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Thank you for this very thoughtful post. I work in an area where people often construct model, etc. And not infrequently I am asked to referee papers in formal philosophy. On numerous occasions, I have urged the authors to express their points in nice clear prose. I do so in an effort to help the papers have a greater impact (or at least more readers!). In time, I have seen some of the papers published, and I am dismayed that my advice was not taken. The findings reported in these papers are often very interesting, but few people will attend to them.
You provide some very straightforward ways to address my concern. I think the first point, about writing like you are teaching, may be the most important.

Shay Allen Logan

This is great!

Another point worth making: often translating into more intelligible language yields philosophical fruit.

Example: much work in relevance logic (an area I work in) is done in Hilbert systems. These are notoriously impenetrable to non-experts. I'm guilty of using them too, but have recently aimed at instead using the much-more intelligible bunched proof systems that have been developed for these. To my surprise, there's a lot of philosophically interesting things to say about these systems, but since using Hilbert systems makes the formal work easier, there's been much less philosophical work done on the bunched systems. So there's a boatload of philosophically interesting low-lying fruit here, and all it took to find it was looking for a more-intelligible way of presenting things.

Sophie Horowitz

Thanks for writing this, Richard! As someone who often tries to read formal philosophy, but writes much more informally, I will admit that I basically only read the English parts of papers unless I am *really* going to work in depth on the topic. So if the English part of paper X is not accessible, I'll probably go read paper Y instead.

I think I disagree with frontloading the formalism. In many cases that is just overwhelming to me. I'd rather have stuff explained in English and then formalism introduced along the way only as it's necessary. (But maybe that's just me, and it's also possible that I'm lazier than the average reader!)

Finally, I'd like to add that whenever there's a ton of symbols in a paper, it's much more reader friendly (to me at least!) to use English words to name things whenever possible. Even using "RAIN" or "TAILS" instead of "P" for the name of a proposition can make it read more smoothly.


Sophie, a small clarification: I think the thing that Richard wants us to frontload is the /glosses/ on the formalisms. That is, we should give English glosses of the formalisms more often in the beginning of the paper.

I don't think Richard wants us to frontload the use of formalisms in general.

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