A number of people question why I used the phrase “natural kinds” to describe what I’m talking about when I talk about categorization. My brief explanation runs something like this:
In giving an account of things, sometimes it’s possible to divide things up in pretty much any way and have it work out. Other times, we inherit or impose category schemes that make it hard or impossible to give a successful account. Still other times, our taxonomy especially allows for successful enquiry— that is, it works but proceeding with a substantially different taxonomy would not have. By natural kind I mean kinds that figure in the latter sort of taxonomy.
Last year I attended the annual Values in Medicine, Science, and Technology Conference hosted in Dallas and organized by Matt Brown.1
I got great feedback on my presentation, which ultimately grew into a paper. I hung out with old friends and made new ones.
So I submitted an abstract again this year. Today, I received an e-mail indicating that my paper was accepted along with an e-mail saying that the conference was canceled. The cancelation was inevitable, of course, but Matt had delayed officially canceling the conference until verdicts had been reached. This way would-be presenters can list the acceptance on their CV. It’s a classy move— I don’t need the line on my CV, but students and junior scholars might do.2
My missing the conference this year is not a terrible imposition, really, since I missed it for eight years before attending at all. It is a small sacrifice, in the grand scheme of things— but these accumulate like rain drops on the tin roof that is my inability to land a metaphor.
I have a book called Values and the Future on my shelf which I take down and read short passages from occasionally. In one article, Theodore J. Gordon offers “Forecasts of certain technological developments and their potential social consequences” from his vantage point in 1969. The prospect of wide-band communication systems suggests these possible consequences for education:1
Ready and cheap availability of excellent curricula… might make education a respected and common pastime.
Canned lectures by eminent professors may make TV teaching superior to that in resident institutions.
University degrees will be extended to viewers who complete their courses solely on TV. Residency requirements may disappear.
In several papers, I’ve made use of what I call the James-Rudner-Douglas (JRD) thesis: “Anytime a scientist announces a judgement of fact, they are making a tradeoff between the risk of different kinds of error. This balancing act depends on the costs of each kind of error, so scientific judgement involves assessments of the value of different outcomes.”
I have a paper forthcoming in Episteme which explores this theme as well as other issues in William James’ “The Will to Believe.” I just sent off my final draft and brought the version on my website up to date.
I’ve given a couple of talks in which I mull over possible counterexamples to the thesis. I recently wrote that as a paper, I’ve now posted a draft. Comments are welcome.
Back in the halcyon days of three weeks ago, I made this glib but sincere post to social media—
I wish fewer of my friends would make posts advancing some conspiracy theory about the election that they dreamed up over breakfast.
In the meantime, the world has gotten very strange. Election speculation is gone, replaced to a large extent by commiseration, solidarity, and plain kvetching. Yet there have been definite in-roads among my friends toward posting broad conclusions about covid-19.1
I have opinions about elections and diseases, but these are times of great uncertainty. It’s a sign that I’m getting old, I guess, but I have less of a taste for the rhetorical mode of laying down facts under conditions of ignorance than I used to do.
I’ve formulated and not written several blog posts about life in the time of Covid-19.
Last week was Spring Break, which meant that events didn’t quite register the way they would have done any other week. Being at home and not seeing students would have happened anyway. Now classes have resumed, such as they are.
In my discussion of Dewey last week, I commented offhand that there might be more explicit engagement with the Peircean conception of reality elsewhere in the Dewey corpus. This week I’m teaching “Context and Thought”, where such engagement occurs.
In response to my post last week about the tension between Peircean and Jamesian pragmatism, Jay Odenbaugh and Dave Smith suggested that the tensions are resolved with Dewey. I’ve been rereading Dewey’s review of James for this week’s class, so let me take up their suggestion and tally the score.