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Peter, I don't understand how your footnote doesn't serve this purpose:

"To serve as an epistemic authority for a claim relevant to your own contribution to knowledge" - I take this to mean, that a footnote backs up claims you are making in the paper. If I understood you correctly, you included this footnote as an example of someone who strongly holds one of the views you discussed. So presumably, the footnote epistemically supported your claim that there are certain people who indeed have the views you discuss. I don't think "epistemic authority" needs to mean the person you cite is an expert, but just that citing them in one way or another supports your argument.

As for citing people - it seems sometimes citation is scholarly required, and other times it is more of "optional." In the optional cases, then not citing the problematic person is okay- because well, it's optional. In other cases their is a scholarly obligation. (now perhaps one might argue a moral obligation overcomes a scholarly one, but it seems the scholarly obligation remains. )

On the Market

A point that would be worth addressing is: why is there a presumption that avoiding citation of individuals who have engaged in professional misconduct is virtuous or commendable in the first place? It seems that the idea is "if you can, avoid it". But how is avoiding citation making up for their regrettable behavior? Is it a form of punishment?
I am not saying that it couldn't be any of these things, but it would be good to have some clarity.
Of course, where citation isn't a scholarly obligations, all sorts of idiosyncratic motivations may justify omitting a reference. So, you dislike the harasser because of what he did, and decide not to cite him. That's perfectly reasonable. But it's quite unlike having a moral obligation not to cite him, absent overriding obligations.

Peter Furlong

Amanda - Thanks for the comment. I think that there is a sense--the sense you note--in which we might think this footnote served as a sort of epistemic authority, but notice this doesn't seem to be what Leiter meant. He says "By epistemic authority I mean simply another scholar’s research that is invoked to establish the reliability or truth of some other claim on which your work depends." I am not invoking research. The comment wasn't even made in a piece of scholarship.

The other cases I mentioned, where one might just point to some papers as illustrating a trend or something, seem to be closer to Leiter's take on epistemic authority. Even here, though, I think authors often cite things with no intention of invoking things to establish the truth or reliability of a claim. I think some illustrations really are just illustrations, and in other cases the purpose is merely to aid readers in finding further works on a topic, not in convincing the reader of the reliability or truth of this or that claim.

Maybe I am just trying to find a distinction that isn't there. That is always a possibility.

Even in the cases of optional citations, I wonder whether adopting certain policies governing those optional citations are better than others (whether scholarly, professionally, or morally).

On the Market - Good questions. I am not sure if there is such a presumption. The person giving me this advice didn't invoke moral considerations, but ones about what readers might look favorably upon. Others, though, I think see it either as a sort of punishment or as a way of showing solidarity with victims.


I think I pretty much concur with you, Peter. Optional citations are optional, and serve (among other things) to reinforce reputational networks in the profession (partly by signalling one's own belonging, by reinforcing the cited person's status as an authority, by directing interested research traffic, etc.). And it seems totally appropriate to me to choose not to participate in some part of that network. Too often, it seems to me, we just cite some stuff without thinking too much about it, why we're citing it in the first place, what it signals, or who/what's being left out of the conversation, and we end up with weirdly stilted feedback loops in the scholarship.

I think there's an analogous practice at the level of the examples we tend to (over-) use. And while I don't think I've yet revised a citation as you describe doing, I've definitely re-thought my examples a bunch of times, and for what I take to be similar(ish) reasons (i.e. sometimes because of concerns about someone's behaviour, and often because of concerns about how I was directing intellectual traffic).

One of the go-to examples in the literature on the ontology of artworks, for example, is Duchamp's oeuvre, especially his Fountain (if it even is Duchamp's, which it may well not be). And sure, there's lots to be said about it, and sometimes talking about it is unavoidable. But it's way, way, way over-used, and that over-use can actually start to distort our thinking about the underlying issues, especially because it's a non-standard "hard" case. And, you know, it's just boring to read yet another article whose big test case is the same one everyone else is using. The same goes for Proust's hawthorns in the literature on aesthetic obligations, or Sherlock Holmes examples in the philosophy of literature.

It seems to me that's not unlike what happens when we (for example) mention conventions in passing, and say "see, e.g., Lewis (1969)"; what about the (really important and interesting!) alternatives offered by, e.g., Margaret Gilbert or Ruth Millikan? Touchstones make for great short-hand, but it's worth thinking about the things we use as touchstones.


I don't want to get too deep into the weeds as what counts as scholarly research, but it does seem Leiter defined the two reasons to cite a bit too narrowly. I think one reason is simply that the citation, in one way or another, supports your argument.

Peter Furlong

Michel - I think your first paragraph really zeroes in on the sort of practices I was thinking of. I hadn't really broadened my thinking to relate this to the sorts of examples you mention, but I think you are right that there is a similarity in the way we almost habitually cite certain articles (when others would do just as well) or provide certain examples (when others might even be better).

Amanda - Yeah, that was my thought too. I just thought that the argument for continuing to cite these sorts of people as normal is most powerful when we define things narrowly, as Leiter does. When we broaden the scope of the purposes of citation, then it is less obvious (at least to me) that we have an obligation to continue citing these people as we would have in the past.


