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The second policy (trying to publish the first piece that a young philosopher submits) sounds nice, until it occurs to you that it's only possible to make a good effort at following it in a non-blind review system (or at least, in an only doubly blind, rather than triply blind setup). And on balance, I think it's probably better to be triply blind than for even a well-intentioned editor to try to use his/her knowledge of an author's identity to decide whether to accept a paper.

As an aside, I think it's cool that Ryle was the editor of Mind when they published Alan Turing's "On Computing Machinery and Intelligence," where he introduced the Turing Test. I bet accepting it was a no-brainer for Ryle.

Moti Mizrahi

Thanks for the comments, Daniel.

From reading Warnock’s article, I get the impression that there was no blind review while Ryle was in charge. In fact, Warnock says that Ryle preferred to publish the papers of unknown authors rather than famous ones. According to Warnock, before Ryle, it was common practice to ignore certain “negligible back-numbers” (i.e., philosophers who no one even bothered to engage with). Do you think that this is still going on in philosophy today (at least to some degree)?

Marcus Arvan

Moti: I'm not sure how I feel about Ryle's practices on average. On the one hand, I tend to be wary of unblinded, centralized decision-making (for obvious reasons). On the other hand, as long as there are other venues that involve rigorous blind review practices, I think idiosyncratic, centralized decision-making procedures can have value (including epistemic value). As I've noted in an earlier post (http://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2012/05/has-contemporary-philosophy-over-fetishized-rigor.html/), I fear that our discipline has come to fetishize rigor to such an extent that visionary but deeply flawed papers may be rejected far too often in favor of strong but comparatively banal arguments. I won't go into my case for this again, but basically, my thoughts are (A) most of the Great Works we teach (even famous 20th century articles from Quine to Rawls) don't have great arguments, but were (B) published anyway because they were visionary, and (C) arguably wouldn't be published in journals today. I realize that all of these claims are deeply contentious. Still, I think they are all plausible, and that a big part of the explanation for (B) and (C) is that blind review practices turn over decision making to the many, and the many tend to eschew visionary ideas in favor of safer ones. Accordingly, I think it can be good for *some* venues to have less blinded, idiosyncratic decisions made by a few central figures. Again, I expect many readers will object to everything I've said here. All of my above conjectures may be wrong. Still, I think they are worth considering.

Moti Mizrahi

Thanks for the comment, Marcus.

I think that Warnock says something interesting that is related to your point. (By the way, I recommend reading Warnock’s article cited in the post for an interesting historical look on the profession.)

He writes that “1950s characteristic taste for small, unsystematised points and topics, unembedded in any large theory and unarticulated into structures, has been considerably modified. There were many, in the old ascetic, intellectually rather puritanical days, who held that the day of philosophical *books* was over; for no decent, well-defined topic was really big enough for a book; the proper scale of philosophical work was set by the note, or the paper, or at most the slender monograph. Not so today. The book, in some cases the very large book, has triumphantly re-appeared, along with ambitious theory and intrepid generalisation.”

Would you say that you would like to see more “ambitious theory and intrepid generalization” even if it is not rigorously argued? If so, do you think we (as a profession) should have venues (other than books) where such work can be published?

Marcus Arvan

Moti: thanks for the thoughtful response. My short answer to your question is that I think that journals -- or at least *some* journals -- should be more open to ambitious articles, even when the arguments aren't entirely convincing, or in some cases even there. A good example here, I think, are Rawls' initial two versions of "Justice as Fairness", in JPhil and Phil Review. These two articles don't even have an argument so much as they unveil a model and say, "here's a new way of thinking about things." It's also very notable, I think, that some people even then -- RM Hare's brutal review of A Theory of Justice always comes to mind -- criticized Rawls for "not being very rigorous" (this is a paraphrase of what Hare wrote in his review, and yes, he said this explicitly!). In retrospect, Hare's criticism seems pretty absurd (to me, at any rate). No, Rawls wasnt providing a rigorous argument -- but so what? The new model of justice he was presenting was fascinating, full of possibilities. It was good philosophy for that alone, just as Kant's Groundwork was great philosophy, not for ita great arguments, but for its vision. I don't think we should throw out the baby with the bath water by downplaying rigor; however, I do think philosophy today would be more interesting if there were more reputable journals that took chances with big ideas -- ideas that are full of possibilities for others to develop and think rigorously about. Maybe I'm I'm the vast minority on this, but I suspect I'm not.


I'm not sure that Ryle's second policy ("He tried to publish the first piece that a young philosopher submitted to him") implies he gave up a blind review process. People have criticized Ryle's editorial practices because they believe he didn't employ blind review (noted in my comment to an earlier post by Moti re Collingwood). But I'm not sure it's impossible to "try" to publish the work of young scholars and employ a blind review process.

In a triple blind review process, neither the managing editor nor the external referees know the identity of the author at the time the manuscript is under review. External referees and the managing editor need to know nothing about the author's identity throughout the revision process, etc., in order to render a final verdict. After a final verdict has been reached but before the author has been contacted, the identity of the manuscript's author may be revealed to the editor. If it happens that the manuscript was authored by a young, relatively unknown scholar, then -- great -- those editors adopting a policy like Ryle's will be happy to note that they have tried (and succeeeded) in publishing the works of a young author.

Perhaps all that Warnock has in mind here in speaking of Ryle's policies is that Ryle encouraged the relatively unknown scholar to submit manuscripts for consideration. That Ryle's predecessors ignored young scholar's work may have upset Ryle, but he needn't have ignored good editorial practice to succeed in what he set out to do.

(I know, I know… call me a Ryle apologist; I'm just thinking of alternative interpretations of his editorial practices. Whether this is what he did is another question altogether.)

Kyle Whyte

There are some interesting affinities between Marcus' points above about Rawls and this exchange between Kristie Dotson and Graham Priest over a paper written by the former earlier this year. The discussion is about the discipline of philosophy but has direct implications for the role of philosophy journals. If you're interested, check the discussion out at these links:

Original Paper (Dotson)

Priest reply

Dotson reply to Priest reply

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