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  • 2016
    • August
      • Wombat migration
        I've been blogging here under the Footnotes on Epicycles banner for almost eleven years. After much dithering, I've decided that it is time to move. I am going to leave all the FoE pages here, so that all the old posts and comments will still be accessible. Going forward, though, I will be

    • July
      • Soft serve metaphysics
        I have been thinking about the question of emoji art for quite some time. I've finally completed a draft of a paper, which I've posted over on my website.

        The ontology of 💩

        Summary: Emoji are picture characters familiar from smart phone text messages. If a work of

    • June
      • The fruits of June
        I had meant to blog more in June, but I did not.

        I did, however, collaborate with my colleague Brad Armour-Garb on a paper. We started in the first week of June and have now finished a stable draft, which I posted over on my website.

        Attitudes, self-ascriptions, and introspecti

    • May
      • May blows in
        My paper Kind of Borrowed, Kind of Blue has been published in the Spring issue of JAAC.

    • April
      • Feminist philsci
        Last week I sat in on a meeting of a feminist philosophy course taught by my colleague Kristen Hessler. She was doing a unit on feminist philosophy of science and invited me to say a bit about how it relates to philosophy of science generally.

        It occurred to me that feminist philosophy of

    • March
      • I ought to mention
        I recently posted an updated version of my paper, coauthored with Jon Mandle, on the is-ought gap.

        Somehow the gravitas of blogging has made me hesitant to post one-liners like this. I too-easily forget that I used to have an RSS feed just for new papers and updates to drafts, and that I

      • The internal proletariat is a-risin' (maybe)
        There seems to be more campus activism now than there was a decade ago or (peering further into the past) when I was a student in the 90s and early 00s. However, there's a loud chorus of the jabbering about current activism which decries student activists as entitled cry-babies who want to undo

    • February
      • Illicit repost about covers
        Last week, Rob Loftis was musing about covers over on Facebook:
        If there's a song that sucks, but then someone comes along and does a cover of it that rules, does that mean that the song didn't really ever suck to begin with?
        Have I violated a norm by cutting and pasting this com

      • Archives
        The archivist at Scholars Archive, the UAlbany institutional archive, offered to take my CV and the preprints on my website and add them as entries to the archive. It's now done.

        A search for works by me in the archive turns up various editions of forall x at the top, because I'

      • Engineering 'sexual orientation'
        I just read Robin Dembroff's paper What Is Sexual Orientation?, recently published in Philosopher's Imprint. Dembroff approaches their title question as a matter of engineering. Rather than trying to unpack our folk concept or find the natural kind that is closest to our common conception,

      • Reaction to waves
        I'm late in posting about the discovery of gravity waves, which was announced with much fanfare over a week ago. The New Yorker and the Telegraph have nice write-ups.

        The Telegraph headline claims that "this announcement is the scientific highlight of the decade", but every

    • January
      • Special issues
        If this blog platform had a more fluid system for tagging, there'd be a category for Synthese scandal. The journal has recently been tarnished (again) by egregious problems with a special issue. The philosophy blogosphere lit up with it a week or two ago. If you missed it, the post at Daily Nou

      • Nine again, fine again, jiggety jig?
        There's news that there may be a ninth planet after all. It is posited by Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin to explain the skewed orbits of otherwise inexplicable dwarf planets like Sedna, out beyond the Kuiper Belt. Several such objects have orbits skewed off in the same direction, and modelli

  • 2015
    • December
      • Seasonal notes
        It's late December, which means that it is time to mark the end of the year with silly blog traditions.
        Bullet points
        My annual tradition has always been to summarize the year's blogging by taking the first sentence from the first post of every month; cf. 2014.

      • Must a bulldozer be an egg?
        I recently read a forthcoming paper by Carl Brusse about conceptual change and the planet category. [1] He is "broadly in agreement with the approaches to scientific kinds argued for by Magnus", and I am broadly in agreement with him. I just want to comment on a point where he directly eng

    • November
      • Do emoji pose a puzzle about representation?
        There's an obvious distinction between representation using a fixed collection of defined symbols (e.g., a word spelled out with letters) and free-form representation (e.g., a sketch on a whiteboard).

        The characters of the ASCII encoding provide for the former sort of representation.

    • October
      • Some tips for writing a philosophy paper
        Years ago, when I had a one-year teaching gig at Bowdoin College, the faculty there had some writing advice which they gave to their students. I adapted that as a list of ten tips which I printed out and gave to students along with the first paper topic.

        Not all of the features are peculi

      • Religion on the road to pragmatism
        I am teaching American philosophy again, for the first time in almost a decade. I assigned some articles which I didn't assign last time, making me notice what I take to be a shift in Willam James' thought which I hadn't noticed before.*

        In 'The Will to Believe' (

    • September
      • Pop, pop science
        The science news that my friends link to on Facebook is a mixed bag. Some of it's interesting, but lots of it is either junk or uncritical hype around new results.

        There's some great science stuff on YouTube, however.

        One great series is the Periodic Table of Videos,

    • August
      • paratodo x
        A while ago, I was contacted by José Gascón about translating forall x. The open license already gave him permission, but he reached out anyway.

        A few days ago, he sent me paratodo x. Because of the spacing of the title, I read this as "paradox" at first. Then I had an uncanny

      • On-line course post mortem
        I just finished teaching my Understanding Science course as a four-week on-line course. My goal was to figure out what's involved in on-line teaching.

        The level of student engagement in the course resulted from an alchemy of summertime, the on-line context, and the compression of a s

    • July
      • Kind of published
        My paper Kind of Borrowed, Kind of Blue has been accepted at the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. It's a philosophical reflection on the 2014 note-for-note remake of "Kind of Blue" by the combo Mostly Other People Do the Killing.

      • Pluto pictures prompt ponderous posturing
        The New Horizons probe has just passed by Pluto, providing the more detailed pictures of it than we've ever had. People are excited about it, because it's cool.

        Predictably, however, it's also been an occasion for whinging about the word "planet". The New Horizons

    • June
      • Trouble in d-cog land
        Matt Brown has a short article on d-cog at the Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective. It's something between a critical notice and a blog post, I guess.

        Brown's aim, narrowly, is to engage Ron Giere's claim that distributed cognition counts as cognitive in virtue

      • Janet at Forbes
        Janet Stemwedel is now a contributor at Forbes on topics of ethics and the social structure of science.

        Janet started her blog "Adventures in Ethics and Science" back in 2005. It moved to the professional Science Blogs network and then to Scientopia. Her blog "Doing Good Sc

    • May
      • On gendered terms and the vocative "dude"
        Another scrap uncovered while moving.
        Vocatively, you can use "dude" to a woman because it's in this weird in-between space.

      • Scrap from a non-existent story
        Another scrap of paper unearthed by the process of moving.
        All of the fictional parts of this story are made up, because that is what it means to be fictional. All of the true parts correctly describe the world as it really is, because that is what it means to be true. What more would you expec

      • A font like a clown
        I'm in the process of moving, which means that I'm sorting through scraps of paper that accumulated in my office. Some of these are short ideas which I kept because I'm fond of them. Rather than throw them away or retain them as clutter in the new office, I'm sticking a pin in th

      • A sophism on a Thursday
        No True Scotsman is a fallacy.
        Anything which is not a fallacy is a legitimate bit of reasoning.
        Therefore, all true Scots are legitimate bits of reasoning.

      • Other open access logic books
        I realized today that forall x is almost ten years old. I wrote it in the summer of 2005, mostly at the Peet's on Villa La Jolla Drive, and released version 1.0 on July 13 of that year.

        I recently heard about A Concise Introduction to Logic, a book that Craig DeLancey of SUNY Oswego

    • April
      • LeWitt (1968) x Conway (1970)
        Divide a wall into a square grid. Mark arbitrary grid elements with a horizontal line about one-fifth of the way down in the square.

        For every cell that was marked to begin with, if it is adjacent to two or three marked squares, mark it with another horizontal line about two-fifths of the

      • Cited more often than the norm
        Justin at Daily Nous quotes the statistic that "82 per cent of articles published in humanities are not even cited once." Turning this around, only 18% are cited.

        I was curious about how my own papers fared in this regard. Starting with data from Google Scholar and correcting so

      • Counting journals that count
        There is administrative pressure, for purposes of tenure and promotion, to list the top philosophy journals. Some disciplines have lists which are approved by their professional organizations. So people from outside the department are sometimes incredulous that philosophy doesn't.


    • March
      • On the MAP
        Since last year, UAlbany has had a chapter of Minorities and Philosophy (M.A.P.). The organization is largely student run, and they've gotten funding from several sources to bring in a guest speaker for a symposium this Friday.

        Readers in the capital region should note that it's

      • Hiring news
        PhilJobs, which hosts the on-line incarnation of Jobs for Philosophers, also hosts PhilJobs: Appointments. I just got an e-mail asking me to confirm a bit of news, so they could post it. If it's fit for them to post, it's fit for me to post.

        I'm happy to say that Monika Pio

      • Reputation evaluation gesticulation
        The Times Higher Education World University Rankings reputation evaluation for 2015 has been released. After the top 100, they just group schools in brackets of 25. UAlbany's ranking is in the 226-250 bracket.

        This is more or less consistent with other rankings and with a rough sense

      • Cleaning Chekhov's Gun
        I wrote most of this years ago, and I stumbled across the file recently while working on something else. I'm sticking it here, like you do.

        There is a rule of thumb about stories which is now just typically referred to as Chekhov's Gun. The Wikipedia article notes th

    • February
      • A bang after all
        I posted last Friday about my paper which had been accepted by Synthese. I filled out the on-line permissions form, I looked over page proofs yesterday, and today I was going to send back some corrections. But this morning I got this e-mail:
        Dear Dr. Magnus,

        I would like to let you

      • Not with a bang
        I just posted a new version of my paper from last year's Paris workshop on causation and natural kinds: Taxonomy, ontology, and natural kinds. The organizers arranged for papers from the conference, along with a few others, to appear as a special issue of Synthese.

        Long-time readers

      • Struck by a semirealism
        In a number of recent articles, Bence Nanay has argued for singularist semirealism. It's an anti-realist view about natural kinds which holds that particular tokens of properties exist with various degrees of similarity and dissimilarity among them, but that there are not any natural property t

      • Die Französischspeckfragen
        2010 is forever ago in internet time, but Daily Nous recently linked to an old item on reddit:When I was young my father said to me:

        "Knowledge is Power....Francis Bacon"

        I understood it as "Knowledge is power, France is Bacon".

        For more than a de

    • January
      • A singular comedic formula
        The crypotnymous blogger at Slate Star Codex has posted a long list of a philosopher walks into a coffee shop jokes. It's a slight twist on the an X walks into a bar formula, for X = 'philosopher' and 'a bar' exchanged for a coffee shop. He includes a hoary Descartes joke wh

  • 2014
    • December
      • 2014 in the rearview mirrow
        Years ago, I was blog-tagged to summarize the year's blogging by taking the first sentence from the first post of every month. It's become a tradition; cf. 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and

        Although the sampling procedure is rather arbitrary, this year st

      • truth 1, falsity 0
        I just posted version 1.30 of forall x. As usual, the update corrects a number of typos. It also makes some changes. I taught logic this Fall for the first time in several years, and the time away from the book made me realize that some things weren't working as well as they should.

    • November
      • Ninth blogiversary, belated
        I had meant to annuate the end of my ninth year of blogging here, which fell on October 4. The total contents of the blog at that point were 367 entries comprised of 160,392 words; of those, 48 entries and 17,182 words had been written in the preceding year. So the ninth year was slightly more produ

      • Types and tokens of blue
        Yesterday I learned about recent work by jazz combo Mostly Other People Do the Killing. Their album "Blue" is a note-for-note remake of "Kind of Blue". They transcribed all of the solos and performed them with meticulous care so as to produce a recorded album that replicates, as

    • October
      • Some people have a latex allergy
        In the Facebook LaTeXoSoPHeRs group, Kevin Timpe links to a webpage where Josh Parsons claims that philosophers shouldn't use LaTeX. I ended up replying at some length. Rather than just bury my rant over on FB, I'm reposting here.

        Parson claims that LaTeX is a proprietary format

      • <the greatest weight, the greatest weight>
        Imagine an angel comes to you in the night, when you are feverish and in the midst of metaphysical reveries. The angel says that she has been taught metaphysics by God, and so she can answer truthfully any questions you might have. You are slow to react, and this is the first question that you think

    • September
      • Books about kinds
        I met Muhammad Ali Khalidi in Paris last Spring. I had regrettably only taken the most cursory of glances at his book, Natural categories and human kinds. The library here had just gotten a copy, so 'just' that it wasn't processed and available for checkout until after I got back.
      • Facebook and civil society
        A while ago, there was considerable controversy about Google+ insisting that people use their real names in their profiles. G+ ultimately relented.

        I had not realized that Facebook has a similar policy. It turns out that Facebook recently deactivated the accounts of several LGBT activists

      • Scotch philosophy
        I just finished reading "As a good bartender might" by Thomas W. Polger, in which he enquires into whether whiskey and varieties of whiskeys are natural kinds. His answer, disappointingly, is that they might but he isn't sure: "I'm sure that not every distinction drawn among

      • Contest results
        The Aesthetic for Birds contest, posing the question of whether a band can be its own cover band, is over and judged. I was the judge for the contest, and saw only anonymous entries. I wrote up the results and had Christy insert the names of the winners.