Yes, and (setting aside any moral consideration) citations often support arguments in ways that are more rhetorical than logical. It seems reasonable to me, as a matter of rhetoric, to avoid diverting your audience's attention from the issue at hand to whatever (even just alleged) crimes are associated with a name. This applies to a philosopher's oeuvre as much as it does their behavior. I'm sure both Ayn Rand and Slavoj Zizek have said worthwhile things. Citing them would - by my lights - just come with too much baggage unless there were no available alternatives. This doesn't excuse failing to cite someone when doing so would amount to plagiarism or gross omission, of course. But in the sorts of borderline cases under consideration, I'm not sure there's a problem.

Joshua Mugg

On the question of when one should cite at all, I think Jessica Wilson's piece on citations in philosophy is a good place to start: https://whatswrongcvsp.com/2015/12/14/whats-wrong-with-current-citation-practices-in-philosophy/

She advocates for citing widely, and adopting a style of citing more like psychology.

If one accepts Wilson's position on citation, then it might be that one should not censure based on moral misconduct (sexual or otherwise). However, I think it would take some time to spell out that implication from Wilson's position.

just wondering

Is there something special about sexual assault that distinguishes it from other moral ills such as racist and sexist views? If not, by the logic of the argument then one should not use Aristotle or Kant (and a plethora of other philosophers) as *illustrations* (not cases used for epistemic authority) in a footnote for a particular claim given their various problematic views on race, sex, etc.

Just looking for clarity here.

Peter Furlong

Hi Joshua - I think that is right, that if we were to change our citation practices, then the claim that we ought to cite everyone (whatever their behavior) would be strengthened.

Just wondering - There is certainly a comparison that can be made between modern offenders and some of the giants of the past. I am not quite sure what you mean, though, by "the logic of the argument." I point to Leiter's argument that we have an obligation to continue citing these people, but it is less clear which argument you are referring to against it. I do think that if, because of their behavior, citing certain people in certain contexts is no longer required, then we would have reason to think we are not required to cite giants of the past as examples.

Some people (like Frank, above) note that citing people with baggage can distract from the project of the paper. With this line of reasoning, though, we might have good reason to distinguish between modern figures and giants of the past: reference to a giant of the past is less likely to distract from the purpose of the paper (because references to them are ubiquitous, because we are further removed from their moral problems, because nobody alive was directly and immediately harmed by their actions, etc.).

As a general question, do any of you know of arguments that we should not cite those implicated in sexual assault (or other terrible behavior)? (I know of claims made in passing, but don't know of anyone who develops an arguments for this conclusion with any care.) I certainly find myself closer to Leiter's take on this issue, although I think in some cases it is permissible to alter our practices, but I would be interested in reading some work defending a strong thesis on the other side of this issue.


Peter: Helpful clarifications in your last round of responses. Without endorsing it (there are surely better available), an initial attempt at an argument like the one you request:

Nothing in an article or book ought to detract from the primary purpose of it. The primary purpose of an article or book is proximately to provide something of value to a community of readers and scholars, and ultimately to improve that community. A community is made worse by improving the standing of (seriously, sufficiently, or grossly) bad-acting members of it. Citing someone improves their standing. Therefore, CETERIS PARIBUS, we ought not to cite (seriously, sufficiently or grossly) bad-acting people.

I don't imagine there's much in this argument that won't be controversial. But I suspect it's close to what is in the background of these discussions. It only reasonably applies, I would think, to borderline cases. It would not, for instance, justify plagiarism or simply ignoring an important issue.


The difference between Aristotle and today's bad actors is that Aristotle is dead. Often the reason for not citing current sexual offenders, or the supposed reason, is to (1) not allow those people to be active members of the profession - because when they are active members, they harm other people, and (2) to show that if you behave in certain ways, you will not be welcome in our community (the current community, consisting entirely of living humans). If you are dead neither (1) nor (2) apply.

Not saying I agree with the above argument - but there is a clear difference between people who are dead and those who are alive.

just wondering

Peter: I'm not attributing that argument to you, I think it's just one thought that's in the logical space here. But then you do seem to entertain the idea that maybe we ought not cite certain historical figures. As a practical matter, I don't see how this can work if one, for example, is a historian working on medieval philosophy. How can a respectable historian not cite Aristotle? Again, I think we need to sharpen what exactly is problematic with citing problematic figures, and then we can distinguish between different kinds of citations that might be problematic. I'm not sure if the epistemic authority citation vs. illustrative citation is a useful distinction for historical work. Perhaps there are some people who think that we ought not focus so much on history because of these kinds of problems, but I'm not sure if that's feasible or moreover a good idea at all for us to neglect our past like that. (for example, I've heard some philosophers say that they issue trigger warnings to students when reading certain historical figures or even avoid reading certain passages).

Amanda: I understand that we're just entertaining ideas here, and that you don't endorse the argument you give, but I don't really buy the thought that the distinction somehow rests in the older giants being dead.

