This is a blog that discusses and advises people about how to make the climate in their philosophy department and other professional spaces more hospitable. Some have argued that the norms of behavior in philosophy departments are part of what explains why Anglophone philosophy is not as diverse as other disciplines in the academy. We are sympathetic to this hypothesis, but also believe that an inhospitable environment is bad for everyone and does not produce the best philosophy.
This week, we’ve had a new round of discussions on the ‘combative’ nature of philosophy as currently practiced and its implications, prompted by a remark in a column by Jonathan Wolff on the scarcity of women in the profession. (Recall the last wave of such discussions, then prompted by Rebecca Kukla’s 3AM interview.) Brian Leiter retorted that there’s nothing wrong with combativeness in philosophy (“Insofar as truth is at stake, combat seems the right posture!”). Chris Bertram in turn remarked that this is the case only if “there’s some good reason to believe that combat leads to truth more reliably than some alternative, more co-operative approach”, which he (apparently) does not think there is. Our own John Protevi pointed out the possible effects of individualized grading for the establishment of a competitive culture.
As I argued in a previous post on the topic some months ago, I am of the opinion that adversariality can have a productive, positive effect for philosophical inquiry, but not just any adversariality/combativeness. (In that post, I placed the discussion against the background of gender considerations; I will not do so here, even though there are obvious gender-related implications to be explored.) In fact, what I defend is a form of adversariality which combines adversariality/opposition with a form of cooperation.
Next week, I will be speaking at a career development workshop for female Oxford graduate and masters students. One of the things I want to focus on is the importance of building out a broad, strong, supportive professional network.
Academia is built on trust and personal relationships. Rarely are people invited as speakers at conferences, workshops etc purely on the basis of merit. Merit is an important consideration, but people want additional information (e.g., is she a good speaker, will she turn up?) that they can acquire through their network, either by directly knowing the potential invitee, or by knowing others who know her. People from one’s network can alert one to opportunities, including job opportunities. Without a professional network, one has no letter writers (except the advisor and readers of the dissertation), one is excluded from many aspects of academic life that thrive on trust and personal relationships, such as being a keynote speaker or contributing to an edited volume. Moreover, people from one’s network provide opportunities for mentoring, friendship and mutual support in the very competitive environment that is academia. If one has to move state or country and has to leave friends and family behind, the ability to be able to fall back on a network of professional comrades for support and friendship is very valuable. Therefore, I will advise the students to work on their networks early on, and to nurture them.
But there are problematic aspects to networking. Ned Dobos has argued that career networking is ‘an immoral attempt to gain an illegitimate advantage over others’. He makes clear that he doesn’t target emotional networking - plain old socialising - but specifically career networking, networking in the context of advancing one’s career, especially, but not uniquely, one’s job prospects.
It does not seem clear to me, however, whether we can make a clean separation between career networking and emotional networking, especially in academia, where (for reasons I outlined above) the people in one’s professional network and one’s emotional (friend) network overlap to some extent. Dobos offers several arguments against the legitimacy of career networking. Insofar as the search process is meritocratic, career networking is morally objectionable because it attempts to distort the meritocratic allocation of positions, in a process analogous to bribery, or to ‘earwigging’ attempting to persuade judges outside of the formal process. In both cases, the career networker obtains an unfair advantage. Is it possible to engage in ethical career networking?
In the discussion that followed Anca Gheaus' guest post on the gender situation in the German academy, there was some mention of the fact that in many European job-markets, faculty searches are not truly 'open,' so that internal candidates are strongly preferred to those from outside the hiring institution. Clearly, when taken to an extreme—institutions becoming highly resistant to hiring anyone but their own PhDs and/or post-docs—such a practice can be very detrimental to any process of diversification within the academy. But I wonder if there might not be other situations in which an over-emphasis on 'open' searches is actually detrimental.
I'm thinking of the situation in the U.S. academy, where the norm is very strongly against not only hiring a department's own PhDs, but also hiring any currently employed non-tenure track faculty into tenure lines, or even adjuncts into full-time NTT lines. Given that the galloping precaritization of the professoriate as a whole is fast becoming a structural crisis, I wonder if it is not time to examine the possible merits of encouraging departments to commit to making at least a certain percentage of their full-time and TT hires from within the ranks of their current part-time and NTT faculty.
