heyday, the buzz about the manifest image paper, what the seminars were like. He also told some stories about all the logical stuff going on here, driven by Anderson and Belnap. It was delightful.

Now I don’t have to worry about organizing anything until next year. The keynote speaker for the next Pitt/CMU conference is Hartry Field. That should be fun.