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07/25/2016

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GF-A

I think the reasonableness of the referee's complaint would depend on just how heterodox, contested, or 'weird' the new view is.

For example, imagine a paper that aims to demonstrate some claim about the nature of mental states p. This paper argues that p follows both from dualist and monist conceptions of the mental. Compare that with a second paper which also aims to establish p, but argues for p instead only from "trialism," the view that there is mind, body, and some third thing (spirit?). And this paper does not argue for p from monism or dualism.

I'm guessing most folks would agree that, ceteris paribus, the first paper would be more publishable than the second.

p.s. I did not realize this until just now, but trialism is actually a position in the literature: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trialism

Michael Cholbi

I recently rejected a paper with the rough format "A criticizes B, C criticizes B's criticisms of A" for the reason you mention -- that A's criticisms seem not to have garnered much attention or gained any traction in the field.(I'd also add that A was not a marginal figure in the discipline.) I don't think that fact is a categorical reason for rejection, for as you point out, there can be explanations of why some views or theory are neglected in the field that do not suggest the views/theory are wrongheaded or obviously implausible. That said, I think authors bear the burden, when they discuss views/theories that are less well known, of demonstrating that they *merit* more attention -- that they differ from what's already been defended, deploy a new methodology or argument strategy, etc. The reasons why a view/theory has been overlooked can be legitimate or illegitimate -- with space so tight in journals, authors need to convince me that it's been overlooked for bad reasons.

Marcus Arvan

Hi GF-A: I don't think how "weird", heterodox, or contested a view should in any sense be a determining factor of whether it should be included in philosophical discussion. What matters are the arguments.

In physics, Relativity was "weird", heterodox, and contested when Einstein proposed it--yet it warranted discussion, because the reasons given for the theory were strong. Similarly, in philosophy, "weird", heterodox, and contested views can have good *arguments* for them, and should be taken seriously in the literature for that reason. Indeed, many philosophical views that become dominant were at one time considered too strange to take seriously. One cannot help but think, for instance, of Peter Singer's summary of the initial public and philosophical response to Mary Wollstonecraft's defense of equal rights for women.

As Singer explains in "All Animals Are Equal", "When Mary Wollstonecraft, a forerunner of later feminists, published her Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792, her ideas were widely regarded as absurd, and they were satirized in an anonymous publication entitled A Vindication of the Rights of Brutes. The author of this satire (actually Thomas Taylor, a distinguished Cambridge philosopher) tried to refute Wollstonecraft's reasonings by showing that they could be carried one stage further. If sound when applied to women, why should the arguments not be applied to dogs, cats, and horses? They seemed to hold equally well for these "brutes"; yet to hold that brutes had rights was manifestly absurd; therefore the reasoning by which this conclusion had been reached must be unsound, and if unsound when applied to brutes, it must also be unsound when applied to women, since the very same arguments had been used in each case."

The salient question is not whether an idea, argument, or theory is "weird", heterodox, or contested. It is whether the person who defends it has a good *argument* for it--which is just to say that the paper that defends the view should be judged on its own merits.

I think the "trialism" example you give is compelling only to the extent that the arguments themselves for the strange view aren't very compelling.

Jerry Green

If the only criticism were that a paper relied on an as of yet underdiscussed paper, then I don't think that would be grounds for rejection. But I suppose there's a difference between 'I assume underdiscussed view X, and X -> Y' vs. 'If X is right, one consequence is that Y'. I don't want to accuse the OP of this, but one trend I've seen in talks lately is to stipulate the controversial bits as a starting assumption, and spend the talk following out pretty trivial implications of those assumptions. So I wonder how much this could be resolved just by framing things a different way.

That said, I do worry about a possible Catch-22 here. If you rely too much on an underdiscussed view, you risk a referee thinking that the paper isn't of sufficient interest (though Marcus is definitely right about the self-fulfilling nature of what philosophers find interesting). If you rely instead on a more thoroughly vetted view, you risk a referee thinking that the paper doesn't make a sufficient contribution to the debate.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Michael: Thanks for weighing in - I am in complete agreement!

GF-A

Hi Marcus --

Thanks! I basically agree with most of what you say here. I of course agree that an unorthodox view that has good evidence for it should be accepted, because of exactly the kinds of examples you mention.

