APA 2018 Lebowitz Prize Awarded to Kit Fine and Stephen Yablo

2018 Lebowitz Prize Awarded to Kit Fine and Stephen Yablo

The American Philosophical Association (APA), along with the Phi Beta Kappa Society (PBK), is pleased to announce that Kit Fine, Silver Professor of Philosophy and Mathematics at New York University, and Stephen Yablo, David W. Skinner Professor of Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have won the 2018 Dr. Martin R. Lebowitz and Eve Lewellis Lebowitz Prize for Philosophical Achievement and Contribution. This prize, awarded annually by the PBK in conjunction with the APA, recognizes outstanding achievement in the field of philosophy and comes, this year, with a prize of $29,000 for each winner.

The Lebowitz Prize was established in 2012 by a generous bequest from Eve Lewellis Lebowitz in honor of her late husband, Martin R. Lebowitz, a distinguished philosophical critic. Lebowitz Prize winners must be two philosophers who hold contrasting views on a chosen topic of current interest in philosophy. They present their views and engage in rich dialogue at an annual Lebowitz symposium at an APA divisional meeting and at a public lecture.

Professors Fine and Yablo are both known for their work in philosophical logic, the philosophy of language, and metaphysics. From a pool of exceptional candidates, they secured the 2018 Lebowitz Prize with their topic, “What is Meaning?” exploring the conditions that make what is said and written true.

Stephen Yablo, Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, has published three books and has been elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He supports the nearly fifty-year, dominant approach that “truth-conditions are taken to be given by complete possible states of affairs, so-called ‘possible worlds’, so that to know the meaning of a sentence is to know in which worlds it is true.”

Kit Fine, Ph.D., University of Warwick, was elected a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. He has taught at several major institutions and has held fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the American Council of Learned Societies. He is in favor of an alternative approach, “in which the truth-conditions are taken to be, not worlds but facts within a world, so that to know the meaning of a sentence is to know what facts will make it true.”

The winners will present their work at an APA symposium in early 2019 followed by a PBK-sponsored symposium. Dates are to be determined.

The deadline for nominations/applications for the 2019 Lebowitz Prize is November 1, 2018. To apply, contact Jen Horneman at jhorneman@pbk.org.


  1. Who is paying their salaries?

    And how does a discussion about “What Is Meaning” serve those paying the bill?

    It seems to me that those with advanced degrees in the art of making cases should be able to make the case that they are providing a service worth paying for, and if they can’t, they should be intellectually honest enough to admit that.

    If the case can’t be made, if that were true, then the inquiry could continue so as to define what services such esteemed gentlemen could provide which those paying their salaries would find to be a good return on their investment.

    Or, we could ignore all the above, and I’ll just label it a scam until I get banned. I’d prefer to hear the case, but that’s just one vote.

    • A professor’s salary comes from many places, including student tuition and at a state school some tax dollars too but very few. Many researchers secure their own funding through grant agencies. To get approved for federal grants, there definitely is a process through which you are expected to be able to demonstrate the worth of your field and your research question. So to answer your question, yes, a case can be made for the worth of this enterprise. While it’s worthwhile to spend time making it, nothing would get done if that case had to be made to each internet stranger individually. You could try doing some investigating yourself, perhaps. There are enumerable ways educating our youth in philosophy is a net-gain for society, not just culturally but also economically. Training critical thinking, creative innovation, problem solving and analytical skills is a long-term investment, but one we should not hesitate to make.

      To be honest I’m not really sure what your objection is or what it is you think is a “scam” and why.

  2. Hi Jenelle, many thanks for your thoughtful reply.

    Ok, you feel a case can be made for the value of academic philosophy. I’m open to hearing that case. I’m here on this blog to hear it. So far, it seems such a value is merely assumed, taken to be an obvious given. I’m not a person of faith so I’m looking for more, and rattling the bars of the cage in an attempt to get it.

    So, please proceed to make the case, thank you.

