Education

Some information about my educational background...

I began my undergraduate studies at Duke University. I started as a mathematics major, and then, because of worries about minor details like food and housing, switched to Computer Science. Ultimately, however, I discovered that that subject was not for me and returned to mathematics. But I had been curious about philosophy, ever since taking a little bit at the North Carolina Governor's School, in the Summer of 1980. I had taken an introductory class my Freshman year, and returned more seriously at the beginning of my Junior year.

For whatever reason, mathematics started to seem less and less as if it offered me a way to spend the rest of my life. But my same worries about eating, sleeping, and not getting rained on prevented me, for some time, from devoting myself to philosophy. My Senior year was thus difficult, as I went through what is, I now know, a common struggle, trying to decide whether I could truly commit to a career as a philosopher. In the end, I did decide to do so, after much consulation with my then-mentor, Prof. Carl Posy, to whom I owe much.

My interests at that time were largely in the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein. His Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus was the first of his works to grab my attention, but I eventually read the Philosophical Investigations and found myself hooked: I devoted much of my Senior year to an honors thesis concerned with the so-called rule-following arguments, which were then a hot topic, since Saul Kripke's now well-known Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language had only recently been published.

I was fortunate that year to be offered a Marshall Scholarship to study in England. I accepted, of course, and applied to study for a B.Phil. (which is a graduate degree) at Oxford University. It was my hope that I would be able to study with Sir Michael Dummett (then Prof. Dummett), and I therefore decided to attend his college, New College. Being a busy man, Prof. Dummett was not able to take me on immediately, and I studied for one semester with Colin McGinn. But I did manage to convince Prof. Dummett to tutor me the next semester, by threatening to study with one of his opponents if he did not take me on.

I remained, at that time, interested in Wittgenstein, and wrote my B.Phil. thesis, once again, on the rule-following arguments. This effort was less historical, however, and more concerned with their bearing on contemporary problems: The title, Rule-following and the Justification of Deduction, gives a sufficient sense of its content.

As I approached graduation in Oxford, in 1987, Margaret Thatcher was in the middle of her (largely successful, I fear) attempt to dismantle the humanities in Britain. The market for young philosophers was not very good; even more established figures were leaving in droves. So rather than complete my D.Phil. in Oxford, I applied to graduate schools in the United States. The only program which accepted me was the philosophy section at MIT, so, naturally, I went there.

I did so intending to continue my work on Wittgenstein, but my interests were changing quickly. Studying with Dummett, and reading Crispin Wright's Frege's Conception of Numbers as Objects with him, gave me a profound appreciation of the importance of Frege. Wright's ideas about ontology were my main focus at that time (rather than his neo-logicism), and I found both Thomas Kuhn and George Boolos to be willing, and useful, interlocutors. By the end of my second year, I had completed my conversion from Wittgensteinian to Fregean (as Dummett had before me): Questions about the nature of abstract objects, considered from a Fregean point of view, would form the central subject of my dissertation. The fruits of that investigation, such as they are, have now all been published (in heavily modified form) as "Syntactic Reductionism", "The Existence and Non-Existence of Abstract Objects", and, on a slightly different topic, "That There Might Be Vague Objects", which was my writing sample when I went on the job market.

George Boolos was unquestionably the single most important influence on my work. He was also a tremendous friend and was responsible for major personal growth on my part. He is sorely missed. group He is also responsible for my having truly become a philosopher, and so deserves a major part of the credit (or blame, as the case may be!) for whatever I may accomplish. He is also the one who asked me the question which began my research on Frege's philosophy of arithmetic, namely, whether Frege really had proven Frege's Theorem in Grundgesetze, as Dummett claims in Frege: Philosophy of Mathematics.

The picture at the right was taken at the Plough and Stars, in Cambridge, in 1993, following a meeting of a seminar on Frege that George Boolos and I co-taught. I do not expect that I shall ever have so much fun teaching a course again. From left to right, those present are: Michael Glanzberg, now at Northwestern; me; George; and Jason Stanley, now at Rutgers.