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YES, absolutely. The obligation is both professional and moral I think. Purposefully ignoring objections to one's view, or not addressing them publicly (which, I think, comes down to the same), is a sign of intellectual dishonesty and is detrimental to the philosophical discussion, as you point out. Actually, I think I'd go as far as saying that one stops doing philosophy when one purposefully ignores objections.

So, even if the response only takes the form of a blog post, a note on Big Shot's website, or a mere footnote in a subsequent paper, Big Shot has a duty to engage with her critics in one way or another.

And I think that reviewers and editors have an important role to play in making sure this duty is fulfilled, by not letting Big Shot publish papers or books relying on the argument that p without requesting that she address No Body's argument.

(I here assume, of course, that No Body's objection to Big Shot is cogent and relevant and that Big Shot is aware of its existence).

Marcus Arvan

I agree with Alex. There are professional and moral obligations to deal with objections to one's views. But I'm also inclined to say there are many more obligations than just these. I think *others* who are interested in the subject -- and who have written on it -- have a moral and professional obligation to read and engage with the refutation (this is one of the problems I have with people who claim to only read "top journals" -- as though nothing of value is ever published in lesser journals. If things of value are published there -- and surely there are -- they deserve to be read). Finally, I think that the person who came up with the refutation ("No Body") has an obligation -- least of all, to him/herself, but also to the profession -- to take reasonable steps to "publicize" the refutation so that others become aware of it.

Indeed, this reminds me of a recent post over at "What is it Like to be a Woman in Philosophy", where a woman explains how a big-shot is known for *her* argument, which she came out with first (see http://beingawomaninphilosophy.wordpress.com/2013/07/02/citation-blindness-and-what-to-do/

I want to say: if someone is known for your view, or if you have a refutation that people are ignoring, do what you can to get it out there! You may look a bit like a "self-promoter." But, I say, better to look that way than to have good work be ignored.

Finally, there are two other things to consider. First, sometimes work that appears to "fall still-born from the presses" doesn't stay that way! Hume's Treatise was of course roundly ignored when he first published it, and it took five years or so for Einstein's first papers on relativity, brownian motion, etc., to circulate and be engaged with in his profession (given that he was such an unknown at the time). Second, there are always other ways to draw greater attention to your work in print. You can publish other stuff that cites and/or builds upon the refutation, etc.

In short, I say: try not to get discouraged. If the refutation is really good, it'll probably get noticed in time -- especially if its "No Body" author takes steps to get it seen.

Rob Gressis

I may be merely repeating various faulty, potted histories here, but I've heard that Bertrand Russell basically gave a version of Gettier's refutation of the knowledge = justified true belief in about 1912 (in Problems of Philosophy, I think [I think I've even heard that Locke gave an example of how K doesn't equal JTB]). Similarly, I've heard that Popper gave fairly decisive refutations of the verificationist principle of meaning in about 1934.

Russell was certainly a big shot in 1912, but I'm guessing that either the discipline didn't realize what he'd done (assuming I'm correct and he had, in fact, done it), or didn't think that knowledge was JTB in 1912. Still, by the time Gettier came out with his counterexample to the K=JTB equation, Russell was still alive and I'm guessing people were still reading his early work.

I don't know whether Popper was a big shot in 1934. I assume he wasn't Karl Freaking Popper! in 1934, but I also would bet that he was still highly regarded.

I don't know what the point is of these two examples, other than perhaps (1) even when big shots refute other big shots, the discipline may not notice; (2) just what it takes for the discipline to notice something is not clear. If (2) is true, then it may also not be clear what our obligations are vis-a-vis publicization, response, etc.

And finally: are you imagining that Big Shot realizes that No Body has refuted him? I think this is really rare, but who knows?

Rob Gressis

Marcus, your link to What It's Like... isn't working for me.

Marcus Arvan

Weird. Here it is again: http://beingawomaninphilosophy.wordpress.com/2013/07/02/citation-blindness-and-what-to-do/

Moti Mizrahi

Thanks for the comments, everyone. Here are some followup questions:

Alex: We are in agreement. Would you change your judgment (from YES to NO) if Big Shot is unaware of No Body's refutation?

Marcus: Interesting points. How would you suggest nobodies go about promoting and publicizing their work? Do they have a professional obligation to do so?

