“Universal Logic”

This came across my desk today:

2nd World Congress on the Square of Opposition
Corte, Corsica,  June 17-20, 2010
An interdisciplinary gathering around the square

Among invited speakers:
Alain Badiou, Pierre Cartier, Jaakko Hintikka, Saul Kripke, Stephen Read

Extended deadline for contributed talks: January 31st 2010

Now, as the webpage says, this will be a very interdisciplinary conference with the very best speakers:

The square will be considered in its various aspects. There will be talks by the best specialists of the square and this will be an interdisciplinary event gathering people from various fields : logic, philosophy, mathematics, psychology, linguistics, anthropology, semiotics.

So I clicked around to see who else would be asked:


Alain Badiou (Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris, France)

Pierre Cartier (Institut des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques, Bures-sur-Yvette, France)

Jaakko Hintikka (Dpt of Philosophy, Boston University, USA)

Jan C. Joerden (Chair of Criminal Law, European University Viadrina, Frankfurt/Oder, Germany)

Saul Kripke (Dpt of Philosophy, City University of New York, USA)

Jacques-Alain Miller (Dpt of Psychoanalysis, University of Paris 8, France)

Damian Niwinski (Institute of Informatics, Warsaw University, Poland)

Jean Petitot (CREA, Polytechnical School, Paris, France)

Stephen Read (School of Philosophical and Anthropological Studies, University of Saint-Andrews, Scotland)

Hartley Slater (Dpt of Philosophy, University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia )

O dear, o dear! I guess women can’t do logic, don’t think about it, can’t trace it back to Aristotle, etc, etc. Or perhaps they just aren’t among the best. Or perhaps someone just isn’t thinking? Or…

17 thoughts on ““Universal Logic”

  1. “O dear, o dear! I guess women can’t do logic, don’t think about it, can’t trace it back to Aristotle, etc, etc. Or perhaps they just aren’t among the best. Or perhaps someone just isn’t thinking? Or…”

    That doesn’t astound me as much as the fact that Badiou and Kripke are going to be at the same event. Crikey!

  2. That conference actually looks pretty amazing. It is interdisciplinary and the fact of getting Badiou + Miller + Kripke is a big deal.

    They also picked a specific subject/object: the square. I am hard pressed to name any women who have written *specifically* on that subject. The subject isn’t *logic.*

  3. Wow and RA: the conference does have some very interesting conjunctions of speakers; “all male” does not equal “all bad”.

    RA, given that it isn’t about logic in some narrow sense, it is all the more unfortunate that it is all male, in my view. It just isn’t the case that women are not writing in the area. At least one speaker is a historian, and women historians in the relevant areas are quite outstanding. Given that they are interested, to judge by some of the speakers, in looking at Derridean, lancanian views about truth and realism, there are many distinguished women writing in the area. I don’t really know the linguistics field too well, but I would be shocked to find that outstanding women in linguistics do not write on related topics, such as anaphora or conversational implicature vs. literal meaning. (In fact, Dierdre Wilson does the latter.)
    I should think that it would be easy to find outstanding work by women in cognitive science on related topics.

  4. On the first two pages of my simple google search (“Square of opposition”) I found two articles on the topic written by women. I suppose a bit more searing would show a few appropriate candidates.

  5. jj: i don’t think “all male” = “all bad.” but i feel like your “oh dear’s” and “etc” were a bit quick in this case.

    i follow the lacanians very closely, esp. the women. (aside: i happen to be a lacanian woman, so now all my cards are on the table.) but if you’re going to talk about lacan, miller is where you go first.

    the theme of “the square” is what makes it about logic in very narrow sense to me. i think they had some very precise people and essays in mind that they wanted to put into dialogue.

    and they end with this “The meeting will end by a final round square table where subalterned people will express their various contrarieties, subcontrarieties and contradictions.”

    the square is round. i don’t know what else you want : )

  6. How can they have a session on the square with nothing on art? That’s amazing to me. Think of Malevich’s Black Square (1913) and Red Square (1915)–the beginnings of abstract art. Malevich wrote,

    “Nonobjective feeling has, in fact, always been the only possible source of art, so that in this respect Suprematism is contributing nothing new but nevertheless the art of the past, because of its use of objective subject matter, harbored unintentionally a whole series of feelings which were alien to it…Suprematism has opened up new possibilities to creative art, since by virtue of the abandonment of so called “practical consideration,” a plastic feeling rendered on canvas can be carried over into space. The artist (the painter) is no longer bound to the canvas (the picture plane) and can transfer his compositions from canvas to space.”

