“Yale philosophy has officially replaced the grad program ‘logic requirement’ with a broader ‘formal methods requirement.’ Students can choose which course to take (logic, probability, stats, game theory, etc.).”
The change follows years of discussion in the philosophy profession about the extent to which most philosophers make use of more than just basic logic in their work, and the extent to which training in statistics, probability, and other methods might be more useful in some philosophical subfields. In a 2016 post here, for example, Professor Knobe wrote:
It is widely agreed that graduate students in philosophy can benefit from training in formal methods. In our present system, we do at least a relatively good job of providing training in (certain areas of) symbolic logic, but I worry that we sometimes aren’t helping students to learn the methods that will prove most helpful to them in their actual philosophical work.
To give just one obvious example, people working in numerous areas of philosophy need to read and understand papers that make use of statistics. This sort of work has become increasingly important in philosophy of mind, moral psychology, experimental philosophy, feminist philosophy, global justice, and numerous other areas. But there is sometimes a curious mismatch between the training people in these areas receive and the actual work they go on to do. As a result, many philosophers are in the difficult position of doing research that relies very heavily on empirical findings while having a background that gave them knowledge of the Löwenheim–Skolem theorem but no understanding of what a correlation coefficient is.
With all such purported pragmatic benefits of logic, I see them more often asserted than proven; but even setting that aside, it is not clear why an emphasis on usefulness picks out logic in particular, for either philosophical specifically or broader marketability. Actual arguments one encounters in both philosophy and broader life, and the sort of mathematical skills which it is useful to have both as citizen and employee, are frequently probabilistic or inductive rather than strictly deductive. It is very rare thing indeed that philosophers establish arguments which are sufficiently complex that formal logical training might be useful for understanding them, yet which at the same time even purport to be deductively valid arguments. Much more often we are in the business of offering suggestive considerations, or amalgamating assorted facts which together render plausible one’s conclusion. These are more naturally read as probabilistic or inductive arguments than deductive ones, and where they suggest some practical course of action they are perhaps most naturally analyzed with the tools of decision theory. In life beyond academic philosophy, it will frequently be claims couched in statistical garb that one will encounter in the newspapers and the workplace. If we want to help students understand and construct the sort of arguments we actually make and encounter, they need to know more than just deductive logic.
Yale Philosophy actually started allowing students to take a variety of formal methods courses instead of logic back in 2017. Knobe’s announcement is simply about a change in the official graduate program requirements. As he noted then, Yale was only one of many departments to make such changes.
It has been a while since that informal survey of programs, and no doubt other programs have made similar changes since then. It would be useful to hear more about what various departments are doing in this regard, so please let us know.