Opening Remarks at Thesis Defense

What are the discipline-wide norms are for thesis defense remarks in philosophy. The following seem like good ways to frame a thesis at the defense: outlining the trajectory of the main argument, bracketing off questions you did not aim to address, and letting your motivation for undertaking the work inject itself a bit. Are there other aims that one might address? At any rate I recently had my thesis defense. I am still excited about the conversation with my committee, so I thought to post my opening remarks here. Enjoy!


Professors, my chief purpose in this work was to answer the Socratic ‘What is it?’ question where the ‘it’ is logical atomism. That involved going back to its roots and connecting my interpretation of logical atomism to its origins in nineteenth-century mathematics and its paradigmatic expression in Principia Mathematica. And I criticized the traditional interpretation on which logical atomism is a kind of British empiricism. This view is so widely-held that it merits being called the general impression of logical atomism, which is why I criticized it at length.

Logical atomists, in my view, are term busters. Our practice of term busting is only viable as a philosophy given a logic that is sufficiently powerful. Otherwise, we as philosophers have little basis for accepting, much less for practicing, logical atomism. A logic that is capable of successfully giving a logical reconstruction of notions like number and class, and philosophical notions that are at least as complex, is required for a viable form of logical atomism.

The centrality of logic to logical atomism, on my interpretation of the view, accounts for its origins and for what we find in Russell’s writings. And it has an interesting application to Wittgenstein’s philosophy of logic. Trying to find logical atomism, as I understand it, in Wittgenstein’s works gives rise to an interesting narrative, which I partly gave in this work.

But the phrase ‘making logic central’ is vague. What has been sorely wanted for some time is an example of how a logical atomist would, in this day and age, philosophize. What does a modern philosophical work on a logical atomist’s ‘logic-first, logic-last’ philosophy look like? I tried to answer that question by giving an example. That example was this very work.

I am a logical atomist. I practiced logical atomist philosophizing in the second part of this work. I gave a philosophy of logic as pure logic, a formal system of Z-types that fits that account of logic, and then an ontology for pure logic consisting of completely general facts with no constituents and logical concepts. All of this admittedly leaves some problems unsolved. But these were not my focus here in answering my central ‘What is it?’ question.

My logical atomism that I develop in the second part is but a species of a broader genus. Clarifying the genus was my chief aim here. But I will defend my species of logical atomism, as I believe that it lays the foundation for rich and varying applications of the logical atomist’s term busting practice in philosophy. It is that foundation for my own philosophical work, and the new understanding of logical atomism that inspires it, that I will defend here today.

Professors, I am grateful for your attention to my work. I am prepared for your questions.

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