Books from #PSA2018

Yesterday I traveled back from the Philosophy of Science Association biennial meeting in Seattle. I got to hang out with a bunch of friends in the discipline and meet lots of new ones. There are other people who I saw in passing, had every intention of catching up with, but then didn’t see again in the throng.

This was, I’m told, the largest PSA meeting ever. Part of that is driven by the increased number of ways for people to be on the program. This was only the second PSA with a poster session, but the poster session was so large that I didn’t see everything before time was up.

One thing I always enjoy about the PSA is the book exhibit.1 Although I mostly consume philosophy in electronic form these days, I always come home from the PSA with a few dead-tree books. Usually these are things I hadn’t even known about beforehand, and this time there were two of those.

cover of The Invention of the Modern Dog

One is The Invention of the Modern Dog by Michael Worboys, Julie-Marie Strange, and Neil Pemberton. Dog breeds are an interesting example of kinds at the boundary of being natural.2 Worboys et al. argue that dogs were only divvied up into breeds in the Victorian era and that our conception of dogs is a fairly recent development. They argue that both social factors and biological ones were in play. In their language, the book is concerned both with social history and material history.3

cover of Goldsmith's Exoplanets

The other is Donald Goldsmith’s Exoplanets. I read the first half on the plane yesterday, and it provides a clear discussion of the methods used in the last 25 years or so to detect planets outside our solar system. 4

Since both books are natural kind adjacent, they may end up cited in my research at some point in the future. But they’re also just interesting accounts of fascinating things. Coming home with cool books isn’t why I go to the PSA, but it’s a nice bonus.5

  1. That’s jargon for tables at which publishers try to sell books— at a sci-fi or gaming convention, it would be called the dealer’s room.
  2. I used dog breeds as an example of a fungible kind in my book.
  3. This is a nice locution. Too often, philosophers presume that social kinds can’t be natural kinds even though social categories are legitimate scientific categories in social sciences. We might iron this out by distinguishing, among the natural kinds, between the social and material ones.
  4.  I barely gestured at exoplanets in my discussion of planet as a natural kind. Maybe I’ll revisit the question? Regardless, the book is a good read.
  5. The PSA has traditionally held its meetings at the same venue on the same weekend as the History of Science Society (HSS) holds its meetings. As I understand it, this is the last time that’s going to happen. I worry this will make for a less-varied book exhibit next time. For example, The Invention of the Modern Dog is clearly a work in the history of science, and maybe the press just wouldn’t bring it to a PSA-only event.

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