Rob: I was thinking of a scenario in which Big Shot is aware of No Body's refutation. I had assumed that, if No Body's refutation was published in a prominent journal and Big Shot is keeping abreast of the literature, then Big Shot should be aware of No Body's refutation. But suppose that Big Shot is unaware? Does she have other obligations in this case (e.g., to search for responses to her argument in the literature)? Or no obligations at all?

Marcus Arvan

Moti: one (rather blatant) way to do it might be simply coming out and saying as much on a prominent blog or two, viz. "I published this refutation a while ago, and I think it has been unfairly ignored." If this sounds too risky and self-promoting, another less blatant route would be to see if someone else might do so on one'e behalf, viz. "No Body published this great refutation that others seem not to have noticed." In fact, I actually think a blog devoted to this sort of thing -- a Blog for Unfairly Ignored Philosophy -- might be of real value to the profession, as I think lots of very good articles go unnoticed. Alternatively, if *that* still sounds too self-promoting, another way to go might be to approach friends in the profession, people who work in your area and might be sympathetic to your cause. I, for one, try to go out of my way to draw attention to work I like. If I knew a fried of mine in the profession had a great argument that has gone ignored, I would try to discuss and cite it in my own work whenever appropriate. So, that's another way to go. I suspect, though, that the easiest way to go is to simply (A) keep publishing and (B) getting to know people. People, I think, tend to cite and discuss the work of people they know.

Anyway, yes, I do think it is a professional obligation to "get your work out there", or publicize it. If the work is good and important, one owe's it to the profession to get it the attention it warrants. Further, I think there's an obligation to oneself. If the work is good, and you took the time and energy to make it, you owe it to yourself to get it noticed. The more biographies I read, the more it seems to me that professional recognition is in large part a matter of luck, but, to the extent it is insert one's own control, "creating one's own luck" through various forms of self-promotion. And while I used to despise self-promotion as a matter of principle, I'm no longer as opposed to it as I used to be. If you really have work you believe in, it is only natural (and, I think, justifiable) to take reasonable steps to get it noticed.

Justin Caouette

I am reluctant to join the crowd here and agree that big shots have an obligation to respond to ALL refutations as suggested by Alex and seconded by Marcus, I'll mention a few reasons why it may be unfair to impose such an obligation.

First, it will restrict one's ability to do new work. I can get behind an obligation to respond when the piece is fairly new, but, as time passes and you have a number of published works it would get burdensome to continue on in this manner, especially if you have since moved from the topic into another genre of Philosophy. In these latter cases I think the obligation falls on those engrossed in the literature to respond and not the author who initially contributed the piece. If the person is a "big shot" then they likely have others supporting their argument and it's tough to see how these other supporters do not incur the obligation instead.

Second, let's say I write argument X. In the piece where I present X I address numerous counter-arguments. A few years pass and someone responds with what I take to be a variant of one of the counter-arguments I already addressed. I do not see why I incur an obligation to respond to this piece or why I must say why I won't address the piece.

Third, if one refutes the argument of a "big shot" and the big shot agrees with the criticism I don't see why the big shot must come forward with that tentative agreement. If he realizes he lost the debate are you suggesting he write a 2 line response saying saying so?

Fourth, even if the big shot thinks he lost I think he has a right to take as much time as he would like to ponder a response (this in turn would mean that he may not respond at all as he continuously mulls over different options and new empirical work).

Now, I really like the suggestion by Marcus regarding the obligation to get our work out there. This is a different obligation but one I think is quite important and could be done by simply having an active home page with links to our work.

One related point regarding self-promotion. Marcus, you seem to be sensitive to not wanting others to see you as self-promoting (in your 10:36 comment) but why? There was a recent article on psychopaths that offered some empirical data which suggests that they do have empathy. Two colleagues posted the article and I linked my AJOB piece via academia to the thread. Self-promoting? Yes. Should I be concerned with sounding, as you put it, "too self-promoting"?

If on the one hand we are obligated to get our work out there I don't see how we should also be concerned about too much self-promoting (barring the obvious posting of journal pieces in threads that are unrelated). Is the suggestion that we ought to promote ourselves but hide that that's what we are doing?

Justin Caouette

Also, speaking of promotion, I often tweet posts from this blog to my followers on twitter. It would be much easier to do so if I could click share at the bottom of the post. I blog on wordpress and they offer that option I am not as familiar with the typepad interface (though FOF offers the share tab and they use typepad).

