Contest results 
The Aesthetic for Birds contest, posing the question of whether a band can be its own cover band, is over and judged. I was the judge for the contest, and saw only anonymous entries. I wrote up the results and had Christy insert the names of the winners.

Here's my report.

Crossposted at AfB; if you have comments, make them over there.

* * *

The contest grew out of a conversation between Christy and me about whether musicians adopting different personas might do a cover of a song they had recorded earlier. It would have been easy to get caught up in how to define a 'cover', but we quickly realized that the meatier philosophical question was about the identity conditions of a band. Neither of us have an account of that, so he decided a contest was in order. I agreed to be the judge, so that entries could be judged anonymously.

I expected the entries to fall into two broad categories: No, with general considerations to show that it is impossible for a band to cover itself. Yes, with a thought-experiment scenario in which we can imagine a band becoming its own cover band.

The first strategy calls for a straightforward deduction; something like this:
1. By definition: A cover version is performed by someone other than the original artist.
2. By definition: A cover band of X plays cover versions of X's songs.
3. The original band is the original artist and not someone else.
Therefore, the original band cannot be a cover band.

To my surprise, nobody quite made this argument. In fact, out of 21 entries, only four answered no to the assigned question. (Most answered yes, and one equivocated.)

Several entries presume that the relation 'A covers B' is transitive. All of those entries got set aside, because their assumption is just false. There are two accounts of cover songs in the literature. Kania (2006) argues that the target of a cover version is a thinly-specified song. Magnus, Magnus, and Mag Uidhir (2013) argue that a cover version targets a specific prior version. In neither case is the relation transitive.

Another entry invoked the distinction made by Magnus, Magnus, and Mag Uidhir between mimic and rendition covers. Well played, given who organized the contest and who secretly was going to judge it, but not ultimately persuausive.

Three entries merit honorable mention.

The entry by Roy T. Cook was the cleverest of the no answers. The author defines a perfect cover band and goes on to give a natural deduction proof that it is impossible to know that a band is a perfect cover band of itself. The definition is that "A is a perfect cover band of B" iff we cannot determine whether A and B are the same or distinct. The proof submitted cuts a corner, presuming without mention that knowledge is closed under implication. I mark partial credit.

The entry by Jonathan Weinberg was written in a nice analytic style and posed a schematic scenario for a yes answer:
Suppose band B has sound S1 at t1, and then by t2 their sound evolves to S2. Now suppose by t3 they abandon S2, and pursue a career simply reproducing their t1 songs performed a la S1. Then B at t3 is a cover band of B at t1.

This answer plays nicely with the identity conditions for a band, suggesting that later time slices of a band might be a different band than earlier time slices. A few other entries similarly relied on different time slices of the same band, but this one was clearest. However, as Cristyn pointed out to me as I was mulling over answers, fans don't actually think about bands this way as the bands get older. When a band is forced to play their old hits even though they have moved on musically, we might think it's sad but we don't call them a cover band.

The entry by Jim Hamlyn was the only one written in verse. It poses a yes-answer scenario that is similar to the one in the winning entry, but somewhat less precise. Perhaps imprecision is the price of doggerel.
A band can be a cover band
By a form of exaggeration and
By mocking, shamming or otherwise hamming
Their art as if by another's hand.

Second place goes to the entry by Eric Wiland:
A band can be its own cover band. I'll argue by example. The White Stripes would cover themselves if they were to play all their songs with Jack on drums and Meg singing lead and playing guitar. Interestingly, a solo artist cannot cover herself.

The crucial thing is that Meg played drums in the White Stripes while Jack played guitar and sang lead. We typically identify a band not just by its members but by what each member does in the band. So having everyone trades roles could constitute a different band and allow the same people to constitute a cover band. (I had to look up the lineup of the White Stripes to make sure I understood the crucial thing correctly. Points off for clarity.)

The winner is BP Morton, who wrote:
Sure! Imagine a band that secretly re-unites, pretends to be a cover band of itself, and is taken as such by its new audience. Whether they fess up or not, by posing as a cover band successfully and being taken as one, they have become a cover band of themselves.

The idea plays on an ambiguity of what it is to be the same band: The band in the scenario is the same band in one sense because it has the same members playing the same parts. The band is a new band in another sense because band identity is a social fact, constituted by the members presenting themselves in a certain way and being accepted by the audience. It's even if just being a cover band is a social fact in that sense.

Congratulations to the the winners, but I had fun reading all of the entries. Thanks to Christy for the chance to decide the matter.

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Two papers from late summer 
In the waning days of summer, before the semester started, I finished up two draft papers. I neglected to actually link to them however, an oversight which I now remedy.