As Co-Chairs of the Philosophy of Science Association Women's Caucus (PSA-WC), we write to encourage a diversity of paper and symposium proposals for the PSA 2014 meeting, to be held in Chicago, IL in November 2014. Note that the CFPs state, "The PSA 2014 Program Committee will strive for quality, variety, innovation and diversity on the program" and that "The Committee aims to prepare a program that reflects the full range of current work in the philosophy of science."
As PSA-WC Co-Chairs, we hope for submissions from areas that have in the past been traditionally underrepresented at PSA meetings, such as feminist philosophy of science, philosophy of race, philosophy of social science, philosophy of science in practice, history of philosophy of science, and more.
Readers may be interested in two free and freely available logic resources, both housed at my university, University of California Davis:
Paul Teller's A Modern Formal Logic Primer:The Primer was published in 1989 by Prentice Hall, since acquired by Pearson Education. Pearson Education has allowed the Primer to go out of print and returned the copyright to Teller, who now makes it available without charge for instructional and educational use.
Howard Pospesel and David Marans, Arguments: Deductive Logic Exercises: Similarly, the text has long been out of print, and the copyright has now reverted to the authors, who have generously made the book available to logic students, teachers, and the general public. Arguments is unique in that it can be used with any system of proofs for first-order predicate logic: truth trees, Fitch-style natural deductions, etc.
Please feel free to share information about similar free and freely available resources in the comments.
I am optimistic about the potential of the powers-based approach, but I
see its major barrier to success to be bridging the gap between itself
and other systems, or at least, clearly situating itself with respect to
the dominant dialectic. Many advocates of more traditional approaches
see the powers-based system as operating within its own philosophical
universe and making little contact with the existing framework. This
hurts both sides: powers-based theories are only taken seriously by
those antecedently friendly to them, and prevailing approaches do not
benefit from the theoretical resources of the powers approach. At the
same time, using the tools of the more dominant strategies would benefit
powers-based theories, as some of their key concepts (properties and
substances, to name a few) remain underdeveloped. Clearly connecting
powers-based theories to the traditional Humean framework will open up
greater theoretical resources for both sides.--Sara Bernstein reviewing at NDPR. [Letters added to facilitate discussion.]
This quoted passage is the closing paragraph of Bernstein's very informative and stimulating review. (What follows is in no sense criticism of Bernstein.) I read Bernstein as identifying the "traditional Humean framework" (i.e., Lewisian metaphysics) as the more "dominant" approach to metaphysics at present. I read her as describing the "powers-based" (i.e., a neo-Lockean or, more accurately, neo-Aristotelian) approach as the weaker party. Let's stipulate that Bernstein's judgment on the relative strength of both parties in analytical metaphysics is accurate (see also Troy Cross's recent reviews, here and here). Even so, her review raises some uncomfortable questions about the state of the discipline. Here I focus on three features: (i) the existence of sub-disciplinary echo-chambers; (ii) who gets to decide who should respond to who; (iii) the benefits, if any, of philosophical engagement.
The Gendered Conference Campaign aims to raise awareness of the prevalence of all-male conferences (and volumes, and summer schools), of the harm that they do. We make no claims whatsoever about the causes of such conferences: our focus is on their existence and effects. We are therefore not in the business of blaming conference organisers, and not interested (here, anyway) in discussions of blameworthiness. Instead, we are interested in drawing attention to this systematic phenomenon. (We also have an awesome theme song. And an interview about the theme song can be found here.)
The harms: All-male events and volumes help to perpetuate the stereotyping of philosophy as male. This in turn to contributes to implicit bias against women in philosophy, which very likely leads even those genuinely committed to gender equality to evaluate women's contributions as less good than men's. (It mayalso in some cases be caused by implicit bias, which means that women's names will leap less easily to mind than men's, but that is not our topic here.) For a quick discussion, go here. It also perpetuates stereotype threat, which very likely keeps women from performing as well in philosophy as they otherwise would. For some longer discussions, you may want to look at Sally Haslanger's and Jenny Saul's papers on the topic. (Jenny's is a download from the right hand side of her page.) We would like these harms to stop, and we think that a significant step toward achieving that is drawing people's attention to some of their causes.
It's always nice when you hear about people doing positive things to improve the climate in philosophy for women and other underrepresented minorities. Feminist Philosophers has details about a new blog that aims to do just that. You can ask questions and get advice, or see what issues are arising in for others and how they might be dealt with.
