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An Interview with Jc Beall on Family, Background, Development, Work, and Advice for Paraconsistent-Curious Philosophy Students (Part One)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2020/04/22


Dr. Jc Beall is a Professor of Philosophy, will be the O’Neill Family Chair of Philosophy, at the University of Notre Dame. He is one of the leading philosophical logicians in the world well-known for work in non-classical logic, defence of logical pluralism in the philosophy of logic, and more. He discusses: family; larger self through time; early formation; parents as influential; being a young reader; pivotal educational moments; formal academic path; O’Neill Chair of Philosophy University of Notre Dame; main research questions; and advice for paraconsistent-curious students.

Keywords: family, Jc Beall, logic, paraconsistent logic, University of Notre Dame.

An Interview with Jc Beall on Family, Background, Development, Work, and Advice for Paraconsistent-Curious Philosophy Students: O’Neill Family Chair of Philosophy, University of Notre Dame (Part One)[1],[2]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What is family background or lineage, e.g., surname(s) etymology (etymologies), geography, culture, language, religion/non-religion, political suasion, social outlook, scientific training, and the like?

Professor Jc Beall: My paternal lineage involves largely Polish immigrants (Zabroski, Beall) who, like many, moved to (Western) Pennsylvania in the USA for coal-mining work. That side of the family, which informs a lot of my non-academic interests, is typical Appalachian practices. (My dad’s parents literally built their own house, fished or hunted for meat, and knew how to garden and can like nobody’s business.) My maternal lineage involves largely Scots-Irish people (Long, McConaughey), equally independent spirits but didn’t live in rural regions. The culture in which I grew up, just north of Pittsburgh (though the family traces closer to West Virginia), was largely what you get when you mix coal-mining, steel factories, and general hard-working midwestern (USA) versions of Christian practice:  namely, a no-nonsense, be-good-to-neighbors, respect-your-elders, strive-for-excellence, respect-education and above-all-respect-God sort of culture. That’s how it felt, anyway.

I haven’t thought enough about political theory to have interesting views on politics. I think that people should be nice to each other. How can that happen best at a larger political level? That’s the hard part, and I don’t know.

As for scientific training: My upbringing was infused with lots of theological (and, though not by name, philosophical) discussion, whereas my schooling was typical public midwest USA — lots of science and math, some writing (even some Latin), and a dose (probably too small) of both USA history (from a USA perspective, of course) and world history (ditto). I was always talented at math and science, but I was driven by (the mathematical) side of philosophy, something I “majored in” (as they say in the USA) at my typical liberal arts college (university-level), and then kept doing (though definitely concentrated on the maths side of philosophy as my studies went on).

2. Jacobsen: With all these facets of the larger self, how did these become the familial ecosystem to form identity and a sense of a self extended through time?

Beall: Well, I’ve never really thought about the question. I don’t have a considered answer, but I have a guess. My guess is that my sense of self is deeply informed by the given familial setting, one in which, I should emphasize, we (viz., my siblings and I) were always required to work hard, respect elders, but always — always — think for ourselves and be willing to live with the consequences of our decisions. I can’t see this aspect of myself changing, and so it serves as a thread in the fabric of who I am.

3. Jacobsen: Of those aforementioned influences, what ones seem the most prescient for early formation?

Beall: I didn’t have early teachers who were greatly influential. (They were good and appreciated; it’s just that none served to directly affect my future.) Probably the biggest influence was where I lived, which was on about 40 acres surrounded by 100s of empty acres, and back a quarter mile from the road. We didn’t have reliable TV (and probably wouldn’t’ve been allowed to spend much time in front of it anyway), and so we spent a lot of time finding our own entertainment in the woods, in a field, whatnot. For me, I often took a book or a notebook and threw up a hammock in a particular field in which my siblings rode horses (something I didn’t do). I read everything from mathematics (I remember being fascinated by geometry at one stage, and then set theory was beautiful) to theology (including John Calvin, Ecclesiastes from the Bible, some John Edwards, some Buber, Barth and Kierkegaard) and beyond — although, alas, never much literature. This “forced” opportunity was probably one of the single most important influences in my formation (including my love for farm country).

4. Jacobsen: What adults, mentors, or guardians became, in hindsight, the most influential on you?

Beall: My parents.

5. Jacobsen: As a young reader, if one, in childhood and adolescence, what authors and books were significant, meaningful, to worldview formation?

Beall: As I said to another question, a lot of christian theologians and a variety of maths authors (none of whose names I’ll ever remember, as the works were random discoveries). Philosophers — particularly of a “mathematical” or “analytic” bent — took over at university, including logicians such as Tarski, Quine, Barcan Marcus.

6. Jacobsen: What were pivotal educational – as in, in school or autodidacticism – moments from childhood to young adulthood?

