Thursday, April 19, 2007

Serendipitous Kreisel

abebooks.com is a wonderful thing -- you can so often find cheap copies of in-print books that you want, and (often not-so-cheap) copies of out-of-print books as well. The trouble is that booksellers can of course use the site too to find out what particular books in their stock are worth, and these days you rarely pick up real philosophical or logical bargains sold at silly prices because the seller has little clue of their value (I not so very long ago picked up a complete Principia in excellent condition for £30 -- that sort of thing wouldn't happen now).

But you still make serendipitous little finds. In the "all hardbacks 50p" bargain tray outside a little bookshop at a National Trust house, a copy of Bertrand Russell: Philosopher of the Century. Which is very much a period piece, reminding us how the reputations of philosophers can change so markedly. But there is an intriguing 72 page essay by Kreisel, 'Mathematical logic: what has it done for the philosophy of mathematics', which I confess I can't recall reading more than a few pages of before. Like other Kreisel papers, you just wish it were written in a more conventional, less allusive (ok, more flat-footed) style. Just imagine what Kreisel's reputation would be if he had been able to write with e.g. Putnam's directness and lucidity (Putnam has a piece in the collection too). So often, he seems to have got there first, but we -- well, most of us -- can only really see it with hindsight.

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