Bibliometric curios 
Brian Leiter mentions the fun to be had with Google's Ngram Viewer, a webpage that graphs the frequency of words or phrases in books over time. Two interesting comparisons:

"Immanuel Kant" versus "Thomas Reid" in English from 1800 to the present. As one might expect, discussion of Kant increases over time. Perhaps surprisingly, discussion of Reid continues at more or less the same level over the whole period.

"Pragmatism" versus "utilitarianism" from 1900 to the present. Pragmatism gets an initial bump when coined but falls off in the second decade of the century. After about 1920, the two are in lockstep with utilitarianism shadowing pragmatism.

Some niggling: There may be some sample selection bias, because it only counts books that Google has scanned. Also, it is only matching whole phrases; it won't aggregate different forms, such as "C.S. Peirce" and "Charles Sanders Peirce".

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2010 in review, with over three weeks to spare 
It is now a tradition to write a capsule review of the calender year's blogging by taking the first sentence from the first post of every month; cf. 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009. Here it is for 2010.

I: Although there is not consensus about what would make a natural kind natural, most traditional views agree that naturalness is a monadic feature...

II: We often assess claims based on plausibility of style and content.

III: Several undergraduates have come to me recently asking about philosophy grad school.

IV: In my little study of Wikipedia, I initially stumbled on the difference between featured and regular articles.

V: Last week I released a new version of forall x: 1.28.

VI: My paper about the new induction has now appeared on the BJPS website.

VII: Stephen Hawking has been a great science popularizer.

VIII: Janet's blog Adventures in Ethics and Science has moved away from the professional blog collective Scienceblogs to the amateur collective Scientopia.

IX: In this post, I consider the game Puerto Rico as a counterexample to Bernard Suits' definition of game.

X: Being in Pittsburgh has been productive in many ways - although the initial surge of blogging, consisting mostly of meandering thoughts about Bernard Suits, has subsided.

XI: I leave tomorrow for the PSA in Montreal.

XII: A productive synergy of being a visiting fellow at the Center is that most of my social life consists of interacting with other fellows, and so philosophy gets done even in leisure time.

No patterns jump out at me. There is still some rumination on Wikipedia, but not as much as in some previous years. There is some amount of hemming and hawing about logistics, but some actual philosophy going on as well.

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A paradox arises over beer 
A productive synergy of being a visiting fellow at the Center is that most of my social life consists of interacting with other fellows, and so philosophy gets done even in leisure time. Not all of it is serious philosophy, however, as evidenced by the following item that Bert Leuridan and I concocted over pizza and beer.

The Visiting Fellows Paradox


Step one: Note that there are things which are considered to be paradoxes, things which are commonly referred to as the such-and-so paradox, which nevertheless are not paradoxes. As one example, consider the Birthday Paradox: it only takes 23 people for the probability of at least two people having the same birthday to be greater than .5. As another, consider Simpson's Paradox: variables which are positively correlated in each subpopulation of a population p can be negatively correlated in p itself. A common thing to say about such things is that prima facie these are not really paradoxes at all. Rather, they are just surprising facts.

Step two: A paradox arises when a plausible line of reasoning leads to a contradictory conclusion. It is easy to show that the cases described in step one are secunda facie paradoxical. The proof goes like this:

Take one of these so-called paradoxes. Either it is after all a genuine paradox or it is not. If the former disjunct obtains, then the matter is shown. If the latter, its being called `the such-and-so paradox' gives us reason to believe that it is a paradox; yet it is not a paradox, by assumption. Letting P be `this is a paradox', we have a reason to believe P and also to believe not-P. So we have a paradox.

The latter disjunct, in which the commonly-called paradox's not being a paradox produces a paradox, shifts from using to mentioning the original alleged paradox. Rather than showing that the original statement about birthdays was a paradox, for example, it shows that the Birthday Paradox figures in a distinct but derivative paradox. Call this a second-order paradox.

Step three: In the proof above, we derived a paradox by cases. It was either an ordinary, first-order paradox or a meta-level, second-order paradox. In this step, we propose a paradox which does not require the disjunction, one which is exclusively a second-order paradox. We call this the Visiting Fellows Paradox.

We rule out the first disjunct - that it is paradoxical in the usual way - by refusing to explain to you the ordinary, first-order content of the Visiting Fellows Paradox. It is not, however, at all paradoxical on its own. We assure you of that.

