McMahon-Hank Professor of Philosophy
Michael Detlefsen's work currently focuses on issues concerning the complexity of reasoning and how it may effectively be managed. The larger aims of his work are to (i) improve our understanding of what efficiency/inefficiency in reasoning fundamentally are and what basic forms they take in human reasoning, to (ii) deepen our understanding of how efficiency of reasoning, so understood, may be promoted and inefficiency of reasoning controlled and, finally, and more specifically, to (iii) enhance our knowledge of the dynamic between efficiency of thinking and the exercise of various freedoms in our thinking and the conditions under which it may improve our efficiency as reasoners.
Professor Detlefsen's is particularly interested in a family of proposals that have been made concerning the promotion of efficiency in mathematical reasoning---namely, that reasoning is generally made more efficient by permitting the introduction of certain types of imaginary elements and concepts (e.g. squares of negative numbers in algebra and analysis or elements at infinity in geometry).
In 2007, Professor Detlefsen, along with Prof. Patrick Cavanagh (Deptartment of Psychology, Harvard University) and Prof. Michel Devoret (Department of Physics, Yale University), was one of three scholars in all fields awarded $1.1 million Senior Chaires d’Excellence by the Agence Nationale de la Recherche of France. He has also held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Fulbright Program and the Alexander Von Humboldt Foundation, among others.
Professor Detlefsen and his students are continuing a fruitful collaboration with scholars and students in France through the PhilMath Intersem. This is an annual joint seminar co-sponsored by Notre Dame, the U of Paris 7-Diderot and various other institutions of higher learning. The seminar meets each spring during May and June for ten to twelve sessions. It is jointly directed by Professor Detlefsen and Professor Jean-Jacques Szczeciniarz of the U of Paris 7-Diderot. It generally attracts over 30 students and scholars from Notre Dame, the U of Paris and other universities (e.g. the U of Bristol, Stanford U, Carnegie Mellon U, the U of Michigan, the U of California-Irvine, the U of Aberdeen and the U of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign) around the world. The PhilMath Intersem will convene for its third set of meetings during June 2012."
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The late Bernard J. “Jerry” Hank (’51), who long served as a member of the Board of Trustees, and his wife, Joyce, established the McMahon-Hank Professorship as a tribute to their parents, George and Edna McMahon and Bernard and Viola Hank.