How blogging went in 2020

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.

Blog output per year, normalized so that entries and words can go on the same axis.

The magic of allusion

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 before2

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Tips for writing a philosophy paper

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

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Winding down the on-line class, art

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.

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Let slip the dogs of logic

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.

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Avoiding books like the plague

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.

To be blunt, it was putting me in a sour mood.

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The persistence of realism

When someone cites one of my old papers, I get a notification. And I’m always surprised to see from responses to papers that I wrote a decade or more ago that parts of the scientific realism debate are going on in roughly the same terms that they’ve been going on for 40 years. Realism is taken to be the commitment that we should believe in unobservable posits of our best scientific theories, like electrons— alternately, that our best theories are probably at least approximately true.1

Lots of the debate seems to rely on treating realism as if it’s committed to finalism and overconfidence.

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Some days you need snarky animals

Over the summer, I recommended some long-form narrative webcomics. However, my greatest comics love has always been stand-alone funny comics.

Reza Farazmand’s Poorly Drawn Lines regularly makes me laugh out loud.1 There are some recurring characters, but no plot to speak of. There aren’t punch lines so much as perverse situations that escalate into absurdity.

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