    -Kasimir Malevich, The Non-Objective World

    Squares have continued to be incredibly important in the development of modern art, e.g., minimalism, as in Ad Reinhardt’s black square paintings. He wrote,

    A square (neutral, shapeless) canvas, five feet wide, five feet high, as high as a man, as wide as a man’s outstretched arms (not large, not small, sizeless), trisected (no composition), one horizontal form negating one vertical form (formless, no top, no bottom, directionless), three (more or less) dark (lightless) no-contrasting (colorless) colors, brushwork brushed out to remove brushwork, a matte, flat, free-hand painted surface (glossless, textureless, non-linear, no hard edge, no soft edge) which does not reflect its surroundings — a pure, abstract, non-objective, timeless, spaceless, changeless, relationless, disinterested painting — an object that is self-conscious (no unconsciousness) ideal, transcendent, aware of no thing but art (absolutely no anti-art).

    — Ad Reinhardt Art-As-Art

    I’m sure there are some women art critics/art historians who have discussed this crucial issue in modern art. At least as crucial to art as the square is to any of those other fields they’re including. (Think, say, of Rosalind Kraus’s ground-breaking essay “The Grid” from The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths.)

  7. RA, from what you are saying, do I infer the Miller has written on the square of opposition?

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the organizers started with a very precise list of the people they wanted to ask, and it may well be that the conference’s form and content was influenced by that list. The point remains that there is a cultural background that resultsin their only thinking of male authors, and their only asking male authors reinforces that culture.

    So what’s wrong with that? Why not just admit that the guys have their own groups and their own conferences and so on. And let it be.

    Well, there are a number of reasons why one would object. It means there are strong cultural forces against women’s participating in this field, along with a lot of others. So it’s a loss for a lot of talented women who really won’t get the propoer chance.

    Also, the empirical evidence is increasingly mounting that there is no reason to think women are less good in these fields. Since women form approximately half the human race, the loss of talent is huge.

    In addition, resources are spent in highly discriminatory ways. These resources range from chances to have one’s work discussed to nice vacations in places it would be fun to go to. The most serious, I think, is that women are in effect not given the opportunities for the development of their work and/or participation in the creation of the academic-public discourse.

    (I suspect I’m being unclear here. But one could think of the many ways in which conferences affect professional development.)

  8. It’s interesting that the slate of invited speakers is so lopsided; someone might be tempted to write it off as an anomaly due to the peculiar and narrow character of the topic, but if you look at the Logica Universalis link on the website, or at the accepted submitted papers to the First World Congress (which also did manage one woman on the invited speaker slate, although as co-author) available in PDF here, you notice that these lists of people are not quite so male — while there seems to have been more men giving papers at the First World Congress on the Square of Opposition, there still were plenty of women. And one wonders why all the invited speakers would be male when it’s so easy to turn up names like Teresa Marques or Stefania Bonfiglioli (who show up on both lists and therefore are clearly doing something recognizably valuable on the topic, so it’s not as if there aren’t any women in the field). To some extent invited speakers tend to some extent to be people farther along in their careers, so if most of the women doing significant work in the topic were more up-and-coming than established, that would perhaps account for an imbalance, but it wouldn’t explain the complete shut-out.

  9. I don’t know what is Badiou doing there. Well… Yes, women are doing interesting work on these topics as the lists of contributed talks of previous versions of the meeting show, but with the sole exception of Catarina Dutilh-Novaes, I don’t miss any woman as invited speaker (considering just logic and its philosophy). On other hand, when the organizers say “There will be talks by the best specialists of the square [of opposition! it is not about Squarepants or other squares]”, it’s clear that they are not referring only to talks by invited speakers, but to all talks (invited and contributed) at the meeting.
    Look at other events organized by people interested in universal logic. Yes, you’ll have a heart-attack when you see the lists of keynote speakers, but there is a lot more to a conference than invited speakers (they’re overestimated; in many cases they are just some old guys one wants to see and listen before they die in virtue of their glorious life-time career). Look at the contributed talks, the post-conference publications (including the referees for them), the organizing and scientific committees, the heads of tutorials, the winners and finalists of the contests, the citations… I’m sorry, but I don’t see any complot here. Women do participate, and do it largely both in quantity and quality. Please don’t use this particular meeting (less than that, the list of keynote speakers) as a case for the idea that logicians discriminate women. You’ll need a more detailed research and maybe you’ll find some surprises. Things are changing, perhaps not as fast as many of us would like, but it is. Be patient and have a little more confidence in the world.

  10. Sorry, I should have said: “but with the sole exception of Catarina Dutilh-Novaes, I don’t miss any woman as invited speaker (considering just the logical and logico-philosophical aspects of the square of opposition).”

  11. Brendan, thanks!

    Lois, I’m finding it difficult to get what you are trying to do. I had a quick look at one book and three journal issues; women authors were well below 10% While that’s nothing like a serious study, it certainly is some sign that the field is not one in which women are flourishing.

    So I put this next to your statement that seems to say that the only problem is that there is this glass ceiling.

    I am very tempted to conclude that you are in fact a young man in the field with little or no experience of, or knowledge about, how discrimination works. Your comments remind me very much of those of my tutors in the 1960’s: one does not fuss about gender; quality always shows, there are plenty of quality women.” (This said seriously in a place where women were officially and legally ineligible for approximately 85% of the jobs going. )

    So the laws were changed, but the ways in which the results of past discrimination are maintained are so strong that almost nothing has changed for women in the field for decades.

