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 ūüí©. 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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Some tips for writing a philosophy paper 
Years ago, when I had a one-year teaching gig at Bowdoin College, the faculty there had some writing advice which they gave to their students. I adapted that as a list of ten tips which I printed out and gave to students along with the first paper topic.

Not all of the features are peculiar to philosophical writing, but some of them are.

I have refined that list numerous times over the years. It was pared down to nine points, but there were extra things I ended up saying when discussing the list in class. So now it has grown to eleven.

I just revisited it for this semester, and here's what it looks like now.

Some tips for writing a philosophy paper

1. Be as clear as possible. It is fine to try to write beautifully, persuasively, and concisely. If these ever conflict with clarity, though, let clarity win.

2. Your paper should hang together as a unified whole. It should not be a variety-pack of ideas and arguments that end up stapled together by coincidence. The direction of discussion in the paper should flow from the beginning, where you say clearly what you are doing; to the middle, where you consider arguments for and against the position you are advancing; to the end, where you summarize the action. (You might find it easier to do this if you write the introduction last!)

3. Provide a roadmap. The reader should always be able to tell what a given point or paragraph is doing in your paper. It may seem unsubtle to say, for instance, "There are two possible objections to this position. First... Second..." Nevertheless, clarity should win out over subtlety.

4. Avoid overblown rhetoric. Do not say that "everyone has always worried about such-and-so" or that it has "plagued man since the beginning of time."

5. Make arguments and give reasons. Do not just assert that something is such-and-so if someone might disagree with you. Offer reasons for thinking that it is such-and-so. Similarly, try to imagine why a person might disagree with you. Are there weaknesses in your claims or obvious objections to your arguments? If so, do not try to cover it up. Consider how you might answer the objection.

6. Expect your paper to need revision. After writing it, read it to yourself --- reading aloud can be helpful. If a passage seems tortured, ask yourself how you might say the same thing in different words. When you clear up your prose, you are refining your ideas at the same time.

7. Do not forget to spell-check, but do not use it as an excuse not to edit. The squiggly red lines will not save you from using the wrong word.

8. Use quotations. Quotations are a potent tool for just those points where you are attributing a contentious claim to an author. They are best used where the reader might disagree or misunderstand.

9. Do not use quotations just to bulk up your paper. You do not need quotations for every point you make.

A succession of long quotations with little or no explanation does not explain the author's views; it merely repeats them. You should explain what you take to be the meaning of each substantial quotation, either before or after quoting it. As a rule of thumb, your discussion of something in your own words should be at least as long as a quotation you use to underscore the same point.

10. Acknowledge sources. Include references to works that you quote, paraphrase, or otherwise reference. This means giving both a citation for the book or article and also referring to specific page numbers or sections as appropriate.

If your thinking is sparked by someone or something else, either include it among the references or in an 'acknowledgements' section at the end of the paper.

11. Be conscious of gendered language. It's the 21st-century. If you use "man" or "mankind" to mean everybody, you'll sound both pompous and sexist. If you make up an example to illustrate a point, it's OK for the person in the example to be "he" --- but if you have two people in your examples, at least consider making one "she".

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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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Pop, pop science 
The science news that my friends link to on Facebook is a mixed bag. Some of it's interesting, but lots of it is either junk or uncritical hype around new results.

There's some great science stuff on YouTube, however.

One great series is the Periodic Table of Videos, filmed by Brady Haran and hosted by Martyn Poliakoff. In addition to interesting tidbits of chemsitry, they put together a playlist which provides a guide to all the elements. Although I've been a fan for a while, this post was prompted by a recent video in which Sir Poliakoff expressed what philosophers would call realism about the periodic table. "What we're interested in is what nature is like," he says, "not how easy it is to draw."

While I'm at it, I'll also recommend Smarter Every Day. The host, Destin Sandlin, is an engineer who does some simple experiments but also finds experts on cool things to interview. His ecclectic interests include archery, animals, space, and what stuff looks like in slow motion. From his most recent video, I learned about devil facial tumor disease and the plight of the Tasmanian devil. Some YouTube slow-motion videos are just staged to be as spectacular, but Destin sets them up to illustrate the process he's filming; his video about tatooing, for example.

A few students from my summer course commented that they'd have preferred to have videos rather than so much reading. Although I don't think that I could use these videos to accomplish anything I use texts for, I do wonder if I could use them to warm students to a topic or get them to reflect on the popularization of science.

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paratodo x 
A while ago, I was contacted by José Gascón about translating forall x. The open license already gave him permission, but he reached out anyway.

A few days ago, he sent me paratodo x. Because of the spacing of the title, I read this as "paradox" at first. Then I had an uncanny moment of not knowing what that "t" was doing in the middle of the word. Finally, I sorted out what I was looking at.

I think this is a cool resource, so I posted a copy at the UAlbany institutional archive. The LaTeX source files are included, so the Spanish edition can take on a life of its own.

Link: paratodo x: Una Introducción a la Lógica Formal

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