Bon mots 
Via Leiter, I was led to Gerald Dworkin's recent Kindle e-book Philosophy: A Commonplace Book. It's an amalgamation of witticisms, some of which are intended to make sincere points in a funny way, some of which are meant to be funny without actually endorsing the claim superficially made by them, and some of which lack enough context to be determinately in either of those first two groups.

I was a fan of books like this when I was younger. The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes was a favourite. So I was interested enough to click the preview and (as the button says) Look Inside!

To my surprise, one of the quotations is from me! More specifically, it's from the introductory philosophy quiz that Ryan Hickerson and I wrote fifteen years ago. We posted the original on the wall of out grad student office, where it stayed for years, and I also put it on my website.

Short Answer Philosophy Test

Define reality. Give two examples.

Escape the hermeneutic circle with only a fishing line and a Swiss Army knife.

Assume solipsism is true. Why aren't more people solipsists?

Evaluate the following argument: "If conventionalism is true it must be true by convention. We do not believe in conventionalism. Therefore, we should change our beliefs because conventionalism is self-evident."

Demonstrate the validity of the fallacy of composition.

Magnus and Hickerson


Two thoughts:

First, Dworkin's attributions are not uniform. But I think that being cited as "Magnus and Hickerson" sans first names makes us sound like a comedy act, like "Abbot and Costello" or "Fry and Laurie".

Second, I wondered for a brief moment how I could list this on my CV.



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UAlbany philosophy a'changing 
My colleague Robert Meyers is retiring after long and distinguished service to the department. There was a retirement party for him yesterday, and Bonnie Steinbock had the idea to take a group shot of faculty and staff past and present.


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Cartoon reasoning about dinosaurs 
In a recent XKCD cartoon (which I've also embedded below), Randall Munroe juxtaposes two claims:

1. "By any reasonable definition, T. Rex is more closely related to sparrows than to Stegosaurus."

2. "Birds aren't descended from dinosaurs, they are dinosaurs."

As far as I know, claim 1 represents what is true of the phylogeny. The picture below the claim nicely illustrates some of the reasoning for it.

The cartoon suggests without quite saying that claim 1 is a reason to accept claim 2. But I just don't see how the inference is supposed to work. Moreover, claim 2 is basically false.
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Market trends in modern philosophy 
This semester, I taught the core undergraduate 17th+18th Century Philosophy course again. Earlier this week, at the final class meeting, I asked my usual debriefing questions. Which philosopher did they find the most philosophically rewarding? and which the least?

Here are the results, including the change since last time:
            yay     boo
Descartes 5 +5 4 -2
Locke 5 +1 12 +11
Berkeley 10 +4 10 -3
Hume 7 -1 7 +7
Kant 10 +1 3 +3

There was much love for Berkeley this time. A number of students said that they were, at that point in the semester, simply convinced by his arguments. One used this as a reason for saying that Berkeley was the worst philosophically; the student subsequently agreed with Hume and felt as if he had been duped by Berkeley's arguments!

I also asked which text they thought was the best written (clearest, most fun to read) and which the worst written (most obscure, most unpleasant to read). Results, again with the delta from last time:
                          yay    boo
Descartes' Meditations 17 +10 1 -1
Locke's Essay (selections) 1 -5 4 +1
Berkeley's Principles 11 +9 0 -5
Hume's Enquiry 3 -6 5 +3
Kant's Critique (abridged) 1 +1 25 +11

They were only allowed one vote in each column.* Insofar as the numbers don't add up, it may be either because some students didn't vote or because I'm sloppy at counting.

A number of students said, after voting, that they found Descartes to be the easiest to read simply because they had read the Meditations before.

I said when we were discussing it that I think Berkeley's Principles is a well written piece of philosophy. It explicitly lays out arguments, and it's admirably clear. Although it is possible that my enthusiasm rubbed off on the class, so that more students picked Berkeley as the easiest read, I don't think I was any more enthusiastic than I am every time I teach Berkeley.

Last time, when students didn't overwhelmingly identify Kant as the hardest to read, I conjectured that many of them hadn't tried to read Kant. If that's right, then this year's class does seem to have tried out the reading.


* One student really wanted to split his 'yay' vote one-half for the selections from Locke and one-half for Kant.

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The paper appears, just like I said it would 
My paper with Heather Douglas, Why novel prediction matters, has now made it into the limbo of things published online, waiting in the queue to appear in print. It is now the case that papers in this limbo are assigned a DOI, making them as good as published.

DOI: 10.1016/j.shpsa.2013.04.001


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