Sounding the scores 
Branden Fitelson points to an article at Physics Central about how students in various disciplines perform on the GRE. The most recent figures have philosophy leading the pack in the Verbal Reasoning and Analytic Writing section. Philosophy comes out behind Math, Physics, Economics and other numbers-heavy fields in the Quantitative section but is ahead of the other humanities.

The article draws a happy conclusion for philosophers: "Philosophy departments focus heavily on logical reasoning and identifying logical fallacies, most likely leading to philosophy students' dominance of the verbal and analytical writing sections."

And that seems right to me. A training in philosophy does seem to help with clear, critical thinking; i.e., things that standardized tests at least try to measure.

A limitation that the article does not note: The figures do not include students who never consider graduate school seriously enough to take the GRE. Since graduate school in philosophy notoriously provides poor prospects career-wise, there is little incentive for students to go on unless they think they will do well. Students in what are perceived to be more remunerative fields may pursue a grad degree in a discipline even if they do not have an aptitude for it.

So GRE scores might reflect greater culling of the herd than other disciplines, and philosophy's supremacy might partly be the result of that sample selection bias.

But, aha! I noticed this problem with the figures because of my background in philosophy. So the discipline can deliver the goods on critical thinking, and it can't all be sample selection.

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Some words about evidence and method 
I wrote in a recent post that I like the kind of book review which "offers a critical view of the issue and situates the book in recent discussions" and which also "treats the book as a bit of philosophy worthy of criticism."

So that's what I was aiming for with my review of Peter Achinstein's new book, published today at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

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The title is a deliberate pun 
I just posted a draft of a second paper on Mill's account natural kinds. In some ways, it picks up where the first one left off.

The first part of the paper is historical, looking at Mill on taxonomy and some of his nineteenth century critics. The second part applies lessons from history to better understand HPCs.

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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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