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Mark Z

I think you raise an excellent point. Perhaps philosophy needs a metajournal: a journal that only publishes smallish pieces that comment on other pieces, offers counterexamples, etc. Maybe something online that would have a diverse editorial staff that can handle replies from a spectrum of journals, perhaps assigning an editor for each journal? If the metajournal also made a policy of working with the authors of the original papers that could probably generate some good philosophy. Anyone out there enterprising enough for this?

Marcus Arvan

Thanks, Mark. I've given some thought to trying to start such a journal myself. Who knows... :)


"They think citations exist to recognize 'good work' or 'work that influenced them'."

This is a pervasive problem, and it would be great if more people would adopt more inclusive citation practices.

However, one reason they don't is that it's might put them at a disadvantage. In my area, not only does citing the "right" people increase the chance that you'll be taken seriously, avoiding citing the wrong people is a way of aligning yourself with certain cliques.

As a result, citing "up" (only the right cliques) means your paper can be published anywhere (the lesser journals will still publish it), while citing "down" will limit the number of (and reputation of) journals that will consider it.


Marcus, interesting. I'm not sure I understand your stance on citations. Does publishing an article incur an obligation to cite all relevant articles written on the same topic? That sounds impossible for any paper not written about a small and narrow topic.... Does your stance on citations imply that authoring a paper brings with it an obligation to read all papers written about the same topic. Don't at least some philosophers publish good work without reading all the articles previously published on the topic.
If instead there is no obligation to read an article before citing it, then why is it important to cite it, as long as some authors in a field cite all the others then doesn't that suffice. Why should there be an obligation to repeat the string cite in every article?

Also, under your preferred citation practice, how (or why) is an author supposed to cite a work they think is bad, misleading, or not worth reading? If they cite it with no further explanation except that it is a work on the same topic, then they in effect endorse it as much of the others. If they cite it and then explain why they think it is bad, then they've had to significantly change their article to meet a citation preference, which seems like the tail wagging the dog.

Marcus Arvan

Anon: Thanks for your comment. That is a very disturbing point you make--and I suspect it is true. I suppose the most we can do is "try to be the change we want to see in the world." If my papers can only get into mid-level journals by me citing people appropriately, so be it. I have no desire to play into cliquishness. But, after reading your comment, I appreciate that there may be strong incentives to do just that.

Marcus Arvan

Mert: I do not think there is any formal rule one can use to determine how many articles in a given literature to cite. As you note, it is impossible to cite them all. What we have, I think, is a *choice*: a choice between (A) erring on the high side (citing too many articles), and (B) erring on the low side (not citing enough). In my experience, people in many other fields pursue (A), whereas philosophers tend to pursue (B). For instance, my wife works in psychology. Although psychologists cannot cite *everything*, they sure as heck cite a lot, erring on over-citing over under-citing. We should follow them...and one way to do this is to get straight on the fact that one has no *right* to not cite things one simply thinks are "bad" (psychologists don't do this, nor do physicists).

Which brings me to your other question: how should we handle citations of work we think is bad? I answer: by briefly mentioning in the footnote the citation is included in why we think it is bad.

Michel X.

Mert: That's the common response, but it seems grossly uncharitable to me. Citation serves a number of purposes, among them giving credit where it is due (and avoiding plagiarism), supporting one's claims, creating a paper trail for one's claims (i.e. verifiability), as well as situating one's work within the literature and giving the reader a glance into one's research on the topic. None of these aims requires that one read or cite all work on a topic.

My thinking on when to cite goes like this. One cites when one quotes. One cites when one paraphrases. One cites when one attributes a position to someone, and one gives some general citations (of the 'for x, see y') type when one is setting the stage and giving an overview of available views. And I think that one ought to cite when one is aware of published work that presents significant disagreement.

To answer your other question, I don't think that one need to discuss all disagreement at length. That would be silly. But I do think one has an obligation to note disagreement when one is aware of it. If it's not serious enough (or relevant enough) to warrant inclusion in the body, then it can easily be dealt with through a one-sentence footnote. That way, you're being perfectly transparent, and helping to guide your readers through the subject. If they want to write on it too, then they can (and should!) chase down those other positions, and check to make sure that you got them right and are right to dismiss them.

My worry is that we don't read enough before writing on a topic. I get the impression, from philosophers' internetual descriptions of their research habits, that a great many of us just keep up with work in top journals (top generalist and top subfield). So I worry that when researching a particular topic, we too often restrict ourselves to work by people we know or in some personal list of pre-approved journals, and ignore the rest.

I also worry that there might be a tacit concern at work, something to the effect that geniuses do work so groundbreaking that they *can't* cite, and that the more one cites, the less important one's ideas are (or the less of an exceptional philosopher one is). Certainly, as we saw a few months ago, philosophy is still entirely in thrall to the myth of the genius.

That's not to say that we should be reading or citing everything, just that we should be reading and citing *more*. I'd be pretty interested to see how we score on those citation-practices tests most universities host for their students.


Hi all,

I believe this video is worth watching, as it is related to the same topics of your nice blog: https://vimeo.com/128539582

An introduction to transdisciplinarity. It has been greatly appreciated all over the world from International institutions of social/anthropology/transdisciplinarity scholars.

Feel free to embed it in your posts.


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