Our books

Become a Fan

« Undergraduate zombie disproves 'Cogito Ergo Sum' | Main | Notes from the Pacific »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Wesley Buckwalter

Whether the practice of "helping" authors by "ghost authoring" their papers could be worrisome depends on some details, and I would argue sometimes is. My conception of the main job of referees is to ensure the minimum standard necessary for publishing. So if "helping" takes the form of R&R demands to ensure that standard, then it seems within the job description. This might even take the form of a couple optional suggestions over and above ensuring that standard. But "helping" becomes clearly worrisome when referees do not realize the paper they are reviewing is not their own paper, and hold it hostage to excessive personal demands, perhaps as they might have authored it themselves. That kind of "ghost authoring" seems really presumptuous to me, given that people submit papers to publish them, not begin new collaborations with strangers.

Derek Bowman

Although I agree with your view here, it seems to be in tension (though certainly not contradiction) with your insistence on extensive citation and credit-giving. If we recognize the essentially collaborative nature of good philosophical reasoning, why should we be so concerned about listing in detail each of our actual or possible published influences? Alternatively, if giving credit is so important, why shouldn't we be more meticulous about crediting our non-published influences?

Henry Lara

I wonder if perhaps a bit of the "solitary genius" ideal could help make sense of the concern here. What I refer to is that from the moment we read our first philosophical work, as undergrads (or before!), we are looking up to these greater than life figures, whose works we imagine are solely the product of their genius. If pressed we acknowledge that, surely, so-and-so studied at X, under Y, and then went to lecture at Z, where he must have interacted with colleagues and students, but when it comes to their work, they did that all alone. Thus the image of the solitary genius and the conception of philosophy as a solitary enterprise that goes along with it. When I talk to fellow graduate students, I suspect each of us dreams that we will be the next Wittgenstein or the next Kant, or at the very least, we look up to the ideal. I wonder how much of that still lingers when graduates become professionals, even though when examined, philosophy can perhaps best be seen as a collaborative discipline in the sense that philosophers continuously discuss their work and test their theories with each other. Still, collaborations are looked down upon, and the perfect article or better yet, book, are the ones produced by a single author, who somehow produced it with minimal if any feedback. Shouldn't we then, perhaps, somehow let go of stereotypes and better acknowledge the social nature of the discipline?

(I am writing on this at the moment, so I am curious to hear other thoughts!)

Marcus Arvan

Hi Derek: Thanks for your comment!

I don't think my claims here are at all in tension with my insistence on meticulous credit-giving--as indeed I think we *should* cite unpublished feedback we receive. If you look at my published work, I routinely thank anonymous reviewers in footnotes and acknowledgements, as well as individuals who influenced my work merely through spoken conversation. My book, for instance, thanks Robert Audi, who never officially gave me feedback on the book but instead simply raised an audience comment on a paper I gave that influenced the book. Because his comment (which was only a minute or two long) fundamentally transformed how I conceptualized the book project, I felt I owed him recognition for that.

Anyway, this is the kind of stuff I think we should indeed do, and I try to do it the best I can!

Marcus Arvan

Hi Wesley: I think your comment raises some interesting questions about "the purpose" of peer-review and "the main job" of referees.

You say, in your view, that the main job of referees is "to ensure the minimum standard necessary for publishing."

You then note that, ""helping" becomes clearly worrisome when referees do not realize the paper they are reviewing is not their own paper, and hold it hostage to excessive personal demands...That kind of "ghost authoring" seems really presumptuous to me, given that people submit papers to publish them, not begin new collaborations with strangers."

I find these remarks interesting because they do not fit with how I personally conceptualize the purpose of peer-review, or indeed, my purpose in sending my paper to a journal. The way I see it, "the purpose of peer review" is *peer-review*--that is, it is (A) sending a paper to peers in the field for their opinions as peers, on (B) anything they might reasonably find relevant to its eventual publication (including things that might improve the paper). As such, when I send a paper for review, I'm actually hoping the reviewer doesn't just try to determine whether my paper meets "a minimum standard of publication." I actually want to know whether there is anything I missed that they see as a peer that would make it the best publication (in that journal) it could be.

