Release the doggerels

Over at Crooked Timber, Harry Brighouse exhorts readers to write philosophical clerihews.

I was unfamiliaer with the form, but it’s not complicated. A clerihew is a four-line poem about some person or other with an AABB rhyming pattern. The sort of thing Ogden Nash would have written if he’d been less pithy.1

I contributed a couple, and I shamelessly cut and paste them here.

The Scotsman Thomas Reid
had a commonsensical creed,
a fondness for calico cats,
and questionable taste in hats.

The mustachioed John Dewey
might have gone all kablam and kablooey
if he had not understood inquiry
in a way that avoided such injury.

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E-publishing boondoggle

Via Daily Nous, I learn that Pacific Philosophical Quarterly (PPQ) has begun offering an odd choice to authors. When a paper is accepted, the author can opt either to have their paper appear post haste in an on-line only issue or to wait years for their paper to appear in a print issue. Articles in the print issue will appear on-line at the time of publication.

The publisher insists that the on-line only issues and the print+on-line issues will be of the same prestige and significance. After all, a paper is  accepted for publication before being assigned to one or the other.

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Recruitment blast

As I wrote a while ago, my department is trying to drum up more graduate applications. One strategy is to send out encouraging e-mails. I’m endeavoring to write to all the philosophy departments in our corner of the country. I’m presently in the middle of that, so you might hear from me soon.

In the interests of maximizing reach, I’m posting the e-mail here too.

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Characterizing philosophy

I recently came across a passage that characterizes analytic philosophy in this way: “when it comes to constructing arguments, we beat words and ideas into submission.”1 I am ambivalent about identifying as an analytic philosopher, but I don’t really recognize myself in this at all.2

Philosophical prose is not written like poetry, but I’ve never felt it was like beating anything into submission. Reflecting on why that passage felt so wrong to me, I hit on a different analogy.

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The slipperiness of significant publication

I’ve written before about trying to establish the significance of a philosophy publication, which mostly becomes an issue at tenure and promotion time. In an earlier post, I argued that citation counts are mostly rubbish for philosophy. Still, there are pressures to provide numerical measures.

In support of a recent tenure case, our department gave the acceptance rates at journals as evidence of their significance.1 The danger in using such a measure is that, if widely adopted, it would quickly become uninformative.2 If scholars get more credit for publishing in journals with low acceptance rates, they will preferentially start to submit to those. The journals will get more submissions but still accept the same number. This will, in turn, drive down the acceptance rates of those journals.

I recently learned that there is a name for this general phenomenon, Goodhart’s Law: “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”

This shifts it from being this hunch I have to being a well-established phenomenon. I can now invoke it with greater conversational gravitas. Continue reading “The slipperiness of significant publication”

Recruitment bleg

My department has had a precipitous drop in both applications and admissions for our PhD program. We have funded positions which we haven’t been able to fill with new-to-program students. These are a pretty good deal and involve no teaching responsibilities for the first year.

So I have two requests:

First, how do you think we should go about trying to make people who might be interested aware of the opportunity? Some programs mail out glossy posters touting their graduate programs. I suspect those mostly get thrown away, however, and I’m not sure that people these days look to posters for information.

Second, if you are in the position of mentioning our program to someone who might be suited for it, then please do so. Obviously this isn’t everybody: Students who can get funded slots at top-ranked programs should take them, some students should be talked out of going to grad school, and so on. But there are students who would get a lot out of coming here.  We have strong faculty in a number of areas. Our graduates have a decent record of getting permanent and even tenure-track jobs. Many have gotten jobs at community colleges, the sort of jobs that aren’t even on the radar for graduates from top-ranked programs.

If you have ideas or questions, please comment.

Hi-phi, podcasts, mash-ups, and covers

There is a short review of Hi-Phi Nation in today’s Guardian, topped by a nice picture of host Barry Lam.

Cristyn and I were in Poughkeepsie last week to talk with Lam about cover songs. He plans to do a show about musical covers. He called us because he had read the paper we wrote with Christy Mag Uidhir and we’re local.

Walkway over the Hudson
While there, we also took in the Walkway over the Hudson.

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The puzzle of virtual art

If I recall correctly, Arthur Danto considers the example of an art deco bronze cat which is chained to the railing on a landing in the student center. This might, he says, be a recent artwork composed of a readymade bronze cat, a chain, and a pad lock. Perhaps a commentary on domestication. Nevertheless, the artwork is just the cat itself. Someone chained it to the railing when it was installed in the student center, so that nobody would walk off with it.

Similar examples arise in gallery contexts: It may be unclear whether two objects are one composition or two works simply installed near to one another. A toolbox might be left behind by a worker and a utility box may just be hardware that’s part of the gallery, or these things might be works or parts of works in the show.

I have seen these puzzles mostly raised in the context of ontology, to pose the question of what constitutes a work of art. Yet, it seems to me, there is an important issue in art appreciation.

Suppose, to return to the original example, that one finds it rewarding to consider the chain and cat together. They are visually interesting, let’s say, and one is lead to reflect in interesting ways on domestic animals and public spaces. It’s rewarding in just the kinds of ways that reflecting on an artworks is. Suppose furthermore that considering just the cat on its own is not especially rewarding. It is not an inspired sculpture, and it is of limited historical interest. One gets more out of considering the chained cat as if it were art than in considering the actual artwork.

What should we think about this? Several possibilities:

First, one might say that considering non-art as if it were art is perverse and confused. It is either a conceptual or moral failure. I find this implausible.

Second, one might say that the rewards of reflecting on the chained cat show that it must be art after all. We are supposing that nobody explicitly meant it to be art. We could say that the staff member who chained the sculpture had an unconscious intention to make art. Or we could say that one makes it art just by engaging in the rewarding as-if art experience of it.

Third, one might give up the idea that artworks are especially important to art appreciation. What matters are objects which can be encountered and interpreted in as-if art ways, regardless of whether they are actually art.

AI ai ai

I recently commented on the fact that machine learning with neural networks now regularly gets called “AI”. I find the locution perplexing, because these machine learning problems have success conditions set up by engineers who defined the inputs and outputs.

Here is another headline which doubles down on the locution, discussing AIs creating AIs. Yet having a neural network solve an optimization problem is still machine learning in a constrained and specified problem space, even if it’s optimizing the structure of other neural networks.

Brave new age of robot overlords this ain’t.

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