Open fire 
At the Creative Commons blog, there's discussion of a recent report by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund about the the impact of expensive textbooks. It documents something I had observed anecdotally in my own classes, that lots of students decide not to buy textbooks because of the cost and that their performance in classes suffers for it.

I agree with the core of the findings and with the sentiment that open textbooks are a good thing, but there is one aspect that's worrisome.

The study includes this factoid: "82% of students felt they would do significantly better in a course if the textbook was available free online and buying a hard copy was optional. This is exactly how open textbooks are designed."

It does not surprise me to learn that this is what many students feel. However, we know that students do not relate to text on screen in the same way they relate to text on paper. It is harder to read actively and mark up a text on screen; in some contexts, it is simply impossible. Although a free online version is an improvement on an expensive hard copy that they refuse to buy, an affordable hard copy which they buy or print would be even better.

As tablets and e-readers proliferate, this may change, but it would be premature to pretend we are already in that brave digital future.

My own book, forall x, is not designed for online consumption. It is intended to be used as a hard copy, and on line distribution is a way for people to freely get the print-ready files. I use electronic resources similarly in other courses. In history of philosophy, for example, it's a way of cutting out the margin that book publishers and the bookstore would add to public domain material. So the report conflates open access versus commercial books (whether there are license fees or not) with online versus hardcopy (how the student interacts with the content).

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The old Mill run 
The standard account, framed by Ian Hacking and promulgated by almost everyone, is that "natural kind" as a philosophical category goes back to Whewell and Mill in the 19th century. I debunk that account in a paper which has just been published in the The Journal of the History of Analytic Philosophy.

Link: No Grist for Mill on Natural Kinds

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There's a reason they call that guy "Hacker" 
Following a link from Brian Leiter's blog, I happened upon an article in which Peter Hacker defends an old-school conception of philosophy.

As Hacker sees it, there are two things that philosophers might be doing:

The first is metaphysics, enquiry into "the essential, necessary features of all possible worlds."

The second is a priori conceptual investigation, "investigations into what makes sense and what does not."

On the former conception, metaphysics is supposed to be like the sciences in producing facts and findings. The difference is just in whether the findings are necessary (metaphysics) or contingent (empirical science). Yet, Hacker asks, where are the established results of metaphysics? All philosophers have to show for millennia of work is controversy and paradox.

So Hacker advocates the latter conception, on which there are no substantive facts to be gleaned from philosophy at all. Rather, what one learns is that some would-be facts turn out to be nonsense. Yet, I ask, where are the pseudoproblems condemned forever to the dustbin? All philosophers of Hackers' stripe have to show for centuries of work is disagreement and dismissive hand waving.

Hacker's disjunction is plausibly associated with analytic philosophy so called. Claiming that would-be problems are dissolved by criteria of meaning was the method shared by logical positivists and Wittgensteinians, and conceptual analysis is perhaps what gives us the term 'analytic'. And the conception of metaphysics as fundamental ontology and the science of necessity is typically billed as 'analytic metaphysics'.

My rejection of the disjunction is one reason I do not self-identify as an analytic philosopher.

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Collaboration in the key of d-cog 
In the early days of this blog, I wrote a paper about distributed cognition in which I made use of earlier work by my colleague Ron McClamrock. Today I posted a draft, this time coauthored with Ron, which extends the earlier work.

The new paper: Friends with benefi ts! Hooking up the cognitive with the social

Abstract: One approach to science treats it as a cognitive accomplishment of individuals and so defines a scientific community as an aggregate of individual enquirers. Another treats science as a fundamentally collective endeavor and so defines a scientist as a member of a scientific community. Distributed cognition has been offered as a framework to reconcile these two approaches. Adam Toon has recently posed objections to this would-be rapprochement. We clarify both the animosity and the tonic proposed to resolve it, ultimately arguing that that worries raised by Toon and others are uncompelling.

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A short item on natural kinds 
One of the papers I was working on when I looked for places to send short papers has been accepted at Phil. Quarterly. I argue that the homeostatic property cluster account shouldn't be taken to define natural kinds, despite common misreadings which take it to do so.

Even the title is short: NK≠HPC

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