Analytical philosophers are a notoriously argumentative, sometimes savage, bunch, except, apparently, when it comes to reviewing Kripke. In particular, at Stanford ca 2012-3, they must really like their Kripke. NDPR's latest review of Kripke's Collected Papers (by Mark Crimmins) does not quite match the hagiography of this earlier one (by Alexis Burgess) [recall my post], but it comes close. Here's a choice quote: "The reader's delight will grow as hints are dropped that there is a
great deal more to come in this series being prepared by Kripke and an
ace team of philosopher-editors at the Saul Kripke Center at The
Graduate Center of the City University of New York."
Yet, the oddity of this review is that in between praising Kripke's "gems," "greatest hits," and "lastingly important contributions," the reader is left wondering what exactly the contribution of "newer essays" by Kripke is meant to be.
I have never met Kripke. I enjoyed Naming and Necessity, and I understand, I think, why some of his papers "spawned literatures so large that even all of your basement shelves, cleared of the antique house paints, could not hold them." But, folks, it is 2013 not 1983. If I hadn't learned not to project my own rhetorical tricks onto others, I would guess that his purported admirers are praising Kripke in order to bury the legacy.
Philosophers should read this online issue of MLA Profession, since so far MLA > APA on professional issues. (Don't believe me? Check the date on this APA page.) Which doesn't mean it should stay like that; but it does mean we have a good model. Think of the leading folks writing on US HE issues: Bérubé, Massé, Newfield, Bady, Bousquet: they're all English folks. Let's fix that by developing a robust set of philosophers working on HE in general and philosophy work conditions in particular. IMO, these issues require us to drop the near-exclusivity of focus on the TT sector of the employment system, and to see it as one sector only. The last slides of this presentation tries to do that; the earlier slides are a stab at a brief historical survey. A conversation starter rather than a definitive statement.
There is a growing body of evidence that student evaluations not only 1) do not measure teaching effectiveness, and may well be negatively correlated with it, but also 2) that women and other visible minorities fare worse across the board on them. In other words, they're ineffective at measuring what they are frequently seen to measure and highly discriminatory in what they do measure.
The current state of the research is nicely summarized by Philip Stark in this post at The Berkeley Blog, which should be read in its entirety. Even having previously known about much of what Stark discusses, I was particularly stunned by the following:
• students’ ratings of instructors can be predicted from the students’ reaction to 30 seconds of silent video of the instructor: first impressions may dictate end-of-course evaluation scores, and physical attractiveness matters
• the genders and ethnicities of the instructor and student matter, as does the age of the instructor
It's enough to make one wonder how we have allowed the practice of conducting these evaluations to go on for so long and why anyone takes them seriously at all.
Childhood is abundant in fruits, but infancy is sweeter [Fructuosior est adulescentia liberorum, sed infantia dulcior].--Seneca, Letter 9.
I am very bad at being powerless when I really want to help another that I care for who is self-undermining. I find it vexing, and because of the intensity of the passion, I am perfectly capable of making a situation worse--thus, not helping the person in need and frustrating my aims. Recognizing the pattern and even the fact that I re-enact childhood experience, has helped to some degree. But nobody that knows me will call me "unflappable" in such circumstances. (By contrast, I have remained unperturbed when I have been amidst gunfire and scary aircraft failures.) This particular incapacity has a work-place consequence: it makes me a less than ideal PhD supervisor for people that are self-undermining and it influences how we can do philosophy together.
In her best-selling and philosophically subtle book on Spinoza, Door Spinoza's Lens [full disclosure: I wrote a brief "afterword" to it, but that is obviously not why it is selling!] the Flemish scholar-public intellectual, Tinneke Beeckman, emphasizes the significance of equanimity. When one first encounters it in the Ethics, it seems to council resignation: "we should await and endure fortune's face with equanimity" [utramque fortunae
faciem aequo animo exspectare et ferre]. E2p49S It is easy to mistake this for passivity in the face of harms done by others to us (as E4Appendix, ch. 14 suggests).* But in chapter 32 of the appendix to Ethics 4, Spinoza makes clear that equanimity is consequent to being conscious of having done one's duty [si conscii simus nos functos nostro officio fuisse]. Given that Spinoza uses here the Ciceronian "officio," he means this in terms of meeting the obligations of one's public station or social role. Spinoza's version of equanimity is a public virtue, one that emphasizes a notion of duty that we can capture by way of 'public spiritedness.' As we know from Hutcheson this entails all of us can be heroes in modern times.
