Our books

Become a Fan

« Philosophers and intuitions: they go way back | Main | Recent Work by Cocooners (October 2014) »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Gabriele Contessa

Thanks for your post, Moti! I have posted very similar thoughts here, if anyone is interested http://yetanotherphilosophersblog.blogspot.ca/2014/10/is-linguistic-bias-unfair-or-just.html


But underrepresentation isn't in general evidence of *unjust* discrimination. Bad philosophers are underrepresented in philosophy in a just world, for example. And for that reason discrimination isn't in general unjust. It depends.

Vincenzo Politi

Very interesting and very accurate. I have myself commented on Protasi's argument (although my comments looks like they are still "being moderated"), recalling Ian Hacking's idea of "linguistic imperialism". I think that the linguistic/cultural biases are so obvious and unquestionable that the inexplicably negative reactions to Gabriele's proposal lead me to the temptation of recurring to some Freudian type of explanation...

friendly amender

Just a little point -- I think your reply to (1) is severely uncharitable to Protasi. *Surely* she meant that being able to speak good English is essential to do good philosophy at this point in history. That is, she didn't mean 'essential' in some profound metaphysical sense, but only, let us say, 'materially essential' (as a material conditional doesn't need any profound metaphysical connection between its clauses for its truth).

Phil H

"if the underrepresentation of members of group G is taken to be evidence for discrimination against members of G, then this inference applies to ESL philosophers just as much as it applies to members of other disadvantaged groups."

That would be true, but the first part doesn't hold. Underrepresentation is evidence for discrimination iff there are no other factors which would cause the underrepresentation. Hence all the arguments about how women are congenitally uninclined to think abstractly. The point with women is that those arguments have been debunked (so far as I can see): there is in fact no reason to think that women are any less able at philosophy than men. But that truth has been fought over vigorously precisely because if there were some innate feature that made women worse at philosophy, the lack of women would *not* be evidence of discrimination.

With ESL philosophers, there is still a strong worry about their ability - as expressed in the quote from Dien Ho in the post above. If she can't tell what sentences mean in English, can she really do philosophy with them?

I think that worry is valid; I just think it's more than outweighed by the value of having ESL voices give their perspectives, and bringing in ideas from other languages. So I'm mostly with Gabriele on this. I just think the bit of reasoning you deployed there doesn't work, and in fact an affirmation of the positive value of ESL philosophers would be a much more effective way to argue the point, rather than to fight over what is or isn't discrimination.

NoNES Philosophy student

The fact that English is the lingua franca of the academic cannot explain why ESL philosophers are underrepresented in philosophy. Take a look at STEM departments, ESL speakers are not underrepresented. See the statistics from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE),


In 2013, there is nearly 40% of the newly-elevated fellows from outside North America. In 2014 alone, thirteen Japanese are elevated as IEEE fellows:


Why isn't the ESL problem is not a problem for ESL engineers but a problem for philosophers? The fact that philosophers claim that people need to be near native-fluency in order to do good philosophy (at this period of history) just illustrate where the problem is. I doubt that most of those ESL fellows of IEEE can speak and write English near native-fluently. But English is also the lingua franca in STEM areas, why can so many ESL speakers be recognized in those areas but not in philosophy?

I guess that in STEM, people don't expect each other to speak English near native-fluently. Since so many people there are ESL speakers, they just don't have that sort of expectation. Also, just browse any English journal in STEM areas, I bet that in every issue there must be at least 20% ESL speakers. But why is this not the case in philosophy? Again, I guess that the editors and referees do not expect that people write English at the level of native fluency. After all, it's very likely that they are ESL speakers!

That said, I think that LCC campaign is unlikely to be successful, simply because too few ESL philosophers who publish their works in high-ranked journals. It's difficult to ask people to invite ESL philosophers whose works haven't been recognised. The most urgent thing is to change journal's policy to make it more ESL-friendly. I suggest to promote the policy from Theoria I mentioned in Moti's earlier post:

"Be fair to authors whose English is deficient. For people whose first language has a very different structure, English can be much more difficult to learn than it is for speakers of most Indo-European languages. If a paper is written in bad English but is nevertheless understandable, give advice on whether language editing can make it publishable."


Once there are more publications from ESL philosophers in good journals, their works will be recognized, just like the situation in STEM areas.

NoNES Philosophy student

I just want to add my personal experience.

I study PhD in an Anglophone country. A few years ago, I wanted to publish a paper. I gave it to my supervisor for comments. When my supervisor returned it to me, he corrected some language errors in it, and told me that I must ensure that there is no error in a paper to avoid rejection. When I heard this comment, my heart sunk. I thought, if an editor would reject a paper just because of some language errors in it, no matter how hard I try to proofread the paper by myself,
I must send my paper to professional proofreaders. But I am only a student. I don't have the money to pay for proofreading for every paper. Without publication, how could I ever have a career at the international level?

The paper did contain some errors. Maybe one or two errors every page. But many of them were repeated errors. None of them affected the readability of my paper. Actually, the published version of the paper is 99% the same as the original one. That is, even though my paper contained some errors, my paper was highly readable. There wouldn't be any language difficulty for reviewers to judge the merit of my paper. So why should I be worried that my paper would be rejected merely because of some language errors, just as my supervisors warns me.

