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Ingrid Robeyns

I think your observations and analysis are spot-on, Helen. I have a paper that I've been dragging with me that fits this profile. It's been cited (as a paper) in several published articles/handbook chapters, but I can't get it published, because referees find it insufficiently rigorous, and they are correct, and I don't think this can be fixed.
I think the narrowness of the academic philosophy journals that you rightly observe is one reason why some senior philosophers, who no longer have to worry about stringent output requirements, start to write mainly books - since books give us more freedom to do what we really like, rather than what the referees/editors want us to do.


I agree with almost all fo this. But pragmatically speaking, I think we probably would need to start with accepting more novel, and less water-tight arguments in journals before expanding philosophy in the ways you describe. I think it would be very, very, hard to get the profession on board with such a big expansion (one which I couldn't more strongly support.) Perhaps the first step would be to have a journal of presentations. Maybe you create a video f a talk and send it in. It would be reviewed. Or just a recording and not a video. Either way, spoken philosophy is different. It could be reviewed but wouldn't be blind reviewed. But of course, lots of "blind reviewed" papers are anything but, anyway. If I had the prestige I would try to start a journal of video or audio presentations. It also seems much more inclusive, since some people are better at learning by listening, and some people are better at expressing ideas by speaking instead of writing.


Also, I think the argument that philosophy is fundamentally an air-tight type of discipline couldn't be more implausible. Let's go back to those handful of philosophy books and articles that receive more attention, admiration, and discussion than almost any of the others. Almost none of these are the air-tight type of arguments. Very few of the classics are like this, or Rawls, or even some big contemporary papers that I don't want to call out. The point is that it really shouldn't be controversial that lots of great philosophy isn't water-tight. And besides, unless the water-tight argument is about something important, then it seems philosophy is just an intellectual sport, ie., an arbitrary competition to see who is the very best at making very tightly constructed arguments, but, you know, who the hell cares about the subject matter? If they are well argued, being on a silly topic doesn't matter! We philosophers, are really, really, good at complex, structured, reasoning patterns. We set world records in that. Isn't that the idea? I don't think so. But I think a decent number of others do think so, or act as though they do.


Ingrid, I have a paper like that too. Does well at conferences, I get asked about citation information about it frequently, (where I uncomfortably must reply it was never published). However, it is the first paper I've completely given up on for publishing. The reviewer comments are not merely rejections but just some of the most aggressive, dismissive, and insulting I've ever had. And it's not like I'm not use to mean reviewers. I actually decided to stop submitting it because I feared that even if it was published, it might hurt my reputation since so many philosophers apparently hated it so much. The subject probably explains a lot of this, but generally, I have a much easier time getting papers published that I didn't enjoy writing and that I do not consider my best work.


Thanks for this helpful post. I have also experienced getting very positive feedback at conferences (beyond politeness -- along the lines of "this was the best thing I heard all conference"), yet struggled to publish. I've been attributing failure to publish to being better at presenting than I am at writing, but it sounds right that there are parts about my arguments in these papers that aren't watertight (and probably can't be).

Marcus Arvan

Thanks for this great post, Helen. I am very much in agreement. I will say that I think lower-ranked journals may be more willing to publish imaginative but not watertight articles. I know some people are averse to publishing in "bad journals", worrying about what others will think of it. But this kind of attitude bugs me. If you believe in a work you've created and have gotten good reactions to it at conferences, why not publish it in a lower-ranked journal? If it's any good (and let's say you've also published in good journals), people might just read and engage with it anyway! I'll also say that I think the Journal of the APA has gone out of its way to prioritize publishing more imaginative works, committing to this in its editorial statement. So I think there is some real desire in the discipline (a desire that I myself share) for more works of this type.


FWIW, one of the most negative responses I've ever received was from JAPA for just such a paper (which I published pretty much as-is in a T10 journal immediately afterwards). JAPA's report was *very* short, and pretty much just said that it was unpublishable in any philosophy journal.

So even if some journals sometimes go out on a limb (and JAPA certainly has a few times), I think it can happen pretty much anywhere, for exactly the reasons outlined in the OP. Flagging the weird nature of the paper in a cover letter might help give a signal to editors committed to giving such papers a chance, however.


Well, consider that the role of the conference feedback giver and the journal critic are very different, as are the social settings. You rightly point out that the journal critic may be more inclined toward harshness under the guise of anonymity. I don't debate that. But the person who comes up to you at a conference may feel too awkward and pressured by a lifetime of social cues to politeness to voice any deep or striking critiques of a paper. People in the audience who did think negatively about your paper may not come up to you at all, under the motto "if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all."

Additionally, the things you notice and can process in the act of listening to a paper presentation versus reading a paper (red pen in hand, so to speak) are vastly different. How many times have you heard a presentation you were enthusiastic about, but then had serious critiques of after taking the time to read the actual manuscript?

Of course, these are just my critiques thrown out from the nebula of internet anonymity, so it's possible your post is actually brilliant beyond compare or critique ;)


I've gotten very harsh feedback at conferences, and I've seen many others get that, too. But I think it depends a lot on the kind of person you are and how you present. I have theories as to why, but some people are just easier to criticize to their face than others. Still, I don't think it is controversial that philosophers give very negative criticism at conferences.

I do agree that conference comments are more positive compared to journal reviews, and that seeing a person face to face explains that. But the bar is very, very, low for journal positivity. I also don't think that anonymity and harshness gives us more reason to think that the harsh review is accurate.

Recently I've had the chance to read the reviews of the same paper that I myself reviewed, i.e. I read the other report from the other reviewer. This has been so eye opening to me. Because with my own work, I can never trust, completely, my own assessment that the report was unfair. Yet after reading the reports on other people's papers, I got the odd sense of comfort, along with despair, in knowing just how completely epistemically unjustified, and plain mean, that comments of journal reviewers can be. I guess it's not just me!

I think when you have to show your criticism publicly, you are far less likely to give shoddy criticism, i.e criticism that shows you didn't read closely, and much less likely to be mean. I would be in favor of publishing reviewer rejections. Yes, I get the disincentive. And it will never happen. But I support it, theoretically.

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