        Here's my report.

      • Two papers from late summer
        In the waning days of summer, before the semester started, I finished up two draft papers. I neglected to actually link to them however, an oversight which I now remedy.

        How to be a realist about natural kinds
        Abstract: Laura Franklin-Hall argues for a nuanced anti-realism abou

    • August
      • Philosophy contest
        Aesthetics for Birds is holding a philosophy contest for the best 50 words argument answering this question: Can a band be its own cover band? e.g. could Iron Maiden be an Iron Maiden cover band?

        The deadline is August 30, which gives you a week and a half to devise your entry. Pacing you

      • The business of philosophy
        I was recently reading an intellectual biography of William James. It quotes from his journals, in the 1870s when he was deciding whether or not to take a position teaching physiology at Harvard.* James writes:
        Philosophical activity as a business is not normal for most men, and not for me. ...

      • Hidebound steepness
        Eric Schwitzgebel recently compiled a list of the 267 most-cited contemporary authors in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Eric Schliesser suggests that it might be used as a measure of one's saturation in conventional wisdom by tallying up how many of the authors were once one's te

      • 100^3
        Aesthetics for Birds is running a series of posts called "100 Philosophers 100 Artworks 100 Words", the premise of which is probably evident from the title: A philosopher identifies their favorite art work and writes 100 words about it.

        Several of the posts have rhapsodized abou

      • Twitter buzz
        My department has a widget on its homepage which lists recent department news, and I came in today to find that something had broken in the string of tin cans which I had relied upon turn the Facebook feed to RSS to Javascript to a news box. So the other things I had to do got put on hold while I tr

      • Epicycle on footnotes
        via Leiter, I read a long story by Charlie Tyson at Inside Higher Ed about sloppy citation practice in academic articles.

        It's a popular item prompted by Ole Bjørn Rekdal's recent article Academic urban legends, which is specifically about the phenomenon in scientific articles

      • Remember that time I wrote that thing about that stuff
        When my first paper about distributed cognition was under review, one of the referees objected to my account on the grounds that it would count transactive memory as d-cog. Transactive memory is the phenomenon, familiar to couples and longtime friends, in which partners can cue each other to remembe

    • July
      • Mill still and again
        My second paper on JS Mill and natural kinds was written with the working title "Let a Millian flower bloom". Ultimately, I decided that it needed a more informative title. So it will be presented under another a title and published under a third.

        I'll be giving a version a

      • What I said in Paris, more or less
        The talk I gave in France a few months ago was mostly a paper, but there were parts I hadn't written out. I had bullet points where I was saying things I've shown in other papers or in my book, because I could talk those through just fine without scripting them precisely.

        I fina

      • Referee calls foul
        In discussions of peer review, somebody always mentions referees searching the internet to suss out who the author is. There is disagreement about how common this is. Inevitably, somebody recounts rumours about scholars who do this before even reading a paper they've been asked to review, and e

    • June
      • Rationing rationality
        I wish I had read Rogier De Langhe's A Unified Model of the Division of Cognitive Labor a while ago.

        I recently submitted the final draft of Science and rationality for one and all, my paper on reconciling individual and collective rationality. Referees had worried that I was misrepr

      • Rayo on logical space
        Over at NDPR, there is an interesting review by Cian Dorr of Augustin Rayo's The Construction of Logical Space

        Rayo argues that the structure of logical space depends on practical considerations about which system would best support the enquiry that querists want to do. Logical spac

      • Ergo, ego
        Ergo, a new open access philosophy journal, recently posted its first issue. It includes a long introductory essay by Franz Huber and Jonathan Weisberg explaining why they think the new journal is important. One reason, they write, is that "By partnering with publishers instead of open access i

    • May
      • UAlbany philosophy, still changing
        My colleague Bonnie Steinbock has retired after long and distinguished service to the department. There was a retirement party for her earlier this week. This time, we thought to take a group photo before anyone had left.

        From left to right: Me, Jon Mandle, Greg Roberts

      • Teaching covers
        We talked about covers today in my philosophy of art class.

        To my surprise, a few students preferred the Otis Redding version of "Respect" to Aretha Franklin's. The students self-identified as fans of Otis Redding and were already familiar with the track.

        I ran o

      • Amalgamating ratings
        Although I haven't been following it closely, last year President Obama proposed rating universities using factors like affordability and graduation rates. TIME recently hacked together an example of how such a system might turn out for 2500 colleges and universities in the US.

        The r

    • April
      • Omission
        Wikipedia has no entry for "homeostatic property cluster".

        Up until just a moment ago, it did not even list it as a possible interpretation of the acronym HPC.

      • *PC accounts
        In a just-published article, Manolo Martínez tries to modify the Homeostatic Property Cluster (HPC) account so as to accommodate polymorphic species.* I have two comments about the relation between his discussion and my own work.
        A. Martínez discusses my own attempt to solve the p

    • March
      • D-cog reflux
        Leiter links to an interview with John Searle under the heading "The argument from vomit." Searle says:
        I don't read much philosophy, it upsets me when I read the nonsense written by my contemporaries, the theory of extended mind makes me want to throw up...
        When I was a vis

      • Franceward
        I will be in Paris later this week for a workshop on causation and natural kinds.

        The program looks great. I'm honored to be in that lineup, which includes some people I know and will be glad to see plus others which I don't know but will be glad to meet.

        My talk will

      • It was about Samuel L Jackson
        I made a comment in class yesterday that was a passing reference to Pulp Fiction. Curious as to whether the reference would make any sense to students, I asked how many had seen the movie. About a third raised their hands.

        The movie was 20 years ago, though, before some of them were even

      • What PhilArt can teach PhilSci
        In recent work, I have argued that, when thinking about natural kinds, we should distinguish the taxonomy question (which categories are natural kinds and which are not?) from the ontology question (what kind of being have natural kinds got?).

        Familiar ways of posing the problem of natura

    • February
      • God, purposes, and the misuse of probabilities
        Massimo Pigliucci and Mohan Matthen have blogged recently about probabilistic arguments against naturalism and evolution. Recent arguments by Alvin Plantinga and Thomas Nagel begin by considering how likely some development is given only natural causes and evolutionary processes: How likely are we t

      • Digital pictures paper
        Are digital images allographic?, a paper I cowrote with my colleague Jason D'Cruz, has been accepted at the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. Whatever else might be said of it, it has a first sentence that I am inordinately fond of: "The short answer to our title question is yes, bu

    • January
      • Open fire
        At the Creative Commons blog, there's discussion of a recent report by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund about the the impact of expensive textbooks. It documents something I had observed anecdotally in my own classes, that lots of students decide not to buy textbooks because of the cost and that th

      • The old Mill run
        The standard account, framed by Ian Hacking and promulgated by almost everyone, is that "natural kind" as a philosophical category goes back to Whewell and Mill in the 19th century. I debunk that account in a paper which has just been published in the The Journal of the History of Analytic

      • There's a reason they call that guy "Hacker"
        Following a link from Brian Leiter's blog, I happened upon an article in which Peter Hacker defends an old-school conception of philosophy.

        As Hacker sees it, there are two things that philosophers might be doing:

        The first is metaphysics, enquiry into "the essential,

      • Collaboration in the key of d-cog
        In the early days of this blog, I wrote a paper about distributed cognition in which I made use of earlier work by my colleague Ron McClamrock. Today I posted a draft, this time coauthored with Ron, which extends the earlier work.

        The new paper: Friends with benefi ts! Hooking up the cogn

      • A short item on natural kinds
        One of the papers I was working on when I looked for places to send short papers has been accepted at Phil. Quarterly. I argue that the homeostatic property cluster account shouldn't be taken to define natural kinds, despite common misreadings which take it to do so.

        Even the title i

  • 2013
    • December
      • 2013 as the blog flies
        The hour is late, and it's time to review the year. The traditional method takes the first sentence from the first post of every month in order to generate a summary of the year's blogging; cf. 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012.

        I: In a recent item at 3 Quarks Daily u

    • November
      • Turkeys form a natural kind, stuffing is an HPC
        To those of you in the USA, happy Thanksgiving.

        To those of you outside the USA, my apologies for this day in which you have to put up with people in the USA taking the day off to mark a holiday that has its roots in empire and genocide.

        We're marking the day by having som

      • Florida and the last mile of logic
        Back in 2007, I opted to change the license for my logic textbook, forall x. The removal of the Non-Commercial provision meant that, since then, people have been allowed to sell copies of the book and of any derivative works they might make. At the time, I wrote this:
        There is little danger tha

      • Problems in logic and the application of terms
        Brian Leiter has a recent post which I'll quote in full:
        Open-access textbooks
        Here's one in logic, that will be familiar to many readers.
        The link is to a page for Arguments: Deductive Logic Exercises by Howard Pospesel and David Marans. The book was originally published in

      • Words about words
        Miles MacLeod has a nice review of my book over at Metascience. You can see the first two pages for free, which are the ones before he starts raising objections.

        I updated the on-line drafts of my work-in-progress papers about what Nelson Goodman would say and what John Stuart Mill would

      • What venues are there for short papers?
        I have written several papers recently which have turned out to be a bit under 3,000 words each. I could make them longer, of course, but I think they address everything they need to address in order to make the point that I want them to make.

        To extend one of these papers, I'd have

    • October
      • Douglas on progress
        A follow-up to yesterdays' post about Heather Douglas' discussion of Kuhn's inability to make sense of progress:

        Her central claim is that Kuhn's trouble with progress results from a commitment to the distinction between pure and applied science. She traces the history

      • Kuhn on progress
        We've finished Structure in my Scientific Revolutions course, and today we're discussing Heather Douglas' forthcoming article "Pure science and the problem of progress". She argues that Kuhn is both committed to there being scientific progress and also forced to deny the pos

      • Kuhn without incommensurability
        [cross-posted at It's Only a Theory]

        We are finishing the close reading of Kuhn's Structure in my Scientific Revolutions course.

        On Wednesday, we talked about Kuhn's claim that different paradigms are incommensurable, and today we talked about the considerations

      • Read and Woolley on Wray on Kuhn
        In a recent issue of BJPS, Rupert Read and Jessica Woolley review Brad Wray's book Kuhn's Evolutionary Social Epistemology.* I've been thinking about Kuhn recently, too, because I'm teaching Scientific Revolutions this term.

        Read and Woolley survey Wray's argument

      • The train of citations
        Some philosophers have a general picture of things which has been developed across a number of separate articles such that, every time they articulate it further, they cite all of the previous places where they've presented earlier or partial versions of it. If the view is never pulled together

      • The open access dragnet
        In Who's Afraid of Peer Review, recently published in Science, John Bohannon reports on an experiment he did with open access science journals. He sent them a spoof paper that had the form of a serious article but was chock full of horrible errors. Only about 38% of the journals rejected it. Bo

      • The Batman paradigm
        I am teaching my Scientific Revolutions course this term, and so I've been rereading Kuhn. I also happened to be reading Roy Cook's recent article on canon in serial fiction.

        Cook is especially interested in what he calls MSCFs: massive, serialized, collaborative fictions. Examp

      • Happy eighth blogiversary!
        Today marks the end of this blog's year eight.

        Last year, I forgot to mark the blog-year until late November. This year, I wrote the blogiversary post ahead of time in June and dated it to appear today.

        I did remember it in time, however, and so updated the post to say tha

    • September
      • More about brevity, this time with pictures
        Because the last entry wasn't trivial enough, I've rendered the data as a chart.

        If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is the worth of a picture where the y-axis is thousands of words?

        Single-authored papers are in blue, and coauthored papers

      • Brevity update
        My inclination, I like to think, is to write shorter papers rather than longer ones. Several times in the past, reflecting on this has led me to tabulate my papers by length.

        It has become a biennial tradition; cf. 2007, 2009, and 2011. So it is about time for an update.
      • The accumulation of blog bits
        Statistics indicate that, before I wrote this, all the blog entries I had written tallied up to 881,485 bytes of data.

        Some contemporary file systems wouldn't even allow a file to be that small. The campus network drive seems to be structured so that the minimum file size is 1 megaby

      • A vignette on a scrap of paper
        "Look at this," the Professor says.

        He presses a button on his great machine, which begins to sputter and shake. Sparks jump from wire to wire. Two or three colors of smoke come from different parts of it. Something that looks like it might be a capacitor explodes, making you ju

      • Albany is hiring in early modern
        My department is making a tenure-track search this year for an early modern historian of philosophy.

        It has been several years since our previous search, and several things are different this time around. Jobs for Philosophers has now combined, Voltron-style with another source of job lis

      • Mirrors aren't even mirrors
        I am puttering around today and thinking about scientific realism.*

        A standard albatross to hang around the neck of realists is that they are committed to thinking that proper science doesn't depend on us at all. Catherine Elgin, for example, writes, "Scientific realism holds th

    • August
      • Incommensurable numbering
        I'm teaching an undergrad course on scientific revolutions this term. The central pivot, naturally, is Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

        There is a new, fourth edition of Structure. It's just called the "50th Anniversary Edition" on the cover, and it

      • Birds and fishes
        In my recent Birds post, I wrote that my only proper background in philosophy of art was a seminar I took during my first year of grad school. That isn't quite right.

        When I was an undergraduate, I TAed for the introductory philosophy course. The second year, the semester was evenly

      • My chair, my shelf, my desk
        I am becoming department chair presently, so the outgoing chair and I have been swapping offices for the past week. I had managed to accumulate a considerable amount of clutter in the years that I was in my old office.