Before coming to the current institution, I also tried to publish another paper when I was still in my home country (a non-English speaking Asian country). I submitted it to a leading journal based in US, and was rejected without any comment. I then sent it to a leading journal in Germany. It was also rejected, but the editor told me that there were too many language errors, so that they couldn't correct them on my behalf. They were even considering helping me by correcting my paper! How kind they were! I find that European journals are far more friendly to ESL philosophers than journals in Anglophone countries, just as Theoria makes it manifest that reviewers should be more sympathetic with ESL authors. Why? Of course, they are also ESL philosophers.

That's a reason why we need to help ESL philosophers join the community. The more ESL philosophers there are, the more likely an ESL-friendly policy will be adopted. I believe this is the case in STEM area. I am disappointed to see some responses in FP blog. Those responses keep saying how excellent English writing or style is important to philosophy. However, we are not talking about great philosophical writings; we are talking about philosophical works good enough to this profession. It just means that do not reject a paper purely on the language ground, as long as it is readable, even if it doesn't have good style. To be more friendly to ESL philosophers does not mean that your journal should publish poorly-written papers. Adopting an ESL-friendly policy doesn't lower the journal quality, as Theoria can testify.

That said, I think that Gabriele should change his strategy. Be less polemical and be more inclusive. We don't need to debate whether ESL philosophers are underrepresented or whether their underrepresentation is because of being unjustly discriminated or merely unfortunate. But people can agree that we should remove unnecessary burdens on ESL philosophers and makes this profession more inclusive to ESL philosophers.


Phil H: in this case, you could account for underrepresentation of ESL philosophers who do read, write, and speak English fluently (i.e. roughly as well as a native-English-speaking philosopher). I don’t know what the figures are, but I suspect that even if you account for this (and so exclude one of the main “other factors which would cause the underrepresentation”), underrepresentation remains important, that is, more important than one would expect if it accurately tracked persons’ language deficiencies.

Elisa Freschi

@ NoNES Philosophy student (coming from an Asian country), just a few practical suggestions:
1) As you already point out, as far as my experience reaches, several journal editors in the German speaking world and in Scandinavia assume that correcting the English of the articles they receive is part of their editorial duty ---as long as the article is readable and has only a few mistakes.
2) It is sad to admit that there is no other way, but yes, I would also recommend to have your English read through by a native speaker. If you cannot afford it, you can ask a colleague who is a native speaker and offer something in exchange (e.g., Chinese and Japanese students in my institute offer in exchange to translate Japanese or Chinese literature which is relevant for us and which we cannot access).

Elisa Freschi

NoNES Philosophy student (first comment): I see your point concerning the LCC campaign, but still rising the awareness could be an incentive for sensible and receptive people to be aware of their unconscious linguistic biases, don't you think?

Elisa Freschi

@Phil H, some of Gabriele's initial posts point at this sort of evidence, e.g., by showing how some ideas current in Analytical philosophy (e.g., regarding the relaion between knowing that and knowing how) may be due only to peculiarities of the English language. In this sense, Gabriele (convincingly, in my opinion) argues that counterbalancing the number of English native speakers would help making more general the intuitions of Analytic philosophers (see also Moti's last post on intuitions and the comments on it: intuitions can be just linguistic prejudices and should in this sense have no role in philosophy).

Elisa Freschi

@Ambrose, you are right the point can only be underrepresentation due to extra-philosophical reasons. If you are discriminated because of your race, gender, political inclination, faith or lack of faith, native language etc., there is a big risk that you are discriminated for extra-philosophical reasons.

insightful one

One relevant factor seems to be missing in this discussion about fairness and prejudice towards ESL philosophers. ESL people are applying for jobs in the USA must be aware or labor laws and labor practices. There are many hurdles that institutions must overcome in order to hire a non-American citizen (LEGAL HURDLES). Such hurdles are much easier to overcome at elite institutions, but these institutions are hiring very selectively. Many foreign born philosophers, including many ESL philosophers, are not competitive for these positions - in fact most USA born philosophers are not either. And many ESL philosophers will not even be competitive for jobs at less elite schools. I report this as a foreigner working in the USA, who has been through this.

NoNES Philosophy student

Hi Elisa, Thanks for reply.

I can see how LCC raises more awareness of this issue, as recent discussion on many blogs. But from the responses, it seems to me that it turns potential allies into opponents. LCC may be theoretically correct, but seems impractical. So I'm reluctant to promote it.

About journal publication, I know it's prudent for me to have my papers proofread by native speakers. But I want to plead that more journals adopt the policy like Theoria's. I'm not asking the editor to correct my errors. I think that it is the author's responsibility for the content of the paper. It's my responsibility to have my paper proofread. But that does not mean that at the reviewing stage, my paper has to be error-free. At the reviewing stage, it requires only readability. Leave proofreading at the stage of decision. Make it part of the conditional acceptance or R&R.

I think that this makes the profession more ESL friendly. And I suspect that's how STEM journals practice (though I don't have evidence). We should really think about what is the reason that philosophy journals publish much less papers by ESL people than STEM journals (even social sciences journals, I believe). It could be because it's less demanding to write papers for STEM journals than philosophy journals. But I think that it's also because philosophers' demand on English writing is unreasonably high. I think that my supervisor's view is representative. Philosophers expect that a draft must be error-free; otherwise, it might be rejected without really considering its merit! I suspect that this is not the case when an area where more ESL people are working in.

I would prefer to implement more ESL-friendly policies than LCC, as the way to improve the situation of ESL philosophers.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

Open job-market threads