Sometimes it might seem hard to generate constructive, cooperative class discussion. Often we have a few students who dominate open discussion, with most students spending our classes in silence. And some of us are particularly concerned about getting students from underrepresented groups to participate, especially in spaces where the dominant voices are typically (white straight cis) men.
I would like to share an activity that was passed along to me last year, called "Complete Turn Taking." I now put aside a number of days each term for this exercise, as students just love it. For my MWF introductory courses, I set aside most Fridays for this activity.
Students have to bring 2-3 typed/written questions to class
on the week's material. They organize into groups of 4, and I stress diversity in the groups. If there isn't an attached group project with this exercise, I try to have groups to change from week to week. And I encourage students to learn each others' names.
Michael Kremer has expressed justified concern that prospective graduate students might use the data compiled by Andy Carson to guide their choice in graduate programs. Even if the data were perfect, one should be cautious in using them; the data are backward-looking and reflect circumstances that might well have changed significantly by the time one shows up at the school of one's choice. Even when Andy Carson removes all the current (serious) problems with his data, placement data absent attrition rates are of limited use. Moreover, given the incentives involved we should not expect to get fully reliable data easily. Ideally, once Carson has worked out the obvious snafus with his data people can use his data and measures and compare them with old and more recent Gourmet reports and figure out ways to use them in light of each other given their individual needs.
But for now, nobody should let these data play a decisive role in their decision-making.
Yesterday, I linked to a blog post that claims to offer detailed data and analysis on "approximately 3,200 placement records since the year 2000." While (as subsequent commentary on my post revealed) there are obvious problems with the material outside North America and more subtle ones with the ones inside, the proposed approach can give an important perspective on recent hiring. The author is calling for the right sort of assistance: "if you believe my data is mistaken, please send me the appropriate and complete data for your school, so that I can update the data." Once the data have been improved one might be able to do some interesting comparison with past Philosophical Gourmet reports.
Because I was utterly unfamiliar with the author, Andrew Carson, I also expressed concern about his/her identity in my post. A friendly reader pointed to a linkedin page, and I contacted the person via email. Carson agreed to do a brief interview, which I have reprinted (and slightly edited) below. Obviously, this does not settle any concerns about the author and his methods, I now believe we are dealing with a good faith effort to help improve the profession. Obviously, how Carson deals with the new data that people sent him will be most illuminating. Here's the interview:
I am a real person. I received my MA in philosophy from Northern
Illinois University in 2012. I have since left academia and am working
in Data Science (hence my interest in the intersection of philosophy and
did the post because I like philosophy and I like data, and I figured I
could bring the two together. I know lots of friends recently in grad
school and they are all concerned about getting a job after they
graduate. I’ve also had friends get stuck in adjunct positions. I
wanted to let others thinking about graduate school know what they were
up against and to go into it with eyes wide open, especially since I
anything like this before. I hope to just get this info out there and
get people less focused on the Leiter rankings (I know people were
obsessed with those in applications).
If you are a professional philosopher, it is likely that at some point you will have to write a grant proposal. There are many types of grants: small intra-university grants, large grants funded by the government, grants by philanthropic organizations. In some countries, like Belgium or the Netherlands, grants are the chief means of academic survival for young academics, as it takes at least 5 years or more before (if at all) one manages to obtain a permanent position. Earlier I wrote about how frustrating grants are and how they pose the problem of the red queen effect and tragedy of the commons.
I stand by this: collectively, grants have significant costs for the profession. But for an individual philosopher who wants to break into a new research area, and doesn't have loads of institutional funding already, projects are a great way to get in the game, to do the research you have always dreamed about doing, and to get the funding and time to actually do it!
How do you write a grant proposal? I've attended workshops on how to write them, talked to research facilitators, consulted colleagues who have been in boards. I have also been an external referee for two granting agencies, so I get a sense of what makes a project look good. And I have also received several grants. The following tips (below the fold) are distilled from these experiences:
Itis the profession of philosophers to question platitudes that others accept without thinking twice. A dangerous profession, since philosophers are more easily
discredited than platitudes, but a useful one.--David Lewis, Convention.