        The move gave me the opportunity to decrease the local information ent

      • Guest post for birds
        Christy Mag Uidhir recently started a blog about philosophy of art called Aesthetics For Birds. The title is a riff on a quotation from Barnett Newman, "Aesthetics is for the artist as Ornithology is for the birds."

        I'm reminded of the quip often attributed to Richard P. Fe

      • No cause for alarm
        I just read Bradford Skow's Are There Non-Causal Explanations (of Particular Events)?, which is due to be published in BJPS. His thesis, in short, is that No, there are not.*

        In dealing with the last of several examples, Skow concludes:I do not think we have a non-causal explanation

    • July
      • Sounding the scores
        Branden Fitelson points to an article at Physics Central about how students in various disciplines perform on the GRE. The most recent figures have philosophy leading the pack in the Verbal Reasoning and Analytic Writing section. Philosophy comes out behind Math, Physics, Economics and other numbers

      • Some words about evidence and method
        I wrote in a recent post that I like the kind of book review which "offers a critical view of the issue and situates the book in recent discussions" and which also "treats the book as a bit of philosophy worthy of criticism."

        So that's what I was aiming for with m

    • June
      • The title is a deliberate pun
        I just posted a draft of a second paper on Mill's account natural kinds. In some ways, it picks up where the first one left off.

        The first part of the paper is historical, looking at Mill on taxonomy and some of his nineteenth century critics. The second part applies lessons from his

      • Slater on planets and mallards
        Matt Slater has written a review of my book for Notre Dame Philosophy Reviews. It's dated 28june, but it went up on their website today.In his book, P. D. Magnus avoids the mismatch between scientifically significant categories and natural kinds by articulating an account of natural kinds that

      • Of pixels and pictures
        Last month, I presented a short version of my paper on musical works as historical individuals at our department's annual video conference with philosophers in Russia. My colleague Jason D'Cruz presented a paper about Goodman's distinction between autographic and allographic works, ap

      • Chthonic prose

        According to this silly widget, my academic prose most resembles the writing of HP Lovecraft. It was he, not I, who wrote:The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst

      • Can't keep a Goodman down
        I've been thinking lately about Nelson Goodman's distinction between autographic and allographic art forms. I'll recap the distinction briefly, then blog something trivial about it!

        For autographic forms like painting and print-making, the only way of characterizing what co

      • The professional bullet points
        A moment ago, I posted an up-to-date version of my CV on my website.

        I struggle to include as much information as possible while still making the document usable. I've tweaked the formatting a bit for the PDF version. Articles and presentations are now numbered lists, but numbered in

      • Bon mots
        Via Leiter, I was led to Gerald Dworkin's recent Kindle e-book Philosophy: A Commonplace Book. It's an amalgamation of witticisms, some of which are intended to make sincere points in a funny way, some of which are meant to be funny without actually endorsing the claim superficially made b

    • May
      • UAlbany philosophy a'changing
        My colleague Robert Meyers is retiring after long and distinguished service to the department. There was a retirement party for him yesterday, and Bonnie Steinbock had the idea to take a group shot of faculty and staff past and present.

        From left to right: Ron McClamrock

      • Cartoon reasoning about dinosaurs
        In a recent XKCD cartoon (which I've also embedded below), Randall Munroe juxtaposes two claims:

        1. "By any reasonable definition, T. Rex is more closely related to sparrows than to Stegosaurus."

        2. "Birds aren't descended from dinosaurs, they are dinos

      • Market trends in modern philosophy
        This semester, I taught the core undergraduate 17th+18th Century Philosophy course again. Earlier this week, at the final class meeting, I asked my usual debriefing questions. Which philosopher did they find the most philosophically rewarding? and which the least?

        Here are the results, in

      • The paper appears, just like I said it would
        My paper with Heather Douglas, Why novel prediction matters, has now made it into the limbo of things published online, waiting in the queue to appear in print. It is now the case that papers in this limbo are assigned a DOI, making them as good as published.

        DOI: 10.1016/j.shpsa.2013.04.

    • April
      • There's open and then there's "open"
        I was an invited speaker last week at DIY Publishing and the University, an event held by the NorthEast Regional Computing Program. I was there because of forall x; the organizers had found me through the Creative Commons database.

        Most of the speakers talked about electronic resources, l

    • March
      • What is the opposite of 'fundamental'?
        Short version:

        I think that I might start calling my approach meso metaphysics.

        The long version:
        Although there is a sense in which I am interested in metaphysics, I am not interested in fundamental metaphysics. For example, in SENK I argue that the planet cat

      • Natural kinds road show
        I posted an updated version of my paper on Mill on natural kinds, in advance of giving a talk at Middlebury College tomorrow.

    • February
      • Locke grab bag
        I am teaching our undergraduate Descartes-to-Kant course this term. Rather than sprinting through seven thinkers, I just do five. And I don't even do that much Locke. Since we only have a week and a half on Locke - and since Locke's Essay is such a wide-ranging book - I target three topic

      • What I said to the Russians
        Several years ago, I gave a talk at a telematic conference held between Albany and Moscow - brief but sweeping remarks about the state of philosophy of science in the 21st century, an apologia for general philosophy of science. Proceedings of several of those conferences, including my short item, w

      • Covering the issue
        My paper on cover songs, coauthored with Cristyn Magnus and Christy Mag Uidhir, was recently accepted at The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. We have now submitted our final draft.

        I will now have four published articles in aesthetics, enough to count as a research programme if yo

    • January
      • The neap semester
        Pardon a cranky blog post.

        Classes start this week. I am teaching two courses which I have taught before, so I am patching together syllabuses, pushing and pulling to make them fit. I am intentionally changing the courses some, in incremental ways. And the topics must be nudged to fit the

      • Planet? I just make et up as I go along!
        In my discussion about whether planet is a natural kind, I focus just on our solar system. Although we expect there to be planets around other stars as well, I say we don't know enough about the structure of other solar systems to generalize too much. I also comment that a gas giant which didn&

      • Meet the new problems, same as the old problems
        In a recent item at 3 Quarks Daily under the title The Problems of Philosophy, philosophers Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse lament that (according to them) contemporary professional philosophers are too worried about what's wrong with professional philosophy and pay too little attention to

  • 2012
    • December
      • Bizarro am always been realist
        The 50th anniversary of the publication of Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions has prompted numerous authors to write pieces about what we really learned from Kuhn. Reading two of these, I am struck by the sense of having been whisked away to Bizarro world.
        I read tw

      • Debriefing * science
        The last day of classes for the semester was yesterday. I was teaching Understanding Science (an intro to science studies course) and Philosophy of Science (a survey for advanced undergrad and grad students). As is my usual practice, I asked students which topics I definitely should include when I t

      • The FOE digest for 2012
        This post continues the tradition of taking the first sentence from the first post of every month in order to generate a summary of the year's blogging; cf. 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011.

        I: Regarding the lengths of things that I've written, the manuscript for the unsta

      • Common sense of the hokum variety
        Via Brian Leiter and Mohan Matthen, I came across Alvin Plantinga's review in the New Republic of Thomas Nagel's newbook. Nagel and Plantinga both deny that life on Earth could have developed naturally, without any explicit purpose. For Nagel, who is an atheist, purpose is supposed to be s

    • November
      • Belated seventh blogiversary
        I missed noting the end of this blog's year seven, which occurred back on October 4. It has been my practice to mark the date by tallying up the number of entries and words added to the blog in the course of the year. By subtracting out the entries I've written in the past month and half,

      • In which I talk myself up
        I was at the Philosophy of Science Association meeting last week. Good times. Edification. All that stuff. I won't try to estimate the schmoozing to learning ratio, but the tallies in both columns were considerable. I have now been in the profession long enough that the conference lets me catch

      • On the invisibility of women
        For a while now, I've been thinking about discussions of 'natural kinds' in the 19th century. One thing I discuss is a series of papers in Mind which discuss Mill's account of natural kinds. One of these papers is by M. H. Towry. There is a subsequent article by F. and C. L. Fran

      • Tautologists all agree
        Consider the sentence, "Tautologists all agree."*

        Especially uttered in context, we can readily understand that tautologists are folks who announce tautologies. Tautologies are necessarily true, so people who know tautologies have matching beliefs. So tautologists all agree. QED

    • October
      • Upcoming talk: Frost-Arnold on "analytic philosophy"
        Gregory Frost-Arnold will be visiting us on Friday to deliver a colloquium entitled "When, How, and Why Did People Begin Classifying Themselves as 'Analytic Philosophers'?" It promises to be a cool smoothie of philosophical content and history of ideas, garnished with whatever pl

      • Author copies arrived today

      • The Leiter side of open access
        This morning, Brian Leiter made this post about Open Access publishing:The Not-so-High Standards at (at least some) "Open Access" Journals

        Not a great advertisement for the genre.
        I hammered out a reply, which he added as an update. Here's what I said:Your recent blog

      • Planets to Mallards across the pond
        Scientific Enquiry and Natural Kinds: From Planets to Mallards, my monograph on things mentioned in the title, makes its appearance this week.

        I am assured by my publisher that is in stock and available, and concurs.
        However, has pushed availability back to la

      • A post on r-strategy would have been more appropriate for Talk Like a Pirate Day
        In a post over at Crooked Timber, John Quiggin invokes the distinction between scholars who follow a K-strategy and those that follow an r-strategy. K-strategists focus their attention on a small number of finely honed publications, which they aim to place in the most prestigious journals. Conversel

    • September
      • This post is the previous post warmed over
        In an epicycle of self-promotion, I am profiled by the UAlbany College of Arts and Sciences because my open access logic textbook was adopted at Cambridge. Also, according to Google Scholar, forall x is my ninth most cited publication.

        When I couldn't sort out a time to have a pictur

    • August
      • It takes a village to write a book
        My open access logic book, forall x, is going to be used this Fall for the first year logic course at Cambridge. I was contacted by a librarian there, who said that the course leader had edited a version especially for their course. So, she wanted to know, how should the book be listed and how shoul

    • July
      • Kvetching about Holt in the Stone
        Jim Holt, writing in the New York Times' philosophy blog The Stone, asks whether philosophy can be literature and answers yes. I do not have any issue with his verdict, but I resist two steps in his way of getting there.

        First, Holt identifies his focus as 'analytic philosophy&#

    • June
      • What scientists know
        I put a draft of my paper, What scientists know is not a function of what scientists know, on my website and on the PhilSci archive a couple of weeks ago. I'll be presenting it at the PSA in November.

        ABSTRACT: There are two senses of 'what scientists know': An individual s

      • What I'm reading now
        In What to believe now [Amazon/GoodReads], David Coady sets out to do applied epistemology. Most of the book is about expertise and democracy,* which is fine. With the caveat that I haven't read it all, I'll lament that fact that most of the book seems to be Coady summarizing and critiquin

      • Counting on universals
        In A Quinean Critique of Ostrich Nominalism (March 2012) Bryan Pickel and Nicholas Mantegani argue that so-called ostrich nominalism is less parsimonious than realism about universals.

        Here's the background: The realist asks what can explain the fact that (for example) all blue thing

      • Gaiman on simulated wisdom
        In a commencement address at University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Neil Gaiman offers the following advice:
        Be wise, because the world needs more wisdom. And if you can not be wise, pretend to be someone who is wise and then just behave like they would.
        I first thought that this would be

    • May
      • Package deals
        As I argue in several papers about realism, philosophers should give up their obsession with monolithic questions of realism and antirealism. So I try to emphasize other things when I teach philosophy of science. Some of these other things are causation, explanation, laws of nature, and attitude tow

      • Debriefing: clickers, being, and bad faith
        My last day of teaching for the Spring semester was yesterday. As usual, I asked some debriefing questions.

        Although I always take student questions in my Introduction to Logic, there are more than a hundred students. So the reality is that there are just ten or so students who raise thei

      • Indexing from planets to mallards
        I have completed the index for my forthcoming book, which is to appear in September.

        The item referenced the most is "Boyd, Richard".

    • March
      • That groovy cat Fine
        A recent interview with 3:AM magazine introduces Kit Fine as "a groovy metaphysician".

        Reading it makes me reprise my musing on the nature of metaphysics.

        [more]When Fine identifies metaphysics in a general way and in terms of some exemplary metaphysical questions, it

      • On the use and abuse of philosophical jargon
        I wrote my dissertation on the underdetermination of theory by data. I managed to turn material from my thesis into almost ten free standing papers, but despite some perfunctory efforts I never turned my work on underdetermination into a book. I thought I might finally write that book when I went to

    • February
      • Philosophy of science as it was taught to John Rawls
        [crossposted at It's Only a Theory]

        My colleague Jon Mandle has been looking at John Rawls 1950 doctoral dissertation, A Study in The Grounds of Ethical Knowledge. Jon asked me about a section in which Rawls contrasts ethical theory and scientific theory. The philosophy of science th

      • Nature, don't think I won't cut you
        When I learned about the recent collection Carving nature at its joints: Natural kinds in metaphysics and science, I had to change the title of my forthcoming book. After much discussion here, on other blogs, and on Google+, and after some back and forth with the publisher, my book will be Scientifi

      • Grounding metaphysics
        In a recent article,* Karen Bennett poses and attempts to answer a metaphysical dilemma about the relationship between ontological grounding and the fundamental. Grounding is a relation between basic and less basic facts or stuff. For example: a series of notes grounds a melody, the physical grounds

      • What's the opposite of philosophically conservative?
        In summarizing his philosophical approach to the photographer Steve Pyke, David Lewis said, "I am philosophically conservative: I think philosophy cannot credibly challenge either the positive convictions of common sense or the established theses of the natural sciences and mathematics."*<

    • January
      • No clever title, this
        Here is a despairing rant about the cost of textbooks and how my attempts to do something about it have been frustrated by bullshit:

        I wrote forall x because existing logic textbooks were ridiculously expensive and were rapidly reissued in new editions so as to kill the market for cheaper

      • Two data points on brevity
        Regarding the lengths of things that I've written, the manuscript for the unstably named book on natural kinds is about 75K words. My dissertation was just 43K words.

