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 of FoE will recall that I was a supporter of the boycott of Synthese several years ago, in the wake of irresponsible behaviour by the journal editors. I had a couple of reasons for breaking the boycott to participate in the special issue. First, the editorial team at Synthese has changed. It now includes several people I know and respect. I would have preferred if they had explicitly distanced themselves from the malfeasance of the former editors, but what can you do? Second, I was involved in this workshop before there was even talk of publication. I want to support the organizers of the conference and stand with the other contributors. I would have preferred if the papers had ended up together in a publication which hadn't recently been a flashpoint for scandal, but what can you do?

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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 types. The view is similar to Anjan Chakravartty's semirealism, which holds similarly that the world consists of property instances more or less sociable with one another, and that the clusters of sociability which science picks out are not somehow special in nature.

Nanay writes:
Some pairs of property-tokens are closer together in the property-space; they resemble each other more than others. But property-types are our arbitrary ways of delineating regions of this property-space. The property-space does not have joints: it consists of lots of property-tokens, some close together, some further away from each other. (2013, p. 377)

His approach seems to be more deeply metaphysical than mine. Nanay is most centrally concerned with whether a natural kind is a thing in the world that exists. I am concerned centrally with the extent to which the world constrains scientific categorization. I am happy to say that categories which uniquely allow successful science would be natural kinds regardless of whether there is an entity the deep ontology of the world which corresponds to that category. I am also willing to allow that kinds can be more or less natural, to the degree that the world condemns alternative taxonomies to failure.

Nevertheless, Nanay argues that singularist semirealism coheres with scientific practice. The reason is "that the two main tools of actual scientific practice, experimentation and measurement, are practices involving property-tokens and not property-types" (2011, p. 189; 2013, p. 383). This seems wrong to me for at least two reasons.

First: If a scientist were given a table of data which was just numbers or magnitudes, she'd have no use for it. Measurements necessarily have units. So measuring the masses and lengths of 10 samples necessarily requires measuring the masses as masses and the lengths as distances. Each singular property property must fit into a category scheme, and so measurement is impossible without kinds.

Second: It ignores the distinction between what Bogen and Woodward call data and phenomena. Singular measurements are data which are always subject to error and variation. Although data play an important evidential role, scientists don't primarily care about data. They care about phenomena which data instantiate. The phenomena are the curves or patterns which we think the data would trace out if it weren't for noise and error. When scientists repeat an experiment, they do not expect to produce precisely the same data as earlier experiments. Rather, they expect to get data which (once reduced by standard formal methods) will yield the same phenomena. So measurement and experiment are about general phenomena-types rather than singular data-tokens.

References

Bogen and Woodward 1988. Saving the Phenomena. PhilRev, 97(3): 303-352.

Chakravartty 2007. A Metaphysics for Scientific Realism, Cambridge University Press.

Nanay 2011. What If Reality Has No Architecture? The Monist, 94(2): 181-197.

Nanay 2013. Singularist Semirealism. BritJPhilSci. 64: 371-394.

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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 decade I wondered over the meaning of the second part and what was the surreal linkage between the two? If I said the quote to someone, "Knowledge is power, France is Bacon" they nodded knowingly. Or someone might say, "Knowledge is power" and I'd finish the quote "France is Bacon" and they wouldn't look at me like I'd said something very odd but thoughtfully agree. I did ask a teacher what did "Knowledge is power, France is bacon" mean and got a full 10 minute explanation of the Knowledge is power bit but nothing on "France is bacon". When I prompted further explanation by saying "France is Bacon?" in a questioning tone I just got a "yes". at 12 I didn't have the confidence to press it further. I just accepted it as something I'd never understand.

It wasn't until years later I saw it written down that the penny dropped.

It is too cute to be real, especially given that it was posted by someone whose user name is Lard_Baron. But it's nice even as an apocryphum.

Most of the comments at Daily Nous recount misheard song lyrics, which is a shame. Misheard songs lyrics are ubiquitous, but of no consequence. Nobody expects song lyrics to make sense. Misheard wisdom is a more crucial thing. As Descartes writes:
But now that I begin to know myself better, and to discover more clearly the author of my breakfast, I do not in truth think that I'll eat rashers amidst all the matters which the senses seem to teach us...


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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 which is usually told as Descartes walking into a bar, but he also includes lots of original material.

Several of the best form a series and rely on appearing in a long list of jokes which follow the same formula, and this excuses the lame jokes. What they lack in intrinsic hilarity they make up for in constituting part of the long list. His Sartre joke, however, is pretty weak.

Since Sartre's philosophy is indigenous to Parisian cafes, my thoughts developed along these lines:
Jean-Paul Sartre walks into a coffee shop and walks up to the counter. The barista asks him what we wants. Sartre was supposed to meet a friend but is running late, and so he ignores the barista. Looking around the cafe, he sees nothing. What a great philosophical example, he thinks to himself.

There is also a hoary Sartre joke which already fits the pattern, mentioned by one of the commenters:
Jean-Paul Sartre walks into a coffee shop, walks up to the counter, and asks for a coffee without cream. The barista replies "Alas, we are out of cream. Can I offer you a coffee without milk instead?”


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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
2013.

Although the sampling procedure is rather arbitrary, this year strikes me as being more narrowly about my academic work than recent years: more about writing, publishing, and teaching and less in the way of philosophical rumination on current events that were stuck in my craw. I'm not sure whether I think that difference is for better or worse.

I. One of the papers I was working on when I looked for places to send short papers has been accepted at Phil. Quarterly.

II. 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.

III. I made a comment in class yesterday that was a passing reference to Pulp Fiction.

IV. In a just-published article, Manolo Martínez tries to modify the Homeostatic Property Cluster (HPC) account so as to accommodate polymorphic species.

V. Although I haven't been following it closely, last year President Obama proposed rating universities using factors like affordability and graduation rates.

VI. Ergo, a new open access philosophy journal, recently posted its first issue.

VII. In discussions of peer review, somebody always mentions referees searching the internet to suss out who the author is.

VIII. 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.

IX. In the waning days of summer, before the semester started, I finished up two draft papers.

X. Imagine an angel comes to you in the night, when you are feverish and in the midst of metaphysical reveries.

XI. Yesterday I learned about recent work by jazz combo Mostly Other People Do the Killing.

XII. I just posted version 1.30 of forall x.

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