Imprint, offprint, inprint 
My Reid paper has been accepted to one of my favorite journals, Philosophers' Imprint. I'll post a link once the final paper appears. For now, you get these ruminations on electronic journals:

On-line academic journals are an obvious idea. The primary value in academic publication is peer review, and article referees are not paid for their time. Academic writers aren't paid, either. So you'd think that producing a journal would not be such an expensive proposition.

Moreover, academics are well served if their papers are as widely read as possible. If the article can be viewed on-line by anyone in the world, it is apt to get more readers than if it only exists in physical issues of a narrowly-distributed journal. Advocates of open access have argued that, when research is publicly funded, authors have an obligation to distribute their results more broadly. Perhaps this applies to my work, too, since I am a state employee and research is part of what I do as my job.

Regardless, on-line journals have typically encountered several difficulties.

First, there are conventions for citing print journals with pages and issue numbers. Web pages are not so bibliography friendly. This problem can be overcome: Items must be given canonical and persistent URLs. Papers must have some structure that allows specific passages to be referenced. And so on.

Second, many on-line journals are erratic. Especially in the early days of the web, people began online journals with webspace but no clear sense of the resources required. A journal requires time and institutional organization. Many have fallen behind when it's been harder to put out monthly or quarterly content than the founders expected.

Third, on-line journals are often not up to the quality standards of print journals. The ease of putting it together amplifies this; it may be tempting to have a special issue with papers from a conference, for example, and then put them up even when they aren't really up to snuff-- it's not like anyone's paying to print it. If a journal isn't sent enough good submissions, then the editor is faced with the choice of either not publishing (amplifying the second problem) or printing submissions that wouldn't otherwise see print.

Of course, these latter two problems also arise for print journals. Philosophy of Science recently fell more than a year behind its publishing schedule, for example; but they have started to catch up, and the papers are up to their usual standards. There is a fourth problem that arises especially for on-line journals: the stigma attached to new media.

It seems to me that Philosophers' Imprint has done a brilliant job of mitigating all of these problems: When they accept a paper, they publish it at a permanent URL as a nicely formatted PDF. See, for example, John Norton's really clever paper on causation. This solves the first problem.

Imprint has no predefined schedule and does not bundle papers together. As a result, it neither waits for a whole issue's worth of papers to accumulate nor rushes to meet expectations of periodic publication. If they don't get a submission that meets their standards, they don't print anything; but they can print as many quality submissions as they receive. This avoids the second and third problems by actually taking advantage of ways that publishing on the web is different than traditional publishing.

The fourth problem is trickier. Imprint has a prestigious editorial board. They publish some really good stuff. But some people will consider it prejudiciously.

I was recently discussing this issue with Nate, who asked how long it would be before compound phrases like electronic journal lost the electronic prefix. Most of us typically access even old-school journals on-line. Scholars in many fields rarely if ever look at hardcopy issues. I have discovered that the department cannot reimburse me for photocopies I might make in the library, but I can use the library's webpage to request PDF scans of anything I might want. Once this has been the case for a while, there will be no real difference between Philosophers' Imprint and any other journal-- except that Imprint won't have a redundant, dead-tree backup in the stacks of some distant building.


This is post 100 here at FOE, and somewhere in the middle is word 45,000.

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The great divide 
Brian Leiter has claimed that the distinction between analytic and continental philosophy, whatever its merits might have been forty years ago, is no longer useful. Gualtiero Piccinini responds, arguing that there is a real distinction and that it goes like this:
Analytic philosophy is a set of overlapping traditions whose founding fathers are Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein, and Moore, whose exemplars include works by Carnap, Quine, and Kripke (among others), whose main sources of authority are logic, mathematics, and science, and whose core concerns include what there is and how we can know it.
Continental philosophy is a set of overlapping traditions whose founding fathers include Hegel, Nietzche, and especially Heidegger (or a subset thereof, depending on the specific sub-tradition), whose exemplars (besides Heidegger) include works by Gadamer, Foucault, and Derrida (among others), whose main sources of authority are art and hermeneutics, and whose main concerns include understanding "the human condition".

