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Peter Millican: Research Interests

See Some Web Publications for links to those papers and other publications that are currently available on the Web (albeit usually in pre-publication format).

1. David Hume

The main focus of my research in recent years has been the philosophy of David Hume, in particular:

  • Hume's famous argument concerning induction and related issues in the philosophy of probability (on which I wrote my PhD thesis, and a fairly well-known paper called Hume's Argument Concerning Induction: Structure and Interpretation which was published in 1995 and reprinted in 2000 – see also my 2002 book below);
  • The development of Hume's philosophy in his works written after the Treatise of Human Nature, especially his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.

My most substantial publication is the book Reading Hume on Human Understanding: Essays on the First Enquiry, published by Oxford University Press in March 2002. The Introduction (pages 1 to 26) is available in PDF form from the OUP website through the link above. Chapter 1 (pages 27 to 65) contains an overview of my perspective on the Enquiry and its significance among Hume's works; Chapter 4 (pages 107 to 173) argues the case for my interpretation of his argument concerning induction (in Enquiry Section 4); the final main section of the book (pages 413 to 474) is a survey and selection of around 250 publications concerning Hume and the Enquiry, which is available from the Leeds Electronic Text Centre: Critical Survey of the Literature on Hume and the Enquiry. Also available from the Electronic Text Centre is my Electonic edition of the Enquiry (based on the 1777 original in the Brotherton Library). For both educational and scholarly reasons, I am committed to making available reliable electronic texts (of which the Web currently has all too few). With this in mind I recently created the website www.davidhume.org.

2. Logic and Argument in Metaphysics and Epistemology

Approaching things from a sceptical Humean perspective, I am very interested in examining (and refuting!) classic arguments that purport to establish significant ontological or epistemological conclusions, for example Kantian transcendental arguments, would-be justifications of induction, or arguments for the existence of God. My most recent publication along these lines was in Mind July 2004, called The One Fatal Flaw in Anselm's Argument. There I argue that Anselm's Ontological Argument fails for a straightforward logical reason – based on an equivocation or scope ambiguity – and its failure therefore has no implications whatever for ontology (e.g. the Kantian dogma that "existence is not a predicate" cannot be supported by reference to it).

3. Other Philosophical Interests

Other major interests in Philosophy include Philosophical Logic (e.g. in my B.Phil. thesis and the Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society paper Content, Thoughts, and Definite Descriptions), and Ethics (including applied medical ethics, e.g. my 1992 paper The Complex Problem of Abortion and my entry in the 2000 Oxford Companion to Christian Thought, which interestingly won a nice write-up in the Roman Catholic Tablet for its judicious balance!).

Finally, I also try to make space for some work on the interface between Philosophy and Computing, solving conceptual problems in the areas of software development, computer modelling, and rational decision theory. I am working intermittently on artificial life (notably on programs to explore the evolution of co-operation and of sex) and I have previously worked on artificial intelligence (where my greatest interest is in the modelling of strategic thought using the domain of chess as a testbed). Working with computer assistance to address difficult conceptual issues (such as evolutionary mechanisms, or educationally and morally appropriate norms for degree classification) is not yet considered by the academic mainstream as serious 'Philosophy'. But when more philosophers are computationally competent, and have been persuaded through experience that there are many areas where computers can help to discipline our thoughts and in which the unaided human mind is by contrast pitifully prone to going astray (a very Humean lesson), I trust that this will change! My website www.philocomp.net is intended to help this process on its way.