Beall: There are two pivotal things that I remember, and probably more that I don’t remember. The first is smacking into the problem of evil. (I was in a hammock in a field where I grew up. I hadn’t read about the problem. I just smacked against it, like many do.) The other pivotal thing I can remember is proving something for the first time. I don’t remember the subject, but it was probably somewhere around geometry. I remember wondering about proof itself (e.g., what counts as a proof), and how one might prove that such-n-so step in accepted proofs is acceptable (as proof-ensuring, so to speak). I wish I could remember the exact step, but I do recall proving that the given step had to guarantee the truth of the conclusion. (Was my proof good? I can’t recall.) This was a new experience — defining a problem and solving it. This was pivotal.

7. Jacobsen: What was the formal academic path for you? Why select this pathway?

Beall: I initially went to Princeton Seminary to do a theology degree, but I met philosophers at Princeton who opened my philosophical world vastly wider than it had been. (Particularly influential along these lines were Bas C. van Fraassen and Gilbert Harman, though others were very helpful too.) I wound up taking a scholarship to the Australian National University (ANU, Canberra), where, despite my leanings towards logic, I found new interests in philosophy of mind — the “hard problem” per Frank Jackson and David Chalmers. From there, I went to study with Lynne Rudder Baker in philosophy of mind at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst (which is also very good for the logical side of philosophy, including work in formal semantics). I had planned to return to Princeton but very much liked the Amherst Massachusetts area, and simply finished my work there, winding up with a lot of logic work but a dissertation in philosophy of mind (which I never worked on again, alas). From there, I went — with my Australian spouse — to Australia, landing initial work at the University of Tasmania which, at the time, was growing a remarkably good philosophy department (under the leadership of Prof. Jay Garfield). (Alas, times have changed there.) During that time, I met Greg Restall, who is one of the nicest people I know and one of the sharpest philosophers and logicians I know, and a number of other excellent philosophers and logicians in Australasia (including in New Zealand). On an intellectual level, these philosophers and logicians were kindred spirits — full stop.

8. Jacobsen: As the O’Neill Chair of Philosophy University of Notre Dame, what tasks and responsibilities come with the position?

Beall: This is a research and teaching endowed chair at Notre Dame, with an expectation of high-level research and equally high-level teaching. The Notre Dame students are so talented that it makes the teaching side enjoyable. The research profile at Notre Dame is well-known: they are leaders in logic and various fields of philosophy (e.g., philosophical logic, metaphysics, medieval philosophy, philosophy of religion, epistemology, and more). I am very happy to be at such a great institution, one that values philosophy (and logic!) at the very foundation of its identity.

9. Jacobsen: What are the main research questions now?

Beall: I think that one of the key research questions is the identity of logical consequence itself. Many philosophers are aware of the many (many) nonstandard accounts of logical consequence (i.e., so-called nonstandard logics). But what are we debating when we debate whether logical consequence is nonstandard (or, as the term goes, nonclassical)? I have some thoughts on this, but I think that the question is very pressing in the philosophy of logic right now. Questions in philosophy of logic that are raging at the moment but, by my lights, are in fact downstream from the what-is-logic question, revolve around the strengths and weaknesses of so-called nonclassical solutions to philosophical problems, that is, solutions that rely on some nonclassical logic or other (not just paraconsistent, but other sorts of nonclassicality).

10. Jacobsen: If you could give advice to aspiring philosophy students, even paraconsistent-curious students, what would it be for them?

Beall: Try to be aware of current debates, but never follow fashion for fashion’s sake. Do not simply think that because well-placed philosophers are currently focusing their attention on Problem X the given problem is an important one. Try to understand the problem. Always ask: why does this matter? What other problems are affected by a solution to this problem? Is the problem an instance of a more general problem? Try to understand these issues. But always focus on what, after very honest and careful thinking, you consider to be important and interesting — and know why exactly you think so (and in what sense ‘important’, in what sense ‘interesting’, etc.). Philosophy is ultimately a conversation, but you must do a great deal of thinking on your own — careful thinking, honest thinking, and never trying-to-impress-big-wigs thinking. Sometimes, students get attracted to the novelty or wildness of certain philosophical ideas, and that’s not bad; it’s just that one must always recognize that neither novelty nor wildness are reliable indicators of truth. Similarly, students can sometimes get attracted to personalities, cool philosophers or whatnot; and this too isn’t inherently bad, but obviously it’s not a reliable guide to good philosophy. In the end, if I were to give advice to aspiring philosophy students, I’d say that they should strive to be level-headed about philosophy, and to work very hard in defining problems and solving them, and to ultimately have fun in the work.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] O’Neill Family Chair of Philosophy, University of Notre Dame.

[2] Individual Publication Date: April 22, 2020:; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2020:


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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