Moti Mizrahi

Thanks, Marcus. These sound to me like good ways to promote one's work. Although I am not sure I would go so far as to say that one is *professionally obliged* to promote one's work in these ways. Take blogs, for example. Although philosophers use them extensively these days, they are not an "official" part of the profession (e.g., as far as I can tell, they don't count as far as promotion and tenure are concerned). Of course, it may be in one's best interest to promote one's work. But that is a different story. Keeping up with the literature, on the other hand, is a professional obligation.

Marcus Arvan

Justin: I need to think about your various points a bit, but let me address your questions about self-promotion.

Like I said in my 10:36 comment, I *used* to be solidly opposed to self-promotion. I'm not anymore. I still tend to find the idea of it distasteful, as I think a general disposition to self-promote lends itself to -- and tends to co-occur with -- a number of moral vices (narcissism, etc.). Indeed, I tend to despise shameless self-promoters for this very reason. I know some of them, and know just how "stuck on themselves" they are. They lack an appropriate amount of humility.

Be that as it may, I have come to believe that some amount of self-promotion is probably a "lesser evil." The idea that a person should never self-promote now seems to me hopelessly idealistic. A certain amount of self-promotion sometimes seems necessary (or advisable, at any rate) for achieving warranted recognition.

Because of this -- because I think a general disposition to self-promotion is bad, but the *act* of self-promotion sometimes warranted -- I tend to adopt a self-effacing/"dirty hands" approach to it, according to which the good person (A) sometimes engages in self-promotion, but also (B) hesitates to self-promote, feels guilty about it, finds it distasteful, etc.

At any rate, this is how I justify it to myself. ;) Sometimes I do self-promote -- out of a feeling of, "If I don't, who will?" -- but I try not to do it too often, and when I do, I *always* hesitate and feel awful/distasteful about it. I can't help but think that this is a good thing. Some amount of self-promotion may be good, but I've always thought -- in large part due to personal experience with people who I do not admire -- that an over-willingness to engage in it without shame is a mark of a morally deficient character.

Marcus Arvan

Moti: I don't know. I think that if we have any professional obligations at all in academia (and I am generally skeptical of them aside from this one!), we have a general background obligation of *intellectual integrity*, an obligation to seek the TRUTH and follow the evidence where it leads.

This is why I think (A) the Big Shot has an obligation to respond to a good refutation, and (B) the author of a good idea has a professional obligation to promote it.

First, the Big Shot. A Big Shot is, by definition in the given context (of our present conversation), someone who has professional *clout* on the issue in question. By failing to respond to a good refutation of their idea, a Big Shot is either deliberately (if they know of the refutation and fail to respond) or negligently (if they don't know it even exists) guilty of *obscuring* important truth and/or evidence (btw: how tough is it to Google Scholar one of your own articles to see if there are any refutations?). That seems to me a failure of basic intellectual integrity in one's dealing with others.

Now turn to the person whose work is at issue. If *they* are intellectually honest -- if they are concerned with truth and evidence -- then they should regard themselves as having a professional obligation to get their good idea/refutation heard. After all, if it *isn't* heard, the profession will have missed out on something important. This also seems to me a failure of intellectual integrity. If you truly believe an idea is good, you should want it heard. You should think you have an *obligation* to the fellow members of the profession to have it heard.

If I am right about this -- about intellectual honesty, and a background professional duty to display it -- this may (I think) disarm many of Justin's worries. An intellectually honest person, for instance, will presumably not approach a refutation of their idea by saying, "I have too much other work to do." They should want the refutation of their idea to become known. And so, dealing with Justin's third point, I think they should do more than just write a two-sentence paper saying, "No Body is right. My argument was wrong." An intellectually honest person will want to figure out where No Body's refutation *leads* (if it refutes Big Shot's theory, Big Shot should -- if he/she is intellectually honest -- want to know where to go from there!).

Anyway, I suspect others will say I have an overly idealized/overly well-developed sense of intellectual honesty. If so, I'm happy to accept that, and just have an idiosyncratic moral view. ;)

Moti Mizrahi

Hi Justin,

These are good points and I think you are generally right that there may be extenuating circumstances. For example, if indeed the paper in question was published 30 years ago, and Big Shot has moved since then to work on other topics, then you might be right that Big Shot has no obligation to respond to new critiques.

