D-cog reflux 
Leiter links to an interview with John Searle under the heading "The argument from vomit." Searle says:
I don't read much philosophy, it upsets me when I read the nonsense written by my contemporaries, the theory of extended mind makes me want to throw up...

When I was a visiting fellow at Pittsburgh, I gave a talk presenting what ultimately became the first part of my book on natural kinds. Jim Bogen came up afterwards to say that he very much liked the talk, except for my brief mention of distributed cognition as a natural kind. That part, he said, made him throw up a bit in his mouth.

Searle and Bogen are both esteemed elder philosophers who taught for many years in California (Searle at Berkeley, Bogen at Pitzer), but those facts alone are insufficient to explain the emetic power of the extended mind.

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I will be in Paris later this week for a workshop on causation and natural kinds.

The program looks great. I'm honored to be in that lineup, which includes some people I know and will be glad to see plus others which I don't know but will be glad to meet.

My talk will either be too ambitious or tiresomely obvious. Although it's prepared, I'm not sure which it will be yet! It draws connections between lots of other things I've written, and I'm curious to see what people think of it.

UPDATE: And now I am home. The workshop was great!

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It was about Samuel L Jackson 
I made a comment in class yesterday that was a passing reference to Pulp Fiction. Curious as to whether the reference would make any sense to students, I asked how many had seen the movie. About a third raised their hands.

The movie was 20 years ago, though, before some of them were even born. There's one for the mindset list.

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What PhilArt can teach PhilSci 
In recent work, I have argued that, when thinking about natural kinds, we should distinguish the taxonomy question (which categories are natural kinds and which are not?) from the ontology question (what kind of being have natural kinds got?).

Familiar ways of posing the problem of natural kinds invite either ignoring one of the two questions or conflating the two. For example, finding natural kinds is described as carving the world at its joints. That answers both questions: A natural kind is a cut at the joints of nature, and its ontology is given by those joints.

Most approaches to the problem are guilty of this. Even some people who mark the distinction nevertheless argue that there is a single ontology to be given for all natural kinds.

I'm teaching a course on philosophy of art this semester, and we're just switching from talking about definitions of art to art ontology. And it occurred to me that the distinction which is rarely made about natural kinds is entirely standard in philosophy of art. The issue of definition is a question of what separates art from non-art. The issue of art ontology is a question of what kinds of objects art works are. Many authors pursue one but not the other. It is widely accepted that different art works might belong to different ontological categories even if there is a single, unified definition. Mutatis mutandis, this is just the taxonomy/ontology distinction.

It surprised me that, in this respect, philosophers of art have a clear and valuable distinction that parallels one philosophers of science need. I have written some papers in which I take lessons from philosophy of science and apply them to thinking about art, but I am happy to note that some traffic could go the other way.

I only came to distinguish the two questions in the course of struggling with Homeostatic Property Cluster accounts of natural kinds. As a result, I did not have the distinction clearly in mind when writing SENK. I came to realize its importance when writing the introduction and the conclusion to the book. As I'd put the point now: The first five chapters of the book are directed at the taxonomy question, but the final chapter is directed at the ontology question.

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God, purposes, and the misuse of probabilities 
Massimo Pigliucci and Mohan Matthen have blogged recently about probabilistic arguments against naturalism and evolution. Recent arguments by Alvin Plantinga and Thomas Nagel begin by considering how likely some development is given only natural causes and evolutionary processes: How likely are we to know anything? How likely was it that there would come to be conscious life? The answer is supposed to be unlikely and that these would be utterly to be expected if there were a God (Plantinga) or if there were purposive, teleological laws (Nagel). From this, it is concluded that there is a God or that there are teleological laws.*

Reasoning like this seems to misuse probabilities in at least two respects. I'll focus on the theological version.

First: It is unclear to me why the existence of God makes sentient knowers more likely than the absence of God does. Of course, the omnipotence of God entails that there will be sentient knowers if She wants there to be, but why suppose that She does? There does not seem to me to be any obvious probability metric over the space of possible gods, and I doubt that the space is well-defined. Theologians have often argued that there is only one possible god, namely God, but their arguments also typically entail that She exists. The probabilistic argument is superfluous at best if it relies on such an apodictic rationalist argument to establish one of its premises!

Second: Even accepting that sentient knowers are more likely given God than not, this only shows that the existence of sentient knowers should increase our credence in God. Whether we should think that She is likely to exist at the end of the exercise depends on the prior probability. There are two ways this could go. (A) Suppose the prior is objective. If the principle of indifference that is doing the work, so that the prior for "God exists" is .5, then we need to have winnowed down the space of alternatives to include only atheism and this specific flavour of monotheism. Again, the argument seems to be falling back on rationalist arguments about the space of possible gods. (B) So suppose instead that the prior is subjective. Then the conclusion is just that someone who believes that God is tolerably likely should, after looking around, be rather more confident. This will not and rationally should not convince those who start with strong atheist inclinations. Those who believe in God place a high prior probability on Her existence, and they might just as well have report that to begin with. The fideism of subjective probability makes the argument irrelevant.

These concerns apply to teleological laws, too. There is even more uncertainty about what would or wouldn't be likely given teleological laws and what the prior probabilities should be, because Nagel's proposal is dismally obscure. At least with God, there is a long philosophical history of worrying over what She might be like.

* Now that I've written it out in this form, it looks rather like the No-Miracles Argument for scientific realism. Naturally I think there are problems with base rates. A quick search also reveals that I've responded to Mohan blogging about Plantinga and Nagel before.

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