So Piccinini draws the distinction in three areas: founding fathers, sources of authority, and core concerns.

Founding fathers: For my own part, I see my work as continuing in the tradition of Thomas Reid, CS Peirce, William James, and John Dewey. The divide seems to miss all of my heroes.

Sources of authority: My work begins with a methodological presumption that science is mostly all right, but I am a philosopher of science. If your philosophy portrays actual science as altogether bankrupt, then it isn't a philosophy of science; it's just a philosophy that has dire consequences for science.

Philosophy of science as I see it has to make sense of the scientific enterprise as broadly successful. This does not mean that the claims of science must be taken at face value, nor does it mean that every specific instance of science must be deemed virtuous-- but science generally must be reckoned as OK.

This doesn't seem essentially anti-continental to me. Wouldn't Merleau-Ponty be on board?

Core concerns: My work is concerned with knowledge or at least with justified belief, but I think that it is a mischaracterization of the analytic tradition to say that it is concerned with what is and how we know it. The movements that are paradigmatically analytic didn't worry about being; rather, they worried about meaning. The linguistic turn was the great analytic stratagem, and I am not party to it.

On the other hand, Heidegger was not really concerned with the human condition. The brilliant existentialism was just a way of getting at his real concern: the problem of being. I don't pretend to understand it fully, but it does not fit into Piccinini's rubric.

In short, the analytic/continental distinction does not help me understand philosophy or my place in it. It neither clearly categorizes me nor illuminates those of my fellows that it does pigeon-hole. The distinction really only helps me understand the academic politics of philosophy in the twentieth century and, insofar as people are still carrying those banners, academic politics of today.

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Happy second blogiversary! 
Thus concludes year two of the blog. It includes about 20,000 words of blog content, down 20% from the year before.

Traffic has reached a few hundred mostly anonymous visitors per day. Of course, many of them are looking for the significance of epicycles, footnotes on hamlet, information about revolver ejectors, or something else that this blog won't help them with at all. It is an unnamed law of the internet that any webpage that combines words in an idiosynchratic way will receive a modicum of misdirected traffic from search engines.

With that in mind: Neolithic prognostication! Polymorphic esoterica! Bolivian commodity decoupage!

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Drowning in spam 
I have had several dozen items of comment spam appear throughout the site in the last 24 hours. I have temporarily turned turned off comments in order to put a lid on it.

Update: I have upgraded to the latest version of SimplePHPBlog and turned comments back on. I've activated moderation, which means that legitimate comments may take longer than usual to appear. If the new version stops the deluge, I may turn moderation off.

OK, really: That did not work, but I've made further efforts to cut the guy off. Hopefully it won't result in difficulties for anyone who is genuinely trying to read or comment.

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Lo, Quine! 
In Theories and Things and Perspectives on Quine, Quine defines an observation sentence for an individual in this way:
If querying the sentence elicits assent from the given speaker on one occasion, it will elicit assent likewise on any occasion when the same total set of receptors is triggered; and similarly for dissent. [PoQ, p.3]
Yet this seems obviously inadequate. Consider and individual asked to watch a series of images and count the number of rabbits that appear. Obviously, "That is the first rabbit" ought to count as an observation. Nevertheless, the very same image and so the very same receptor trigger will not elicit assent on subsequent occasions. Rather, when the subject sees the same picture she will say "That is the second rabbit."

One might amend the definition so as to include context; for example, the agent will assent when the same receptors are triggered and the neural machinery responsible for memory is active in the same way. This seems inadequate for several reasons. First, the revised version individuates occasions so specifically that they might be unrepeatable. This would trivialize the consequent of the conditional. Second, the revised version makes remembering something count as an observation. Third, there may be no clear line between the neural machinery of memory and that of calculation. That would make arithmetic count as observation.

Similar problems arise for sentences like "It is cold." My sensitivity to cold depends in part on my state of mind and attention. Assent requires more than just a specific temperature on my receptors.

In addition to the specific objection, I disagree with Quine's general fixation on stimulations at the sensory periphery. Perception and memory are richly interwoven with the environment; cf. d-cog.

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