    I do think that reason is very important, and that it’s a value to society to have intelligent educated people who specialize in mastering the art of reason. I’m up for that, it’s why I’m on this blog everyday.

    I just don’t see reason actually happening here on the blog. I see philosophy happening. To me, they are not automatically the same thing.

    As example, the question “what is meaning” is surely philosophy, but to me, in the context of today’s world, it’s not reason. If your house was on fire it wouldn’t be reason to focus instead on the philosophical question “what is meaning”.

    As example, nuclear weapons have barely been mentioned on this blog over two years. How is that reason? By what logic do we not routinely discuss the most pressing and dramatic threat to civilization, and thus philosophy?? Again, ignoring this topic to discuss “what is meaning” would be philosophy, but not reason, from my perspective.

    Creative innovation and problem solving is good, that’s what I’m looking for. Where is it? As example, the blog has a section on race relations. That’s great. But where is the creative innovation and problem solving? Where are the specific proposals for addressing specific race relations challenges?

    I’ve tried to do just that, and such suggestions are entirely ignored, of no interest whatsoever. I’m totally ok with my ideas being challenged, but please, replace them with better SPECIFIC ideas.

    Although significant flaws in my personality may obscure this message, I’m hoping APA members might see my demands as a compliment. I’m holding you to a higher standard because I believe you are capable of meeting that standard, and because I believe you are a valuable social resource which is too important to squander on questions like “what is meaning”.

    To the younger philosophers I would say, I don’t trust your leadership. Maybe you shouldn’t either?

    I’m proposing that academic philosophy is a scam to the degree that it takes money from plumbers and waitresses without providing anything of value to them in return. I sense it’s an unintentional scam, especially among the younger philosophers. I’m also guessing many of the older philosophers will see the scam, but are in too deep to do anything about it personally.

    This could all be wrong. Ok, tell me specifically why if you can. Thanks.

  3. Sorry, I meant to say…

    To the younger philosophers I would say, I don’t trust those leading you. Maybe you shouldn’t either?

  4. Ok, so what could Fine, Yablo and other academic philosophers work on that would provide essential value to the society which pays their salaries? How could they be relevant and useful, a good value, a worthwhile investment?

    They could be very relevant by addressing the primary threat facing modern society, the accelerating empowerment of violent men.

    They could help us understand that the “more is better” relationship with knowledge which was rational in the long era of knowledge scarcity stops being rational in a era characterized by an accelerating knowledge explosion. They could help us move beyond a relationship with knowledge which is highly simplistic, and increasingly outdated and dangerous, to a more modern and sophisticated relationship with knowledge. This is the crucial, essential, do or die business of modern civilization, and no one else is doing this important work.

    I’ve been trying to discuss this with scientists all over the Net for a decade, and I can assure you that they are not interested. They are scientists, and as they see it their job is to do science, and not to try to understand where science is taking us. This might be compared to your car mechanic whose job is to fix your car, not to contemplate the influence of the internal combustion engine on modern society. Scientists are technicians, that’s what they’re good at, that’s all they know how to do, and that’s all they want to do. They do what they do well, and we’re going to have to be happy with that.

    Politicians? I doubt I need to say any more about them.

    So who then? Who is going to examine our relationship with knowledge through the lens of a disciplined focused process of reason, before that outdated relationship kills us all?

    If it’s not philosophers, it’s nobody. And if it’s nobody, violent men are going to gain access to more and more and more power at an ever faster rate. And they’re going to do what they’ve always done with power, they’re going to use it.

    When you become people of reason, and not just philosophers, you will understand that everything you care about is on the line, and that the services of highly educated elites who specialize in the processes of reason are desperately needed.

  5. So what does it mean to have a “more modern and sophisticated relationship with knowledge”? What does it mean to move beyond the simplistic “more is better” relationship with knowledge which worked so well for us for so long in simpler times?

    Luckily, a handy example is well within reach of any sensible person, no college degree required. Since the dawn of time human beings have often had a “more is better” relationship with food, which was entirely rational given that most humans typically lived near the edge of starvation much of the time. When you found some food, you’d better grab it and consume it while the opportunity was there. It made sense.