  • 2011
    • December
      • Title bout, round two
        My book on natural kinds is in the hands of the publisher. It was to have been titled Carving up the world: Scientific enquiry and natural kinds, but yesterday I learned about a just-published collection of essays titled Carving nature at its joints: Natural kinds in metaphysics and science.

      • The FOE digest for 2011
        I continue the tradition of taking the first sentence from the first post of every month in order to generate a summary of the year's blogging; cf. 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010.

        I: One thing that commentators on Descartes fret about is who the "I" is who narrates the me

      • Digesting the whole Wikipedia
        In the most recent issue of First Monday, Royce Kimmons has an interesting analysis of community contributions in Wikipedia. His results suggest that most particular entries are the work of separate contributions by a small number of people, rather than the efforts of an ongoing community. The cool

      • Carving up the words
        I have just sent off the final manuscript for my book, Carving up the world: Scientific enquiry and natural kinds. It has been about a year since I completed the first complete draft of the book. I was under contract to deliver it by February, but it had reached a point where I just wanted it out of

    • November
      • Another digit in the googleplex
        Google Scholar has now added author pages, in addition to indiscriminate academic search. It has to be set up manually, but an author can distinguish themselves from other scholars who just happen to have the same name. This is handy for me, because - although I have managed to eclipse the doctor P.

      • Two drafts posted
        I posted two drafts to my website today. As always, comments are welcome.

        No grist for Mill on natural kinds, a paper in which I analyze some data

        According to the standard narrative, natural kind is a technical notion that was introduced by John Stuart Mill in the 1840s and th

      • Knobe or not Knobe, that is the question
        A few weeks ago, I did an exercise in my intro course in which students read descriptions of two scenarios, answered some multiple choice questions individually. They then discussed their answers in groups, and we discussed them as a class.
        Morton is a physicist working on a the properties of p

    • October
      • Papers still being seen
        Commenting on the previous post, Matt prodded me to say something about how I handle on-line drafts. If I have put one up, I don't take it down when I submit a paper to a journal. Perhaps a referee can find me with a well-aimed Google search, but the profession is not so big anyway. A referee c

      • Briefly bibliometric me
        Today I was talking with Christy Mag Uidhir about a paper of his that was 13,000 words. With some struggle, he had brought it down to 11K. It just couldn't be any shorter without shedding important arguments!

        Prior to the last year, I had never found myself in this situation. Then, l

      • Dead letters, arise!
        Our university e-mail is now being contracted out to Microsoft. For no sensible reason, the changeover was made in the middle of the semester. It should have made no difference to me, since I don't actually use the UA mail service. I do have an @albany address, but it forwards elsewhere.

      • Happy sixth blogiversary!
        Today marks the end of this blog's year six.

        The total content of the blog (just prior to this entry) stood at 116,034 words in 244 entries. Of those, 14,936 words in 41 entries were added in the last year. An decrease from the prior year in number of words for the year, but an incre

    • September
      • Philosophy on the middle ground
        Thinking about 'natural kinds' in the 19th-century has me reading obscure criticisms of Mill. In an 1859 review, James Martineau writes:
        The great mass of Mr. Mill's labour has been devoted to what may be termed the middle ground of human thought, below the primary data which rea

      • Chatter about 'natural kinds'
        I have played around with Google's Ngram Viewer before. It's a tool which graphs the frequency of words or phrases across time.

        Lately, I've been thinking about the origins of the phrase 'natural kind'. The phrase became a philosophical term of art in the mid-19th

    • August
      • Title bout
        While on sabbatical, I wrote a book about natural kinds. It's now been accepted for publication as one of the inaugural volumes of Palgrave's New Directions in the Philosophy of Science series.

        I submitted it with the working title Carving up the world. Referees and editors all

      • A course about and for robots
        Two computer scientists at Stanford are going to be teaching a free on-line course in AI. As reported in the NY Times, there are now more than 58,000 students worldwide signed up for it. The course designers have set it up to be indefinitely extensible and have getten a lot of bandwidth, so they are

    • July
      • Chow fun philosophy
        After dinner at Emperor's Chinese, this treatise in philosophy of science:

        Nom nom nom.

      • Debacle decision
        When there were first calls to boycott Synthese, I was in a bit of a bind. I had agreed, long before, to participate in a special issue. I felt as if the general editors had been irreponsible, but I felt a stronger obligation to support the guest editors and other contributors to that special issue.

    • June
      • A song is like mallards
        Last month I was at a conference on metaphysics and the philosophy of science. The plenary session on the final day was about general issues of methodology, and someone made the qualifying remark that really this was just about the metaphysics of science and that it's not like we had anything

      • The debacle in plain text [or] The editors' reply, redux
        Last month, I discussed the unprofessional and craven reply by the editors of Synthese to the petition protesting their unprofessional and craven behaviour. Their reply, if you'll recall, was in a grainy jpeg at Wesley Elsberry had transcribed the response, and I pointed to

    • May
      • E-mail beyond the event horizon
        I recently suffered a computer failure. Although I restored to a recent backup, there is a small window of e-mails which were lost to the void. If you contacted me in the last two weeks or so and never heard back, please send your message again.

      • What journals do
        There's an interesting roundtable discussion in Theoria about journal publishing. The editors of several journals discuss the role that journals play in professional philosophy, including the evaluation of philosophers and funding decisions. They also discuss the possibilities of open access pu

      • Unprofessional, unresponsive, and unacceptable [or] Synthese, again and still
        *sigh* The editors responded to the Synthese petition. It happened almost two weeks ago, while I was in Toronto talking about anglerfish.

        The editors' reply was posted to the domain The domain was created just for this purpose, and it hosts only a low-res jpg scan

      • The trends on Kant futures
        Last week we had the final class meeting for my 17th+18th Century Philosophy course. As I've discussed before, I ask them pick the philosopher they found best in terms of content, the most rewarding to think about; also, I ask them to pick the one that they found to be worst or least rewarding.

    • April
      • Petition repetition [or] Synthesiana ad infinitum
        It seems that April has become Blog About the Synthese Debacle month here. The debacle, a recap: There was a recent guest-edited issue of Synthese. The usual editors added a disclaimer to the printed version of the issue, distancing themselves from it and saying that some of the papers in it were in

      • Analysis of the Synthese affair
        I was going to provide links to further discussion of the Synthese boycott, but John Wilkins is johnny-on-the-spot. Here's the omnibus entry at his blog:

        Round-up of Synthesiana at Evolving Thoughts


        The editors have now offered a response which fails to a

      • Epistemic community and the Synthese boycott
        Brian Leiter is calling for a boycott of Synthese. He gives details of the case at his blog, but the gist of it is this: The January issue was a special issue on the theme Evolution and its rivals. It included a paper by Barbara Forrest excoriating intelligent-design mountebank Francis Beckwith. The

    • March
      • Lo! -gos & episteme!
        My paper, Miracles, Trust, and Ennui, has now appeared in Logos&Episteme.


      • Whither logos & whence episteme?
        UPDATE: Hither & thither! I heard back the next day from the editors. It was just a technical glitch, and I happened to visit the site during a brief technical outage. So let me commend the editorial staff for being johnny-on-the-spot, and let me recommend to you (the reader) submitting a paper

      • Topic neutrality is geek carte blanche
        When writing problem sets for Intro Logic, I try to use interesting topics. Since the logical form of 'All capybaras are flammable' is the same as the logical form of 'All men are mortal', the structure of the problem is the same in either case.* Students have to get the structur

    • February
      • Seadevil you say
        I just put up a draft of Drakes, seadevils, and similarity fetishism. It's on R&R from a journal, and I just found out that it has been accepted for the conference Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Science. Yay!

      • How to say 'ahoy' in a correspondence
        In elementary school, there was a unit on letter writing. Personal letters, we were taught, should begin "Dear So and so," while business letters should begin "Dear So and so:" When there was no specific so and so, business letters were supposed to begin "Dear Sir:"
    • January
      • Offered without comment
        There was a glitch in the configuration of my blog which made it impossible to post comments. Said glitch should be fixed now.

      • New journals in which not to publish
        A number of people have sent me the link to the Journal of Universal Rejection, which has such high standards that it rejects all submissions regardless of quality. As a progressive response to complaints about other journals, it responds to submissions very quickly and even allows simultaneous subm

      • Phailure oph phenetics
        My paper with Christy Mag Uidhir has finally appeared in Metaphilosophy.

        Unfortunately, it's already one of those papers that I think about and cringe. Not for the paper altogether, but for one vocabulary failure. (Although it's a co-authored paper, the glitch that makes me crin

      • Am I Descartes or are you?
        One thing that commentators on Descartes fret about is who the "I" is who narrates the meditations. One natural interpretation is that it is a rhetorical device to draw the reader into the project of doubting everything. When I read the Meditations, I am supposed to recognize that I myself

  • 2010
    • December
      • The glow of faux precision [or] Caveon, cave off
        The NY Times has a story about Caveon, a firm that uses forensic methods to identify students who are cheating on standardized tests. There are reasons to be dubious both about standardized testing and about automated cheater detection. Cases can be made for both, but the deep problem is that they i

      • Logicomix and framing
        I was gifted a copy of Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth, started reading it last night, and - after waking up in the middle of the night - finished it. It is engaging, and I enjoyed it.

        Perhaps, as someone who teaches logic, I should have something to say about the book as an explorati

      • The undergirding code
        The blog software I use is a small open source project. It was abandoned and rudderless for a while, but now a new programmer has taken the helm. The result is the first update in a while. It necessitates a change in the appearance of FoE, but otherwise installed smoothly.

        If anything has

      • Bibliometric curios
        Brian Leiter mentions the fun to be had with Google's Ngram Viewer, a webpage that graphs the frequency of words or phrases in books over time. Two interesting comparisons:

        "Immanuel Kant" versus "Thomas Reid" in English from 1800 to the present. As one might expe

      • 2010 in review, with over three weeks to spare
        It is now a tradition to write a capsule review of the calender year's blogging by taking the first sentence from the first post of every month; cf. 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009. Here it is for 2010.

        I: Although there is not consensus about what would make a natural kind natural, most

      • A paradox arises over beer
        A productive synergy of being a visiting fellow at the Center is that most of my social life consists of interacting with other fellows, and so philosophy gets done even in leisure time. Not all of it is serious philosophy, however, as evidenced by the following item that Bert Leuridan and I concoct

    • November
      • A bad diagnosis [or] Autism implies canism
        The New York Times has an item by Andy Martin which suggests that philosophy and autism are somehow connected. The idea is that "autism can be defined, at one level, by a lack of understanding" and that "given the way humans interact with one another, there is always a potential myste

      • A note on Alice and Paul
        Jender points to "The Royal Society's lost women scientists", an interesting article in today's Guardian by historian Richard Holmes. He mentions, among other people, "Alice Bodington, the fearless Darwinian author of Studies in Evolution."

        My curiosity pique

      • A prickly example [or] Cholla at ya' later
        I began working on several papers when I arrived in Pittsburgh. They have spiraled out of control and - gathering mass like the proverbial snowball - are on their way to being a book manuscript. The draft now totals up to about 50K words.

        Even in a book, there are nice bits that do not fi

      • Metaphysics grad conference
        The UAlbany philosophy grad students have announced the theme and date for this year's grad philosophy conference. This is their 4th annual conference.

        These conferences are pretty much entirely student organized, and they have worked well. The students (both ours and the ones who co

      • Montreal, ho!
        I leave tomorrow for the PSA in Montreal. In between deep thought and bottomless beer, I'll be giving a paper. So I posted a draft.

        It's a brief discussion of Eric Barnes' Paradox of Predictivism, focusing especially on arguments that (a) successful prediction is some reaso

    • October
      • Incubating ideas
        Part of life at the Center is the weekly reading group, where a fellow offers a work-in-progress paper for discussion. I have found this to be rewarding, both when my paper was discussed and when we have discussed others. This week, nobody who was yet to present had anything to offer. So John Norton

      • What I should call my natural kinds
        As I've mentioned before, I have been working lately on natural kinds. A key part of my position is that a kind can only be a natural kind relative to a domain of enquiry. This is often implicit in the way people talk about natural kinds, as when they say that species is or is not a natural kin

      • What I said about natural kinds
        I gave a lunchtime talk at the Center on friday. I chose the title (What to say about natural kinds) over the summer, and I had figured out the details of what to say about them. I only have a hodgepodge of written fragments and outline, so I haven't posted anything here.

        John Norton

      • Cuts back home
        The trick about tenure, which protects faculty members from being let go when the budget gets lean, is that it doesn't apply at the level of academic programs. So a university can let several tenured faculty go at once by axing an entire academic unit such as a department. The technical term is

      • SUNY or later
        For logistical reasons relating to my sabbatical in Pittsburgh, I only today received my letter of appointment from SUNY central dated July 29 and effective Sept 1. It was marked CONFIDENTIAL, so the staff in Albany put the whole letter in another envelope and mailed it to me here.