Anyway, I think our differing reactions here (and judgments about "the purpose" of peer-review) are interesting, and worth exploring more. I hope to do so in a new post!

Marcus Arvan

Hi Henry: That's a really interesting suggestion! I think the solitary genius ideal clearly has a long lineage in philosophical history (viz. Kant, Wittgenstein, Nietzsche, etc.)--and it may well be linked to the ghost-author concern. In any case, I think you are right that the thing to do is to emphasize the collaborative nature of philosophy, as many people these days are doing. But, I would add, perhaps one way to emphasize its collaborative nature is to move away from one vision of peer-review (viz. "the job of referees is to make a recommendation") to another model (viz. "the job of referees is to help authors improve their papers/publish the best paper they can").

Derek Bowman

While it's certainly noble of you to thank anonymous reviewers, their continued anonymity means they don't thereby get credit for their work.
Do you think that's a problem?

Moreover, why think that the various commentators you might credit by name can claim sole credit for their contributions? Were they not themselves influenced by earlier sources? Should they have disclosed those sources so you could credit them in your footnotes as well?

Given both the collaborative and ongoing nature of philosophical thought and conversation, I guess I think of authorship more as taking responsibility for one's claims than taking credit.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Derek: You raise a good point. I've always thought that crediting anonymous reviewers is the right thing to do, but mainly because it's what I've seen others do. But, now that you mention it, perhaps I should make a more concerted effort to see if the reviewers I thank would be willing to waive their anonymity so that I can more properly thank them. Indeed, I think I just might start doing that!

In any case, I think your other questions push the bounds of good reason. Indeed, they seem to me to suggest an instance of the sorites paradox (viz. if X is a heap, then X-1 must also be a heap; if X-1 is a heap, then X-2 is a heap, etc.). Just as there is no definitive grain of rice that turns something from a heap into a non-heap, and no single hair than turns a non-balding person into a balding person (yes, I assume here that Williamson is wrong about vagueness), so too is there no *definitive* point at which one should credit others versus not credit them. Rather, we must *draw* lines, and some lines are more sensible than others. It is not sensible to cite every possible influence of one's work, as (1) we cannot trace out that history adequately (viz. who influenced the person who influenced the person who influenced you, etc.), and (2) it would would be too unwieldy to credit such a large number of people. Rather, we must make choices--yet, when a reviewer makes a very good point that alters one's paper (or a commenter at a conference makes a comment that entirely alters one's book project), then it seems to me it makes perfect sense to credit them--as they made a clear, unambiguous contribution to the project turning out the way it did.

Or so it seems to me! The fact that one can, in principle, draw the "credit" line anywhere doesn't entail that one *should* draw it anywhere--for there are, again, more sensible schemes of credit-giving (crediting everyone who directly and substantially affects the work's end result) and less-sensible ones (trying to cite everyone who, in some way or other, affects the final product--no matter how indirect).

Derek Bowman


Thanks for the reply. I genuinely didn't mean to be pushing toward a sorites paradox; I was genuinely unsure where you thought the boundaries should be and why. I certainly agree that there are numerous reasons to give credit and more and less sensible ways of drawing the line.

It still strikes me as incongruous to place as much emphasis on the assigning of credit as you do, given that I think a rejection of the lone genius author should also lead to a rejection of the lone genius commentator. But perhaps this just represents my own limited vision of what is at stake in credit-giving.

Wesley Buckwalter

Dear Marcus, thank you for your thoughtful reply. You know, from this post and several others on your blog, I'm gathering we have fundamentally different views about the nature of peer review. It would be great to discuss them sometime directly. (I kind of get the sense there might be a lot of different views about it across our profession, which is typically under-acknowledged, and which is slightly worrisome if we're all supposed to be doing the same job!).

I flatly deny the purpose of peer review is to help authors with papers. The purpose of it is to evaluate papers. Issuing an evaluation might and maybe should end up helping authors when done well, but in my view, as a consequence of its main function.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

Subscribe to the Cocoon

Job-market reporting thread

Current Job-Market Discussion Thread

Philosophers in Industry Directory


Subscribe to the Cocoon