“I say, Holmes, how did you know that the crucial evidence would be in the galley of the yacht?”
“It was an elementary inference, Watson. As you were so quick to point out, the locked room showed that the murderer could not possibly have committed the crime and escaped. Yet the body of the victim and the absence of murderer showed that they had done so. I was puzzled until I remembered that everything follows from a contradiction, and this allowed me to conclude that the crucial evidence would be wherever I looked.”
“I see,” I said, although I really did not see. “But why the galley of the yacht?”
Holmes looked at me as if I were missing the obvious. “Because I was hungry. If I could find the evidence anywhere, then I might as well find it somewhere I could also make a sandwich.”
“Right then! But what about relevance constraints on logical consequence?”
“Watson, you disappoint me. If there were relevance constraints on consequence, then I could not have solved the crime. I did, so there are not.”
Then I realized that I, too, could derive anything from the contradiction Holmes had exploited. So Holmes conceded that I was clever, poured me a cup of tea, and left me alone for the rest of the afternoon.
I’ve been thinking a lot about cover versions lately. A cover is typically the same song as the original version. Even if the words are changed a little, the broader meaning is the same. An example I’ve used before is Willie Nelson’s cover of Paul Simon’s “Graceland.” Where Simon sings about “a girl from New York City”, Nelson makes it “a girl from Austin Texas.”
Yet there are also cases in which the very same lyrics can mean something different, because of a change in who sings them. Consider some examples.
For a while I had the minimal goal of writing at least one post every month, but I’ve failed at that for a couple of years now. The new goal is just to blog at least every once in a while, so that it doesn’t become moribund.
Last year I wrote 43 entries that totaled to over 15K words. As you can see below, that’s middling output. I have the sense that I wrote more about teaching this year than in previous years, because the shift on-line forced me to be more reflective about pedagogy.
I’ve been thinking about allusion recently, specifically the claim that “it is impossible to properly appreciate an allusion without considering what it is an allusion to.”1
Of course, it is impossible to understand an allusion in a semantic sense if you don’t know what it’s alluding to. But that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to properly appreciate it in an aesthetic or artistic sense.
Take this example, from the Paul Simon song “The Late Great Johnny Ace”:
I was living in London With the girl from the song before
Over on Twitter, Helen de Cruz asked: “Can anyone give me examples of philosophers (preferably recently) who have argued that philosophy’s all about argument–that stuff like emotions, moods, the beauty of writing, doesn’t matter to philosophical work and might even be distracting?”
I suggested that this comes out more in teaching than in written philosophy. It’s almost— but not quite— something I say in the page of writing advice that I hand out along with the first paper assignment in courses that I teach.1
My Philosophy of Art class this term was synchronous, meaning that students and I typically logged onto a real-time Zoom meeting for class. I had students fill out a survey about their experience of the course. One question was about how the on-line experience compared to a face-to-face class, and this was the result—
From the standpoint of learning and engagement, having this course on-line was ____ having it in person.
…better than… 23%
…about the same as… 41%
…worse than… 36%
I would have said about the same, but that’s not quite right. There were definite differences, but some were for the better. On balance, it was a good course. Although I was adapting to the format as I went along, I’m not sure it would have been a better course face-to-face in a classroom.
My open access logic textbook, forall x, has been forked into numerous custom editions. This means that problem sets which I wrote years ago have been picked up and adapted.
The formal exercises are not especially distinctive, but the exercises translating from English into formal logic are about specific topics. Some of these were arbitrary inventions, like the sentences about Eli and Francesca who might or might not be bringing guacamole to a potluck. Guacamole was salient to me when I was writing the book, but I think I chose Eli and Francesca just because they started with E and F.
Back in March, when lockdown started, I made one trip to the office to pick up things I needed to run my courses from home. I also picked up my copy of Albert Camus’ The Plague. It’s had been years since I’d read it, and I started reading a little bit in the morning with my coffee.