Benson Mates dies

Leiter reports that Benson Mates has died, and links to the UC Berkeley short obit:

The Department announces with great sadness the death, on May 13, 2009, of Prof. Emeritus Benson Mates. Born in 1919, Prof. Mates studied at the University of Oregon, completing the B.A. degree there in 1940 (in Philosophy and Mathematics). He began work at the graduate level in Philosophy at Cornell, but his studies were interrupted by a stint during the war in the US Navy. He entered the graduate program in philosophy at UC Berkeley in 1945, completing his Ph.D. degree in 1948 after working with (among others) Harold Cherniss and Alfred Tarski. His dissertation was a study of “The Logic of the Old Stoa”. Prof. Mates took up a position in the Philosophy Department at Berkeley in 1948, working as Assistant and then Associate Professor here from 1948–1958; he was promoted to full Professor in 1958, and held that title until his retirement in 1989.

Prof. Mates’s interests ranged widely over problems in logic, epistemology, and the history of philosophy. His influential books include Stoic Logic (1953); Elementary Logic (1965); and The Philosophy of Leibniz (1986). His own philosophical tendencies were sympathetic to strands in ancient skepticism, a theme that emerges clearly in his book Skeptical Essays (1981).

I am very familiar with the linked book - as an undergraduate we worked through it carefully, proving to ourselves the theorems given. I still have my copy, and look at it forlornly in remembrance of when I actually, for a very brief time, understood formal logic. It is a work of art.

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I also had that book, in a course of the same name. Given the amount of Boolean algebra and similar in there, I thought it was cheating to let us engineering students take it as one of our requires humanities electives, but it was given by the Philosophy department, so.....

I sold the book to the next year, but re-acquired it recently at a used-book shop in the town where my alma is. The copy I now possess belonged to the prof who taught the course ;-).

Mates's logic text has something else, something I think would be particularly valuable to anyone going into the philosophy of science: a chapter (section?) on DEFINITIONS: making the points that a legitimate definition should be NON-CREATIVE (wouldn't let you prove anything -- in the original, before-the-definition-was adopted, vocabulary -- that you couldn't prove without using it) and ideally should provide ELIMINATION (provide a way of paraphrasing any statement made using the defined term into the original vocabulary). And pointing out that if you define a new predicate by a suitable universally quantified biconditional the definition has both features. ... Many logic textbooks don't cover this: I hadn't learned it as an undergraduate and remember sitting on the floor of the university book store reading the relevant chapter of Mates when I was a first year grad student.

(Eamon Knight: Hey, the mark of political skill in a philosophy department chairperson is getting the relevant committee to authorize elementary logic BOTH as fulfilling a tech requirement for humanities students AND as fulfilling a humanities requirement for sci/eng students!)

By Allen Hazen (not verified) on 17 May 2009 #permalink

I appreciate your putting this up. Benson was my grandfather, and raised me for much of my early life. If he hadn't instilled in me an interest in skepticism, I probably wouldn't be working at the NCSE right now.

You won't be surprised to learn that he requested no funeral, no obituary, and for his ashes to be unceremoniously dumped in the sea.

By Anton Mates (not verified) on 21 May 2009 #permalink