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]

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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 Obscure and Confused Ideas). Here we are at the Springs Preserve after lunch, Obscure on the left and Footnotes on the right:



Greg and I got to talk about a paper we're coauthoring, tentatively titled something like Einstein and identical rivals. One lunch face-to-face accomplished more than we could have done with months of e-mail.

C and I both had a fun time in Vegas. Thanks to all our blogger-hosts.

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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 never got it together. The would-be coauthored paper was always too diffuse.

Last year, he published something like what his contribution would have been in the British Journal of Aesthetics. I wrote a response, which is now forthcoming. I had discussed the paper with Chris, but I had not put a draft on my website.

When I blogged about putting draft papers on-line last year, I had overlooked this complication: Almost all journals explicitly allow authors to have preprints of papers on-line during the submission process. Virtuous journals also allow authors to place postprints on their websites, but there is usually a waiting period. BJA requires "that public availability be delayed until 24 months after first online publication in the journal."

If I had put a draft on-line a month ago, it would have been a preprint and I could leave it up. I did not, and the paper was accepted; so a copy now would be a postprint and must wait until two years after publication. I could post it and pretend that I had done so a month ago, but I think the lesson is clear: Post drafts on-line simultaneous with submission.

Regardless, it will be published. And that is good.

Journal impact


Gregory Wheeler has posted data at Certain Doubts suggesting that the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science and Philosophy of Science are among the top five journals in the profession. These rankings are based on journal impact, the number of citations that point to articles in those journals, and so should be taken cum grano salis. They reveal as much about citation patterns by specialty as they do about prestige: Linguistics and Philosophy is rated number one, and the Journal of Philosophy is only ranked ninth.

Regardless, they have the scent of objectivity to them. I will gladly cite data like this when I am up for tenure, given my string of publications in BJPS. (Alas, BJA ranks in the 40s.)

Webpage overhaul


My philosophy papers page had long ago grown too long. I was using java script to hide and reveal parts of it; although it looked nice, it was hard to use and harder to update. So today I stirred some HTML together with some PHP to bake up a more straight forward site. Each paper is one line on the main page with details on its own sub-page. This makes it easier for me to link to multiple versions and allows visitors to read abstracts before downloading PDFs.

UPDATE one day later: I just discovered that some lingering, malformed java script made the sub-pages invisible in any browser besides Firefox. It should be fixed now.

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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 evolved.* Overbye writes
I love this idea of intrinsic randomness much for the same reason that I love the idea of natural selection in biology, because it and only it ensures that every possibility will be tried, every circumstance tested, every niche inhabited, every escape hatch explored.
This is simply to misunderstand natural selection. There is no assurance that mutation will generate every permutation of traits. In fact, quite the opposite: Evolution is path dependent just because it isn't constantly trying out every possibility.

Throughout, the story presumes that laws of nature are claims that are true always and everywhere. This is what Nancy Cartwright dubs fundamentalism. It motivates wild metaphysical speculation, but why thinks it's true?

When I was an undergraduate, I majored in both philosophy and physics. It seemed to me that there were philosophers who took physics seriously and had clever things to say, but that most physicists who tried to do metaphysics did it poorly. And so I became a philosopher.**


* The evolution of law was proposed in the 19th century by C.S. Peirce. It was wacky then, and it's still wacky.

** To be fair, it is hard to know how much the physicists are responsible for the confusion in this article.

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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 the experience of other schools that have hosted grad conferences.


I am unsure of the demographics of my readers, but if you are a potential participant then submissions are due February 1. See the call for papers for all the fine print.

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