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Trystan Goetze

When I was an undergrad, one of my professors quipped that the mark of a great philosopher is to be "wrong in an interesting way." As a reviewer, I try to bear this in mind: if the author doesn't address certain objections, that isn't necessarily a flaw. It may just open up space for someone else to write a follow-up article pressing those objections, thereby advancing the discussion. (It depends, of course, on the nature of the objections—sometimes there will be some that have to be addressed just to show that the view is defensible enough to be interesting!)


I think part of the increase in pages may be due to the increase in professionalization in philosophy over the last century. I think one thing that is striking with older papers are the (lack thereof) citation practices. And given that philosophy, as opposed to the sciences, has stronger norms towards only citing what you're discussing, more citation entails more discussion. This also may be an artifact of the voluminous increase in the literature overall. Though I don't think this is the complete explanation.

Robert A Gressis

One reservation I have about the "being wrong in an interesting way" approach to philosophy is that it prioritizes interestingness over correctness, which can lead to problems of its own (I wrote a parody of such an approach at The Electric Agora; see here: https://theelectricagora.com/2020/04/19/a-defense-of-knowing-nothing/).

Another issue: I think one of the reasons that papers are longer is not just a "response to objections" section, but also a "situate this in the literature" and/or a "why should anyone care about this?" section. I get why there are such sections, but I'm not sure they *always* need to be there (e.g., it should be pretty obvious, sometimes, why someone should care about a paper that, say, claims that it's immoral to have children), nor am I convinced that such sections need to be as thorough as they often are.


I think papers are too long, but I think it's largely because people are under pressure to publish and referees are under pressure to reject submissions, and so a lot of space is devoted to convincing referees that a small point is actually a bigger point (even if it's not). My ideal world is one where

1) articles tend to be under 20 pages
2) books are used for longer works
3) books can't use already-published material

This would create space for longer works and ones people would read. I rarely read entire philosophy books because so many of them are just extended versions of articles already in print (this makes the book disappointing and so I rarely read this in my own subfield). Of course none of this likely works given the current pressure to publish. But it's how it used to work, I believe, so there's hope.


I agree with 2cents and Robert Gressis - I wonder if you plotted a graph (maybe someone has done so!) with average number of citations of philosophy articles and average article length over the years, there would be a strong correlation. There are pros and cons of this fact (if it is one).

One reason to hesitate about this conjecture is that it wouldn't explain why articles used to be longer in say, the 1930s (if I'm reading the above graph correctly). But I bet there is something to this as part of the explanation for average article length change from 1960s to present.

There also been an explosion of new journals in philosophy since the 1960s. I don't know if that is related, either.


I agree with Robert. I think there should be a balance between interestingness, coherency, and truthfulness. I think what makes philosophy papers different from other academic articles is that philosophers are obligated by their profession to take absolutely nothing for granted. A sociologist does not care about what the ultimate status of “knowledge” is.

Let me provide a quote from Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman in their preface from their book The Social Construction of Reality: “The sociologist is forced by the very logic of his discipline to ask, if nothing else, whether the difference between the two “realities” may not be understood in relation to various differences between the two societies. The philosopher, on the other hand, is professionally obligated to take nothing for granted, and to obtain maximal clarity as to the ultimate status of what the man in the street believes to be “reality” and “knowledge.”

It is for this reason (and many others) why many philosophers are hesitant about writing long papers. A few wrong steps could undermine an argument or analysis greatly. Who else is going to provide maximal clarity into a concept if not philosophers? If philosophers weren’t primarily the ones responsible for this task, I wouldn’t worry so much about correctness, coherency, or truth as much in a philosophy paper as the cost to that knowledge would not be as great if other academic professional share the same burden. But unfortunately, it’s mainly philosophers who are responsible for the task of providing maximal clarity of something.

I do agree that we should have more spaces for both long and short papers. But just keep in mind that long papers come with epistemological risks. Risks that we should take seriously since other academics and people often rely on us to provide such maximal clarity. Brain surgeons are a few and they can do things most people can’t and won’t. Hence why they are extremely careful about their job and performance. Not every academic can do conceptual analysis and so they rely on philosophers for that task.

Guy Crain

Is anyone aware of referees/editors who rejected a paper merely (or at least practically) because it was "too short"? I don't mean here the case of referees dreaming up further objections that could be included. I mean even if all the suggested revisions are made and the paper still ends up well below average length, do journals ever say "Sorry, we like our pieces to be longer than this"?


I used to get papers rejected frequently for being too short. I was told to send it to Analysis or that they don't take discussion notes, even when my paper advanced an original claim.

Now I tend to write long papers because so many ppl are upset if you don't mention their work.

Guy Crain


How short was too short for them?

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