An ARF Fellow Report by Juan Francisco Rizzo
A Report on my ARF Student Fellowship
July 7 to September 5, 2016
by Juan Francisco Rizzo
I first came in contact with Richard L. Epstein (Arf) and his work when Manuel Dahlquist asked me to help translate the Pocket Guide to Critical Thinking into Spanish to use with his students. Arf insisted that we should make an adaptation instead, and he offered valuable help throughout the process. After reading a few of his books (mostly the ones in the series Logic as the Art of Reasoning Well) and after many interesting discussions through e-mails and phone calls, I developed an interest for his original ideas in Logic and Philosophy of Language. I applied for the ARF Student Fellowship because I thought it would be a great opportunity to study with him and discuss some of the topics I was interested in. I’m glad to report that in the two months I spent in Dogshine exceeded my expectations in that regard—and in many others.
I had the opportunity to study a draft of The Internal Structure of Predicates and Names. Arf suggested that I should read each chapter in turn, providing feedback and thoughts on everything I could think of (from the choice of examples to the style of the writing). That led to many interesting and valuable discussions, which opened my eyes to the limitations of classical predicate logic and also convinced me of the importance of the book. Hopefully, some of my comments helped Arf improve upon that draft (which was already very good). Together with the opportunity to read parts of the draft of the upcoming edition of Critical Thinking (CT5e)— including the new chapters on Reasoning in the Sciences—that amounted to a crash course on how to write and publish a book.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough background in mathematics to benefit from the deeper ideas in Computability (by Epstein and Carnielli), despite Arf’s best efforts. However, our
discussions made me re-visit (and understand more fully) An Introduction to Formal Logic and the essays in Reasoning and Formal Logic.
I studied John M. Ellis’ stimulating book on language theory, Language, Thought and Logic, and I was able to compare that with Arf's notes and with his own ideas developed in
“Language-Thought-Meaning”. In relation with Ellis’ book and the discussion of meaning in general, I also studied Conventional Gestures: Meaning and Methodology (parts I-III). Of all the
things I learned during those two months, I think that this is the kind of topics and research I’d like to follow further. (Full disclosure: I can show no significant “result” yet, but I’m starting to see what are the right questions to ask.)
For one week, we read and discussed a draft of Manuel Dahlquist’s upcoming book on medieval logic. Since it is written in Spanish, I was glad to help translate some of the difficult parts, so that together we could arrive at a general idea of the contents and the general structure of the book. That led to a few discussions in which I learned a great deal about medieval logic and wrote down comments and suggestions to share with Manuel. When I came back to Argentina I told Manuel all about it and he was very grateful for the input.
Since critical thinking books are difficult to come by in Argentina, we decided that I should take some time to get acquainted with the most popular textbooks used for teaching the subject in the USA. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough time for me to actually study all of them. On the plus side, by comparing them with CT4e, I felt there was no real need to.
From day one, I was thrilled to have access to such an amazing library. Not only was I able to choose from a lot of philosophy books (ranging from the classics to most up-to-date research on several different fields), I also got to read some great works of American literature I didn’t know anything about (in particular, Jim Thompson’s novels, which were a startling discovery for me), and I even enjoyed looking at beautiful art and photography books.
On a personal level, my time in Dogshine reminded me of the importance of hard work, but it also taught me about patience and the importance of acknowledging, accepting and eventually
trying to overcome my shortcomings and limitations. I will always remember the talks and the long walks, the sheer beauty of the place and the calm feeling of being among friends (and that includes—but is not limited to—dogs, sheep and philosophers). But there is no use trying to include all that in this report.
From the moment I arrived at the airport until I got on the plane back to Argentina I experienced the difficulty of trying to communicate in a foreign language, in a culture that I found quite
different from my own (despite my previous expectations), but I also had the pleasant surprise of getting to know the kind and friendly people of Socorro, who have a way of making you feel at home from the first moment.
At first I was hesitant when Arf invited me to attend a critical thinking class at the Socorro County Detention Center, but I will never regret having accepted. Not only did I get to see the
way the material should be taught, I was able to see first-hand the ways in which critical thinking can improve people’s lives. I went back a second time to give a talk to the inmates about
Argentina. Since they had many questions, it turned into more of a conversation, which was much more interesting than anything I could have planned in advance. I felt I should include this
in my report because in many ways it also sums up most of my time in Dogshine. No matter what expectations I had beforehand and no matter how well or ill-prepared I was, I consider
myself fortunate to enter into an honest and stimulating conversation from which I continue to learn every day.
I would like to thank all the members of the Advanced Reasoning Forum (especially Richard L. Epstein) for making it possible.
Juan Francisco Rizzo