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Thanks for this post, Marcus! I totally sympathize with choosing the second over the first approach. In my experience, such papers are harder to get into good journals. My tentative explanation is that the review process is biased in favour of what you call the "workmanship" approach - it's "safer", you can get more "rigorous", and it's clear for the editors who can review your paper (and unless you completely destroy their arguments, they will feel flattered that someone takes their work seriously and thus are likely to recommend publication). But paradigm busting is SO MUCH MORE FUN!!!! For writers and for readers! I sometimes fear that all this workmanship stuff takes the soul out of philosophy, really… I hope many people read your post and do a bit more paradigm busting!

Matt DeStefano

Marcus, thank you! This is incredibly helpful. I am very much in the same camp as you were in graduate school with regard to how I write papers and how I do my research. Similarly, I also find myself rather hesitant to share my work with others, but this post definitely will help motivate me to do so more often. The advice on reading journals and writing replies is very helpful, and exactly what I was hoping to get with my plea.

Marcus Arvan

Thanks Lisa! And I'm glad you found it helpful, Matt. I plan for this post to be the first in a series. So thanks for issuing your plea!


There is also the possibility of doing a hybrid of workmanship and paradigm busting: do the workmanship on a particular philosopher's work, but situate it as paradigmatic. That combines the simplicity of the former approach with the excitement of the latter, although granted that it risks not being as exciting for readers who haven't read the particular person you are engaging with.

Marcus Arvan

Roman: No doubt. I've tried to go that route in my work on Rawls. I've found, though, that it's perhaps the most difficult way to go of all. When a particular figure (like Rawls) has already been written about so much, I think there are at least two additional possible sources of resistance to paradigm busting: (A) professional "fatigue" about the theorist (viz. resistance to publishing yet another article on the figure), and (B) people who specialize on the figure having their "mind made up" in advance on how the figure should be understood.

An example: I actually had a well-known reviewer leave his name in the "properties" section of the PDF I received with his journal review, and advocate rejecting the paper on the basis of the fact that his considered view about Rawls (which he has published extensively on) is the opposite of mine. Something similar has happened to me a few different times.

Anyway, none of this is to say that paradigm busting can't be done (or done well) on particular figures. But I do think it's perhaps the hardest sort of project to be successful at. Sometimes I rue the day I was ever introduced to Mr. Rawls. ;)


Marcus, that's a good point. One way I tend to approach this is to write on a relatively new figure who has not been written about extensively, but who has a somewhat paradigmatic defense of a particular position. Of course you still have the problem of reviewers who agree with the paradigmatic position and recommend rejection on those grounds, but that's going to be a possibility with any kind of peer review as long as you are making any controversial claims.

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