      • Happy fifth blogiversary!
        Being in Pittsburgh has been productive in many ways - although the initial surge of blogging, consisting mostly of meandering thoughts about Bernard Suits, has subsided. Now that the whole cadre of fellows and scholars are in residence, my blog-quality banter is mostly used up face-to-face.
    • September
      • All F null
        Too often among logical empiricists and their descendants, schematic laws of nature are given to be of the form 'All Fs are Gs' and schematic inductive inference is given as 'This F is G. Therefore, most Fs are Gs'.

        A natural complaint about this approach is that actua

      • Puerto Rico and the Suits payoff
        In this post, I consider the game Puerto Rico as a counterexample to Bernard Suits' definition of game. This, finally, is the example that got me started blogging on the subject in the first place. For previous posts, see here, here, and here.

        In the last couple of posts, I've b

    • August
      • Suits not of cards, but of chess
        Here is more about Bernard Suits' Grasshopper. It picks up where the post on RPGs and the post on Suit's definition of 'game' left off.

        Recall that Suits defines a game as "the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles." As such, playing a game invo

      • Duck and drake clusters
        The following post about homeostatic property clusters (HPCs) is pretty long, so I've split it into several sections. Here's the very short version: Ereshefsky and Matthen argue that the HPC approach to natural kinds fetishizes similarity and is undone by polymorphism. I argue that it'

      • Following Suits
        I had meant to quickly write a follow up to my previous post on Bernard Suits' The Grasshopper, but my the ideas proved to be more tangled in the writing than they were in the thinking. Matt has pressed for the actual definition, so I should actually get to it even if I don't have anything

      • Trying on old Suits
        Late in the last century, on Ryan Hickerson's recommendation, I read Bernard Suit's The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia. The core of the book is Suit's definition of 'game.' Although the definition was originally laid out in a 1967 article in the journal Philosophy of Sc

      • The brew at Tazza D'oro
        I am on sabbatical for the Fall and a visiting fellow at the Center for Philosophy of Science. This is my first full day in Pittsburgh, and I'm writing this from a coffeehouse in Highland Park. Whether sabbatical will mean more blogging or less will have to be seen.

      • A specimen of 'performance' talk
        I have argued in print that both the dated event of employing musical instruments (which is unrepeatable) and the sound structure (which can be recorded and reproduced) can reasonably be thought of as the performance, depending on context and purpose. The former sense is obvious, and the latter come

      • Slice of life, slightly stale
        I only get so many opportunities for slice-of-life blogging, since I have neither cats nor kids. I wrote the following last month, but for some reason didn't post it.

        As a graduate student, I developed the habit of doing my academic writing in coffee houses. I went to the office if I

      • Further adventures
        Janet's blog Adventures in Ethics and Science has moved away from the professional blog collective Scienceblogs to the amateur collective Scientopia. Some links:

        Her blog's new location

        My comparison of her old and new banners, a discussion which I decided belonged ov

    • July
      • TeX doodle recognition
        Via TAR, I just discovered the group blog PhilTeX which is about technology for philosophers. And via PhilTex, I discovered Detexify. This latter item is a very clever web page for finding LaTeX symbol commands. It allows you to doodle in a symbol. Then it suggests various LaTeX commands for produci

      • Should we phone ET?
        Stephen Hawking has been a great science popularizer. I first encountered his work when I was in junior high school. Before that, when people had asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my standard answer had been cartoonist. After Hawking, my standard answer was astrophysicist. I went on to be a

    • June
    • May
      • Deconstructive empiricism
        I've been thinking about Bas van Fraassen's epistemology. Here are some distinct points: a clarification, an objection, and a question

        The clarification
        The usual story goes like this: Anti-realism as a semantic doctrine was seen to be a dead letter, but van Fraassen's

      • x 1.28
        Last week I released a new version of forall x: 1.28. It corrects several typographical errors, some of which make a substantive logical difference.

        The blurb description on the back page still says 'assistant professor', although that is only accurate for the moment. My tenure

    • April
      • Short subject on featured articles
        In my little study of Wikipedia, I initially stumbled on the difference between featured and regular articles. If I had thought about it in advance, I would not have tested any featured articles at all. I had included them, however, so I reported the results and suggested that the data about feature

    • March
      • Approaches to thinking about approaching grad school
        Several undergraduates have come to me recently asking about philosophy grad school. There are several wrong approaches to take in answering such students.

        The Polyanna approach would be to enthusiastically encourage them and, on the subject of job prospects, either implicitly or explicit

    • February
      • Once more the New Wave
        More shilling: Here is the full text of the introduction to New Waves in Philosophy of Science. I wrote it with Jacob Busch, with whom I editted the volume.

        New Waves in Philosophy of Science
        The explicit aim of volumes in this series is to collect contributions from young researcher

      • Surfing the new wave
        When Matt asked about the contents of New Waves in Philosophy of Science, I was unable to turn up anything helpful on-line. So I just cut and pasted the table of contents.

        Turns out that I had only looked on the publisher's US website and in the Amazon listing for the book. I have si

      • How to be better at fraud
        We often assess claims based on plausibility of style and content. In writing about Wikipedia, I argue that these assessments can be frustrated by community editing. The implausible details can be taken out of false accounts, making the falsity harder to detect. Some people respond to my argument by

    • January
      • Tales in a subdued palette of chestnut and white
        Charles Sander Peirce observed that it's a poor bet to insist that science will never be able to solve some question. Make the bet, he says, and[t]he likelihood is that it will be solved long before you could have dreamed possible. Think of Auguste Comte who when asked to name any thing that co

      • Grue on a Tuesday
        My copy of Philosophy of Science* arrived today, and I've just read Ingemar Nordin's "Technology and Goodman's Paradox." The central claim of the article is that the problem of induction is primarily an issue about whether or not to believe theories and so does not arise for

      • Contents may settle during shipping
        Matt asks about the contents of the recently released New Waves in Philosophy of Science. Amazon has a preview for other books in the series, but not this one yet. I'm sure it will in due time, but here's the list of contributions anyway:

        1. Juha Saatsi, Form vs. Content-driven

      • Book and Pitt
        Two brief items of note.

        1. New Waves in Philosophy of Science, a volume of new essays that I coedited with Jacob Busch, has now been published. The link is to the Amazon page.

        2. I've been invited to be a visiting fellow at the Center for Philosophy of Science in Pittsbur

      • It's only a question
        [A couple of months ago, I was invited to join the giant group blog It's Only a Theory. This post is the first one since then that's been suitable for that venue, so I've cross posted.]

        Although there is not consensus about what would make a natural kind natural, most tradi

  • 2009
    • December
      • 2009 in review
        Here's the annual bullet-point summary of my blogging for 2009. The crude algorithm takes the first sentence from the first post of every month; cf. 2006, 2007, and 2008.

        I. Via daring fireball and makkintosshu, I learned that the URL now redirects to t

      • How to be a pluralist about art
        Christy Mag Uidhir and I coauthored a paper on art concept pluralism. It's now forthcoming in Metaphilosophy. Although their backlog of papers means that it won't be in print for over a year, I have posted a preprint.

        Link: Art Concept Pluralism

    • November
      • Alarm clock belief change
        Suppose I wake up one morning and find that I believe something (call it Q) that I had not believed before. Of course, this might happen if I discover some new evidence for Q when I wake up; for example, Q might be 'There is a dog in the street' and I am woken up by its barking. It may als

    • October
      • In the kingdom of the abstruse
        I am teaching a course in metaphysics this semester. After starting with 'On What There Is', we've been working through The Oxford Handbook of Metaphysics. I used a book from the same series in my epistemology class a couple of years ago. They strike a nice balance between including c

      • The skinny on the brief
        A paper is either good or it is not. A good short paper is better than a good long one, because it gets right to the good stuff with hemming and hawing; if Gettier had buried his examples deep in some other discussion, the problem might not have been named after him. A bad short paper is better than

      • Brown on me on d-cog
        Matthew Brown has a forthcoming paper on science as distributed cognition (d-cog). He gives a generous amount of attention to my discussion of the issue.

        In my paper, I characterize d-cog as meaning that a cognitive task is implemented by a process which is not contained inside one thinke

      • Happy fourth blogiversary!
        Thus concludes year four of the blog. The statistics stand at 171 entries using 83,750 words. That's 34 entries and 24,882 words accumulated in the past year. This reverses the year-over-year trend of decreasing blogging.

        Admittedly, a great many of the words were William Leue's

    • September
      • Hectic days make light blogging
        When I have teach logic to one or two hundred students, the class is in one the university's lecture centers. All the LCs have digital projectors, so I can put up tables and charts as needed. Mostly I work through examples which I adapt on the fly, however, so I use the board.

        The o

    • August
      • What I say about theories
        I just posted a new draft of my paper arguing for theory concept pluralism.

        It is as good an occasion as any to comment on this blog post by Ron Giere, which I meant to comment on back in March. Giere says that the big motivation for the semantic view of theories was to better reflects ho

      • Swamp menace threatens omnipotent god
        I have always thought that the Swampman thought experiment is analytic philosophy at its worst. I recently came up with a variant of it that might steal the title.

        Explaining the idea requires that I explain the original Swampman and whinge a bit about how terrible it is. So, details belo

    • July
      • Historical echoes, part 6
        This is the final part of William Leue's history of the UAlbany Philosophy Department. For context, see part I, part II, part III, part IV, and part V.

        The final chapter includes the foreshadowed revolution, and the pseudonymous poetry becomes moreso.

        This installment is f

      • Historical echoes, part 5
        This is the penultimate part of William Leue's history of the UAlbany Philosophy Department. For context, see part I, part II, part III, and part IV.

        This chapter is mostly about Bill Reese, who was still around as a professor emeritus when I came to Albany in 2004. He had the large

      • Historical echoes, part 4
        This is the fourth part of William Leue's history of the UAlbany Philosophy Department. For context, see part I, part II, and part III.

        Leue gives us more of his thinly pseudonymous poetry along with the rumblings of the coming revolution.

        This installment is from Phib v 1

      • Go for the gold
        Open Access (OA) publication seems like a no-brainer for scholarly articles. We are not paid directly for our writing; we act from the altruistic motive of adding to human knowledge and from the selfish motive of furthering our own careers. Both motives are thwarted if the articles are locked up in

      • Publishing in the echo chamber
        In these two related items, Wikipedian prose appears in print:

        1. Dublin student Shane Fitzgerald invented a quotation and attributed it to the recently-deceased composer Maurice Jarre in the latter's Wikipedia entry.* The quote was subsequently printed by several major newspapers in

    • June
      • Vanity searches and scholary productivity
        Poking around on Google Scholar, I can check how often my publications have been cited.* Subtracting instances of me citing myself, my most cited papers are Epistemology and the Wikipedia (with 7 citations) and Distributed cognition and the task of science (with 6 citations).

        In science s

      • Meet the new book, same as the old book
        I uploaded the first new version of forall x in over a year. There are plenty of corrections, but no substantive changes. For uninteresting reasons, this new version is 1.27 - three increments later than the previous version 1.24.

    • May
      • In other forms, forall x
        I wrote forall x primarily for use in my own logic course, to fit my syllabus in a way that was affordable for students. I made it available under a Creative Commons license primarily in hopes that other instructors might adopt it.

        I get occasional e-mails from people who are using forall

      • Berkeleyfest

        I was at Cornell last weekend for the Berkeley Bonanza, organized by Andrew Chignell and Melissa Frankel. I have worked on Reid and taught Berkeley, but I was surprised at the extent to which I had things to say about Berkeley once I was in a room full of Berkeley scholars.


    • April
      • Historical echoes, part 3
        This is the third part of William Leue's history of the UAlbany Philosophy Department. For context, see part I and part II.

        Leue mentions offhand that the philosopher of science John Winnie got his undergrad degree from UAlbany. For some reason, I like this bit of trivia.

      • Historical echoes, part 2
        This is the second part of William Leue's history of the UAlbany Philosophy Department. For context, see part I.

        This installment is from Phib v 1 (1972-1973), n 13, pp 55-6.
        Late in February of 1961 I took the Santa Fe from de

      • Historical echoes, part 1
        A few weeks ago, I posted about back issues of the department bulletin which I discovered while moving furniture into a department storeroom. In them, William Leue wrote a series of articles on the history of the SUNY Albany Philosophy Department. The articles are of interest to me personally, as a

      • Further indeterminate fallout
        Thinking more about indistinguishable spacetimes has led me to think about the contrast between underdetermination and indeterminacy. Somehow, I wrote a dissertation on the former without clearly thinking through the latter.
        In a discussion note that he wrote for the workshop but di

      • Fallout from Pittsburgh
        A few weeks ago, I participated in a workshop on underdetermination at the Pittsburgh Center for Philosophy of Science. The conference was fabulous, both socially and intellectually. Here's a post growing out of that, specifically about John Manchak's work on global features of spacetime.<

    • March
      • A blog before the internet
        We have been rearranging our department lounge. Previous efforts have made it less of a cluttered dump, and efforts are now directed at making it less clinical.* Today we got new chairs from university surplus, green relics which were probably purchased for an administrative office in the 1970s.
      • Now with fifty percent more bupkis
        I recently stumbled across Forbes' America's Best Colleges, which was published last year. The assessment is explicitly intended to break the hegemony of U.S. News & World Report's rankings of American colleges, which seems like a good thing whether or not ratings are ultimately a

      • Two dead senators and an extra Wilhelm
        Some people have suggested to me that I should try my hand at writing some newspaper op-ed pieces. One natural topic for me, given where my research intersects with the interests of the guy down at the Dairy Queen, is nattering about the Wikipedia. So last month, in response to then current events,

    • February
      • Pluralism takes all kinds
        A couple of weeks ago, I gave a talk to the UNLV philosophy department. I extend a belated thanks to Greg for inviting me and to everyone else for vigorous discussion.