    But look what happened. The miraculous success of the knowledge explosion made food plentifully available in much of the world. And now in many part of the world more of us die from obesity related diseases than starvation.

    This is a clear easily understood case of a simplistic “more is better” relationship which is having to evolve in to a more intelligent and sophisticated relationship. A “less is more” relationship with food won’t work either, so we are required to think about what we eat, how much we eat, when we eat and so on. The new relationship is complicated, it requires thought and decisions, and it doesn’t always work. But this is the challenge we must meet if we don’t want to die young of a heart attack etc.

    This is exactly the same situation we face in our relationship with knowledge. The old “more is better” relationship with knowledge has been made obsolete by the success of the knowledge explosion. If we stick stubbornly with this outdated “more is better” relationship we will inevitably create more power than we can successfully manage. In fact, we already have done just that by building a machine which can erase modern civilization in minutes. That’s not successful management, that’s insanity.

    There are many intelligent people pondering the details, such as for instance, ethical issues related to genetic engineering technology, or the impact of the emerging AI. These commentators are usually specialists in these fields, who know their narrow field very well, but aren’t focused on the larger picture of our relationship with knowledge as a whole.

    We need highly educated people well versed in the art of reason to help us craft a new more sophisticated and nuanced relationship with knowledge. We need them to help us understand how we’re going to decide what NOT to learn, and how we’re going to achieve a global consensus to not learn it.

    This is the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced and we need all hands on deck to meet it, most especially the best and brightest among us. That would be you. Get to work!

  6. Jenelle wrote… “So to answer your question, yes, a case can be made for the worth of this enterprise.”

    Ok, instead of just claiming that is true, let’s try to find somebody who is willing and able to make that case. And then let’s see APA members and the general public review that case together on this blog.

    This is a philosophy blog. Thus, it’s not appropriate that we should simply assume things to be true because that’s what authority figures and the philosophy world group consensus believe as a matter of unexamined faith.

    Jenelle wrote… “While it’s worthwhile to spend time making it, nothing would get done if that case had to be made to each internet stranger individually.”

    Again, this is a philosophy blog open to all on the Internet, and not a personal email. No one is asking anyone else to make the case to each internet stranger individually. So, with apologies I will respectfully discard that dodge.

    If it’s worthwhile to spend time making the case for the value of academic philosophy in it’s current form, if that is true, then let’s see that case. I am not demanding it be you personally who makes it.

    I am instead simply reporting that I decline to believe in the value of the academic philosophy status quo if academic philosophers can not be bothered to make the case for the value of that status quo.

    As I tried to express above, I do think that the people who are doing academic philosophy have great potential value.

  7. Jenelle, and others…

    Have you noticed that APA members are not engaging the articles on this blog? Isn’t that their way of quietly saying that they don’t feel the work of their peers provides sufficient value to merit an investment of their time? Aren’t APA members themselves essentially validating my claim that academic philosophy_in it’s current form_ is not delivering value worth paying for?

    This does not equal academic philosophers having no value worth paying for. If the field could be re-targeted at more worthwhile projects academic philosophers might be able to make crucial contributions. The talent is there, someone just needs to wake the talent up out of the status quo coma it’s currently trapped in.

  8. With the above in mind, here’s a constructive suggestion.

    The editors might consider closing the comment section of this blog.

    In it’s current almost entirely empty state (except for my posts) the comment section is advertising to the world that nobody is really that interested in the work the APA is producing. Not even APA members are that interested apparently.

    This could be useful information if one is willing to act on it and edit the content of academic philosophy to better represent the real interests of philosophers and the public.

    But if the APA is not willing to do that, if academic philosophy can’t handle that level of change, if the status quo must be worshiped no matter what, it might be better to close the comment section so that the illusion that the APA is doing important work can be publicly preserved.

    We all have our illusions, this wannabe philosopher included, and sometimes it is an act of reason to embrace illusions which we are unwilling to surrender.


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