Incommensurable numbering 
I'm teaching an undergrad course on scientific revolutions this term. The central pivot, naturally, is Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

There is a new, fourth edition of Structure. It's just called the "50th Anniversary Edition" on the cover, and it boasts an index and an introductory essay by Ian Hacking. Hacking writes, sensibly, that readers should skip his essay.

The new edition is typeset in a smaller font. Aesthetics and readability aside, this means that the pagination is different from prior editions by just a little bit. This means that I won't be able to teach from the copy I've owned since the mid-1990s, the one that I've carefully annotated marks and marginalia.

What's worse is that nobody will ever be able to cite Kuhn in a sensible way ever again. Any good edition of Descartes, Hume, or Kant (for example) has marginal page numbers which correspond to what's taken to be the canonical edition. Now there simply is no canonical edition of Kuhn. Scholars will cite one or the other willy-nilly. It will be within a few pages of right either way, but not quite. The 'not quite' means that it will never be entirely clear what to do when citing Kuhn.

Why did University of Chicago Press do this?

It's not about length. They're about the same, with the new edition ending on page 208 and the old one ending on page 210.

It might be about design. Because the pagination is not too far from older copies, marginal page numbers would be odd.

It might also be commercial. Everybody has to buy a new copy now.

Still! Argh.

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Birds and fishes 
In my recent Birds post, I wrote that my only proper background in philosophy of art was a seminar I took during my first year of grad school. That isn't quite right.

When I was an undergraduate, I TAed for the introductory philosophy course. The second year, the semester was evenly divided into units on business ethics, aesthetics, and logic. This was decided at the last minute, so students in the Fall semester came in expecting a more traditional survey of topics and got this off trifecta. Many were angry.

One student actually liked the new curriculum. He was an older guy who had come back to college after a career as a commercial artist. If I recall correctly, he asked for one of the original drawings from the daily cartoon that I drew for the campus paper. He traded me a print he had done a few years earlier, "Three Fished in Four Frames". I have it hanging on the wall of my office.

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My chair, my shelf, my desk 
I am becoming department chair presently, so the outgoing chair and I have been swapping offices for the past week. I had managed to accumulate a considerable amount of clutter in the years that I was in my old office.

The move gave me the opportunity to decrease the local information entropy. My books are now alphabetized by author, which replaces the clusters-by-topic approach that I had used ever since grad school. When I consulted books regularly, my memory could get me close enough that visual inspection would lead me the rest of the way. Now there are books that I haven't thought about in more than fifteen years, and the memory of them is less lively. The alphabet sorts everyone. The downside is that I no longer have historical figures arranged in any chronological or geographic patterns.

The move has also given me a chance to file some old papers and the nerve to throw away a lot others. For the first time, probably the first time ever, I don't have a stack of miscellaneous notes and ideas on my desk or on a shelf next to it.

I expect this pristine condition to last at least until tomorrow.

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Guest post for birds 
Christy Mag Uidhir recently started a blog about philosophy of art called Aesthetics For Birds. The title is a riff on a quotation from Barnett Newman, "Aesthetics is for the artist as Ornithology is for the birds."

I'm reminded of the quip often attributed to Richard P. Feynman: "Philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds." I'm not sure whether Feynman said it (if he said it at all) before or after 1952, when Barnett Newman made the parallel crack about aesthetics. I'm not sure why Newman and Feynman held ornithology in such low esteem, either. Birds are interesting, and the study of them is a worthy enquiry. I'm enough of a generalist to think that's true about most things.

Today, Christy published a guest post by me: How I came to be interested in interesting things

UPDATE: John Wilkins and Malte Ebach, in their forthcoming The nature of classification, suggest that the ersatz Feynman was probably actually by either Steven Weinberg or someone summarizing Weinberg and that it's a reuse of the earlier Newman bon mot.

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No cause for alarm 
I just read Bradford Skow's Are There Non-Causal Explanations (of Particular Events)?, which is due to be published in BJPS. His thesis, in short, is that No, there are not.*

In dealing with the last of several examples, Skow concludes:
I do not think we have a non-causal explanation here. ... The mathematical theorem tells us that E was unpreventable: nothing, not even changes to prior conditions that broke the laws of nature (if changes of that sort even make sense), could have produced any alternative to E.

The example is one from Mark Colyvan involving the Borsuk-Ulam theorem,** but Skow's reply generalizes to a simpler example. Let E be the event that at the instant the faculty meeting convened, no department member was both present and absent. The explanation for E is that absent means "not present" and the law of non-contradiction applies. This seems to me to be a non-causal explanation if ever there were one. However, since it shows that E is unpreventable in that no prior conditions could have made one of the department members both present and absent just at that moment, on Skow's reasoning (replacing 'mathematical' with 'logical') it is a causal explanation.

This example shows that the work of the article is done by a voracious sense of "causal explanation". Skow considers but rejects two narrower definitions, starting with
T1: A body of fact causally explains E iff it identifies a cause of E.

He provides two arguments against it.

First, "if some event, E, is uncaused then the fact that it is uncaused causally explains why it occurred."

This seems odd to me. I am inclined to say that E's being uncaused shows that there is no causal explanation for E. So noting that E is uncaused gives as much causal explanation as it is possible to give: namely, none. But silently getting up to make a cup of tea also gives as much causal explanation as it is possible to give, because it gives no explanation.

[E]ven if some event, E, has causes, a body of fact need not identify any of them in order to explain E. Suppose that a window breaks, and that Huey, Dewey, and Louie were the only three around who might have thrown a rock at it. The fact that Dewey did not throw a rock but one of the other two did constitutes causal-explanatory information. But it does not identify the actual cause; it merely rules out one possible cause. Now, maybe a complete causal explanation of the window’s breaking must say who threw the rock. But we should allow a body of facts to constitute a partial causal explanation even if it does not constitute a complete causal explanation.

Again, odd. I am inclined to say that Dewey's not throwing the rock only provides some causal explanation along with the background assumption that one of the three must have done it, but then it does so by underwriting an inference to the fact that either Huey or Louie did it. The background assumption is itself a rather indefinite causal explanation (One of the three of them did it) and Dewey's innocence allows us to arrive at a more definite explanation (One of the remaining two did it).

If Dewey's not breaking the window is a causal explanation just on its own, then Pierre's not breaking the window is also a causal explanation. Pierre was never a suspect, you say? Perhaps not before, but now he has been exonerated. His lack of guilt raises itself as nothingness on the ground of the nihilation of the window.

Trivial examples multiply: My not shooting JFK causally explains why he is dead! and so on.

So I am inclined to think that T1 is the right way to characterize causal explanation and that Skow secures his 'No' answer against counterexamples by a highly revisionary broadening of what counts as causal explanation.

* This is me being glib. His thesis is actually the more cautious claim that every alleged example of non-causal particular explanation fails.
** Quoting Skow, the example is: "Right now there are two points, p and q, on the earth that (i) are antipodal (opposite one another); and (ii) have the same temperature and atmospheric pressure." Skow considers the reply that this isn't an event at all, and a similar reply could be given to my example. My intuitions about the ontology of events are not robust enough to shoulder such a move.

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