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 Nous covers the essentials.

Unlike earlier debacles, however, the editors have responded to this in a responsible way before the petitions were drawn up and boycotts were organized. They've made a public apology for the mess. They have announced a moratorium on future special issues so that they can take a serious look at the process, although issues already underway will go forward. Well done!

I have a paper on natural kinds forthcoming in a special issue of Synthese. As I blogged earlier, they refereed it thoroughly.

On reflection, I think it is important for there to be reputable journals which publish special issues of conference papers. It seems to me that the alternatives are (a) that conference papers not be published at all or (b) that they be published as stand-alone volumes. Not publishing at all would be a shame. The Paris symposium where I presented my paper brought together several of us doing related work on natural kinds, and it makes sense for the work we presented to appear together somewhere. And stand-along volumes are often only carried by a few libraries, so the papers don't get widely read. Having the papers appear in Synthese at least gives them a chance at readership.

There is a the third option, (c) that the papers would simply be made freely available from an on-line archive. This would be optimal, I think, although the authors might not feel an impetus to edit and complete their contributions. Conditional on closed-access journals being a thing that we still do, special issues of journal are valuable.

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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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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.
Read More...

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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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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' (1896), James characterizes the religious hypothesis as the claim that the best things are the more eternal things and that we are better off believing them so.

Two years later, James gives a lecture at Berkeley which considers similar questions.** I assigned it this time through, because it's the first place where the term 'pragmatism' is introduced.

In the Berkeley lecture, James considers religion of the focus-on-the-eternal sense but poses the worry that abstract religion is too concerned with the infinite and the abstract. His reply is to concede this and claim, instead, that genuine religion is realized in particular lived experience. He writes:
Did such a conglomeration of abstract general terms give really the gist of our knowledge of the Deity, divinity-schools might indeed continue to flourish, but religion, vital religion, would have taken its flight from this world. What keeps religion going is something else than abstract definitions and systems of logically concatenated adjectives, and something different from faculties of theology and their professors. All these things are after-effects, secondary accretions upon a mass of concrete religious experiences, connecting themselves with feeling and conduct that renew themselves in saecula saeculorum in the lives of humble private men. If you ask what these experiences are, they are conversations with the unseen, voices and visions, responses to prayer, changes of heart, deliverances from fear, inflowings of help, assurances of support, whenever certain persons set their own internal attitude in certain appropriate ways.

This shift in focus points toward the enquiry which is presented a few years later as The Varieties of Religious Experience (1901-2). But the two conceptions of religion are offered alongside one another in the Berkeley lecture.

In 1906, James delivers the Pragmatism lectures. I've never paid much attention to the first lecture, because it is merely an advertisement for pragmatism rather than an explanation of it. He poses the distinction between tough-minded and tender-minded temperaments, and he claims that we pick philosophical conceptions which fit our temperaments.

Yet there is also an extended discussion of the failings of religion. Considering the tragedy of a man who commits suicide because he cannot support his family, James writes:
[W]hile... thinkers are unveiling Reality and the Absolute and explaining away evil and pain, this is the condition of the only beings known to us anywhere in the universe... What these people experience is Reality.

Here James seems to flatfootedly reject the value of religion which gestures to the infinite, insisting on the religion instead which is realized in particularities.

So it seems to me that there may be a shift in the ten year period from `The Will to Believe' to Pragmatism. It coincides with James' popularization and working-through of pragmatism as a method.


* This is probably well-marked in the secondary literature somewhere, but I don't have enough of a grasp on the literature about James to say where.
** Published as 'Philosophical Conceptions And Practical Results'.

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