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Jesús Mosterín (born 1941) is a leading Spanish philosopher and a thinker of broad spectrum, often at the frontier between science and philosophy.


He was born in Bilbao in 1941. He studied in Spain, Germany and the USA. Professor of Logic and Philosophy of Science at the University of Barcelona since 1983, he founded there an active Department of Logic, Philosophy and History of Science. Since 1996, he has been Research Professor at the National Research Council of Spain (CSIC). He is a fellow of the Center for Philosophy of Science in Pittsburgh and a member of several international academies. He has played a crucial role in the introduction of mathematical logic, analytical philosophy and philosophy of science in Spain and Latin America. Besides his academic duties, he has fulfilled important functions in the international publishing industry, especially in the Salvat and Hachette groups. He has being actively involved in the protection of wildlife and its defense in the mass media.


Mosterín acquired his initial logical formation at the Institut für mathematische Logik und Grundlagenforschung in Münster (Germany). He published the first modern and rigurous textbooks of logic [1] and set theory [2] in Spanish. He has worked on topics of first and second order logic, axiomatic set theory, computability and complexity.[3] He has shown how the uniform digitalization of each type of symbolic object (such as chromosomes, texts, pictures, movies or pieces of music) can be considered to implement a certain positional numbering system. This result gives a precise meaning to the notion that the set of natural numbers constitutes a universal library and indeed a universal data base.[4] Mosterín has edited the first edition of the complete works of Kurt Gödel in any language.[5] Together with Thomas Bonk, he has edited an unpublished book of Rudolf Carnap on axiomatics (in German).[6] He has also delved in the historical and biographical aspects of the development of modern logic, as shown in his original work on the lives of Gottlob Frege, Georg Cantor, Bertrand Russell, John von Neumann, Kurt Gödel and Alan Turing, intertwined with a formal analysis of their main technical contributions.[7]

Philosophy of scienceEdit

Concepts and theories in scienceEdit

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Karl Popper tried to establish a criterion of demarcation between science and metaphysics, but the speculative turn taken by certain developments in theoretical physics has contributed to muddle the issue again. Mosterín has been concerned with the question of the reliability of theories and claims. He makes a distinction between the standard core of a scientific discipline, that at a certain point in time should only include relatively reliable and empirically supported ideas, and the cloud of speculative hypothesis surrounding it. Part of the theoretical progress consists in the incorporation of newly tested hypothesis of the cloud to the standard core. In this connection, he has analyzed epistemic notions like detection and observation. Observation, but not detection, is accompanied by awareness. Detection is always mediated by technological instruments, but observation only sometimes (like glasses in vision). The signals received by detectors have to be transduced into types of energy accessible to our senses.[8] Following the path open by Patrick Suppes, Mosterín has paid much attention to the structure of metric concepts, because of their indispensable mediating role at the interface between theory and observation where reliability is tested. He has also made contributions to the study of mathematical modeling and of the limits of the axiomatic method in the characterization of real-world structures.[9] The real world is extremely complex, and sometimes the best we can do is to apply the method of theoretical science: to pick up in the set-theoretical universe a mathematical structure with some formal similarities with the situation we are interested in, and use it as a model of that parcel of the world. Together with Roberto Torretti, Mosterín has written a uniquely comprehensive encyclopedic dictionary of logic and philosophy of science.[10]

Philosophy of biologyEdit

Besides actively participating in the current discussions on evolutionary theory and genetics, Mosterín has also tackled issues like the definition of life itself or the ontology of biological organisms and species. Following in Aristotle’s and Schrödinger’s footsteps, he has been asking the simple question: what is life? He has analyzed the main proposed definitions, based on metabolism, reproduction, thermodynamics, complexity and evolution, and found all of them wanting. It is true that all organisms on Earth share many characteristics, from the encoding of genetic information in DNA to the storage of energy in ATP, but these common features merely reflect the inheritance from a common ancestor that possibly acquired them in a random way. From that point of view, our biology is the parochial science of life on Earth, rather than a universal science of life in general. Such a general biology seems impossible, as long as we do not detect and come to know other forms of life in the galaxy (in case they exist).[11] Concerning the ontological thesis of Michael Ghiselin and David Hull on the individuality of biological species, Mosterín shows that they are neither classes nor individuals in the usual meaning of these words. He tries to extend and make more precise the available conceptual framework of the discussion. Specifically, he shows the formal equivalence of the set-theoretical and the mereological (or part and individual) approach, so that everything that can be said about the classes can be translated into the jargon of individuals, and the other way around.[12]

