I have received some amazing sets of comments from journal reviewers before. Some of them have been detailed and helpful, others detailed and critical. Whatever the reviewer thinks of my paper--whether they advocate acceptance, rejection, or whatever--as long as they provide a detailed report, I am satisfied. Indeed, I am even willing to take misreadings of my work with a grain of salt--as an indication, that is, that I could be clearer about something so that people don't misread what I've written. I have no trouble accepting criticism, providing the person giving it actually backs up their evaluation with philosophical substance. Yes, hearing that my argument is bad or unclear can be a little emotionally difficult, but, since we're doing philosophy, I appreciate the honesty. Indeed, I've felt--and expressed in published papers--a great deal of indebtedness to conscientious reviewers, as I know just how time-consuming it can be.
All that being said, like many other people (or so I've been told), I've also received my share of what I take to be totally irresponsible reviews, including a few recently that have really bugged me. I won't say anything about the reviews themselves above and beyond this: I don't think a one sentence review for a paper that has passed the desk-rejection phase is appropriate, nor do I think it is appropriate to advocate rejecting a paper on the basis of saying explicitly that you haven't bothered to read other work the paper is responding to or building upon. For the problem in both cases is the same: absence of philosophical substance. Advocating rejecting a paper on grounds of philosophical substance is one thing: it is fair. Advocating rejecting it without any substantive philosophical argument is another: it is unfair. For, unless the reviewer provides some philosophical analysis of why the paper the paper should be rejected, there are no grounds for thinking that the rejection tracks the merit of the paper at all, rather than the biases of the reader.
Which brings me to a simple question: shouldn't journals have stated, reasonable standards for what counts as a legitimate review? Shouldn't they hold reviewers to some such standards, such as, "Reviews are expected to briefly summarize the paper's argument and provide some detailed philosophical rationale explaining how the paper's argument is successful or unsuccessful, not vague assertions such as 'this paper is not well-argued' or 'I haven't read the work this paper is referring to and doubt this journal's readers will have read it either'"? It sure seems to me that having such standards should be a standard editorial practice. An author who has spent months or years writing a paper and then waited weeks or months while their paper is under review--especially one that has passed the desk-rejection phase--deserves their paper to be subject to fair, responsible standards for review. So too, frankly, do those of us who, as reviewers, provide fair, detailed reviews, as it is hard to want to continue giving fair, 2-3 page reviews to other people's papers when your own papers are rejected on seemingly-arbitrary grounds, without any detailed rationale.
Or so say I. What say you? Should journals set and enforce clear standards for reviewers? If so, what should they be?