### Congratulations to David!

#### Posted by John Baez

Hurrah!

David Corfield just got a permanent job in the Philosophy Department of the University of Kent at Canterbury!

Ever since I read David Corfield’s book *Towards a Philosophy of Real Mathematics* back around 2003, I’ve been impressed by his willingness and ability to pose new questions in the philosophy of mathematics… and shocked by how much trouble he had finding a permanent job.

Could it be because his book challenged the “foundationalist filter” through which most philosophers see the practice of mathematics? Too many of them are stuck somewhere back around Gödel’s theorem, knowing little of what’s happened in math since the 1930s. David pointed this out quite clearly:

[…] Straight away, from simple inductive considerations, it should strike us as implausible that mathematicians dealing with number, function and space have produced nothing of philosophical significance in the past seventy years in view of their record over the previous three centuries. Implausible, that is, unless by some extraordinary event in the history of philosophy a way had been found to

filter, so to speak, the findings of mathematicians working in core areas, so that even the transformations brought about by the development of category theory, which surfaced explicitly in 1940s algebraic topology, or the rise of non-commutative geometry over the past seventy years, are not deemed to merit philosophical attention.

In a later paper, he continues:

When I first started to read the mainstream English-language philosophy of mathematics literature, I was immediately struck by its almost complete lack of interest in what I considered to be the treasure house of mathematics. The philosophers I read seemed to think the best way to get a handle on mathematics was to find some or other formal calculus which could be said to represent it in its totality. Set theory or second-order logic appeared to be just the thing for the job. To me this was like badly packing some pieces of jewellery in a huge cardboard box, then speaking indiscriminately of the whole of the space enclosed within the box as though it were the precious contents. It seemed to me that were we to pose the right questions, we would be required to look at the finer filigree. Or to put it the other way around, if we find we are not required to look at the details of mathematical thinking, we are not posing the right questions.

I can easily imagine passages like this upsetting scholars who think only the “foundations” of mathematics are philosophically interesting — where “foundations” are defined in an archaic way that ignores new developments. But, isn’t it the *duty* of philosophers to raise tough and sometimes embarrassing issues like this, and open new realms for questioning?

Looking for jobs is psychologically tough, especially as the search drags on and the file of rejection letters builds up. It’s easy for people to lose self-confidence and collapse, or become bitter. Not David: while searching for a permanent position, he coauthored a book on psychosomatic aspects of health and worked at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics on the philosophy of statistical learning theory! And in his spare time, he’s been discussing philosophy and cutting-edge math and physics with the visitors to this café.

Why wouldn’t *every* philosophy department want to hire such an inventive mind? Some tenured academics coast by on far less, cranking out article after article on the same narrow theme.

So, I was really becoming quite gloomy…

… but now that cloud of gloom has lifted!

Congratulations, David!

## Re: Congratulations to David!

Congratulations! :)

Christine