Philosophy of cosmology Edit

The role of our scientific image of the universe in a rational world view has always caught the attention of Mosterín. He has devoted much work to the epistemic analysis of cosmological theories and of the reliability of their claims. Together with John Earman, he has undertaken a thorough critical review of the paradigm of cosmic inflation.[13] Earman and Mosterín conclude that, despite the widespread influence of the inflationary paradigm and the fact that it does not contradict any known results, there are as yet no good grounds for admitting any of the models of inflation into the standard core of scientific cosmology. He has also dealt with the role of speculation in cosmology.[14] In particular, Mosterín has shown the multiple misunderstandings underlying the so-called anthropic principle and the use of anthropic explanations in cosmology. Mosterín concludes that "in its weak version, the anthropic principle is a mere tautology, which does not allow us to explain anything or to predict anything that we did not already know. In its strong version, it is a gratuitous speculation".[15] Mosterín also points to the flawed “anthropic” inferences from the assumption of an infinity of worlds to the existence of one like ours: Template:Quote

Practical philosophyEdit

Theory of rationality Edit

Kant had distinguished theoretical from practical reason. Rationality theorist Jesús Mosterín makes a parallel distinction between theoretical and practical rationality, although, according to him, reason and rationality are not the same: reason would be a psychological faculty, whereas rationality is an optimizing strategy.[16] Humans are not rational by definition, but they can think and behave rationally or not, depending on whether they apply, explicitly or implicitly, the strategy of theoretical and practical rationality to the thoughts they accept and to the actions they perform. Theoretical rationality has a formal component that reduces to logical consistency and a material component that reduces to empirical support, relying on our inborn mechanisms of signal detection and interpretation. Mosterín distinguishes between involuntary and implicit belief, on the one hand, and voluntary and explicit acceptance, on the other.[17] Theoretical rationality can more properly be said to regulate our acceptances than our beliefs. Practical rationality is the strategy for living one’s best possible life, achieving your most important goals and your own preferences in as far as possible. Practical rationality has also a formal component, that reduces to Bayesian decision theory, and a material component, rooted in human nature (lastly, in our genome).

Ethics, animals and rights Edit

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From the beginning, Mosterín collaborated with Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente, famous Spanish naturalist and media personality, in the advancement of knowledge and appreciation of wild nature and particularly of wild animals.[18] Mosterín has repeatedly taken a strong public position against bullfighting and other forms of mistreatment of animals. He contributed decisively to the discussion leading to the ban of bullfighting in Catalonia (Spain) in July 2010. Subsequently he has published a lucid analysis of this cruel tradition and a devastating philosophical refutation of all proposed attempts to justify it.[19] As honorary president of the Spanish Great Ape Project, he has cooperated with Peter Singer in advocating certain minimal legal rights for great apes. Mosterín does not believe in the existence of intrinsic, metaphysical rights (neither for animals in general nor for humans in particular), but he thinks that any political society can create rights through legislative action of Parliament. Following Hume and Darwin, and taking into account Giacomo Rizzolatti’s results on mirror neurons, Mosterín suggests that our inborn capacity for compassion, fed by knowledge and empathy, is a more solid basis for the moral consideration of non-human animals than just abstract and uncheckable speculations on intrinsic rights.[20]

