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, like institutional archives, student videos, or MOOCs. I was the odd man out, because forall x is a traditional textbook. Although it is distributed electronically, it is designed to be used as a physical workbook. Today I ran across an article in Salon which supports my old-school approach; it argues that people just don't comprehend material read on screen or on a tablet as well as material read on paper. Yet the difference is not so clear or strong that we should imagine it is inevitable. Future students may be better at learning from electronic documents, and future technology might present them in better ways. I will still be teaching a decade or two from now, and my preference for paper may be something I'll need to get over.*

One nice result of the NERCOMP event is that I now have a better understanding of MOOCs. A MOOC (the acronym stands for Massive Open Online Course) allows people from all over the world to register for and take a course. They might watch videos of lectures, participate in a discussion forum with other students, take tests on their computer, and so on. Because the courses are free, they are often mentioned in the same context as open-access textbooks.

The thing I learned is that "open" in MOOC just means open enrollment. Anyone anywhere is free to take the course. The course materials might be released under a Creative Commons license, but they might just be under traditional copyright. MIT labels its MOOC material "some rights reserved" and, although that is a standard label on CC-licensed material, MIT does not specify an specific permissions. Because they don't say, "some" is legally equivalent to "all". The difference is just a flourish, because "all rights reserved" would not sound as welcoming.

So I was also the odd man out because I was one of the few presenters specifically concerned with open access issues.**


* Even if there are cyborg students in the future, though, there are still concerns of equity. Even if it gets to the point where digital natives with advanced e-readers think better with electronic documents than with paper documents, economic disparities will mean that other students don't. Of course, the future of the university as an enterprise is also up for grabs in the next decade or two.
** Not the only one. Thomas Dodson, a librarian from Harvard, talked about their open access repository of faculty research.

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

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

The long version:
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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.

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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 topics: innate ideas, personal identity, and abstract ideas.

These three topics can seem unrelated. I tell students that they can think of them as a grab bag: the first as an answer to Descartes, the second as a fun diversion, and the third as an anticipation of Berkeley. They show the class the broad features of Locke's picture of the mind and language, but not in a systematic way.

1. Locke's arguments that there are no innate ideas provide a contrast with Descartes, who the class has just discussed. Without the concept of God as innate, the causal argument of Meditation 3 collapses. Berkeley, who we read next, thinks that Locke is so convincing on this point that there is no need to say anything further about the matter.

2. The concept of personal identity does not arise for Descartes or for Berkeley, but it is fun. The issue basically begins with Locke, and it's a antidote to the idea that philosophical topics are all timeless.

3. Berkeley spends the entire introduction to the Principles arguing that there are no abstract ideas. We get to that next week, and Locke's arguments for the existence of abstract ideas give some context.

Yesterday, the last day on Locke covered his distinction between nominal and real essences. I noticed two ways in which the topics integrate which I hadn't noticed when I taught this last time.
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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, were published last month in Metaphilosophy. They are basically unchanged from the 2009 blog post that I link to above.

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