As for the case in which Big Shot agrees that the refutation is indeed successful, I would say that there is a case to be made for the claim that Big Shot is professionally obliged to acknowledge the refutation. After all, Big Shot has a great deal of gravitas in the profession. If she doesn’t acknowledge the refutation, others might think that the refutation fails or that it is not worth engaging with. As Uncle Ben used to say: “With great power comes great responsibility.” :)

I like your suggestion to add a sharing button on the Cocoon. I use the twitterfeed (http://twitterfeed.com ) app to create an automated feed for my own blog and for the Cocoon. But it should be easy to add a Share This button on the Cocoon (http://sharethis.com/#sthash.BucdQkRO.JIDc5Zqo.dpbs ).

Moti Mizrahi

Thanks, Marcus. As you can see from my comment on Justin's comment, I am inclined to agree with you. I would actually like to see blogs and other web platforms become an "official" part of the profession. That is, that they could count as far as promotion and tenure as concerned.

Marcus Arvan

Justin and Moti: there is a Typepad app that lets people share comments via Twitter and Facebook. Unfortunately, it can only be enabled by shutting comment moderation off -- something which I'm loathe to do, given comment spamming and past experiences with inappropriate comments, "trolling", etc. If people want me to turn off moderation so we can share on Twitter and whatnot, I'm happy to rethink the policy. Everyone should feel free to chime in and let me know.

Justin Caouette

Marcus, I'm not suggesting sharing comments via twitter. Rather, I'm suggesting a share button in order to easier facilitate posting some of the content via social networking avenues (twitter is my avenue of choice). When I comment at Flickers it still sits in moderation even though they have the share button so I do think it's a possible option via the typepad interface.

I like the moderation policy as it stands and would only recommend a change. I was only suggesting the share button to make it easier to link others to the blog.

Moti Mizrahi

Marcus, check out the link to share this above. You could add this button to the Cocoon.


Others have said this before, but one of the problems in philosophy is that we don't require of each other that authors do adequate literature searches, covering all the relevant literature on a topic, before publishing a paper. In other disciplines, psych for example, it's standard practice and a paper wouldn't be published without it. Philosophers can be really lazy scholars.

Moti Mizrahi

Thanks for your comment, Rachel. I am interested in the normative question concerning the professional obligations of big name philosophers. But you may be right that one potential explanation for the fact that big shots rarely engage with nobodies is scholarly laziness. Another potential explanation is class. That is, some big shots might think that they don't have to engage with nobodies precisely because they are nobodies (e.g., either because they are from an unknown college or from a low-rank graduate program).

Marcus Arvan

I wonder what everyone makes of this: http://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/underappreciated_philos/

Good idea or bad idea?

Moti Mizrahi

Marcus, I think this is a great idea. If I remember correctly, Eric Schliesser used to run an underrated philosopher series over at New APPS. But I like the idea of having a blog devoted to underrated philosophy.


Honestly, my guess is that it isn't a class thing, it's just that they're not reading it. However, I have had a troubling exchange with someone on the 'inside' about a paper draft he sent me. I know he knows of my work on this topic, and I pointed out that two of my papers ought to be cited (if not discussed) since they're directly relevant to what he was arguing. He seemed to think that since he didn't find the arguments compelling (he *hadn't read the papers yet*), he ought not cite them.

So maybe there's also a fundamental lack of understanding on proper citation practices. I'm sure there's a constellation of issues behind this.


Anil Gomes (Oxford) has been running a similar seminar here:



To answer Moti's question -- "Would you change your judgment (from YES to NO) if Big Shot is unaware of No Body's refutation?" -- I would indeed change my answer to NO. I think the duty to bring the refutation to Big Shot's attention is with No Body, who should email Big Shot the paper explaining what she takes the import of her argument to be and asking for comments on it.

As for the points raised by Justin, I agree with Moti's response to them. Acknowledging that one's argument has been refuted doesn't necessarily mean retracting the paper, but it can take the form of a note below the link to the paper on one's website, saying that one no longer holds this view or defends that argument given the objections raised in [insert reference to No Body's paper]. In general I think it's a good practice to link to papers criticizing one's work on one's website, as I've seen done several times.

One can even imagine a function on PhilPapers which would allow authors to a posteriori attach notes to their papers, notes which could be used for the purpose indicated above (or for other purposes).

Moti Mizrahi

Thanks for the follow-ups, Rachel and Alex.

Alex, I like the idea of tracking responses to a paper through PhilPapers or some other platform.

Apropos our discussion:

Do people read footnotes. I rarely do. Too much trouble. Gilbert Harman (@gilbertharman) July 28, 2013

Make of it what you will.

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