Political philosophyEdit

Modern liberal democracy is a compromise between the twin ideals of freedom and democracy. Mosterín emphasizes their differences: freedom comes down to doing what I want to do; democracy, to doing what (the majority of) the others want me to do. Rejecting as muddled the metaphysical notion of free will, he focuses on political freedom, the absence of coercion or interference by others in my personal decisions. Because of the tendencies to violence and aggression that lurk in human nature, some constraint on freedom is necessary for peaceful and fruitful social life, but the more freedom we enjoy, the better.[21] Especially, there is no rational ground for curtailing the cultural freedoms (of language, religion and customs) in the name of the nation, the church or the party. From this point of view, Internet provides a much more attractive model than the obsolete nation-state or the nationalistic movements. Mosterín thinks that the nation-state is incompatible with the full development of freedom, whose blossoming requires the reorganization of the world political system along cosmopolitan lines. He proposes a world without nation-states, territorially organized in small autonomous but not-sovereign cantonal polities, complemented by strong world organizations.[22]


Human natureEdit

The 21st century has witnessed a vigorous revival of the idea of human nature in the hands of authors like Edward Wilson, Steven Pinker and Jesús Mosterín. The successful sequencing of the human genome and the ongoing research on the function of genes and of regulatory sequences, together with the insights on the workings of the brain, have brought a new actuality and significance to this classical notion. According to Mosterín, the nature of our species Homo sapiens is the information genetically transmitted and present in the human genome (in the genetic pool). Your individual nature lies in your own genome, present in the chromosomes of your cells. The human genome has a layered structure and (up to a point) recapitulates the history of our human lineage. The oldest and deepest strata of our nature represent the living functions common to all life on Earth. Subsequent strata reflect later novelties. The newest layers are devoted to the most recent acquisitions, like bipedalism, grip of precision, large brain cortex, language and other abstract or recursive cognitive processes.[23] Mosterín has dealt with the methods and criteria for distinguishing natural from cultural aspects of human capacities and behaviors and has provided a solid basis to theoretical anthropology. He has also engaged in the discussion and clarification of bioethical issues, like research with embryonic stem cells, birth control, abortion and euthanasia, taking always a scientific point of view and a position in favor of human freedom.

Human cultureEdit

Building on the wide understanding of culture brought about by cultural anthropology, archeology and biology, Mosterín has developed a new philosophical understanding of what culture is, where it is localized and how it evolves in time.[24] Human nature is information, and so is human culture, but both are distinguished by their different means of transmission: whereas nature is transmitted genetically and is encoded in the genome, culture is transmitted through social learning and is encoded in the brain. Only individuals have a brain, and only they have a culture. Talk of collective cultures has to be understood as a statistical artifact for talking about a plurality of individual cultures. The set of elementary chunks of culture (variously known as memes, cultural variants or cultural traits) codified as neuronal circuits in the long term memory of the individual make up that individual’s culture. Corresponding to the different uses of ‘culture’ in ordinary and scientific language, Mosterín defines several notions of collective culture, going from the cultural pool (the union of the cultures of all individuals of the group) to the unanimous culture (the intersection of all those cultures). In 2009 he has completed a thoroughgoing analysis of the forces driving cultural change, paying special attention to the role of Internet and other factors of information technology.[25] He considers that preserving the freedom and efficiency of Internet is crucial for the future thriving of human culture.

History of philosophyEdit

An admirer of the freshness and clarity of Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy, whose foreword he composed,[26] as well as a critic of some of its shortcomings, Mosterín has undertaken the ambitious plan of writing all by himself a universal history of thought, not only Western, but also Asian and even Archaic. His series of books on Historia del Pensamiento aims at covering all main intellectual traditions from an interdisciplinary approach dealing simultaneously with developments in philosophy, science and ideology. The analysis of the ideas is critical and uncompromising, combining rigor with clarity and straightforward language. Besides, he delves into the arguments and does not hesitate to dig out their eventual flaws.