    Hence, many of us on this blog think it is worth making an effort to speed things up.

  12. Lois, thanks for what I take to be a compliment! But in fact it seems to me that everybody is a bit right in this discussion, even though it may seem you are disagreeing with each other. The heart of the matter is that it is not that easy to find women with a certain degree of ‘seniority’ to be invited speakers at logic and philosophy of logic conferences. It seems true that women *at a later stage of their careers* are severely under-represented in the area (and a little less so among the younger crowd). I can speak from experience, as I am putting together a conference right now, and my line-up of invited speakers is now such that I have 4 men (3 of them well advanced in the career, one a bit less) and 3 women (all of them quite young!). So even well-meaning conference organizers (in these areas) have a bit of a hard time making sure there are female speakers if what they are looking for are people with a well-established career. There are, however, many more younger women getting started in the business, so it is to be expected that in a few years there really will be no excuse!
    This being said, I will make sure to talk to J.Y. Beziau (the conference organizer) about this issue. I know he is sensitive to it (he specifically makes a point of encouraging me to attend the events he organizes, e.g. by inviting me to give tutorials at the UNILOG conferences), but he may not have realized that having female invited speakers is also crucial to send the right message and to help redressing the poor gender balance in the area.
    And let me take the opportunity to re-advertise a list of women working in the area:

  13. jj, you write:

    “I am very tempted to conclude that you are in fact a young man in the field with little or no experience of, or knowledge about, how discrimination works.”

    From my experiences teaching feminism, I’ve realised there are lots of young women who have yet to experience (or realise that they’re experiencing) discrimination. And from learning a lot about implicit bias, I’d wager that most people have very little knowledge about how some of the most important forms of discrimination work. I don’t think being a woman helps all that much in gaining insight into these things, frankly.

  14. Jender, you are right. I should have been up front about having some outside information about the identity of the poster commentor. So my supposed guess wasn’t really that.

    I probably have encountered young women who are pretty clueless about discrimination and who would feel happy to come onto a pretty public blog with the advice that one calm down and wait, having said that in fact there was only one woman she would miss seeing (!!), but the profile getting developed suggests something else. And so I started searching under the email address.

  15. Catarina, it’s lovely of you to stop by. I did notice that the women whose names I could find seemed very junior. One could worry, but let me instead wish you all sorts of good fortune.

    Though there may be very few or even no senior women in your field precisely defined, not everyone on the invited list of speakers seems to be in that precise field. If one opened it up just a bit, there are very distinguished women in history of philosophy, cognitive science and linguistics who might have very interesting things to say. I think Dierdre Wilson, for example, would bring in a lot of understanding of the relations between Gricean work and the square of opposition. (Do notice the “think” as opposed to “know”.)

    I have just discovered another example of how extremely valuable some work in developmental cognitive science can be. It turns out that children about the age of 12 months undergo a conceptual shift that illuminates (I think) the difference between a Humean object and a Kantian one; this provides an informative perspective on a debate that’s been going on the last 45 years. Perhaps it’s a stretch to think logic can be similarly informed, but the history perhaps more so.

    (A colleague in vision science just recently remarked that while retinotopic space seems to be Newtonian, non-retinotopic space may be Einsteinian. that seems to me so remarkable and now I’m prepared to believe almost anything!)

  16. jj: yes, miller has written on that subject. squares (and knots!) are very important…

    i have other work to do today so i haven’t been able to follow all the comments, but i find it very interesting (telling?) that this conversation has shifted towards discussing the idea of “distinction.”

  17. Hi jj,

    Well, you know, I am always reading this blog, I just don’t post comments much =).

    I think what I am trying to say is that it is best to acknowledge that indeed, there aren’t that many obvious female keynote speakers in the areas I work in; it’s not like conference organizers are deliberately ignoring a sea of women who are potential keynote speakers for these conferences. On the other hand, this is *precisely* the situation we are trying to reverse, we want to attract more women to a career in philosophy, and in the more ‘logical’ areas in particular. So while there isn’t indeed an abundance of potential female speakers (in logic and related areas), this doesn’t mean that conference organizers shouldn’t keep this in mind and try their best to make sure there are always at least a few women. A conscious decision is necessary to counter the implicit bias that is certainly in everybody’s heads (including my own until I started reading this blog and other sources such as Sally Haslanger etc.). That’s exactly why I thought it was important to come up with the list I mentioned in my previous post. But let’s face it, the gender balance is indeed poor, which means that it’s not always easy to find female speakers especially if the theme is a bit narrow.

    And as for expanding the scope of the kind of research logic and philosophy of logic should be interested in, I couldn’t agree more! In fact the conference I am putting together now has the (somewhat wordy) tentative title of “From cognitive science and psychology to an empirically-informed philosophy of logic”. Need I say more? =)

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