I came across two interesting pieces today on philosophical writing: this piece at Daily Nous, whose author argues that grad programs should spend more time and resources on developing their students' abilities to write publishable work, and this piece by Eric Schwitzgabel at The Splintered Mind arguing that academic philosophers have too narrow of a view of what counts as valuable philosophical work, writing-style included.
While I am sympathetic with graduate students who want to be better prepared to publish and compete on the academic job market, achieve tenure, and so on, as I have argued before (and many other people have worried as well) academic philosophy may be becoming too professionalized, in ways that harm us all: both psychologically (in terms of our own well-being) and philosophically (by encouraging us to publish more, and more quickly, on increasingly small problems of interest to a select few specialists rather than engaging in boundary-pushing work on Big Problems).
Indeed, I had a rather disturbing experience the other day while browsing philpapers which speaks to Schwitzgabel's concern. As I was reading abstracts of new papers, I experienced a surprising number of them as though they could have literally been written by me. I mean it. Their authors used the very same words, locutions, sentence-structures, and paragraph structures as I do--and I've considered myself as someone who has a unique "voice"! This, in my view, is really disturbing. It is almost as though we are becoming mass-produced philosophers, writing and arguing, structuring our papers, and so on, all in the same way. Not only does this detract from the beauty and uniqueness of philosophical writing (how often does one come across philosophical writing as beautiful and witty these days as the many gems reported here? Answer: not often!); it also, I believe, has pernicious effects on philosophy. For the more we are encouraged to write and argue like others, the more (predictably) we learn to think like others. But of course it is not "thinking like others" that has pushed philosophy or science forward in history. It is thinking differently.
And so, while I do think we should train our graduate students well, I also think there is a serious danger in "teaching them how to write publishable work" that should not be dismissed or underestimated. We, the members of our profession, should seek to (A) train our graduate students well, while at the same time (B) encouraging them to not simply "do what everyone else does", while at the same time (C) promoting greater openness with respect to methods and writing-styles in the discipline more broadly. Consider for instance my old undergraduate advisor Dan Dennett's 1988 paper, 'Quining Qualia'--which is admittedly a mainstream work in philosophy, even in its time, not the work of an outsider. It has no real introduction, and explicitly disavows any aim of providing rigorous arguments at all, as Dan claims, "Rigorous arguments only work on well-defined materials, and since my goal is to destroy our faith in the pretheoretical or "intuitive" concept, the right tools for my task are intuition pumps, not formal arguments." Would such a move fly in philosophy today? Or what about Robert Nozick's notoriously unusual philosophical methods of often merely exploring fascinating ideas in passing without rigorously developing them at all...simply because he thinks the ideas are fascinating (which many have agreed with) but has other things to focus on more rigorously? Nozick was in many respects about as "establishment" as you can get--yet anything like his methods fly today? I doubt it. And these are "establishment" figures. If their methods wouldn't fly today, what hope is there for philosophers of more unconventional or artistic sensibilities? (Answer: not much)
In short, I want to say, that whenever we debate whether and how grad students should be trained, we should not focus merely on professionalizing them to be successful. Other things--philosophy!, not helping them develop as unique thinkers with their own styles--matter too.
Just some food for thought.