Each month, we ask a different member of our department to select a book on philosophy that has had a lasting impact on them and to share their thoughts and reflections on why it's such an important read.
October Pick | Selected by Fellow Emeritus Professor Peter Simons
Bernard Bolzano’s Theory of Science appeared in 1837 but for political reasons long languished in obscurity and was fully translated into English only in 2014. Running to four volumes and 718 sections, it is no pamphlet.
Why is it my favourite read? Firstly, it is the first comprehensive semantic approach to logic, using platonic propositions and their component ideas, which are employed to give definitions of validity, logical truth, analyticity, probability, and other concepts only rediscovered a century later. Secondly, his definitions and explanations are highly precise, as befits a talented mathematician. Thirdly, he writes very clearly; his meaning is rarely in doubt. Finally, he is painfully honest. A key concept is grounding, saying why something follows something. Despite his efforts, Bolzano confesses himself unable to provide a proper definition.
It is not unflawed. Bolzano’s often tortuous subject–predicate analysis of propositions is unnecessary and far-fetched; the system of propositions is inconsistent; and the platonism untenable.
Theory of Science is now ranked alongside the works of Aristotle, Leibniz, and Frege. Reading it is not a fast route to enlightenment, but even to sample it is to engage with one of the great philosophic minds of recent centuries.