Wee-key-pedia guilt 
I have been working on a draft of 'Epistemology and the Wikipedia', a paper which I am going to present next month at the NA-CAP conference. In researching the paper, I have occasionally been struck by an interesting phenomenon. Let's call it Wikipedia Guilt.

The premise of the Wikipedia is that the community will extend and correct it. This is underscored by the rhetoric of Wikipedia's champions. "If you don't like an entry," they say, "write a better one." When I encounter an entry that is shot through with errors, I could do something about it. Often, I do not because-- although I can recognize an article as bunkum-- I lack expertise to replace it with anything authoritative. Yet in researching the paper, I have not even made changes to the entries on philosophical topics that I know a lot about. Although I can rationalize this as critical distance, complaining about solecisms is also a variety of Bad Faith: The entries are hokum partly because I tolerate their persisting as hokum.

To be frank, I try to avoid the Wikipedia when I am not wearing my critical epistemology hat. Nevertheless, I recently succumbed to pangs Wikipedia Guilt and rewrote an entry. This is how it happened:

Cristyn and I were discussing the phrase church key. To me, the canonical church key is made from a single piece of metal with a can punch on one end and a bottle opener on the other. Cristyn was unsure why such a gizmo should be called a church key, except derivatively from earlier gizmos that had looked more like keys.

My first stop for etymology is always the OED, but it just defines 'church-key' as 'the key of the church-door.' No help. On to the web.

Among other pages, my search turned up the Wikipedia entry. This is what it said:
In Medieval Europe, Monks and Nobility were the only brewers. Lagering Cellars in the Monasteries were locked, as the Monks guarded the secrets to their craft. The monks carried keys to these lagering cellars on their cinch - or belts. It was this key from which the "Church Key" opener gets its name.
: Source: Anheuser-Busch Knowledge Base; Internal Dbase
This is a nice story, with an ersatz citation to give it some gravitas. It is almost certainly apocryphal, however, even if the citation is legitimate. The History of the entry revealed that it had been written recently, completely overwriting a more modest entry that merely described what church keys are. This bit of verbal flotsam does not even bother with description; it is all about the bogus etymology.

Feeling a twinge of guilt, I wrote a new entry. Because, you know, I am now an authority on this kind of crap.

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forall x, truth and satisfaction 
Aaron Schiller used forall x for a course he taught in the Spring. A few weeks ago, I had coffee with him and discussed it. He pointed to two weak spots in the chapter on formal semantics, and also relayed his students' desire for more solved problems in the proofs chapter.

These comments jibed with my experience, so I made some changes to the book. I rewrote the section on reasoning about all possible models, breaking it into two parts. I also rewrote the section on truth in QL and the definition of satisfaction. I added two problem sets with solutions to the proofs chapter.

The new version (1.2) is now on-line in several formats. This is the version I will be teaching with in the Fall.

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Any publication you can walk away from is a good publication 
As I have mentioned before, I had a summer job in graduate school working with Mike Kalichman on The Responsible Conduct of Research website. After I left, I was credited as a coauthor.

Having just googled my own name, I notice that the whole thing is being reprinted as a serial in the newsletter of the Program in Research Integrity Education at the University of Arizona. The newsletter is subtitled "A Federally Mandated Compliance Education Program," which makes me wonder if anyone actually reads it. You know, as opposed to keeping it around as a kind of federally-mandated talisman.

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Dear Jay, more about natural kinds 
Jay Odenbaugh wrote a provocative reply to my last post on realism. I was going to leave a short reply in the comments, but it ran long.

Reply to Jay

As I understand Jay's reply, LIZ (lizard front ends) might be a legitimate kind. Yet Jay wants to resist accepting any artibrary set as a kind; he gives the example of the members of the set {Jay's nose, Michael Keaton, Eiffel Tower}. Call this would-be-kind jayskind. He suggests two criteria that might be used to bar such a monster.

(1) Non-circularity

jayskind is not a kind, because the feature that distinguishes members of the set is just that something be a member of the given set.

Yet the items in the things might also be described as things featured in Jay's example; so he adds:

(2) Mind-independence

jayskind is not a kind, because the fact that the members figure in an example is just the result of his deciding that they should.

I do not think mind-independence can be settled so easily. Frog food is a natural kind because it is picked out from the environment by frogs. Although it is a frog-dependent kind, it counts as a natural kind in biological study of frogs. Thorough-going naturalism allows for a scientific study of philosophers. Although jayskind isn't an especially important kind, it is only Jay-dependent in the way that frog food is frog-dependent. Now that he has given it as an example, he cannot change what counts as a member of that set just by thinking a different thought about it.

Jay and I began discussing these issues at the last PSA, and we had the good fortune of having Dick Boyd join the conversation; the frog food example is Boyd's. If I recall Boyd's position correctly, he avoids counting collections like jayskind as a natural by only counting something as a real kind if it appears in some actual enquiry. No one has done a sociological study of the Magnus-Odenbaugh correspondence, and no one will. So jayskind is not a real kind. This embraces the first horn of the dilemma that I posed a while back: Kinds that now appear in our science were not real ones prior to the science in which they appeared. This is at least somewhat odd.

(3) Intension

I thought up this further criterion, which is akin to non-circularity. In Jay's example, there are three things that are members of this would-be kind. Because the extension of the set is stipulated, further members of the kind are precluded. Yet scientific kinds are not like this. They are open ended. Although we think that there are eight (or nine) planets in our solar system, one natural moon orbiting Earth, and zero golden mountains, these numbers are contingent. Nothing about the categories themselves determines the numbers to be 8, 1, or 0.

