I accompanied a team of undergraduates to compete this past weekend at the Bioethics Bowl in Chicago -- something which I really encourage people to do (it's a great experience for students). While I was there, I had the pleasure of sharing a couple of pints of beer with a fellow coach and colleague from a top department in a very well-known R1 that I had met once before (through the Cocoon!). We chatted about all kings of things -- our families, experiences in grad school as faculty members, work-life issues, and of course philosophy -- and thought I would share one issue we discussed.
The issue is the seemingly ever-quickening pace of philosophy. I suppose a lot of it has to do with the internet, and the ability to access information quickly -- and, we both agreed, it probably has to do a lot with institutional pressures such as ever-increasing focus on "assessment" -- but both of us remarked on just how much the pace of philosophy seemed to us to have changed the past decade or so.
When I started grad school, word is that graduate students from top programs were generally encouraged not to publish while in grad school. One general thought was that it is important for young thinkers (not young chronologically, but rather philosophically) to take their time developing a really broad, and deep, understanding not only of philosophy in general, but also their area(s) of focus, before trying to publish anything. I'm not sure exactly what the rationale for this was, but I think it had something to do with a belief that it was bad to "professionalize" someone too much too early -- that an urge to professionalize too quickly would stifle true philosophical creativity, leading to less exciting or groundbreaking work.
But I do not think this is all there was to it. It wasn't just grad students who were encouraged to move at a slower pace. Philosophers in general appear to have moved a far slower clip, publishing far fewer articles over longer periods of time. Consider, to take just one example, John Rawls' publication record. Here it is his first decade as a professional (beginning with his dissertation):
"A Study in the Grounds of Ethical Knowledge: Considered with Reference to Judgments on the Moral Worth of Character." Ph.D. Dissertation, Princeton University.
"Outline of a Decision Procedure for Ethics." Philosophical Review.
Review of Axel Hägerstrom's Inquiries into the Nature of Law and Morals (C.D. Broad, tr.). Mind.
Review of Stephen Toulmin's An Examination of the Place of Reason in Ethics (1950). Philosophical Review.
"Two Concepts of Rules." Philosophical Review.
"Justice as Fairness." Journal of Philosophy (October 24, 1957).
- An abbreviated version of the next item.
"Justice as Fairness." Philosophical Review (April 1958), 67(2):164-194.
Review of A. Vilhelm Lundstedt's Legal Thinking Revised. Cornell Law Quarterly.
If you don't count the fact that Rawls basically published "Justice as Fairness" twice (i.e. if you count it as just one article, which I think is warranted, given the sheer amount of overlap--and, by the way, how did he ever get away with that?), Rawls' first decade of publishing only involved three full-length articles ("Outline...", "Two Concepts...", and "Justice) and three book reviews. And Rawls didn't exactly pick up the pace the decade after that either (most of his publications were reprints of his first few articles -- see here). Rawls, in short, took it slow for two decades...and then produced A Theory of Justice, the most influential work of Western political philosophy in...well, a very long time. And it -- Rawls' first book -- came over two decades after he received his PhD.
Now, of course, few people are Rawls. But my clear sense when I began grad school was that everyone moved far more slowly than today. These days, it is not unheard of for someone to publish 4-7 articles in good journals per year, and maybe even a book one's first few years out of graduate school. Is this a bad thing? I don't know. But it's hard for me to believe that the new pace doesn't "rush" people to publish in a way that could lead to less interesting work (something some top people in philosophy have expressed worries about). I also know this: I feel rushed to crank stuff out! Of course, part of this is because I'm a job seeker -- but, I take it, I would still feel rushed if/when I get a TT job. For, make no bones about it, expectations clearly seem to have changed. People are expected, and expect themselves, to get at least a few papers per year in good journals to be considered "productive."
Anyway, what do you all think? Is my (and my conversant's) sense of the pace of professional philosophy increasingly quickening accurate? Do people feel more rushed to get more stuff out than they used to? Do they feel as though it is leading them to do less exciting work? These are just a few questions I thought I'd throw out there. I'm curious to hear what you all think!