Some of the books of the series are devoted, for example, to Archaic thought,[27] Aristotle[28] and the philosophy of India.[29] The examination of Archaic thought delves mainly into the intellectual contributions of old Mesopotamia, well documented in the cuneiform texts. Aristotle is presented not only as a philosopher, but also as a seminal scientist in different fields. The volume on India, besides dealing with linguistics and mathematics, contains a compact presentation of the main philosophical schools, from the Upanishad, through the Jaina and Buddhist developments, to the Advaita Vedanta of Shankara, which obviously attracts the author.

The three most recent volumes of the series, devoted to the Jews[30], the Christians and the Muslims, deal with the different traditions of monotheism. The Jewish tradition is presented as the source of the others. The Jewish myths are not spared, but a deeply sympathetic position is taken to such important thinkers as Maimonides (ben Maimon), Spinoza and Einstein. The book on the Christians is the largest of the series.[31] Jesus is presented as a typical Jew. Most of the original Christian ideas come from Paul, not from Jesus. After Constantine became a sort of Christian, theological discussions about such issues as the Holy Trinity were settled by force. The intellectual contributions of the main Christian thinkers (like Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and Luther) are analyzed and evaluated, but also the great historical processes are covered, like the Crusades, the universities, the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. Less attention is devoted to the last two centuries, as Mosterin thinks that in this period Christianity has decoupled itself from all new developments in science and philosophy, and Christian ideas have become increasingly irrelevant. The book devoted to Islam[32] offers a critical description of the formation of the Quran and of the history of Muslim law, theology, Sufism, philosophy, mathematics and empirical science. Special attention is paid to the main thinkers of the period of splendor of Islamic civilization (8th to 12th centuries), like Avicenna, Averroes, Omar Khayyam and Al-Khwarizmi. The coverage of the contemporary period is more superficial, but up-to-date, as Mosterín deals with the 2011 Arab revolutions and gives his own assessment of the actual Islamic dilemmas.