We can bar monsters like jayskind by insisting that there be more to natural kinds than simply a stipulated extension. Natural kinds have intensions, too. This requires (contra Quine) that there be intensions, but that is not asking too much of our philosophy of language.

Alas, this criterion will probably not be enough for Jay. Although jayskind does not count as a natural kind, things featured in Jay's example still does; and the latter is extensionally equivalent to the former.

'Natural Kind' as a relation

A different way of understanding Boyd's suggestion is this: Being a natural kind is not a second-order property that obtains of a predicate. Rather it is a relation between a predicate and a specified enquiry. "Frog food is a natural kind" must be elliptical for something like "Frog food is a natural kind for biology."

Although we might say that jayskind is a natural kind for the micro-sociology of the Magnus-Odenbaugh correspondence, that seems less brazen than saying that it is a natural kind simpliciter. It is certainly not a natural kind for physics, ecology, pharmacy, gastronomy, or any other interesting area of enquiry.

This would also allow us to distinguish between categories that are natural kinds for some actual enquiry and ones that are natural kinds for some possible enquiry. We would just need quantifiers and predicates that distinguish on kind of enquiry from another. We can say that electron was a natural kind for particle physics even before electrons were discovered; it was the existence of physics that changed, rather than the existence of the kind electron.

How about it, Jay?

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Great scot, Holmes! That was meant for us. 
Here is a puzzle about the interpretation of ficition. As I have discussed elsewhere, I recently discovered an oddity in the Sherlock Holmes story The Adventure of the Dancing Men. Holmes inspects the scene of the crime and finds a spent shell casing in the flower bed. "I thought so," he says. "The revolver had an ejector, and here is the third cartridge."

Revolvers, unlike semi-automatic pistols, do not eject shell casings when they fire. The ejector is a manual mechanism that is used when the revolver is emptied and reloaded; an ejector makes emptying easier, but it is of course possible to empty a revolver that does not have an ejector. So why is there a shell casing in the flower bed, and why does Holmes say that the revolver's having an ejector made a whit of difference as to whether the gunman left a shell behind?

My interpretation of this passage is that Conan Doyle either did not understand how ejectors work or made a careless mistake. Call this the Authorial Blunder interpretation. The demerit of my interpretation is that it refuses to take the story seriously as a story. When we interpret fiction, we try to figure of what sort of world the story describes. My interpretation refuses to say what sort of worlds Holmes-worlds are, because it gives an explanation in terms of facts about the author rather than facts about Holmes.

If we try to interpret the story while explaining the puzzle of the cylinder in the flower bed, what are our options? Some authors say that the gunman crouched down in the flower bed after firing the fatal shot, emptied his pistol, and reloaded. Call these Reload interpretations. These require either that the gunman was obsessive compulsive (so that he felt the need to reload even though he had five bullets left in his gun) or that he was carrying a single-shot pistol (rather than a revolver, as Holmes suggests). Moreover, Reload interpretations do not explain why Holmes' mentioning the ejector is anything but a non sequitur. The relevant thing to have said would have been: "I thought so. The gunman reloaded."

Since the Holmes stories are presented as Doctor Watson's recounting the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, we could say that Watson misreported Holmes' utterance. Call this a False Watson interpretation. According to such an interpretation, there are many different Holmes-worlds in which Holmes says something a propos of finding the cartridge; in all of them, Watson misreports Holmes' utterance as the one given in the story. This maneuver seems too slick. First, it opens the way for Holmes-worlds in which Watson makes up all the details of the stories. Second, there is no interpretive payoff. The stories are no richer if we attach an explicit "or so Watson says" to every sentence in them. Third, we are left wondering why Watson misreported Holmes' utterance. If it was a blunder on Watson's part, then False Watson is just a variant of Authorial Blunder.

There is another option: Given that Holmes said what he said and that Holmes is clever, then the revolver's having an ejector must be relevant to the cartridge's being in the flower bed. This would all make sense if revolvers kicked out spent cartridges in Holmes-worlds, much in the way that rifles and semi-automatic pistols do in the actual world. Watson would not remark on such a fact, because it would be perfectly ordinary in his world. This interpretation solves the problem at hand without any of the problems that faced Reload and False Watson. Call this the Alternate Revolvers interpretation.*

I find this final interpretation wholly unappealing. I presume that Conan Doyle intended for Holmes-worlds to be like the actual world. He meant for there to be differences, like the existence of a brilliant detective at 221B Baker Street, but he did not intend far-reaching and subtle differences like this one. If revolvers are different in Holmes-worlds, it was due to a mistake by Conan Doyle.

As such, Alternate Revolvers must agree with Authorial Blunder that Conan Doyle goofed.** Conan Doyle's goof does not make the story incoherent, and so we can still ask what Holmes-worlds must be like. Alternate Revolvers does this, plowing ahead to consider revolvers and ejectors in Holmes-worlds. Thus, it continues to take the narrative seriously as a story. Authorial Blunder refuses to do so. It uses the goof as a reason to overlook this passage when thinking what Holmes-worlds must be like. Is my resistance to Alternate Revolvers just an instance of the Problem of Imaginative Resistance?

* The Alternate Revolvers interpretation might be weakened so as to describe some Holmes-worlds. Other interpretations, like the Reload interpretations, might be true in some other Holmes-worlds.

** One might use this as part of an argument for Authorial Blunder on grounds of parsimony. If we use Ockham's razor to shave off the revolver's ejector, however, we might just as well use it to shave off the whole discussion of Holmes-worlds. In the actual world, there are just words on a page.

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