        I presented on theory concept pluralism. There's a woefully old version of the paper here.

        The gist of my

      • What I'll say to the Russians
        Our department is in the middle of a two-day video conference with philosophers at Moscow State University. The whole thing is pretty freewheeling, with people presenting on the possibility of progress in philosophy and on what they think about the last several decades in their specialty.

      • forall x feedback, gold edition
        Today I got the student comment forms from my teaching last Fall. Again I asked students about the textbook I wrote for intro logic.*

        The raw data looks like this:

        Did the textbook explain matters clearly?
        yes 69
        meh 6
        no 3

    • January
      • There is no 'you' in 'Wikipedia'
        As the NY Times reports, the free-wheeling days of Wikipedia editing may be over. The crackdown follows a recent incident in which Wikipedia entries reported Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd were reported to be dead. As the Washington Post admits, the false claims only persisted for a few minutes. Nevert

      • Nozick's gedanken machine
        A propos of nothing, I've been thinking about Nozick's experience machine argument. In the SEP, Roger Crisp summarizes the argument in this way:Imagine that I have a machine that I could plug you into for the rest of your life. This machine would give you experiences of whatever kind you t

      • Popping the stack
        Via daring fireball and makkintosshu, I learned that the URL now redirects to the Wikipedia entry for Hypercard. This is a counterpart to the more common sin of bloggers linking uncommon terms in their prose to the Wikipedia entry for that term.* So I'll talk abou

  • 2008
    • December
      • Another essence for existentialism
        [This post is part of a series; see pt 1. and pt. 2.]

        In the previous installment, I discussed my favorite way of characterizing existentialism: Existentialists believe that human beings are importantly made up of both being (facticity, temporality) and becoming (transcendence, eternity),

      • 2008 in review
        Here's the bullet-point summary of my blogging in 2008. In accord with tradition, I've taken the first sentence from the first post of every month; cf. 2006 and 2007.

        I: Three items related to papers and publication...

        II: Bridget and Janet both made note of Blogroll

      • An essence for existentialism
        [This post is part of a series; see pt 1.]

        Here is one concise way of characterizing existentialism:Existentialists believe that human existence is characterized by a tension between being and becoming. The former is a matter of specific moments, facts, and actions. The latter is a matter

      • See Eff Pee
        Last year's 1st annual Albany grad student conference conference was a great success, and it turns out that the '1st annual' was not mere bluster. The 2nd annual grad conference will focus on political philosophy. Thomas Pogge will be the keynote.

        If you are a grad student

      • Hunting the essence of existentialism
        'Existentialism' has been a bit of vexed jargon in the 20th century. Teaching existentialism this term, I put some thought into the matter. I have started several times to blog about it (eg) but often my ruminations have threatened to overrun the borders of any reasonable blog post.

    • October
      • Existential notes from the campaign
        Via Leiter and Erfani, this curious little gem from Bloomberg columnist Jeremy Gerard describing the debate:As the world burned, the presidential candidates were sober, lucid, rarely off topic and always in character last night. Watching it was like having to read Sartre on the first day of spring.<

      • Induction by any other name would smell
        My paper on demonstrative theories of induction is now forthcoming in International Studies in the Philosophy of Science. I just sent off my formatted final draft, which I've mirrored on the website.

        A couple of years ago, I blogged about the worry that putting papers on-line might w

      • Happy third blogiversary!
        Thus concludes year three of the blog. The statistics stand at 137 entries using 58,868 words. About 14k of those words were from the previous year. If you plot words blogged per year and draw a best fit line, the output reaches zero at the end of the fifth year. However, even if output decreases mo

      • Playing telephone with the echo chamber
        There's been some blog reaction to my fibs in Wikipedia paper. That's unsurprising, since the paper is freely available on-line and addresses a topic close to some bloggers' hearts.

        What surprises me a bit is that all of the reactions interpret my study as vindicating Wikip

    • September
      • The sincerest form of flattery
        Philip Kitcher introduced the phrase 'Galilean Strategy' in a 2001 paper to describe a form of realist argument. I wrote about it shortly after, and my paper was published in 2003. Today, the top Google result for the phrase 'galilean strategy' is this page, the abstract of a pap

      • My insidious lies
        A short paper of mine was just published in First Monday. The abstract is this:A number of studies have assessed the reliability of entries in the Wikipedia at specific times. One important difference between the Wikipedia and traditional media, however, is the dynamic nature of its entries. An entr

      • Courses as dry goods
        I was recently advising undergraduates as they registered for classes. This Fall, the PeopleSoft database has a new web interface. Now, when students initially select courses, the courses appear in their "shopping cart." The students are not actually enrolled until they "check out.&qu

    • August
      • The birth of trivia
        At dinner several weeks ago, I mentioned that the word 'broad' to describe a woman originally referred to pregnant cows. I forget why I offered this item of trivia, but several of the people I was dining with were curious about it. One looked at the Online Etymology Dictionary and found an

    • July
      • Their insidious reference
        Not long ago, I picked up an issue of the Artist's Magazine in an airport. (May 2008, as it happens.) It includes a profile of the painter Costa Vavagiakis. Among other things, it recounts how the artist was impressed by the Charioteer of Delphi as a young boy. Understandably, it does not inclu

      • The pixels or print dilemma for free textbooks
        Free textbooks have gotten media attention recently. Mostly, they are offered as a solution to the rising cost of higher education. See, for example, this USA Today story. Academic fashion plate that I am, I was ahead of this trend. I wrote an open access logic textbook back before free textbooks we

      • Performance in print
        Not long ago, I wrote a short paper on musical performance. My interest in the topic was prompted by conversations with Cristyn and various musicians, and further prodded on by my old friend turned philosopher of art Christy Mag Uidhir. Such writing poses the risk that I'll look dilettante, but

    • June
      • Curiouser and curiouser
        I've posted a new draft of my paper on epistemic significance and natural curiousity.

        In other news, Summer is hot.

    • May
      • A distinct paper on identical rivals
        One of my first publications was a PSA paper about what I then called the problem of identical rivals. The 'problem' is that an apparent case of underdetermination might not involve any rival theories after all, if the would-be rivals were merely different formulations of the same theory.

      • Big monkey, logic book
        Rob Helpy-Chalk runs down the options for open access logic books, including forall x. He concludes, "Heck, the Magnus book looks like just the item. That was quick."

      • Meme: Passion Quilt (and merch)
        Janet tagged me in another meme.*THE RULES:
        Post a picture or make/take/create your own that captures what YOU are most passionate for students to learn about.

        Give your picture a short title.

        Title your blog post "Meme: Passion Quilt."

        Link back to th

      • Reid rides again
        My Reid paper has now appeared at Philosopher's Imprint.

        It's a publication, which is always a good thing, but I'm especially happy with this one. I pointed to an on-line draft of this paper in my first ever blog post. As I've mentioned before, I have a high regard for

      • Brief debriefing
        Yesterday was the last day of class, and so it was time for the usual debriefing. I asked slightly different questions in 17th&18th c. Philosophy than last year, so I can't compare numbers directly. Considering favorite and lease favorite material with respect to philosophical content, the

    • April
      • What I believe about easy knowledge
        I've been thinking about this since the conference a couple of weeks ago.

        The problem of easy knowledge is alleged to put the kibosh on reliabilism.* Consider, for example, a situation in which I make a series of perceptual judgments. There are many piles of cardboard tokens on the t

      • Two realisms enter, only one can leave
        I gave my Saturday over to the UAlbany Grad Student Philosophy Conference, and I am glad I did. There were some very good papers. Props are due to the grad students who organized it. This post records a thought I had during the conference. I'll start by explaining the point in terms of Philip K

    • March
      • Rook takes Bishop, Angler takes Trout
        In Epistemology and the Psychology of Human Judgment,* Michael Bishop and J.D. Trout argue that epistemology needs to be informed by empirical results about how humans actually reason. I am sympathetic with this approach, having myself advocated using a psychological hammer to crack a traditionally

      • Labouring over master arguments
        I have been teaching Berkeley in my 17th&18th c. philosophy course. It is always a bit of trip, because students never come to the good bishop's defense. That leaves me in the role of trying to make the view seem as plausible as possible. I won't convince any of them, of course, but I

      • Making teen moms disappear
        PZ Meyers links to a news item about a Texas high school that is censoring the yearbook. The students staffers of the yearbook wrote a profile of two teen mothers who are part of the graduating class. The excuse for the censorship?Principal Paul Cash said the topic of the article conflicts with the

      • forall x, x provides feedback
        Last week I received the student comment forms from my teaching last term. Once again, I asked students a number of specific questions about the textbook, forall x.*

        The raw data looks like this:

        Did the textbook explain matters clearly?
        yes 23

    • February
      • Police help sound bite victim
        Ron McClamrock and Brian Leiter link to a page at the University of Wellington that offers several answers to the question What is Philosophy? Both approvingly quote this answer:
        I see philosophy not as groundwork for science, but as continuous with science. I see philosophy and science as in t

      • Cold call
        Earlier this week, I received a call on my office phone. The caller explained that her son is taking an introductory philosophy course at another college in the area. He is having difficulty with the course, and she hoped that I could recommend a tutor. I asked if the son had spoken with the profess

      • Claiming amnesty
        Bridget and Janet both made note of Blogroll Amnesty Day. I thought that maybe I should use the occasion to actually add a blogroll here at FoE. Since I have recently begun using Bloglines, generating the list would be as easy as this:

        Adding it to the right-hand column would

    • January
      • Blog software update
        I have updated to the new version of SimplePHPBlog. This broke the theme I had been using, but I have hammered the default theme into some approximation of it. If the change has broken anything else, please let me know either in comments or by e-mail.

      • The teaching meme
        Janet has tagged me with the following question: Why do you teach and why is academic freedom critical to that effort?

        The glib answer is that I teach because it pays the bills, and without academic freedom it would be more fun to work at a coffee shop instead.

        A longer answer:

      • I can never post at the same blog twice
        In the comments at Brian Leiter's blog, several of us have been discussing what it means for the profession that so many philosophy papers are available for download. David Velleman writes:
        The recent trend toward conducting philosophy in ephemeral venues such as blogs and online postings,

      • Reaching out toward Exceeding Our Grasp
        In a previous paper about Kyle Stanford's New Induction, I interpreted it as a wholesale argument and argued that it fails. I had occasion to rethink this while teaching his book, Exceeding Our Grasp, in a seminar last Fall. I now think that it can succeed as a retail argument. I have posted a

      • forall x rides again
        In my logic class, I offer students extra credit for finding errors in forall x. As errors are discovered and corrected, opportunities for these bonuses are diminishing. I have now fixed the minor errors that students found last Fall, yielding the new version 1.24 [080109]

      • Blog meetup
        I was in Las Vegas for a couple of days visiting my brother (who blogs at Age Against the Machine), his wife (who blogs at Short Woman, Central Sanity, and the eponymous Bridget Magnus), and their son (who does not blog yet).

        I also took the opportunity to meet up with Greg (who blogs at

      • A trivial trio for the new year
        Three items related to papers and publication:

        Preprint, postprint
        Christy Mag Uidhir and I had talked about coauthoring a paper on the ontology of musical performance and recording. I even listed the planned collaboration on my faculty activity report a couple of years ago, but we n

  • 2007
    • December
      • Laying Down the Law
        The New York Times has just run a perverse item about the origin of laws of nature. The article is a muddle in more ways than I can count.

        The author, Dennis Overbye, quotes some physicists as proposing that there might be some underlying random context in which the complex laws of nature

      • Conference Call
        The students here at UAlbany are organizing an epistemology-themed graduate student conference. As far as I can tell, they have done it autonomously. The masterminds behind the project have a clear vision of what they want to do, have tapped into extradepartmental pots of money, and have exploited t

      • Second annual bulletpoint year in review
        At the end of 2006, I summarized the year by aggregating the first sentence from the first post of each month. Now, as Janet notes, it's a tradition.

        For 2006, the conclusion of the analysis was that "I seem to be concerned with logic, pragmatism, random bits of pop culture, my

      • Working retail
        I've been thinking about the distinction between retail and wholesale arguments in philosophy of science. A retail argument is about a specific theory, specific kinds of entity, or a specific practice. A wholesale argument promises a conclusion about all or most of science. Wholesale arguments

    • November
      • Ruminations on type
        Carefully deployed fonts and typefaces can add clarity and precision to a manuscript, but it makes is unclear what to do when presenting the same material in lecture.

        In forall x, I differentiate bits of the object language from metavariables by writing the former in roman letters and the

      • Glib remarks about taking things seriously
        Andre Kukla* insists,surely we must agree to the following principle: if there is some chance that we will have to take a claim seriously in the future, then we already have to take it seriously now, albeit perhaps not as seriously.This principle is offered without argument, and Kukla seems to suppo

    • October
      • Yammering on about brevity
        In a recent discussion with Mark about paper lengths, I claimed that my papers tended to be pretty short. My general inclination: Brevity.

