I recently posted some concerns about citation practices in philosophy that have been echoed many other places (see here, here, here, and here). In response to my post -- in which I argued that authors should be expected to cite every relevant article in the past 3-5 years (following standards in other fields) -- several commenters have suggested that this is wrong way to think about citations. In their view, authors should only cite work that (A) has influenced their paper, and/or (B) which they judge to be "worthy" of citing (as good work). Although I respect their difference of opinion, I am unpersuaded by the arguments, and want to explain why in this follow-up post.
I want to suggest that however well-intentioned the views on citation-practices other people are raising may be, it is those very views in our profession that have resulting in unfair exclusion and bias in the literature. I believe that however right these people may be in princple, in practice their view of the purpose of citations has landed us in the very spot we are: a spot where people are systematically ignored/excluded on the basis of author biases. Allow me to explain by reference to a distinction in moral and political philosophy: the ideal/nonideal theory distinction.
I am happy to accept that in an ideal world, people would cite all and only "good" work. As Jonathan Ichikawa points out in his comment in previous post, there are costs to citing "bad" work: that work may get undeserved uptake into the literature. Okay, all fine and well.
What I want to deny is that this is good policy in the nonideal world in which we live. I want to say: it is precisely because people appear to be systematically corrupted by biases that, in the nonideal world, it is wrong to leave it up to a matter of individual judgment who is "worth" citing. In other words, however right such a policy (i.e "cite good work!") would be in an ideal world, the moral hazards of continuing to implement this policy in the real, nonideal world are too high.
Allow me to use a few real-life examples to illustrate. John Rawls' paper "Justice as Fairness" has received 903 citations according to Google Scholar. In the several decades since Rawls published that paper, famous philosophers from Amartya Sen, Michael Sandel, Will Kymlicka, Thomas Pogge, and others have received thousands of citations for raising problems with Rawls' theory -- many of the problems that Everett Hall raised in his initial commentary on "Justice as Fairness" in the Journal of Philosophy: "Justice as Fairness: A Modernized Version of the Social Contract." As I pointed out in my previous post on Rawls and peer-review, Hall literally anticipates most of the objections that people have raised to Rawls' theory in the literature: (1) Rawls' problematic focus on ideal theory, (2) Rawls' gerrymandering the original position to result in his principles, (3) the weakness of the argument for the principles, etc. But...do you know how many times Hall's article has been cited in 60 years. Nine times. People literally went on to make careers out of lodging similar objections against Rawls, and Hall received basically no credit for his contribution. Yes, his contribution may have been small, but that does not make it undeserved, or worthy of being ignored.
And what of judgments of "quality"? I am not the first person to suggest that Michael Sandel's famous communitarian critique of Rawls' theory of justice is clearly wrong. Indeed, Sandel's critique is so obviously wrong it is, in my view, baffling that it received so much attention. Sandel, for those of you who might have never come across the objection, alleges that Rawls treats people as essentially "disembodied" rational actors behind the veil of ignorance -- presupposing, in Sandel's view, a metaphysically problematic analysis of the individual. But this is plainly wrong. Rawls imagines each person behind the veil of ignorance as presupposing that they are a real person, with a real gender, race, talents, communal attachments, views of the good, etc.; they just don't know which individual they are. And yet, somehow, Sandel became famous for this critique.
Anyway, I digress. The point is simply this: sociological factors surely affect who is discussed, who is ignored, etc., and we cannot expect people to effectively self-police any more than we can expect the financial industry to self-police. The best that we can do in the nonideal world is institute norms and policies that counteract bias and function to ensure that people are not ignored. How can we do this? Answer: we can do it in the same way that every other legitimate academic field has done it. By not leaving it up to individual authors thttp://www.imdb.com/title/tt0372588/o decide -- on the basis of potentially biased grounds -- "who is worth citing", "who influenced their paper", "whose argument is good enough to cite", and so on. For all of these grounds are open to extreme, and sytematic, forms of bias! This, again, is why other fields have such policies in place. One does not simply cite those who influenced you, because you may have a biased set of influences. No, you are expected to cite everything, so as to counteract such biases. No, none of this is perfect. Bad stuff may get cited, and discussed. But, bad stuff gets cited and discussed now...and in part due to biases!
In other words, I agree with those people who believe, in principle, it would be great if we could just cite "the right people" -- people who deserve to be cited for good work, and not those who have done bad work. What I deny that this is a good way to go in practice. To take an analogy from Team America: World Police, in an ideal world we might be able to solve international problems by sending governments really, really mean letters. Similarly, in an ideal world, we might be able to get people to cite appropriately by teaching them to not be so biased. But this is not an ideal world. In a nonideal world, we need policies to deal with things, and the policy of citing everything -- to counteract bias -- is, I believe, one of the only effective policies for good citation practices that I can imagine...and it is a policy accepted in many fields for this very reason.