Cleaning Chekhov's Gun 
I wrote most of this years ago, and I stumbled across the file recently while working on something else. I'm sticking it here, like 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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Types and tokens of blue 
Yesterday I learned about recent work by jazz combo Mostly Other People Do the Killing. Their album "Blue" is a note-for-note remake of "Kind of Blue". They transcribed all of the solos and performed them with meticulous care so as to produce a recorded album that replicates, as much as they could, the sound of the original.

The exercise has philosophical implications, and they know it. There are echoes of Pierre Menard's Quixote, which they foreground by using the Borges short story as their liner notes. Menard's goal, however, was not to copy but to put himself in a state of mind where he would write words that coincided with Cervantes' original. The parallel exercise would be if the band had tried to live their lives in a way which led them to improvise just the same notes which Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, and the rest improvised back in the 1950s. That exercise would not have produced this album, because that exercise would not have led to something which sounds so precisely like "Kind of Blue".

So it's important that the band transcribed the solos, recorded tracks separately, and acted so carefully so as to preserve information from the original performances. One natural reaction is that such slavish emulation isn't jazz. Moppa Elliott (bassist for the band) discusses this point in an interview about the project. He asks, "Is what we did even jazz? If it isn’t, what does that make it? If it’s not jazz, why not?"

I've now read a bunch of reviews of the album. Perhaps the best is Bruce Lindsay's deadpan paean. It's odd that nobody refers to "Blue" as a cover of "Kind of Blue". Part of this is because 'cover' is a category in rock music, not jazz. Rock and jazz have different versioning practices. But there's a familiar variety of cover where musicians attempt to play a song so that it sounds precisely like a canonical version of that song. In our terms, this is a mimic cover.

The similarity to a mimic cover makes it odd when Marc Meyers in the Wall Street Journal review speculates that, "If 'Blue' is even moderately successful, jazz, rock and soul musicians may be motivated to clone other pivotal works like the Beatles' 'Rubber Soul,'..." Beatles covers and cover bands are already a thing.

In the paper where we introduce the phrase, Christy, Cristyn, and I argue that mimic covers are properly evaluated in terms of their fidelity to the original. I'm not sure whether that's the case with "Blue". Elliott suggests that the point is the opposite, to get people to listen to the original with an attentiveness to precisely those features which couldn't be or at least weren't faithfully reproduced in the cover.

However, because it is a transcription and performance by skilled musicians, "Blue" preserves information about the original (in a technical sense of 'information'). So one gets a kind of access to the original by listening to the new album. Imagine civilization collapses, all copies of the original Miles Davis album are lost, but somehow a copy of "Blue" survives. Certainly the jazz techno-priests in that dystopian future would listen to the album as a way to appreciate the way Davis and his band played, not the way Elliott and his band played. The performances, as repeatable interpretation types, are preserved in this meticulous homage.

In our less counter-factual dystopia, however, we have recordings of "Kind of Blue" to listen to alongside recordings of "Blue". The new album is like one half philosophical thought experiment, one half virtuosic accomplishment, and one half redundancy.

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Some people have a latex allergy 
In the Facebook LaTeXoSoPHeRs group, Kevin Timpe links to a webpage where Josh Parsons claims that philosophers shouldn't use LaTeX. I ended up replying at some length. Rather than just bury my rant over on FB, I'm reposting here.

Parson claims that LaTeX is a proprietary format just like the Word doc format. This is just perplexing. I have Word documents from the 90s that current versions of Word won't read correctly. Even though I have copies of the data, I need to look at hard copies if I want to look back at those papers. But LaTeX source is plaintext, and so the files will be readable until I either lose the data or computers becomes very different.

Plus, here are some advantages of LaTeX he doesn't list.

1. The source/document distinction means that you can include comments which don't show up in the document itself. This has lots of uses. For example, comment out a paragraph that you don't want to forget forever but don't want to include in a submission.

2. The source is plaintext, so you can grep it. This isn't just the cargo cult fascination with bells and whistles, but real timesaving functionality for people who know how to use regular expressions.

3. Although the fact that it specifies typesetting can be a downside (with respect to accessibility) it's an upside with respect to producing typeset pages. I have self published two books using LaTeX. Alternative word processors would not have done the trick.

4. The ability to define commands allows for useful modularity. One of the books I self published is a logic textbook. I defined commands for all of the logical notation. Somebody who uses different symbols than I do can redefine the commands, process the source, and have an edition of the book in whatever notation they prefer.

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<the greatest weight, the greatest weight> 
Imagine an angel comes to you in the night, when you are feverish and in the midst of metaphysical reveries. The angel says that she has been taught metaphysics by God, and so she can answer truthfully any questions you might have. You are slow to react, and this is the first question that you think to ask: Do ordered pairs exist?

The angel boggles and, after an awkward pause, asks you to explain the question.

Well, you say, you encounter individuals like your armchair, your pajamas, your fireplace, and so on. (You pick these because they are close at hand, and you can point at them.) Making sense out of the semantics of relations leads to positing a further thing which is an ordered pair of two objects. For example, the relation "__ is wearing __" holds of a pair of things; e.g. <you, your pajamas>.

The angel laughs. The sound is a bit like a wind chime and a bit like a carnival.

Your mind is too small, says the angel. God considered making a world like that, built out of individuals which stood in pairwise relations to one another. This seemed like it would be a waste of infinite power and infinite intellect. What God did instead was to directly create all of what you think of as ordered pairs. To God, each of these has a separate and true name.

You blurt out, almost interrupting: That's absurd! Surely God thinks of individual things, rather than only of pairs.

In a way, the angel replies. God can think of you by using the name for what you, with your limited intellect, think of as the ordered pair <you, you>.

But... surely individuals are more fundamental than ordered pairs. If two things exist, like the angel and the fireplace, then there are necessarily ordered pairs <angel, angel>, <fireplace, fireplace>, <angel, fireplace>, and <fireplace, angel>. Having enumerated the four possibilities, you consider saying "QED" but instead thump your fist on the arm of your chair.

Of course God made all those, and what God makes must necessarily be so. Yet God, considering only infinite power, might have refrained from making <fireplace, fireplace> while still making <fireplace, angel> and <angel, fireplace> and all the rest. There would not be the thing which you think of as the individual fireplace.

You know, says the angel, you've been very sick and you're taking this lesson very seriously. I think we better stop now.

What would you make of this encounter, after your fever had passed?

[edited for clarity]

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