Mill still and again 
My second paper on JS Mill and natural kinds was written with the working title "Let a Millian flower bloom". Ultimately, I decided that it needed a more informative title. So it will be presented under another a title and published under a third.

I'll be giving a version as a talk at the PSA in November under the title "What the 19th century knew about natural kinds and the 20th forgot".

And the fully developed paper has been accepted for publication in HOPOS under the title "John Stuart Mill on taxonomy and natural kinds".

A late-stage draft is available on my website.

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What I said in Paris, more or less 
The talk I gave in France a few months ago was mostly a paper, but there were parts I hadn't written out. I had bullet points where I was saying things I've shown in other papers or in my book, because I could talk those through just fine without scripting them precisely.

I finally got around to filling in those lacunae, and today I posted a draft.

I am sure there are places where I should say more in order to be clear, but I am not sure where they are. If I elaborated on every point where I could say more, it would recapitulate most of my prior work. So, if you take a look, I'd be glad to hear which parts seem to go by too quickly.

Link: Taxonomy, ontology, and causation

Abstract: When we ask what natural kinds are, there are two different things we might have in mind. The first, which I'll call the taxonomy question, is what distinguishes a category which is a natural kind from an arbitrary class. The second, which I'll call the ontology question, is what manner of stuff there is that realizes the category. When causal accounts of natural kinds are assessed without clearly distinguishing these two questions, they fare poorly. The reason is that causal structure only provides an answer to the ontology question, it does so for many but not all natural kinds, and even where it applies it provides some importantly different kinds of answers. This confusion occurs when philosophers take John Stuart Mill's Kinds to be predecessors of our natural kinds, because it ignores Mill's equal commitment to what he calls natural groups as the right categories for scientific taxonomy. It occurs, too, when philosophers take homeostatic property cluster (HPC) accounts as a candidate definition for `natural kind', because being an HPC is neither necessary nor sufficient for being a natural kind. So we should think of causal accounts as just partial answers to the ontology question. I argue that most philosophers have systematically failed to distinguish these questions but that making doing so would offer several advantages.

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Referee calls foul 
In discussions of peer review, somebody always mentions referees searching the internet to suss out who the author is. There is disagreement about how common this is. Inevitably, somebody recounts rumours about scholars who do this before even reading a paper they've been asked to review, and everybody involved in the conversation mumbles and swears that they never do it.

I do not know how common the search-before-reading approach to refereeing is. I also don't know how pernicious it really is, although the phenomenon of implicit bias suggests that it's probably more pernicious than one would think.

Regardless, it is clearly a perversion of blind peer review. The process is constructed precisely so that the referee can read the paper without knowing the identity of the author.*

So imagine my surprise when I was invited to referee a paper, I logged into Editorial Manager, and one of the Action Links was to do a Google Scholar Title Search. This was the option right below View Submission, which is what I had to select to download a PDF of the paper. So the submission management website gave me a quick link for the search-before-reading approach and made it salient by putting it somewhere I was likely to see it.**


* Sometimes anonymity breaks down, because the referee already knows the work (from a conference, say) or has a good guess who the author is (because the work extends the author's earlier work or is written in a distinctive style). I think that a referee has an obligation to let the editor know about the breakdown in anonymity, and the editor can decide how to proceed. Sometimes it makes sense to use the referee's report anyway.
** Actually I had already downloaded the PDF, because there was also a direct link in the invitation to referee the paper. But I only followed that link first, rather than the link to Editorial Manager, because I wanted to take a look at the paper before agreeing to referee it. In a different mood, I might have followed the agree link first.

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Rationing rationality 
I wish I had read Rogier De Langhe's A Unified Model of the Division of Cognitive Labor a while ago.

I recently submitted the final draft of Science and rationality for one and all, my paper on reconciling individual and collective rationality. Referees had worried that I was misrepresenting what philosophers of science thought about the relation between the two.

In a passage I would have quoted in my paper if I had read it earlier this year, De Langhe nicely lays out the way that the matter is usually understood: "The fundamental normative question when dividing cognitive labor is to what extent agents ought to take into account the actions of others. This question typically reduces to the specification of a normative balance between the rational and the social: 'leaders' choose that theory which they deem intrinsically superior, and 'followers' choose that theory which others choose." Looking for a balance between the rational and the social presumes that they are two competing standards, and the thought that leaders respond to the intrinsically superior theory suggests that they are the genuinely rational ones.