  1. Mosterín, Jesús (1970, 1983). Lógica de primer orden. Barcelona: Ariel. ISBN 84-344-1003-6.
  2. Mosterín, Jesús (1971, 1980). Teoría axiomática de conjuntos. Barcelona: Ariel. 272 pp. ISBN 84-344-3947-6.
  3. For example, Mosterín, Jesús (2004). “How Set Theory Impinges on Logic”. In Paul Weingartner (ed.), Alternative Logics: Do Sciences Need Them? Berlin-Heidelberg-New York: Springer, 2004, pp. 55-63. ISBN 3-540-40744-8.
  4. Mosterín, Jesús (1997). “The natural numbers as a universal library”. In Philosophy of Mathematics Today (ed. by E. Agazzi and G. Darvas), Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht-Boston-London, pp. 305-317. ISBN 0-7923-4343-3.
  5. Gödel, Kurt (1981, 2006). Obras completas. Madrid: Alianza Editorial. 470 pp. ISBN 84-206-4773-X.
  6. Carnap, Rudolf (2000). Untersuchungen zur Allgemeinen Axiomatik (Bonk, Thomas and Jesús Mosterín, eds.). Darmstadt: Wissenschftliche Buchgesellschaft. 167 pp. ISBN 3-534-14298-5.
  7. Mosterín, Jesús (2000, 2007). Los lógicos. Madrid: Espasa Calpe. 420 pp. ISBN 978-84-670-2507-1.
  8. Mosterín, Jesús (2001). "Technology-mediated observation". In Hans Lenk & Matthias Maring (ed.), Advances and Problems in the Philosophy of Technology. Münster-Hamburg-London: Lit Verlag, 2001, pp. 181-193. ISBN 3-8258-5149-4.
  9. Mosterín, Jesús (2000, 2008). Conceptos y teorías en la ciencia. Madrid: Alianza Editorial. 318 pp. ISBN 84-206-6741-2.
  10. Mosterín, Jesús and Roberto Torretti (2002, 2010). Diccionario de Lógica y Filosofía de la Ciencia. Madrid: Alianza Editorial. 2nd revised edition (2010), 692 pp. ISBN 84-206-8299-0 Template:Please check ISBN.
  11. Mosterín, Jesús(1996). “Life Elsewhere”. In Philosophy of Biology Today: 1st International Conference on Philosophy of Science. Universidad de Vigo, 1996, pp. 7-18.
  12. Jesús Mosterín (1988). Ontological Queries and Evolutionary Processes: Comments on Hull. Biology & Philosophy (1988), n. 2, p. 204-209. See also: Jesús Mosterín (1994). “Mereology, Set Theory, and Biological Ontology”. In D. Prawitz and D. Westerståhl (eds.): Logic and Philosophy of Science in Uppsala. Dordrecht-Boston-London: Kluwer Academic Publishers. P. 511-524. ISBN 0-7923-2720-0 Template:Please check ISBN.
  13. Earman, John & Jesús Mosterín. (1999). “A critical look at inflationary cosmology”. Philosophy of Science, 66 (March 1999), pp. 1-50.
  14. Mosterín, Jesús (2000). "Observation, Construction and Speculation in Cosmology". In The Reality of the Unobservable, ed. by E. Agazzi & M. Pauri, Dordrecht-Boston: Kluwer Academic Pub, pp. 219-231. ISBN 0-7923-6311-6.
  15. Mosterín, Jesús. (2005). "Anthropic Explanations in Cosmology." In P. Háyek, L. Valdés and D. Westerstahl (ed.), Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science: Proceedings of the 12th International Congress of the LMPS. London: King’s College Publications, pp. 441-473. ISBN 1-904987-21-4.
  16. Mosterín, Jesús (2008). Lo mejor posible: Racionalidad y acción humana. Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 2008. 318 pp. ISBN 978-84-206-8206-8.
  17. Mosterín, Jesús (2002). “Acceptance Without Belief”. Manuscrito, vol. XXV , pp. 313-335.
  18. Araújo, Joaquín (1990). Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente: La voz de la naturaleza. Barcelona: Salvat. ISBN 84-345-5235-3.
  19. Mosterín, Jesús (2010). A favor de los toros. Pamplona: Editorial Laetoli. 120 pp. ISBN 978-84-92422-23-4.
  20. Mosterín, Jesús (1998). ¡Vivan los animales! Madrid: Editorial Debate. 391 pp. ISBN 84-8306-141-4.
  21. Mosterín, Jesús (2008). La cultura de la libertad. Madrid: Espasa-Calpe. 304 pp. ISBN 978-84-670-2697-9.
  22. Mosterín, Jesús (2005). “A World without Nation States”. Acta Institutionis Philosophiae et Aestheticae (Tokyo), vol. 23, pp. 55-77.
  23. Jesús Mosterín (2008). La Naturaleza Humana. Madrid: Espasa Calpe. 418 pp. ISBN 84-670-2035-0.
  24. Mosterín, Jesús (1999). "What is Culture and How Does it Evolve?" Acta Institutionis Philosophiae et Aestheticae (Tokyo), vol. 17, pp. 13-35.
  25. Mosterín, Jesús (2009). La cultura humana. Madrid: Espasa-Calpe. 404 pp. ISBN 978-84-670-3085-3.
  26. Foreword (Prólogo) by Mosterín to Bertrand Russell, Historia de la filosofía occidental, Madrid: Espasa Calpe, 1994. ISBN 84-239-6632-1.
  27. Mosterín, Jesús (2006). “El pensamiento arcaico”. 286 pp. ISBN 84-206-5833-2.
  28. Mosterín, Jesús (2006). Aristóteles. 378 pp. ISBN 978-84-206-5836-0.
  29. Mosterín, Jesús (2006). India: Historia del Pensamiento. 260 pp. ISBN 978-84-206-6188-9.
  30. Mosterín, Jesús (2006). Los Judíos: Historia del Pensamiento. 305 pp. ISBN 84-206-5837-5.
  31. Mosterín, Jesús (2010). Los Cristianos: Historia del Pensamiento. 554 pp. ISBN 978-84-206-4979-5.
  32. Mosterín, Jesús (2012). El Islam: Historia del Pensamiento. 403 pp. ISBN 978-84-206-6991-5.

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