So, does this mean that all I have to do is wait for (I am not going to name a bunch of philosophers who have done these terrible things) to die? And then as soon as they die it's now OK for me to engage their exciting and important work on topic x? Or maybe perhaps we need to wait for x number of years to past after they are dead and then it becomes ok? What if I am a philosopher who has spent a good portion of my career engaging some particular famous philosopher's work who now turns out to be an offender? Am I obligated to now completely change my research program?

I think there are weaker and stronger senses of being part of the philosophical community. Certain philosophers who have done these things are certainly not a part of the community in a strong sense in that they have lost their jobs (some, of course, have not lost their jobs). But their work being engaged after having lost their jobs is a weaker sense of being a part of the community. I don't see why it's problematic to cite (as an epistemic authority or for illustration) someone's view. I think this *can* limit philosophical progress in significant ways.

One final thought. People can do egregious things. No doubt. If they actually have done these things and it's not word of mouth, they need to be reprimanded, taken to task, and the victims do deserve justice in some sense.

But what is justice here? Is it excommunication from the philosophical community or maybe even the moral community?

Human beings are complex creatures who do both good and evil things, but they can change. We should hope that people can change. This is one aspect of moral progress. What I am saying is that I think we need to have the moral capacity and sensitivity for forgiveness in order to effectual real moral progress. Forgiveness of course is not cheap, and it needs to be earned. But I do think that we need more mercy and compassion in the world. Maybe that's because I have certain religious sensitivities, but I think it's a thought that deserves more serious consideration in our current political and moral climate. I don't think that we should be excommunicating people from the philosophical community forever, and if one makes the right changes, we should celebrate that change, and allow one to enter back into the philosophical fold.

Just some thoughts.

Peter Furlong

Just wondering - Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I certainly do not think we should avoid citing the giants of the past. I don't think I even entertain that idea above, although I do note that one might think that, in very particular circumstances, we do not have an obligation to cite them (although I also tried to push back against this thought).

Your example of the history of medieval philosophy is an interesting one. I have done some work in this area, and I agree that it would be ridiculous to avoid talking about Aristotle, merely because one had problems with various things he had to say.

One final thought: in the history of philosophy, citation practices tend to be much more robust. It is not unusual to find pages of scholarship that are half taken up by footnotes. Given the practice of more meticulously citing all relevant work, I think it is more obvious that we should continue citing all relevant work, whatever its author might have done. (Joshua Mugg, in a comment above, makes a similar point, but unconnected to the practices of historians of philosophy.)

Finally, I agree that we should not be "excommunicating people from the philosophical community forever" but I think that is compatible with it sometimes being permissible (contra Leiter) to alter our citation practices in at least some cases.

I am not sure if you have settled views on this issue, but if you do, are they simply in line with Leiter, or do you think sometimes it may be permissible to alter citation practices, but we need to be careful, be open to mercy, and not go too far overboard?


Just Wondering: I am not sure what part of the distinction between being alive vs. being dead you do not understand. You ask, "So, does this mean that all I have to do is wait for (I am not going to name a bunch of philosophers who have done these terrible things) to die? And then as soon as they die it's now OK for me to engage their exciting and important work on topic x?." According to the theory I mentioned - yes, you only need to wait until they are dead. Once they are dead, citing them can no longer cause the relevant harms. Again, the harms of concern are (a) having the offenders be an active member of the community, in which they can continue to harm other people, and (b) showing that people who engage in certain types of behavior will not be welcome in the community while they are alive. Not welcoming them in the community serves as a disincentive to engage in these behaviors. If people engage in these behaviors and face no professional consequences, there is not a disincentive to refrain.

But shouldn't the disincentive be losing one's job, or other formal sanctions? Yes, it should be....but that is not always done. So the issue is, given that serial sexual harassers, and sometimes sexual assaulters, are not punished by their institution, how should the rest of the profession deal with them? One answer is to shove them out of the community in whatever way possible, and one way to do this is to ignore their work. Maybe you think we should continue to cite them anyway, but,I haven't seen your specific reasons for this.

As far as forgiveness is concerned - that just seems a different issue. As you say, forgiveness must be earned. I don't know of any case in which a former sexual harasser has reformed themselves, asked for forgiveness, tried to make amends, etc. and some philosophers still insist we should excommunicate, not cite them. Since this situation hasn't occurred, the example doesn't have a lot of relevance to the citation issue. The people we are dealing with now are those who have not yet repented.

Personally, I think if a citation is scholarly obligatory, you should (morally) cite the regardless. There are too many epistemic issues with not doing so. However, I understand why some people disagree, and think we should avoid citing problematic people as long as they are living.

Martin Lenz

Interesting post and discussion! Here's jut one additional consideration that I haven't yet seen:

Many of us act and write as members of educational institutions. Trying to take the perspective of a victim, I would feel betrayed if representatives of institutions were to continue endorsing the voices and thus enlarging the impact of perpetrators who have harmed others in that institution. - That said, I still find it difficult to decide on a definite practice.

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