Do emoji pose a puzzle about representation? 
There's an obvious distinction between representation using a fixed collection of defined symbols (e.g., a word spelled out with letters) and free-form representation (e.g., a sketch on a whiteboard).

The characters of the ASCII encoding provide for the former sort of representation. It is natural to think of Unicode as just a larger version of that, now allowing for many different alphabets and languages. When it was developed, though, it swept in Japanese emoji characters. There is a Unicode character for a pile of poop -- not the general term which in English we write "poop", but 💩. And so on for lots of other little pictures.

Are these just yet more letters? Or is something different going on?

One might think that the distinction I began with is just Goodman's distinction between allographic and autographic works. In work with Jason D'Cruz, we articulate and defend that distinction. Importantly, however, we argue that digital images are allographic. The digital image which corresponds to U+1F4A9 is just how PILE OF POO renders on your computer, though. The character doesn't mean specifically that digital image.

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Religion on the road to pragmatism 
I am teaching American philosophy again, for the first time in almost a decade. I assigned some articles which I didn't assign last time, making me notice what I take to be a shift in Willam James' thought which I hadn't noticed before.*

In 'The Will to Believe' (1896), James characterizes the religious hypothesis as the claim that the best things are the more eternal things and that we are better off believing them so.

Two years later, James gives a lecture at Berkeley which considers similar questions.** I assigned it this time through, because it's the first place where the term 'pragmatism' is introduced.

In the Berkeley lecture, James considers religion of the focus-on-the-eternal sense but poses the worry that abstract religion is too concerned with the infinite and the abstract. His reply is to concede this and claim, instead, that genuine religion is realized in particular lived experience. He writes:
Did such a conglomeration of abstract general terms give really the gist of our knowledge of the Deity, divinity-schools might indeed continue to flourish, but religion, vital religion, would have taken its flight from this world. What keeps religion going is something else than abstract definitions and systems of logically concatenated adjectives, and something different from faculties of theology and their professors. All these things are after-effects, secondary accretions upon a mass of concrete religious experiences, connecting themselves with feeling and conduct that renew themselves in saecula saeculorum in the lives of humble private men. If you ask what these experiences are, they are conversations with the unseen, voices and visions, responses to prayer, changes of heart, deliverances from fear, inflowings of help, assurances of support, whenever certain persons set their own internal attitude in certain appropriate ways.

This shift in focus points toward the enquiry which is presented a few years later as The Varieties of Religious Experience (1901-2). But the two conceptions of religion are offered alongside one another in the Berkeley lecture.

In 1906, James delivers the Pragmatism lectures. I've never paid much attention to the first lecture, because it is merely an advertisement for pragmatism rather than an explanation of it. He poses the distinction between tough-minded and tender-minded temperaments, and he claims that we pick philosophical conceptions which fit our temperaments.

Yet there is also an extended discussion of the failings of religion. Considering the tragedy of a man who commits suicide because he cannot support his family, James writes:
[W]hile... thinkers are unveiling Reality and the Absolute and explaining away evil and pain, this is the condition of the only beings known to us anywhere in the universe... What these people experience is Reality.

Here James seems to flatfootedly reject the value of religion which gestures to the infinite, insisting on the religion instead which is realized in particularities.

So it seems to me that there may be a shift in the ten year period from `The Will to Believe' to Pragmatism. It coincides with James' popularization and working-through of pragmatism as a method.


* This is probably well-marked in the secondary literature somewhere, but I don't have enough of a grasp on the literature about James to say where.
** Published as 'Philosophical Conceptions And Practical Results'.

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Pluto pictures prompt ponderous posturing 
The New Horizons probe has just passed by Pluto, providing the more detailed pictures of it than we've ever had. People are excited about it, because it's cool.

Predictably, however, it's also been an occasion for whinging about the word "planet". The New Horizons team wants to talk up Pluto as a planet.

They are happy to play it up for a reporter. Alan Stern, the mission's principal investigator, complains that the IAU definition is "rather unscientific", that it's "trying to legislate what is and isn't a planet -- to keep the numbers small." His idea, I think, is that the discovery of Eris and other Kuiper belt objects revealed that there were too many planets to make up a countable list for school children. He raises some of the usual objections against the orbit-clearing criterion which figures in the official definition of "planet".

My view on this is that the 2006 decision to regiment the word "planet" in a way that excluded Pluto made the word track a natural kind. There's a broader natural kind which includes the planets, Pluto, Ceres, Eris, and a great many other round solar satellites. Astronomers could have made "planet" pick out that broader category, at the cost of reclassifying the asteroid Ceres. Either way, folk use of the term was going to take some bruising. (I deal elsewhere with the usual objections.)

The New Horizons team has some professional investment in the status of Pluto, of course. And their focus on studying Pluto also means that they are focused on phenomena which make the broader natural kind more salient for them. But it misrepresents the way that scientific language works to pretend that there was only one scientific thing for the IAU to do.


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Trouble in d-cog land 
Matt Brown has a short article on d-cog at the Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective. It's something between a critical notice and a blog post, I guess.

Brown's aim, narrowly, is to engage Ron Giere's claim that distributed cognition counts as cognitive in virtue of having individual doxastic states among its outputs. His argument, by way of Wilfred Sellars and Paul Churchland, is to argue that the model of individual doxastic states itself elides all the material and social distribution that necessarily contribute to doxastic states.

In my own work, I've argued for a thin conception of d-cog according to which "an activity is d-cog if (1) the task is such that it would count as cognition if it were carried out entirely in a single mind or brain, and (2) the process by which the task is carried out is not enclosed within the boundary of a single organism."

Brown's argument seems to open up this objection to my conception: Belief and knowledge are never and could never be entirely in a single mind or brain. As such, it seems false that they would "would count as cognition if... carried out entirely in a single mind or brain". At best, it's undefined as to whether they would.

I find both my own conception and Brown's argument plausible. I'm not sure how to resolve this.

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LeWitt (1968) x Conway (1970) 
Divide a wall into a square grid. Mark arbitrary grid elements with a horizontal line about one-fifth of the way down in the square.

For every cell that was marked to begin with, if it is adjacent to two or three marked squares, mark it with another horizontal line about two-fifths of the way down in the square.
For every unmarked cell, mark it with a line if exactly three of the adjacent grid elements are marked.

Repeat with lines horizontal lines three-fifths of the way down, based on the previous lines.

Continue for a total of twenty sets of lines: The fifth set of lines will be at the bottom of the squares. For the sixth set of lines, mark vertical lines one-fifth of the way across the square... and so on. For the eleventh set of lines, mark diagonal lines one-fifth of the way across. For the sixteenth set, mark diagonal lines which slope in the other direction.

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