        Curious as to whether this claim is actually true, I dropped all of my papers onto latexcount. Since the files are not precisely the published version

      • Imprint, offprint, inprint
        My Reid paper has been accepted to one of my favorite journals, Philosophers' Imprint. I'll post a link once the final paper appears. For now, you get these ruminations on electronic journals:

        On-line academic journals are an obvious idea. The primary value in academic publicati

      • The great divide
        Brian Leiter has claimed that the distinction between analytic and continental philosophy, whatever its merits might have been forty years ago, is no longer useful. Gualtiero Piccinini responds, arguing that there is a real distinction and that it goes like this:Analytic philosophy is a set of overl

      • Happy second blogiversary!
        Thus concludes year two of the blog. It includes about 20,000 words of blog content, down 20% from the year before.

        Traffic has reached a few hundred mostly anonymous visitors per day. Of course, many of them are looking for the significance of epicycles, footnotes on hamlet, information

    • September
      • Drowning in spam
        I have had several dozen items of comment spam appear throughout the site in the last 24 hours. I have temporarily turned turned off comments in order to put a lid on it.

        Update: I have upgraded to the latest version of SimplePHPBlog and turned comments back on. I've activated modera

      • Lo, Quine!
        In Theories and Things and Perspectives on Quine, Quine defines an observation sentence for an individual in this way:If querying the sentence elicits assent from the given speaker on one occasion, it will elicit assent likewise on any occasion when the same total set of receptors is triggered; and

      • Watch Thag simulate the world
        Scholars typically explain the demise of the Neanderthals by claiming that they were better suited for colder climates and so died out when the Ice Age ended. They had bigger brains than Homo sapiens, however, and so they probably could have still out-thought us. Their cleverness suggests other poss

      • New draft on theories
        I've wanted to write this paper for quite some time, but the material from different areas has failed to cohere on the previous occasions when I've tried to write it. Now I finally have a complete draft.

        What SPECIES can teach us about THEORY
        ABSTRACT: This paper argues aga

      • Duhem? I never even...
        I am teaching Poincar and Duhem in seminar this week. They are both so sensible that reading them elicits a twinge of despair at how little progress has been made in philosophy of science since. They were ahead of their time, of course, and there have been some real advances. This is not a post abo

    • August
      • Who put the we in the wikipedia?
        Ron alerted me to the existence of Wikipedia Scanner, a service that does the reverse lookup to follow anonymous Wikipedia edits back to their source. As one might expect, it has turned up a number cases in which corporations actively manipulated their own entries. You can get details from Wired-- o

      • Simulation
        The New York Times Science section recently ran this item on Nick Bostrom's Simulation Argument. It is an odd article, because the Science section usually touts recent or upcoming research. Bostrom's paper touting the simulation argument was in Phil Quarterly in 2003 and had been circulati

    • July
      • All the chimps give a shout out to Benedict
        Speaking recently before a bevy of priests, Pope Benedict is reported to have claimed (in effect) that creationism is bunk. In this story, he is quoted as saying that "there is much scientific proof in favour of evolution, which appears as a reality that we must see and which enriches our under

      • Whinging about conditionalization
        Subjective Bayesianism as it is often employed in philosophy of science consists of three commitments:
        PSYCH (the psychological bit) An agent's degrees of belief can be represented as a real number for each proposition of the language.

        SYNCH (the synchronic bit) An agent's

    • June
      • The world is full of strata
        As Greg noted recently, there are no real measures of scholarly impact for philosophy journals. The blog Brains links to a recent effort by the European Science Foundation to provide such a measure. (I encountered the Brains entry via Brian Leiter's blog.) Various journals in philosophy and sci

      • Ruminations on fecundity
        Philosophers of science who argue over the virtues of theories typically concentrate on fit with observation, novel prediction, support for intervention, explanation, and unification. For each, there are arguments that it is truth-indicative, that it is not, that it marks a theory worth accepting, t

      • Burst culture and the academic blog
        Warren Ellis calls blog-writing burst culture, and he argues that it is no substitute for old school, long form writing. Wil Wheaton complains that immersion in burst culture screws up his ability to write slower-paced prose. Wheaton is talking about narrative writing, but I am curious about this pa

      • Ye olde curiosity shoppe
        Yesterday, I put a draft paper about scientific significance on-line. It is directed largely at tensions in Philip Kitcher's Science, Truth, and Democracy.

        For anyone keeping count, this is the second time I've written a paper in part because of ideas that percolated here in the

    • May
      • A blurb worthy of a book jacket
        I just posted forall x version 1.23 [070512]

        The update was prompted by a recent e-mail from Nathan Carter, a math prof at Bentley College. He began:I used your textbook in a logic course I taught this past semester and found it very helpful. It is readable, clear, and addresses lots of e

      • The good bishop voted off the island
        I had my last real class meeting for 17th&18th Century Philosophy yesterday. I asked variants of my usual end-of-term questions:

        Are there any of the authors we studied that you thought were insightful and valuable to read now, in the 21st century?

        Are there any of the auth

      • My sayings
        Brian Leiter links to a cheeky column by Jonathan Wolff that begins in this way:Several philosophers claim to have had the following conversation on long-haul flights: "And what line of work are you in?" "Me? I'm a philosopher." "Oh, really? And what are some of your sa

    • April
      • The third degree
        I've heard several reports about Marilee Jones, dean of admissions at MIT, who resigned last week after it was revealed that she had lied about her academic history.

        Twenty-eight years ago, when she got a low-level administrative job at MIT, Jones said that she had a several degrees

    • March
      • Free variables, open access
        I just uploaded forall x version 1.22, which includes several small changes in response to helpful, unsolicited feedback from Craig Erb. The bigger change with this version is that the license now allows commericial use.

        It has been about a year and a half since I released the first versi

      • Author's rights, by which I mean mine
        My d-cog paper just appeared in Social Studies of Science. The journal does not provide paper offprints. Instead, they sent me a link which allowed me to download a disk image. On the disk image was an application that allowed me to open a secured PDF. Once I indicated that I was using the computer

      • Author's rights and the community
        Last week, I attended a session on 'Copyright for Scholarly Authors.' Listening to the spiel, it occurred to me that there was an unresolved tension in the rhetoric.

        Academic journals typically require an author to sign over rights to an article before they'll publish it. I

      • Poppy phenomena
        I wrote this back in February, but saved it with the intention of honing it further. The examples, which had been on the whiteboard in my office, have now been replaced by some logical formula. So it must be time to post it.

        In Patterns of Discovery, Norwood Russell Hanson provides a figu

    • February
      • Minor ethical aspects of citation
        Spawning references is an important scholarly strategy:* Begin with a recent article or book on your topic of interest. Look at the list of works cited. Go look at those articles and books. Repeat until you know enough about the topic, you have a sufficient number of references, or you are too exhau

      • Dissonance, duplicity, or duplicity
        Greg links to an item in the New York Times about Marcus Ross, a guy who got a PhD in geosciences at the University of Rhode Island and now teaches at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. Although Ross discusses what the Earth was like millions of years ago in his thesis, he is a young-Earth cre

    • January
      • Too much is never enough
        The short version: was recently acquired by MTV. This is something of which we academics should be aware, and perhaps it is a cause for concern.

        The long version: I have known about the website for several years. Visitors to the site rate their prof

      • Shiny new versions
        I recently posted a new draft of my induction paper. Having taught with forall x last term, I had the opportunity to catch some errors and infelicities. They have been exchanged for felicities, and the new version 1.21 is on-line.

      • Miscellaneous F

        Janet laments the decline of library card catalogs and links to this tool for wallowing in card-file nostalgia.

        When I was a student at UCSD, the library was slowly eliminating their collection of cards. All of the library records were available at computer terminals, and stac

      • Wikis fit wee locks
        As any regular reader will recall, I have misgivings about the epistemology of the Wikipedia. Other wikis inherit these misgivings, although it really depends on the details of what information the wiki is meant to provide and who participates in maintaining it.

        Two recently-established w

  • 2006
    • December
      • Year in review, bullet point meme edition
        I try to resist picking up too many blog memes, because none of you really care about my favorite color or what kind of salsa I might be. Today, I succumb.

        The rule (via Janet) is to list the first sentence of your first blog post from each month of the preceding year. Then write a two se

      • Three remarks about inkblots
        Last week I was thinking about Rorschach tests, the inkblot tests that psychologists once used as diagnostic tools. A subject is shown an inkblot and asked to say what they see. Their response is supposed to indicate something about them. From what I can tell, psychologists no longer think there is

      • Papers hiding and being seen
        James Beebe posts at the group blog Certain Doubts regarding double-blind peer review and posting preprints on the web. As he notes, putting a preprint of a paper on your website before it has been accepted at a journal makes it possible for referees to search the web, find the draft, and identify y

      • American idol
        I had the last meeting of my American Philosophy class yesterday. On the last day of a class, I ask students to pick on one reading that they would recommend leaving out next time I teach the course and one reading that they would recommend definitely keeping. After they write down their picks, I ta

      • Data: Bruno, Ilsa, Friedrich
        I am sometimes envious of philosophers of language, since any interesting turn of phrase can become a datum. Matt Weiner is especially good at turning bon mots into blog posts. I have been lecturing on Quine's 'Two Dogmas' in my American Philosophy class, however, which gives me an oc

    • November
      • Give me a ping, Vasili
        Some cogno-intellectual blog monkey posts asking for people to link to him in the name of memetic science:
        People write in general (typically truimphant) terms about how swiftly a single voice can travel from one side of the internet to the other and back again, but how often does that actuall

      • War between the states
        A recent item in the New York Times asks if the present conflict in Iraq is a civil war or not. A "common scholarly definition" is given, which includes the operationalized requirement of at least 1000 dead including at least 100 from each side. These numbers give a gratifying formal weigh

      • 3... 2... 1... Logic!
        Three items of forall x news:

        1. I am teaching with again it this semester. Students have turned up a few typos, but nothing major.

        2. For about a year, there were 2-3 downloads of forall x per day. Since mid-September, that has shot up to an average of about 15 downloads per d

    • October
      • The mallet and blank cartridges
        I have refrained from writing anything about so-called Intelligent Design (ID) for the same reason I have refrained from hitting myself with a mallet. I have been teaching William James' Pragmatism lectures for the last couple of weeks, however, and he takes up the topic of design. The mallet

      • Happy blogiversary!
        It has been about a year since I launched Footnotes on Epicycles; the one year mark is Wednesday. According to the statistics maintained by the blog software, I have posted over twenty-five thousand words in that time.


        Facing that datum made me wonder: What if I had writte

    • September
      • URL grey
        I have been migrating between servers and, in the course of doing so, made the decision not to renew after the next year of registration runs out. As such, Footnotes on Epicycles has a new URL. The old one should forward for the next thirteen months or so, so you may change over bookm

      • The Doors for dogs
        I am teaching Peirce's "How to Make Our Ideas Clear" in a course on American philosophy. In one passage, Peirce draws an analogy between music and belief. In the course of the analogy, he notes that you can play a song in a higher or lower octave. When you do it is still the same song

    • August
      • When is a planet not a planet?
        When it's a dwarf planet.

        The voting is complete. The definition of 'planet' approved today had an additional clause: A planet must have "cleared the neighborhood around its orbit."

        This means that Ceres (in the asteroid belt), Pluto, Charon, and Xena (

      • Planet? I usually make it up as I go along
        The International Astronomical Union (IAU) votes tomorrow in Prague on a proposed definition of the word 'planet.' has a nice discussion of the proposal here and here.

        There are nine canonical planets. The problem begins because one of them, Pluto, is really not up to

      • Because I can
        I completed my dissertation after digital technology had overtaken document preparation, but before it overtook the submission and archiving of dissertations. I prepared it in LaTeX, processed it as a PDF, printed it on cotton paper, and submitted it in duplicate to the Office of Graduate Studies an

      • Wikipedia paper: The movie
        To sum up last weekend: The Computing and Philosophy conference had suitable proportions of computing, philosophy, food, wine, and camaraderie. Kudos to the organizers for running a tight ship.

        I promoted forall x at every reasonable opportunity. I put out fliers and a sample copy in the

      • New versions
        I've filled the lacuna in Epistemology and Wikipedia. The conference starts tomorrow, and I present Friday.

        I've also posted the updated version of Tom Reid meets Tom Bayes, which continues its quixotic quest to collect rejection notices from the finest philosophy journals.
      • The Wikipedia paper
        I have a draft of Epistemology and Wikipedia on-line. The paper has existed as detailed notes for quite some time, but I finally hammered it out as paragraphs. It is still waiting on some data, so there is a lacuna in the present draft. I will be presenting it at the Computing and Philosophy Confere

      • I'm just here for the natural kinds
        In his TV show Good Eats and in his books, Alton Brown explains the physics and chemistry behind various recipes: what flour does at a molecular level, how butter makes biscuits fluffy, and so on. In the introduction to his book I'm Just Here For MORE FOOD, he writes: "To my mind, the grea

    • July
      • Wikipedia on Cartesian Free Masonry
        I am presenting on the reliability of the Wikipedia in a few weeks, and I wish I had more data.

        A study, reported in Nature earlier this year, tested science entries from Wikipedia and Britannica. I have done some similar work on philosophy entries, although on only a handful of subjects.