The second-order paradox arises from the juxtaposition of reasons for thinking it is a paradox (because it is called one) and reasons for thinking it is not (because of our assurances). We provided our assurances in the previous paragraph, so all that remains is for it to be commonly called a paradox. One natural way to accomplish this is to publish a paper describing the new paradox so-called in a respected, scholarly journal. The success of our construction, and so the Visiting Fellows Paradox actually being a paradox, relies on the paper's being accepted by qualified referees of that scholarly journal. Yet, quite naturally, qualified referees will only accept the paper if it describes an actual paradox.

It follows from this that the authority of philosophers (referees, in this case) allows them to make something a paradox which would otherwise be merely a curiosity. Surely, this is a surprising fact. We decline to give a name to this fact, lest we unwittingly contribute to a further paradox.


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A bad diagnosis [or] Autism implies canism 
The New York Times has an item by Andy Martin which suggests that philosophy and autism are somehow connected. The idea is that "autism can be defined, at one level, by a lack of understanding" and that "given the way humans interact with one another, there is always a potential mystery concealed within the most elementary statement. ... [T]he possibility of misunderstanding lurking at the core of every sentence." Reading Martin unsympathetically, I might reconstruct the line of thought as the following fallacious syllogism:

1. Autism involves not understanding.
2. Philosophy involves not understanding.
3. Therefore, autism is philosophy.

A more sympathetic reconstruction is this: Because of the limitations of language and comprehension, there is always a limit to understanding. Philosophers, especially the ones he mentions, are concerned with this phenomenon. We can never fully understand one another, so (Martin suggests) we are always somewhere along the autism spectrum.

Martin's central example is Wittgenstein, who was certainly a pathological case. He gives the following as an example of Wittgenstein's inability to understand people:
An illustrative true story: he is dying of cancer; it is his birthday; his cheerful landlady comes in and wishes him "Many happy returns, Mr. Wittgenstein"; he snaps back, "There will be no returns."

This is a story about a bitter, dying misanthrope. I find it charming, in a way. Some anecdotes are revealing of a person's character, and there must be space in the world for some people to be bitter misanthropes. For Martin, however, it becomes a symptom Asperger's Syndrome. By diagnosing Wittgenstein's condition, Martin domesticates the uncomfortable Wittgenstein. He suggests that we can understand Wittgenstein as afflicted.

In this respect, however, Martin's own practice overturns his thesis. If understanding is really impossible, then the feeling of familiarity and safety we get by diagnosing someone is just an illusion. If a deep metaphysical fact blocks us from understanding a philosopher by doing philosophy, then doing clinical psychology won't do any better.

Martin also gives the example of Sartre:
Consider, for example, Sartre's classic one-liner, "Hell is other people." Wouldn't autism, with its inherent poverty of affective contact, go some way towards accounting for that?

Ack! The "one-liner" is not just a free-floating bon mot that appears in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. It's the punch-line of the play No Exit, and, in the play, it is not just any other people that are hell. Rather, there are three specific characters who constitute hell for one another. As the characters say explicitly, the problem is that they understand one another too well. Martin's interpretive framework misses the whole point of the play. He misunderstands, not because the metaphysical form of autism as such precludes understanding, but just because he's obsessed with the rubric of 'autism'.

As a footnote: As Carl Sachs points out (in a FaceBook thread) there is also a sexist middle-bit to Martin's rambling article. Martin uses the fact that more men than women are autistic to explain why more men than women have been philosophers. As Carl notes, however, this elides the oppressive politics which have kept women out of academia.

Addendum: Brian Leiter rounds up other excoriating comments about Martin's piece.

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A note on Alice and Paul 
Jender points to "The Royal Society's lost women scientists", an interesting article in today's Guardian by historian Richard Holmes. He mentions, among other people, "Alice Bodington, the fearless Darwinian author of Studies in Evolution."

My curiosity piqued, I searched the web to see if Bodington's Studies was available on-line. The first page of links was mostly to Holmes' article and mirrors of it. A bit further on, there was a mention of Bodington in Philosophy as a science: a synopsis of writings of Dr. Paul Carus. Carus is an american philosopher whose fame is preserved mostly because the Carus Lectures are named for him. The volume that includes abstracts of his entire corpus is available via Google Books; the essay that addresses Bodington is summarized thusly:
In answer to Mrs. Alice Bodington, an agnostic. The nature of our religious ideal is as much predetermined as man's reason...

I'll explicitly mention the irony of dressing down Mrs. Bodington for violating man's reason; I'm heavy handed like that.

To be fair, a different search term eventually turned up excerpts from Bodington's Studies.

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