In his analysis, De Langhe defuses the tension. He allows the space of possible theories to be dynamic, so that scientists might either accept the available theory that looks best or search for a better one. He writes that this "makes it possible to shift the question instead to finding a normative balance between the actual and the possible: 'exploiters' exploit existing theories, and 'explorers' explore new theories."

In conclusion, he writes, "adoption and production pull in opposite directions." (Once I write it out, this is perhaps just what Kuhn called the essential tension in science. Kitcher was explicitly inspired by Kuhn, but De Langhe's model improves on Kitcher's in capturing that idea.)

For my purposes, it is important to add that there is no neutral way to determine the importance of exploiting and of exploring. Both reflect personal and social values.

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Rayo on logical space 
Over at NDPR, there is an interesting review by Cian Dorr of Augustin Rayo's The Construction of Logical Space

Rayo argues that the structure of logical space depends on practical considerations about which system would best support the enquiry that querists want to do. Logical space is primarily characterized by claims of the form "PHI just is PSI", which can be glossed as "Necessarily, PHI iff PSI". Dorr focusses on applications in philosophy of math. For example, by saying the "For the number of hands I have to be two just is for me to have exactly two hands", one can embrace talk about the number two without accepting TWO as a full-blooded thing. This Trivialist Platonism steers between the dire reefs of nominalism and the dread monster of substantive Platonism.

Dorr worries that trying to apply the strategy to cases in natural science stretches it thin enough to reveal its absurdity. However, Rayo does consider scientific examples: both real examples (like "heat just is mean kinetic energy" and "to be a species just is to be a maximal group of interbreeding organisms") and toy examples (like a chemist who thinks that part of what it is to be water is to be composed of hydrogen and oxygen versus a crank who thinks water can sometimes be made of gold).

Accepting a 'just is' sentence exacts costs and offers benefits. Rayo writes (and Dorr quotes), "The cost... is a decrease in the range of theoretical resources one has at one's disposal. ... The benefit... is that one is relieved from the need to answer certain questions. ... And the relevant questions can be very awkward indeed: they don't lend themselves to satisfying answers from the perspective of one's current theorizing, and extensions of one's theorizing that might deliver better answers seem ad hoc." This is rather like Carnap's picture of metaphysics, on which we accept frameworks for pragmatic reasons; Rayo's addition is to limn the structure of a framework with the 'just is' sentences that it accepts.

The identical rivals response to underdetermination fits nicely into Rayo's framework. Scientists begin with what seem to be to distinct theories. The rivalry between them is dissolved by positing that any state of affairs described in one theory just is a state of affairs described in the other, that the difference is one of representational form rather than substantive disagreement. Greg Frost-Arnold and I argue that this move was crucial in twentieth-century physics. Considering a magnet moving relative to a conductor and a conductor moving relative to a magnet, one might distinguish a moving magnet generating an electric field (in the first case) from an electromotive force arising the conductor (in the latter). Einstein's key move is to deny that there is any different. The first just is the second, described from a different frame of reference.

Greg and I argue that this is more a strategic move than a discovery. The case of quantum mechanics illustrates this more clearly. In the late 1920s, Schrödinger's wave mechanics Heisenberg's matrix mechanics were prima facie incompatible. Yet they agreed in application, and physicists took them to be describing the same state of affairs. The decision to develop the theories in that way led to von Neumann offering a more general framework which subsumed both. There is an alternate outcome which was compatible with everything that physicists knew in the 20s. To put it in Rayo's terms, the conception of logical space that physicists accepted could have been unable to fruitfully support enquiry. The formal differences in the details between waves and matrixes might have mattered in application.

So (I think) natural science provides other nice illustrations rather than refutations of Rayo's claims.

Dorr concludes by both endorsing and attributing to Rayo the view that "in metaphysics the most important work is often done, not in arguing for a claim or defending it against objections, but simply in getting it onto the table in such a way that we can understand it and appreciate its appeal." However, this strikes me as being most sensible given Rayo's Carnapian sensibilities. Making a picture comprehensible allows us to see what it would mean to use it, to use it experimentally, and to reckon its costs and benefits.

The Construction of Logical Space, Rayo's book
Dorr's review at NDPR
The Identical Rivals Response to Underdetermination, my paper with Greg Frost-Arnold

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