Of course, as philosophers, our commitment to challenging and
questioning norms is real, and important. Far be it from me to claim
that we’d be better off if we all had to be more conventional or
couldn’t play around with taboos. Doing so is essential to both the
philosophical method and the high quality of life we enjoy as
Recently, Rebeca Kukla published an insightful post at Leiter on the significance of the norm of social-norm violation among philosophers, including the one that encourages avoiding the appearance of concern with looks and dress. She argues that the benefits (i.e., "high quality of life") of the norm
of social norm violation are unevenly distributed within philosophy. Her cogent argument against the norm turns on "the cost of the most vulnerable members of the profession." While Kukla does not spell it out entirely, it seems she thinks that if we adjust the internal-to-philosophy norms we could distribute the current benefits to philosophizing more widely within philosophy without "undermining our commitment to challenging and
questioning norms." She, thus, views philosophy as a moral or at least professional community.
Seneca, too, is concerned with the norm of social norm violation and warns against "repellent atire, unkempt hair, slovenly beard..." (Letter 5.) Seneca rejects the excesses now associated with the Cynics, but apparently commonly thought to be the 'philosopher's way' (even if "discretely pursued"). Anticipating Mandeville and Veblen, Seneca treats these instances of social norm-violation as expressing the desire to be conspicuous [conspici]. The "self-display" associated with self-punishing [poenam] norms (or what Hume would label 'monkish virtues') comes at the expense of making a contribution to society [proficere].
But then this "as if" proposition raises the question, psychoanalytically speaking, of latent content...He ends up rather where some began, resting the notion of analyticity on the notion of possible worlds. His contentment with this disposition of the analyticity problem makes one wonder, after all, how it could have been much of a motive for his study of convention.--Quine, "Foreword" to David Lewis Convention.
A few weeks ago I posted about boy-wonders. (Recall I tried to give it a fairly precise characterization.) While various institutional features of the phenomenon were discussed in my post and subequent discussion, the psycho-dynamic dimension was largely ignored. (Part of me suspects that's because these days it is thought very bad form to explain behavior with even a mere allusion to Freud among Anglophone philosophers.) But as it happens I was mulling Quine's curious foreword (partially quoted above) on the same day as I read the following unrelated book-review:
The relation between a literary father and a literary heir is always one of mutual idealization. Similar cross-idealizations of éminence terrible and enfant gris
occur in other fields and in both sexes. The most common variety seems
to be prompted by a young person’s wish to find a mentor, a word that
points directly to the fantasy behind the wish. In the Odyssey,
the Ithacan elder Mentor is not a mentor at all; the protective guide
who takes Telemakhos in hand is Athena disguised as Mentor, a divinity
filling a role that no ordinary mortal could manage.
Not all celebrated writers attract idealizing literary children.
Those who do seem to have an unusually sharp divide between their public
image and their private self...
What the literary father seems to find in an
ideal son is an image of his younger self as it might have been without
its weakness and doubt....What the literary son seems to
find in an ideal father is an image of what he might become if he could
overturn the barriers left inside him by his real father. Each hopes to
find in the other a relief from anxiety that no idealizing fantasy can
give.---Edward Mendelson, The New York Review of Books (reviewing Greg Bellow's Saul Bellow's Heart: A Son's Memoir. [Sadly no mention of Fenelon (neither does English Wikipedia entry on mentor, although the Dutch version does--ES.)]
reviewing Kieran Healy's citation data, and it reminds me again how weird
journal acceptance is. My book *Knowledge and Practical Interests* is the fifth
most cited work of philosophy since 2000 in Phil
Review, Mind, Nous, and the Journal of Philosophy (book or article).
Yet the book itself is the result of three revise and resubmits, and finally a
rejection from Phil Review. One of
those drafts was also rejected from Mind,
and also from Nous. All of those
journals have accepted papers discussing, in many cases very centrally, a work
those very journals have deemed unpublishable.
It is a familiar issue: the extent to
which peer reviewing really does track quality. As has been noted before in discussions
prompted by Healy’s data, in terms of publication venues, we are a highly
conservative discipline, one where publishing in the ‘Healy Four’ – Phil Review, Mind, Nous, the Journal of Philosophy – is often viewed
as the ultimate goal to be pursued. The assumption seems to be that publishing
in these journals is a necessary and perhaps even sufficient condition for
philosophical excellence. However, at least two of them have notoriously
problematic refereeing practices (though it seems that efforts were made on
that front); those that do have a reputation of fair refereeing practices end
up overburdened and often need to call for a moratorium on submissions. All of
them end up with minuscule rates of acceptance, much lower than in some of the
top journals in other disciplines (such as Science
techniques are things people say to get someone to drop out of a discussion,
either by leaving or becoming and remaining silent. There are a variety of forms that this can take. This post has an illuminating
taxonomy with a plethora of useful examples, all of which can be changed
mutatis mutandis to philosophy contexts. Inspired by the post I offer some
saying that because you're a woman [or black/trans*/queer/whatever].
exactly what I'd expect from a feminist." [Focal stress usually on the identity term.] You're just part of
the feminist take-over of this department.