But my point was rather this: A paper that works from ultimate premises that are widely shared by the intended audience is ceteris paribus better than a paper that works from ultimate premises that are not widely shared by the intended audience. And, especially for articles or books that have been around a while, not-widely-discussed seems like it could be correlated with not-widely-shared (though there are of course lots of particular counter-examples to this generalization).

So in the 'Trialism' example, I of course agree that one should accept Trialism or not based on the evidence, and a manuscript that gave good arguments for Trialism should be accepted. But I thought that was not the kind of manuscript that was under consideration. Rather, I thought the original commenter's example was more like a paper that argued for p, after arguing "If Trialism, then p," but not giving substantive arguments for Trialism itself much beyond "See so-and-so (2014) for a defense of Trialism." If I have misunderstood the example manuscript, I apologize.

But in the case of a manuscript like the one I described, I'm curious about one other thing. I'm imagining this manuscript makes a reasonable case for "If Trialism, then p," and merely cites the published article on Trialism in support of Trialism, and concludes that p. What do you think the referee should do? Does the referee in this case have an obligation to go to the published article defending Trialism, and make a judgment about how good the arguments for Trialism are there? And if the referee finds these arguments (or maybe one of the replies to objections) wanting, is it then OK for the referee to reject the current manuscript, on the basis of the already-published article's weaknesses? (I don't really have strong opinions one way or the other about such a case, but I am curious.)

POSTSCRIPT: I see now that JG's comments are very much in the spirit of what I was trying to say here. Sorry for the overlap! I think JG's first case is a less publishable paper than the second case (ceteris paribus).

Referee's thoughts

As a referee I have suggested that *one* of the reasons a paper should be rejected is because it builds on or criticizes a view that is largely absent in the literature. The onus is on the author to make a case that a view is worth addressing (or building on). I am open, though, to being convinced. But it is odd to take on a neglected view, and then criticize it thoroughly. One is left asking: Why?
As an author, I have published papers that focus on a single person's view or argument, even the view of someone who is relatively "unimportant" in the larger community (for example, someone whose work is cited maybe 1/4 as often as my own). But when I do that I must provide some motivation for thinking their view or argument is worth our attention (that is, worth the attention of the readers of the journal).

Marcus Arvan

Referee's thoughts: Seems right to me.

In "Perplexed Marketeer's" case, though, it seems (at least from their description) that the referee was not even open to being convinced. "Perplexed" wrote, "[In the paper] I suggest that philosopher Y’s expanded framework lends more clarity to the central issue and use it to frame my criticism...I would have been fine with a reviewer giving some justification for the claim that the expanded framework is not necessary or implausible on its own merit. The only reason given, though, that the framework should not be implemented was that it had not been discussed enough in the literature."

Marcus Arvan

GF-A: Thanks for your reply. I think we may be talking past each other so far, as (following "Perplexed Marketeer") I have a very different type of example in mind.

The case in question is not (A) basing an argument on premises not widely accepted by one's argument, or (B) merely teasing out the implications of such a view. Rather, the kind of case at issue is one where the author makes a *case* to the reader--on the basis of premises they think the reader is apt to accept--that the under-discussed idea/theory/argument has much to say for it (perhaps, by demonstrating how it has compelling implications for a new topic), but the referee nevertheless advocates rejecting the paper *merely* because the idea/argument/theory has not had uptake (i.e. been discussed at all) in the literature.

When it comes to the case you raise, I think the answer is clear. You write, "I'm imagining this manuscript makes a reasonable case for "If Trialism, then p," and merely cites the published article on Trialism in support of Trialism, and concludes that p. What do you think the referee should do?"

I think it's clear what a referee should do. It Trialism has not been well-motivated--if existing arguments for it are based on premises that readers in general (including the referee) don't find persuasive-then a paper simply teasing out, "If Trialism, then P", can (and, in my view, should) be rejected as philosophically undermotivated. But again, this is not the kind of case I meant to discuss. I meant to discuss the kind of case where the author *argues* that an under-discussed idea/view/argument has much to say for it, and thus, warrants uptake and discussion.

Marcus Arvan

Hi JG: As I explained in my reply to GF-A, that's not the kind of case at issue in the OP. The case is not one of simply teasing out the implications of an under-discussed view. Rather, it is a new paper *arguing* that the under-discussed idea/argument/theory warrants discussion/uptake in the literature because (A) there's a compelling argument for it, and (B) the idea/argument/theory substantially illuminates philosophical issues beyond those recognized in the initial work presenting it.

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