Dead letters, arise! 
Our university e-mail is now being contracted out to Microsoft. For no sensible reason, the changeover was made in the middle of the semester. It should have made no difference to me, since I don't actually use the UA mail service. I do have an @albany address, but it forwards elsewhere.

Yet... About a week ago, the forwarding instruction was lost. E-mail to my @fecundity address was still getting through, so I didn't notice a change. Messages sent to @albany just piled up unanswered on the Microsoft server. I discovered this yesterday. Although there is no straightforward way to get the actual messages from the Outlook account onto my computer, I think I've responded to all of them appropriately. And I've given the system a suitable purgative, which should have e-mail forwarding as before.

For anyone who didn't get a response or who got a delayed response because of this - Sorry!

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Happy sixth blogiversary! 
Today marks the end of this blog's year six.

The total content of the blog (just prior to this entry) stood at 116,034 words in 244 entries. Of those, 14,936 words in 41 entries were added in the last year. An decrease from the prior year in number of words for the year, but an increase in number of entries. So... brevity is on the rise.

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Philosophy on the middle ground 
Thinking about 'natural kinds' in the 19th-century has me reading obscure criticisms of Mill. In an 1859 review, James Martineau writes:
The great mass of Mr. Mill's labour has been devoted to what may be termed the middle ground of human thought, below the primary data which reason must assume, and short of the applied science which has practice for its end. At the upper limit shunning the original postulates of all knowledge, and at the lower its concrete results, he has addressed himself to its intermediary processes, and determined the methods for working out derivative but still general truths.

Over the subsequent pages, Martineau sharpens this into the complaint that Mill's work fails as philosophy. He's wrong about that. I like his description of the middle ground, though, and it seems like a fair thing to say about Mill.

It also gestures at what I think general philosophy of science can do well, where it is most successful and most satisfying. There are parallels to be drawn to Robert Merton's conception of the middle range. I will leave such broader musings for some point in the future, when I feel confident enough to draw those threads together.

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Chatter about 'natural kinds' 
I have played around with Google's Ngram Viewer before. It's a tool which graphs the frequency of words or phrases across time.

Lately, I've been thinking about the origins of the phrase 'natural kind'. The phrase became a philosophical term of art in the mid-19th century, to describe a doctrine of John Stuart Mill's. Although Mill never used the phrase 'natural kind', he wrote of real kinds and real categories. John Venn uses the moniker 'natural kinds' for Mill's real kinds,* and by the 1880s there are articles in Mind with titles like "Mill's Natural Kinds."

The phrase seems to fall into disuse, however, and does not return until the mid-20th century. By graphing the frequency of 'natural kind' plotted against the frequency of 'real kind', it's possible to see matters in even sharper relief. The phrase does fall into relative disuse in the period between (say) 1890 and 1965. Somewhat surprisingly, however, Mill's natural kinds so-called do not even create a serious uptick in the use of the phrase. The background level prior to 1860 does not reflect systematic use of 'natural kind' as jargon, but instead just occasions when authors happened to put the two words together.

I am now wondering if I should work this graph into the book somewhere.


* Ian Hacking claims that John Venn coins 'natural kind' in the technical sense but doesn't give any determinate reason for saying so. I can't find any use predating Venn, which corroborates Hacking's version.

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Title bout 
While on sabbatical, I wrote a book about natural kinds. It's now been accepted for publication as one of the inaugural volumes of Palgrave's New Directions in the Philosophy of Science series.

I submitted it with the working title Carving up the world. Referees and editors all insist that it also needs a subtitle, something which makes explicit that it's a book about natural kinds. Several possibilities have been suggested.

Some of the suggestions seem unsatisfactory, but my sense of it has gone fuzzy. So I'm just going to list them and ask you, the reader, to either indicate your favorite or suggest an alternative. Keep in mind that the book is about natural kinds, my account is in some ways original but certainly not unprecedented, and most of the words are spent applying the account to examples.

1. Carving up the world: A New Conception of Natural Kinds

2. Carving up the world: An Essay on Natural Kinds

3. Carving up the world: A Study on Natural Kinds

4. Carving up the world: Hmm... uh... Natural Kinds

5. Carving up the world: Pragmatism, Realism, and Natural Kinds

6. Carving up the world: Pragmatism and Realism about Natural Kinds

7. Carving up the world: How science charts natural kinds

[Here's another one added after the first couple of comments.]

8. Carving up the world: Science and Natural Kinds

[And another.]

9. Carving up the world: Scientific Enquiry and Natural Kinds

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