Rationing rationality 
I wish I had read Rogier De Langhe's A Unified Model of the Division of Cognitive Labor a while ago.

I recently submitted the final draft of Science and rationality for one and all, my paper on reconciling individual and collective rationality. Referees had worried that I was misrepresenting what philosophers of science thought about the relation between the two.

In a passage I would have quoted in my paper if I had read it earlier this year, De Langhe nicely lays out the way that the matter is usually understood: "The fundamental normative question when dividing cognitive labor is to what extent agents ought to take into account the actions of others. This question typically reduces to the specification of a normative balance between the rational and the social: 'leaders' choose that theory which they deem intrinsically superior, and 'followers' choose that theory which others choose." Looking for a balance between the rational and the social presumes that they are two competing standards, and the thought that leaders respond to the intrinsically superior theory suggests that they are the genuinely rational ones.

In his analysis, De Langhe defuses the tension. He allows the space of possible theories to be dynamic, so that scientists might either accept the available theory that looks best or search for a better one. He writes that this "makes it possible to shift the question instead to finding a normative balance between the actual and the possible: 'exploiters' exploit existing theories, and 'explorers' explore new theories."

In conclusion, he writes, "adoption and production pull in opposite directions." (Once I write it out, this is perhaps just what Kuhn called the essential tension in science. Kitcher was explicitly inspired by Kuhn, but De Langhe's model improves on Kitcher's in capturing that idea.)

For my purposes, it is important to add that there is no neutral way to determine the importance of exploiting and of exploring. Both reflect personal and social values.

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Rayo on logical space 
Over at NDPR, there is an interesting review by Cian Dorr of Augustin Rayo's The Construction of Logical Space

Rayo argues that the structure of logical space depends on practical considerations about which system would best support the enquiry that querists want to do. Logical space is primarily characterized by claims of the form "PHI just is PSI", which can be glossed as "Necessarily, PHI iff PSI". Dorr focusses on applications in philosophy of math. For example, by saying the "For the number of hands I have to be two just is for me to have exactly two hands", one can embrace talk about the number two without accepting TWO as a full-blooded thing. This Trivialist Platonism steers between the dire reefs of nominalism and the dread monster of substantive Platonism.

Dorr worries that trying to apply the strategy to cases in natural science stretches it thin enough to reveal its absurdity. However, Rayo does consider scientific examples: both real examples (like "heat just is mean kinetic energy" and "to be a species just is to be a maximal group of interbreeding organisms") and toy examples (like a chemist who thinks that part of what it is to be water is to be composed of hydrogen and oxygen versus a crank who thinks water can sometimes be made of gold).

Accepting a 'just is' sentence exacts costs and offers benefits. Rayo writes (and Dorr quotes), "The cost... is a decrease in the range of theoretical resources one has at one's disposal. ... The benefit... is that one is relieved from the need to answer certain questions. ... And the relevant questions can be very awkward indeed: they don't lend themselves to satisfying answers from the perspective of one's current theorizing, and extensions of one's theorizing that might deliver better answers seem ad hoc." This is rather like Carnap's picture of metaphysics, on which we accept frameworks for pragmatic reasons; Rayo's addition is to limn the structure of a framework with the 'just is' sentences that it accepts.

The identical rivals response to underdetermination fits nicely into Rayo's framework. Scientists begin with what seem to be to distinct theories. The rivalry between them is dissolved by positing that any state of affairs described in one theory just is a state of affairs described in the other, that the difference is one of representational form rather than substantive disagreement. Greg Frost-Arnold and I argue that this move was crucial in twentieth-century physics. Considering a magnet moving relative to a conductor and a conductor moving relative to a magnet, one might distinguish a moving magnet generating an electric field (in the first case) from an electromotive force arising the conductor (in the latter). Einstein's key move is to deny that there is any different. The first just is the second, described from a different frame of reference.

Greg and I argue that this is more a strategic move than a discovery. The case of quantum mechanics illustrates this more clearly. In the late 1920s, Schrödinger's wave mechanics Heisenberg's matrix mechanics were prima facie incompatible. Yet they agreed in application, and physicists took them to be describing the same state of affairs. The decision to develop the theories in that way led to von Neumann offering a more general framework which subsumed both. There is an alternate outcome which was compatible with everything that physicists knew in the 20s. To put it in Rayo's terms, the conception of logical space that physicists accepted could have been unable to fruitfully support enquiry. The formal differences in the details between waves and matrixes might have mattered in application.

So (I think) natural science provides other nice illustrations rather than refutations of Rayo's claims.

Dorr concludes by both endorsing and attributing to Rayo the view that "in metaphysics the most important work is often done, not in arguing for a claim or defending it against objections, but simply in getting it onto the table in such a way that we can understand it and appreciate its appeal." However, this strikes me as being most sensible given Rayo's Carnapian sensibilities. Making a picture comprehensible allows us to see what it would mean to use it, to use it experimentally, and to reckon its costs and benefits.


LINKS:
The Construction of Logical Space, Rayo's book
Dorr's review at NDPR
The Identical Rivals Response to Underdetermination, my paper with Greg Frost-Arnold

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Ergo, ego 
Ergo, a new open access philosophy journal, recently posted its first issue. It includes a long introductory essay by Franz Huber and Jonathan Weisberg explaining why they think the new journal is important. One reason, they write, is that "By partnering with publishers instead of open access initiatives at university libraries, we effectively give our work over to middlemen from whom libraries must then buy it back."

I have begun to feel this in my own research. When I find a reference to a recent article and my university doesn't get the journal, I stop short. Often I do the work to get my hands on a copy, but sometimes I don't. And scholars all over the world face that same situation. So the article is not read as much and is not as influential as it could be if it were readily available for download.

My recent practice has been to e-mail the author of the paper and ask if they could send me a PDF. The response tends to be friendly and enthusiastic. In some cases, authors hadn't even realized that their paper had finally been published!

To sum up, I am an enthusiastic supporter of open access journals in general and Ergo in particular. So I'm especially pleased that they have accepted my paper Science and rationality for one and all.

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Omission 
Wikipedia has no entry for "homeostatic property cluster".

Up until just a moment ago, it did not even list it as a possible interpretation of the acronym HPC.

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*PC accounts 
In a just-published article, Manolo Martínez tries to modify the Homeostatic Property Cluster (HPC) account so as to accommodate polymorphic species.* I have two comments about the relation between his discussion and my own work.
Read More...

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