      • Holmes again, Holmes again, jiggety jig
        Brian Weatherson links to a recent episode of The Philosopher's Zone, an Australian radio program. They have it on-line both as audio and transcribed.

        The host, Alan Saunders, is interviewing Greg Restall. They are discussing the fact that, in classical logic, a contradiction entails

      • Defer madness
        I wrote most of this entry a couple of weeks ago, after Brian Weatherson pointed to the article in question. Something else came up, so I saved it and moved on. Today I went back, cleaned it up, and posted it.

        In a recent paper in Analysis [July 2006, 179-187], Philip Pettit considers th

      • Wee-key-pedia guilt
        I have been working on a draft of 'Epistemology and the Wikipedia', a paper which I am going to present next month at the NA-CAP conference. In researching the paper, I have occasionally been struck by an interesting phenomenon. Let's call it Wikipedia Guilt.

        The premise of

      • forall x, truth and satisfaction
        Aaron Schiller used forall x for a course he taught in the Spring. A few weeks ago, I had coffee with him and discussed it. He pointed to two weak spots in the chapter on formal semantics, and also relayed his students' desire for more solved problems in the proofs chapter.

        These com

    • June
      • Any publication you can walk away from is a good publication
        As I have mentioned before, I had a summer job in graduate school working with Mike Kalichman on The Responsible Conduct of Research website. After I left, I was credited as a coauthor.

        Having just googled my own name, I notice that the whole thing is being reprinted as a serial in the ne

      • Dear Jay, more about natural kinds
        Jay Odenbaugh wrote a provocative reply to my last post on realism. I was going to leave a short reply in the comments, but it ran long.

        Reply to Jay
        As I understand Jay's reply, LIZ (lizard front ends) might be a legitimate kind. Yet Jay wants to resist accepting any artibrary

      • Great scot, Holmes! That was meant for us.
        Here is a puzzle about the interpretation of ficition. As I have discussed elsewhere, I recently discovered an oddity in the Sherlock Holmes story The Adventure of the Dancing Men. Holmes inspects the scene of the crime and finds a spent shell casing in the flower bed. "I thought so," he s

      • Dewey to me one more time
        Thanks to a kind invitation from Matt, I've been sitting in on a reading group here in San Diego. They had already read two-thirds of the way through Dewey's Logic when I joined them. Fortuitously, they had just reached chapters that speak to the question at issue between Matt and I in our

    • May
      • Chance and credence
        In his paper at the SEP, Alan Hajek argued for this analogy: One's degree of belief in P being equal to the objective chance of P is like one's categorical belief that P being true. That is, a degree of belief getting the world right consists in it matching the objective chances.

      • Sentry duty and a three-word vocabulary
        There were many good talks at the SEP last week, and I am still mulling over some of them.

        I'll mention Brian Skyrms' talk briefly, because I am still mulling it over but don't have anything deep to say about it.

        Brian offered simple evolutionary models of animal

      • Rumor Volat
        Tonight was the opening session of the Society for Exact Philosophy. Walking past Brian Skyrms, I said hi and congratulated him on his new position. He was somewhat taken aback, because he only just agreed to it-- not that it is secret, but there hasn't been a public announcement yet.

      • An angsty tableaux
        Yesterday was the last class meeting for my Existentialism course. During the discussion, one of the students drew a doodle in her notes. She showed it to me; with her permission, I've pasted it in below. It summarizes the course, more or less. The philosophers we studied are on the left. She a

      • Another quaff of realism
        In a recent entry, I discussed the possibilities for realist pluralism. This is the position that there are many real kinds out in nature, not just the priveleged short list of kinds that appears in our fundamental science. I asked how promiscuous this position ought to be: Should we say that silly,

      • Time, time, time...
        06/05/03 see what's become of me.

        Last week I revised my paper on four-dimensionalism and sent it off to another journal. Although it is not the cleverest thing I have ever written, I would like to see it published. It has the coolest pictures of any paper I have ever done, even cooler

      • Cat and Girl in the echo chamber
        Dorothy uses the phrase 'pink collar worker' in today's Cat&Girl. Below the comic, she comments:Did you know that the New York Times segregated its help wanted section by gender until 1972? That may or may not be true. Thanks, Wikipedia!Yet, compare the Wikipedia entry for pink co

    • April
      • Six degrees of separation
        Acquiring a finite Erdős number was icing on the cake when I coauthored with Craig Callender a few years back. Now, by way of the MathSciNet Collaboration Calculator, I have been able to confirm that my finite Erdős number is at most 6.Erdős (0) coauthored with Ernst Gabor Straus (1), who coautho

      • 'Words are curious things' redux
        Stijn writes a blog entry about the meaning of 'philosophy' and links to a sarcastic post that I wrote on the subject. I noticed the link, followed it back, saw that he quoted me, and wondered as to the context. Turning to Babelfish for a translation, I got the following:
        If philosoph

      • The Revenge of the Dinosaur Argument
        I have commented on Philip Kitcher and scientific significance before, both here and in the d-cog paper. To briefly recap Philip's argument in in ch 6 of Science, Truth, and Democracy, he claims that science aims at finding true answers to significant questions. Questions can be significant for

      • Bacchanalian realism
        An old line of thought, resurfacing in recent rumination:

        In asking whether categories are real, the problem is sometimes posed in this way: Is the world really objectively divided into real kinds of things, or is it just facts about us (our languages, our cultures, our interests, the way

      • D-cog in d-machine
        This is the last entry written in a Hungarian cafe. It's a revised version of the d-cog paper, and this aside that did not make the cut:

        Some authors distinguish between collective cognition and distributed cognition, both of which are distinct from individual cognition. In individua

      • Jon, Ron, and the wages of sin
        Another entry written in Cafe Isolabella, this one riffing on blog entries written by two of my colleagues. They seem related without actually talking about the same thing, so here is a bit of conceptual connect-the-dots.

        Jon comments on a study finding that praying for patients seems to

      • She wants to keep her baby
        I managed to do a good bit of writing in Budapest. I wrote this in a cafe just off Batthyany Square. In a bit of synchronicity, Papa don't preach was playing on the radio.

        Recently, a state or two has banned abortion so as to give the newer, more conservative Supreme Court a chance t

    • March
      • Thursday procrastination
        I get some of my best work done at coffee shops, and today I am at Professor Java's trying to catch up on a thousand things. I was briefly chatting with another patron, and it came out that I teach philosophy. He fondly recalled philosophy classes from back in undergrad. It introduced him to a

      • Style and substance
        Common wisdom among educators is that there are different learning styles: Some students are visual learners and learn best by seeing. Others are auditory learners and learn best by hearing. When I was a grad student, the woman leading the TA orientation went so far as to distinguish between tactile

      • It should have been called the 'negatron'
        A propos of Owen Chamberlain's death, the New York Times describes his work in the 50s to experimentally demonstrate the existence of the anti-proton. The story contains this somewhat cryptic passage:
        But as a sort of mirror-image of the proton... [the anti-proton] captured the imagination

    • February
      • RCRambling
        I was thinking about something in the neighborhood of research ethics and thought that I should make a short blog post about it. I realized that the point I had in mind depended on a bunch of context, so I wrote the following screed:

        Several years ago, I worked on The Responsible Conduct

      • Today I have a blog
        Footnotes on Epicycles received its first piece of comment spam today. I guess that makes it an official blog. Now I just need to stop posting for a month and return only to post an apology for not posting.

      • Anticipations of revolutions
        In the same vein as my remark about Peter Winch: Today I ran across another anticipation of the Kuhnian distinction between normal and revolutionary science.

        In his 1960 introductory text Philosophy of Science, Stephen Toulmin discusses what it means for a theory to count as 'fundame

      • Demon. Theories
        I just uploaded a new version of my induction paper. This draft rectifies a systematic problem with terminology. Although I still think that the arguments have implications for what John Norton calls material theories of induction, they most readily apply to demonstrative theories of induction.

      • Kierkegaard and the sermon problem
        Academic philosophers typically write for a philosophical audience. There are problems that are understood, more or less, and you write to address them. If you want to reconstrue the problem, then you say as much.

        This fact becomes a problem when academic philosophers write in response to

      • forall x, forsome x, forno x
        Today I received student comments from last term. Since it was the first time teaching with forall x, I asked a number of questions about the text itself. There aren't very many dust-jacket quality comments, but here is one: "Very clear. Not overly wordy. Great book to use."

      • forall x marches on
        A few random remarks about forall x:

        (i) At the APA in December, I had a number of strange conversations about the book. People would say how great it was that I was making it available for free over the internet, but (they asked) what if someone used it as a course textbook? How did I pl

    • January
      • The d and the cog in d-cog
        Working on my distributed cognition paper, I have been thinking along these lines: We cannot treat the skin of an organism as the boundary of every cognitive activity in which the organism is involved; the boundaries of the cognitive system often must be drawn so as to include tools, parts of the en

      • Further reverberations in the echo chamber
        The mononymous Helmut blogs about my discussion of the wikipedia. He writes: "Ideally, other readers engage in a collective re-editing of each entry, and I like that ideal as a kind of Peircean community of inquirers." As he notes, the ideal, Peircean community doesn't include just an

      • Gossiping in the echo chamber
        More ruminations about the reliability of the wikipedia; cf. my earlier post Reliability on Wikipedia.

        Meandering off-task this morning, I was browsing the wikipedia entry for Aldous Huxley. It claims that he wrote the original screenplay for Disney's Alice in Wonderland. The entry f

      • Significance in the 20th century
        Working on the d-cog paper and teaching Understanding Science again have got me ruminating on scientific significance.

        In The Advancement of Science, Philip Kitcher first advocated the view that science aims not at truth but at significant truth. At the time, he treated significance as an

      • File under 'words are curious things'
        I am aware that the words 'philosophy' and 'philosophical' are commonly employed in ways that have nothing to do with academic philosophy, but a story in today's the NY Times seemed obviously wrong to me. The story by Denise Grady is about a GI who suffered crippling injurie

      • iLogic, youLogic, weAllLogic
        In Summer 2000, I had a job developing on-line materials for the intro logic book that Rick Grush was writing. He wanted to have little movies of someone lecturing, so that students could watch and rewatch material outside of class. Bandwidth restrictions made that impractical at the time, so we did

      • Parapsychology and demarcation
        Writing about parapsychology [here], Paul Churchland argues that parapsychologists do nothing more than point to anecdotal results that are anomalous for materialism. Since every theory faces some anomalies, this on its own shows nothing. Borrowing material from Feyerabend, Paul says that a genuinel

  • 2005
    • December
      • On seeing a theorem
        A stray thought that didn't make it into the induction paper:
        In John Worrall's 2000 BJPS article, he writes:
        Recognising that some proposition is indeed a theorem of some axiomatic system is clearly an outstandingly creative act... But what else can a great mathematician be doin

      • Is induction inductive?
        I had the idea for this paper several years ago, but the pieces only clicked into place recently. It has reached the whole-draft stage, so I'm posting a copy.

        Eliminating induction

        According to some accounts, however, scientific inference is deductive: Apparently ampliativ

      • Winch orm, winch orm, measuring the marigolds
        Reading Peter Winch's The Idea of a Social Science (1958), I was surprised by the following passage:
        The accepted view runs, I think, roughly as follows. Any intellectual discipline may, at one time or another, run into philosophical difficulties, which often herald a revolution in the fun

    • November
      • I may if I might, but I can't so I won't
        I've been thinking about Roger White's essay `Epistemic Permissiveness' (available on his website), and I have an argument that I want to try out.

        Permissive cases, in White's jargon, are ones in which it would be possible for two agents with the same evidence and back

      • Dapple is as dapple does
        I just posted a draft of a brief paper discussing Paul Teller's article 'How we dapple the world.' His title riffs off of Larry Sklar's `Dappled theories in a uniform world' which itself riffs off of Nancy Cartwright's The dappled world.

        Following the flurry

      • There exists 'forall x'
        I just posted a new version of forall x, my introductory logic text. I have been using it as the text in my 130 member intro logic class this term, and I have been fairly satisfied. The process has allowed me to catch a bevy of typos and little slips. The new version corrects those, has added practi

    • October
      • Reliability on Wikipedia
        In a paper for MacHack several years ago, I tried to sort out the possible methods for evaluating claims found on the internet. (`Reliability on a Crowded Net' -- The conference still hosts a PDF of it.) I was primarily interested in claims made on web pages and in chat rooms, and I think the a

      • Zo, vhere vere ve?
        I've been reading Lauren Slater's Opening Skinner's Box, a popularized discussion of significant experiments in 20th-century psychology. The book is best when it presents facts and background, and worst when it tries to pose philosophical questions. One chapter is about Elizabeth Loft

      • The Hamlet antinomy
        At lunch, discussion led to this question: Is the world that 'Rosencrantz&Guildenstern are Dead' is set in the same world that 'Hamlet' is set in?

        Thesis: They are the same world. Tom Stoppard took great care in making the events that happen in 'R&G'

      • Tell me a story
        Last May, Carl Sachs asked me what I thought the difference was between a story and a theory. I replied along these lines: A story specifies what its world is like. A theory conjectures what our world is like. Put differently, a theory is a story which we take to be about our actual world.
      • Tom Reid meets Tom Bayes
        I have finally closed all the open references in my paper on Thomas Reid and dogmatism. The new version has been sent off to scout for rejection notices.