Philosophical Devices by David Papineau

I was recently able to get my hands on Philosophical Devices: Proofs, Probabilities, Possibilities, and Sets.

Philosophical Devices

The purpose of this book is that it intends to be an introduction to technical ideas that are used in contemporary philosophical discussions. So if you look at the basic outline of the chapters, which have subsections in the book, you’ll figure there is going to be a discussion involving naive set theory, infinite sets, probability, modality, epistemology, logic, etc.

When I bought this book I actually thought it was going to be more technical than what it was, but I think for the intended audience it’s at about the right level. If I remember right, all but two chapters have exercises at the end with answers in the back of the book. Additionally, there is a further reading section right before the exercises so if you are interested in studying a topic in more depth you are given resources to do so. I found that to be very helpful. Now, I think if you have studied set theory, probability, epistemology, logic, and metaphysics then chances are good that you already know most of the material in this book.

I really do not have any major complaints about the book. However, the second axiom in the section on probability kind of made me think twice. It’s listed as “If p is certain, the Pr(p) = 1.” I understand the concept behind it, but the notion of “p is certain” is kind of vague. Or maybe this is really just a complaint about an informal and formal distinction. The only other thing I would change is in the probability section use the mathematical notation for intersection, union, and things like that as opposed to using “and”, “or”, and “not.” I also found it annoying that the conditional probability section uses “Pr(p/q)” to denote conditional probability when I have only ever seen conditional probability denoted as “Pr(p|q).” Using Pr(p|q) would make it a lot easier to read. Those are the only things I would change in the book.

Overall, if you are looking for a friendly introduction to some of the technical topics that you might have heard about being discussed in philosophical ideas or areas, then you should check out this book.

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