As a submissions editor for a journal I am in charge of sending out
requests to review submitted manuscripts to suitable reviewers.
Fortunately, this is often a relatively painless process. But every so
often the potential reviewer is completely unresponsive. Each time I am
baffled. The requests to review contain the manuscript's title, an
abstract and two links: one for accepting the invitation and one for
declining. If potential reviewers are busy and can't take on the
assignment, then all they need to do is click "decline invitation." Of course, it would be ideal if they also listed some alternative reviewers but in principle they only need to click on a link. It
should take them no more than one minute to complete this task.
Apparently, some folks are unwilling to spare one minute of their time
to help the profession. Perhaps they are unaware of how much it hurts
the profession when they fail to respond.
I received my PhD from Columbia in June of 1950 but my education scarcely
stopped there... I
did not really know much about how to do any serious research and writing, since
my graduate education did not involve the personal supervision of research of
the kind so familiar to graduate students today. I was neither forced nor encouraged
to produce early in my graduate career a publishable paper nor to because acquainted
with the "how-to-do-it" aspects of research.
I was, however, full of energy and brimming over with ideas. I thrashed around
for a few months but fortunately I soon became acquainted with J. C. C. McKinsey,
a logician who had recently joined the Department of Philosophy at Stanford.
McKinsey served as my postdoctoral tutor.---Patrick Suppes.
It is (sound) conventional wisdom that one's fellow students can be as (or more) important as one's supervisors in one's education. But reading Suppes' autobiography reminded me of a bit of wisdom that my supervisor, Dan Garber, handed down to me during a 'reality-check moment' as I was contemplating a crucial career decision: if one is lucky (and wise) one's most important intellectual and professional mentors may be encountered on the job early in one's career. Much has changed since Suppes went to Stanford (and even since I obtained my first position), but Garber's point still stands. In the discipline this wisdom is obliquely recognized when people say that 'such-and-such department has a great track record hiring young people'. (I heard this a lot about Syracuse before and after I went there, but I am not impartial in this matter.) The truth would be better expressed as 'such-and-such department does a stellar job tutoring and developing recent hires.'
It is common for those writing letters of recommendation, whether for faculty going up for tenure or for students going on the job market, to compare the subject of the letter X to a faculty member or student Y at the same career stage. I've heard it suggested that this is one of the few concrete things that a letter of recommendation can say. Otherwise, the letter reader ends up trying to divine adjectives like "excellent," "outstanding," "superb," etc.
However, I've long been uncomfortable with this practice. It's a bit hard for me to say why, so this post is my attempt to put my vague discomforts into words, toss them out into the blogosphere, and see what other people think. So let me be clear at the outset – I am not saying that comparing X to Y is unethical, or should be stopped, or anything along those lines. Just that the practice is... troubling. I offer several reasons for concern below (both as a letter writer and as a reader of letters), in no particular order. They raise the specter of bias, among other issues.
Recently, one of my papers got rejected at a very good journal that I admire very much and that I have been happy to referee for. The editor accompanied the the rejection with the claim that "our policy is not to send referee's reports or comments on papers that have not been accepted or recommended for revision." I hastened to the journal website and -- indeed! -- the policy is clearly announced in the author's guidelines. So, I have no standing to complain. Note to self: do read these more carefully in the future.
But...such a policy does come with a foreseeable cost: I am far less inclined to referee for this journal again now that I know there is a good chance my (often elaborate) comments are not forwarded to the author. And even if I were to referee again, it would be with less care and scruples. While a referee report is primarily intended for an editor to make an informed judgment, I always hope that the (refereed) author's work is thereby improved. I do not want to be accused of idealism, but as scholars we really are in this together.