How to be a realist about natural kinds
Abstract: Laura Franklin-Hall argues for a nuanced anti-realism about natural kinds. In the course of her argument, she considers the accounts offered by Richard Boyd and me to be alternative anti-realist views. But Boyd and I are both avowed realists about natural kinds. There is an important presupposition hidden in the way that Franklin-Hall poses the problem, namely that a real natural kind must be natural simpliciter. Boyd and I take naturalness to be a relation between a kind and a domain and, because we do not accept a presupposition of the question, are neither realists nor anti-realists in Franklin-Hall's sense. Nevertheless, there is another important sense in which domain-specificity is compatible with realism.


What kind of is-ought gap is there and what kind ought there be?
with Jon Mandle
Abstract: Some philosophers think that there is a gap between is and ought which necessarily makes normative enquiry a different kind of thing than empirical science. We argue that there is no categorical answer as to whether there is or is not. The question of an is-ought gap is practical and strategic matter rather than a logical one, and it might be answered in different ways for different questions or at different times.

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Philosophy contest 
Aesthetics for Birds is holding a philosophy contest for the best 50 words argument answering this question: Can a band be its own cover band? e.g. could Iron Maiden be an Iron Maiden cover band?

The deadline is August 30, which gives you a week and a half to devise your entry. Pacing yourself, you could write as many as 5 words a day.

Update: The contest is now over, and the results are posted.

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The business of philosophy 
I was recently reading an intellectual biography of William James. It quotes from his journals, in the 1870s when he was deciding whether or not to take a position teaching physiology at Harvard.* James writes:
Philosophical activity as a business is not normal for most men, and not for me. ... Of course my deepest interest will, as ever, lie with the most general problems. But ... my strongest moral and intellectual craving is for some stable reality to lean upon...

He elaborates:
The concrete facts in which a biologist's responsibilities lie form a fixed basis from which to aspire as much as he pleases to the mastery of universal questions when the gallant mood is on him.

I am struck by two things.

First, it's interesting that James should characterize philosophy simultaneously as having a business and as being utterly general. To have a business is precisely to be interested in your portfolio rather than in other things.

Second, it highlights the tendency for experienced scientists to make pronouncements on philosophical matters when "the gallant mood" strikes them. It is not uncommon for scientists to do so without any sensitivity to the complexity of the philosophical issues, perhaps while simultaneously announcing that "philosophy" is dead. The excessively gallant scientist is the counterpart of the philosopher who pronounces on matters with proud ignorance of the empirical facts.


Notes:
* Lots of different sources cite different bits of this. Some cite longer stretches, but none the whole passage including all the bits I've quoted here. Because I'm just musing about it, I haven't consulted anything that's not on the internet.

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Hidebound steepness 
Eric Schwitzgebel recently compiled a list of the 267 most-cited contemporary authors in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Eric Schliesser suggests that it might be used as a measure of one's saturation in conventional wisdom by tallying up how many of the authors were once one's teachers. Schliesser reports that he scores 4 and so identifies his "personal Schwitzgebel-SEP-index" as about 1.5% (4/267). Schwitzgebel also scores 4. [1]

I score 4, and there are another 2 who were were faculty at UCSD while I was a grad student but with whom I didn't actually take a course.

Other measures that they suggest are how many of the authors one knows about or for how many one can identify the area of philosophy to which the author most contributed. However, those are measures of propositional knowledge rather than of sociological connection to the discipline. A hermit who reads a lot could score highly.

We might instead tally the number of authors on the list with whom one talked philosophy while one was a student. Let's set the bar low and say that asking the author a question at a public talk counts, but merely seeing the author give a public talk or exchanging pleasantries does not. The well-read hermit would score nullity on this, and so it is perhaps a more interesting sociological metric.

In addition to the 6 UCSD faculty, I score at least another 29 on this measure. [2] A couple were while I was still an undergraduate and a few were at conferences, but most were because the author was a visiting speaker at UCSD. I attended colloquia religiously and participated avidly, so I came close to maxing out the possible score given the opportunities I had. But it reminds me how lucky I was to be at a place where there were those opportunities.

It is well known from science studies that social connections serve to transmit tacit knowledge in important ways, so I am surely a different philosopher than I would have been than if I had been taught the same material in a more isolated place. I think it's a difference for the better, but perhaps it has made me so steeped in orthodoxy that I am a bitter cup of hidebound philosophical tea.

So let's call this measure the SEP-hidebound-steepness score.

My SEP-h-s is 35. I probably won't put that on my business cards.

Notes:
[1] Schliesser writes that there must be somebody who was taught by 25 or more of the philosophers on the list, but I doubt it. One can only take classes with some many different people, and one tends to take classes at only a few institutions before one stops being a student.
[2] The number would be higher still if it included people on the list with whom I've talked philosophy since graduating and becoming a professor. But construing it so that I get the biggest number possible makes it look less like a measure of sociological position and more like bragging.

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