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 modelling suggests that this wouldn't occur without some massive thing skewing them.

Regardless of what you might think about the vexed word "planet", this is exciting. And it underscores that there is scientific value to thinking about the class of things which gravitationally dominate their orbit in a solar system. Whether we use the word "planet" to label that class, it's a natural kind and we need some word for it.

It's also worth mentioning that this might just be a mistaken conjecture. The posited object needs to be spotted with a telescope and observed for a while.

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Seasonal notes 
It's late December, which means that it is time to mark the end of the year with silly blog traditions.

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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 engages my account.

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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. It is natural to think of Unicode as just a larger version of that, now allowing for many different alphabets and languages. When it was developed, though, it swept in Japanese emoji characters. There is a Unicode character for a pile of poop -- not the general term which in English we write "poop", but 💩. And so on for lots of other little pictures.

Are these just yet more letters? Or is something different going on?

One might think that the distinction I began with is just Goodman's distinction between allographic and autographic works. In work with Jason D'Cruz, we articulate and defend that distinction. Importantly, however, we argue that digital images are allographic. The digital image which corresponds to U+1F4A9 is just how PILE OF POO renders on your computer, though. The character doesn't mean specifically that digital image.

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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 peculiar to philosophical writing, but some of them are.

I have refined that list numerous times over the years. It was pared down to nine points, but there were extra things I ended up saying when discussing the list in class. So now it has grown to eleven.

I just revisited it for this semester, and here's what it looks like now.

Some tips for writing a philosophy paper

1. Be as clear as possible. It is fine to try to write beautifully, persuasively, and concisely. If these ever conflict with clarity, though, let clarity win.

2. Your paper should hang together as a unified whole. It should not be a variety-pack of ideas and arguments that end up stapled together by coincidence. The direction of discussion in the paper should flow from the beginning, where you say clearly what you are doing; to the middle, where you consider arguments for and against the position you are advancing; to the end, where you summarize the action. (You might find it easier to do this if you write the introduction last!)

3. Provide a roadmap. The reader should always be able to tell what a given point or paragraph is doing in your paper. It may seem unsubtle to say, for instance, "There are two possible objections to this position. First... Second..." Nevertheless, clarity should win out over subtlety.

4. Avoid overblown rhetoric. Do not say that "everyone has always worried about such-and-so" or that it has "plagued man since the beginning of time."

5. Make arguments and give reasons. Do not just assert that something is such-and-so if someone might disagree with you. Offer reasons for thinking that it is such-and-so. Similarly, try to imagine why a person might disagree with you. Are there weaknesses in your claims or obvious objections to your arguments? If so, do not try to cover it up. Consider how you might answer the objection.

6. Expect your paper to need revision. After writing it, read it to yourself --- reading aloud can be helpful. If a passage seems tortured, ask yourself how you might say the same thing in different words. When you clear up your prose, you are refining your ideas at the same time.

7. Do not forget to spell-check, but do not use it as an excuse not to edit. The squiggly red lines will not save you from using the wrong word.

8. Use quotations. Quotations are a potent tool for just those points where you are attributing a contentious claim to an author. They are best used where the reader might disagree or misunderstand.

9. Do not use quotations just to bulk up your paper. You do not need quotations for every point you make.

A succession of long quotations with little or no explanation does not explain the author's views; it merely repeats them. You should explain what you take to be the meaning of each substantial quotation, either before or after quoting it. As a rule of thumb, your discussion of something in your own words should be at least as long as a quotation you use to underscore the same point.

10. Acknowledge sources. Include references to works that you quote, paraphrase, or otherwise reference. This means giving both a citation for the book or article and also referring to specific page numbers or sections as appropriate.

If your thinking is sparked by someone or something else, either include it among the references or in an 'acknowledgements' section at the end of the paper.

11. Be conscious of gendered language. It's the 21st-century. If you use "man" or "mankind" to mean everybody, you'll sound both pompous and sexist. If you make up an example to illustrate a point, it's OK for the person in the example to be "he" --- but if you have two people in your examples, at least consider making one "she".

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