When I wrote this post mentioning some differences between reviewing and citation practices in
philosophy and the sciences, I was asked to substitute 'anonymous
reviewing' for 'blind reviewing', as some regard the expressions 'blind
reviewing' and 'blind refereeing' as able-ist. This topic has already
been the subject of a post and a follow-up
here on New APPS a couple of years ago. I am not sure how many journals
have omitted this kind of talk from their websites yet but it certainly
has not been eradicated from the publishing world yet.
Recently (in a satirical context) I endorsed the proposal that we should pay no attention to the boy-wonders in our midst. I really think we do a disservice to our community and to philosophy by focusing on boy-wonders. 'Boy-wonder' is a sociological term. In what follows I remain agnostic about the intrinsic merits of young philosophers (male or female) who just happen to be or appear to be fantastically good at philosophy.
I define a 'boy-wonder' as follows: a male -- aged 20-28 -- who is quick on his feet, precocious, often with gifts in formal areas of philosophic, and annointed as 'the next big thing' by Some Important Philosopher(s) (SIPS) at a top department.* Words like 'genius' and 'brilliant' are often used in this context. (Often SIPS and their boy-wonders are dismissive of other people's contributions.) Philosophy is by no means the only discipline that has 'anointed' boy-wonders (economics does, too), but we like them a lot. By this I mean that boy-wonders do not only show up in the inflationary context of letters of recommendation, but they also impact the sexist mores in philosophy.
I offer seven considerations to rid ourselves from the whole set of practices that involve boy-wonders.
Being one of the philosophers who have published in and
reviewed for both philosophy and science journals, I thought I would say
a bit about how I think citation and reviewing conventions differ
in philosophy and the sciences and where I think philosophy and the
sciences could learn from each other in this regard. I must warn the
reader that this is based on my own personal experiences and that I am
making a lot generalizations that may not be justified. Also, I will be
speaking of reviewing as opposed to refereeing, as the term 'reviewing'
is used across the disciplines, whereas 'refereeing' is not. Scientists
think 'refereeing' refers to the actions of a judge of a soccer match.
But if cattle and horses and lions had hands
or could paint with their hands and create works such as men do,
horses like horses and cattle like cattle
also would depict the gods' shapes and make their bodies
of such a sort as the form they themselves have.--Xenophanes
"Not all ethical issues are equally important. Many ethicists spend their professional lives performing in sideshows.
entertaining the sideshow, sideshow performers do not deserve the same
recognition or remuneration as those performing on our philosophical
What really matters
now is not the nuance of our approach to mitochondrial manipulation for
glycogen storage diseases, or yet another set of footnotes to footnotes
to footnotes in the debate about the naturalistic fallacy. It is: (a)
Whether or not we should be allowed to destroy our planet (and if not,
how to stop it happening); and (b) Whether or not
it is fine to allow 20,000 children in the developing world to die
daily of hunger and entirely avoidable disease (and if not, how to stop
it happening). My concern in this post is mainly with (a). A habitable planet is a
prerequisite for all the rest of our ethical cogitation. If we can’t
live here at all, it’s pointless trying to draft the small print of
philosophy departments should be restructured. The junior members
should cut their teeth on lesser subjects such as the mind-body problem.
As their experience, status and salary rises, they should increasingly
specialise in problems (a) and (b). By the time they have reached the
top of the tree, that’s all they should be doing. Anyone who wants to
spend their lives paddling around in the philosophical shallows, along
with Kant and Wittgenstein, should of course be free to do so, but
should realise that it will condemn them to a life of penury and
obscurity."--Charles Foster. [HT Ingrid Robeyns.]
Foster relies on the -- welcome to me (now that I am balding and greying) -- premise that philosophy has a very long apprenticeship. Let's grant this for the sake of argument and learn to ignore the purported boy-wonders in our midst (there might be other good benefits that flow from not focusing on them). Sadly, Foster does not suggests that ethical reflection requires considerable schooling in life--a point I have long been more partial to. Foster unabashedly endorses [A] a practical conception of philosophy; in fact, in the post he relies on [A] as a tacit premise because while at first he only speaks of "ethical issues," "ethicists," and "ethical cogitation," his conclusions involve the organization of philosophy an sich. This is why Foster's really important ethicist reminds me of Xenophanes' cattle and horses and lions. Foster's post (and the subsequent discussion) is primarily useful for posting what is often said sotte vocce,
especially in contexts where philosophers need to prove their
usefulness. Blessed are those who work in an environment -- primarily
rich private institutions -- where their philosophical lack of utility