Slater on planets and mallards 
Matt Slater has written a review of my book for Notre Dame Philosophy Reviews. It's dated 28june, but it went up on their website today.
In his book, P. D. Magnus avoids the mismatch between scientifically significant categories and natural kinds by articulating an account of natural kinds that starts with the categories that figure in scientific enquiry. It's a difficult task to offer an account of a highly contested philosophical concept that is at once utterly novel and deserves to be taken seriously, but I think Magnus has done this. Is his account successful? Ultimately, I am not persuaded -- and I suspect others will balk too -- but I have certainly profited by grappling with his approach.

The review says nice things about my book, but it is also the kind of review I like to read. It isn't just about the book and what the author says in it. Rather, it offers a critical view of the issue and situates the book in recent discussions. It also treats the book as a bit of philosophy worthy of criticism. This contrasts with the veneer of rhetorical objectivity which bad reviews have.

In short: This review talks about what's in my book, informed explicitly by Matt's viewpoint. Matt's not convinced, but he's a stubborn guy.

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Of pixels and pictures 
Last month, I presented a short version of my paper on musical works as historical individuals at our department's annual video conference with philosophers in Russia. My colleague Jason D'Cruz presented a paper about Goodman's distinction between autographic and allographic works, applying the distinction to digital photographs. We got to talking afterwards and, realizing we had common interests, began to collaborate.

The result, so far, is a paper about digital pictures. It's far enough along that today I posted a draft on my website.

Are digital pictures allographic?

Abstract: The short answer to our title question is yes, but of course there are complications along the way.


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Chthonic prose 
I write like
H. P. Lovecraft

I Write Like. Analyze your writing!

According to this silly widget, my academic prose most resembles the writing of HP Lovecraft. It was he, not I, who wrote:
The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

I tested the widget's algorithm for robustness. It thought I was Lovecraftian more often than not, but it sometimes said Edgar Allen Poe instead. My blog posts about the internet it unfailingly compared to Cory Doctorow, and my posts about planets to Arthur C. Clark.

So the widget is a bit wobbly. It identifies the paragraph above (which is from the beginning of Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu) as being from Lovecraft. If asked to say something about the first three paragraphs of The Call of Cthulhu altogether, however, the widget indicates that it is in the style of Arthur C Clark.

This can be taken as harmless fun, but perhaps it suggests the deep and disturbing fact that my prose is precisely as much like Lovecraft's as Lovecraft's own prose. It is as if my literary output is just the continuation of his corpus.


...or perhaps...


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Can't keep a Goodman down 
I've been thinking lately about Nelson Goodman's distinction between autographic and allographic art forms. I'll recap the distinction briefly, then blog something trivial about it!

For autographic forms like painting and print-making, the only way of characterizing what counts as an instance of a particular work is by reference to its history. For example: A painting counts as the work that it is because it was painted thusly by such-and-so painter. A woodcut print counts as the work that it is because it was produced from a particular woodcut block. A sculpture counts as the work that it is because it is chiseled thusly by such-and-so sculptor (for marble statues) or because it is cast from a mold which has the right kind of history (for a bronze statue).

For allographic forms like literature and music, we can specify formally what would count as an instance of a particular works. So there is a sense at least in which we can identify an instance without considering its history. For example: A poem can be characterized by words, punctuation, and line breaks. A traditional musical work can be characterized by notes.

Goodman suggests that all art forms begin as autographic. They can become allographic when a suitable notation is developed. Moreover, he conjectures that this will only happen under specific circumstances. He writes, "Amenability to notation depends upon a precedent practice that develops only if works of the art in question are commonly either ephemeral or not producible by one person."*

So I was reading about Nathan Sawaya's Lego sculptures. They are built out of Lego bricks, and the assembly of Lego bricks is readily expressible in a precise notation.** So, unlike marble or bronze statues, these are allographic works.

Note that the Lego sculptures are neither ephemeral nor are they team projects, making them a counterexample to Goodman's claim (which I quoted above). They are amenable to notation because they use Lego bricks, and Lego bricks are amenable notation because they were originally designed as a childrens' toy.

To gesture at the bigger picture, I think it is helpful to tease apart the autographic/allographic distinction from more specific things Goodman said about it. And I think he was right to draw the distinction.

More on that later. I'll post a draft eventually.

* Languages of Art, pages 121-2
** Some of the sculptures involve Lego bricks scattered about in imprecise ways, and that can't be fully notated. My point only applies to the sculptures in which the bricks are all snapped together.

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The professional bullet points 
A moment ago, I posted an up-to-date version of my CV on my website.

I struggle to include as much information as possible while still making the document usable. I've tweaked the formatting a bit for the PDF version. Articles and presentations are now numbered lists, but numbered in reverse because they are in reverse chronological order. Articles are all listed together, with small letters indicating features like whether they were invited or refereed.

Preening my CV is something I do, now and again. I'm not sure that the changes always make it better, but they make keeping the document up-to-date not-to-stultifying.

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