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« When to give up on the academic job market? | Main | Can shy, timid people flourish in the profession? »

03/15/2021

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Amanda

I think we need more people who are willing to go against the grain, and write papers the way they want to write them even if it doesn't fit this mold. Sadly, I think it will be most effective coming from people at "top" research schools - which speaks to another problem in the profession. Also, preferably younger scholars that are at good places but not too established. We all know the biggest names can get away with anything, so when they write something against the norms it often doesn't change things below them, because others don't think they have the same creed to try it.

I think it is also helpful that these papers start being presented more often at conferences and workshops. There is a lot of discussion about conference papers, and if the norms change in conferences I think they are more likely to change in journals.

The other thing is I think we need to have many more discussions among the profession and journal editors about what makes a good philosophy paper. It is pretty bizarre that there is so little agreement or discussion on this issue. I am at an R1, and so is Helen, and we seem to value creativity a lot. But you ask another 2 people at research schools and they wills say creativity is irrelevant.

I have often heard people say things like, "I felt I had to accept this paper even though it was boring and the points it made not all that exciting, but there was no problem with the argument."

Since when did we decide that the above was the standard for a publishable paper? I'm glad I missed the memo, because it is not how I have or plan to judge papers. I reject papers on the grounds that while the argument was tight, the points it made entirely uninteresting.

Galen

Danto writes:

"This implies a noble vision of ourselves as vehicles for the transmission of an utterly impersonal philosophical truth, and it implies a vision of philosophical reality as constituted of isolable, difficult but not finally intractable problems"

These are both non-sequiturs. First, blind review doesn't imply impersonal philosophical truth--rather it implies only that if/when philosophical truth is personal, we won't know which person it is until after it's published. Nobody thinks that an AA meeting is impersonal when nobody happens to know each other. Second, journal articles can, and sometimes do, manifest a vision of philosophy other than the quasi-scientific one that Danto is alluding to (marked by a division of labor, incremental progress, etc.). See, for instance, articles by those who explicitly deny that conception of philosophy. So, while the focus on journal articles at the expense of other forms of writings is an important issue, Danto* is attacking it in the wrong way.

*FWIW, I've only read the part Helen quoted.

postdoc10

If there weren’t a 100 qualified candidates for every TT (or even continuing) job, it would be easier for more junior folk to take a risk and do something different. I think you are right to point to the ecology of the problem, and that ecology clearly includes market pressures (as you note). So, fighting for there to be more TT jobs would be a good place to start, it seems to me.

Tom

Contrarian perspective (contrarian to the views of the OP and the views of the commenters so far): "philosophy" names the discipline currently practiced by philosophers. The norms for that discipline are well-established. If you wish to engage in a discipline with different norms, that's cool and likely valuable and I think maybe you should (depending on stuff about you). But it follows that you aren't doing philosophy.

Tom again

(I should note that I say this as someone who has in fact published a dialogue, and in a vaguely respectable place no less)

Amanda

Tom: So Plato wasn't doing Philosophy? And if , for really weird reasons, 2 years from now 90% of publish 'philosophy' papers were haikus, then haikus would be philosophy? I mean, okay. I just disagree.

Evan

Tom: You wrote: “If you wish to engage in a discipline with different norms, that's cool and likely valuable and I think maybe you should (depending on stuff about you). But it follows that you aren't doing philosophy.”

Really? When I was in undergrad some of my philosophy professors have used sources outside of philosophy for their lectures. Those sources weren’t published by philosophers, but insofar as those sources made arguments that can be evaluated, I guess they could be used. Even Plato’s didactic method contained arguments, at least made by his characters. Therefore, I don’t think the boundaries between some of these fields and philosophy are as sharp as you maintain for this reason.

sahpa

Tom might be acting the contrarian for its own sake (nothing wrong with that!), but this is just false. Lots of practices undergo transformations in their internal norms, typically as a result of the application and enforcement of those norms themselves. (Arguably this is what Nietzsche meant by "self overcoming" values.)

Evan

sahpa: I agree. Nominal definitions are limited and often times not very useful. Philosophy is too complex of a concept to be described using a nominal definition.

S

Amanda: I agree that if papers are uninteresting or make unhelpful/unimportant points, they should be rejected, even if nothing else is "wrong". It's too bad that it's so much harder to publish an ambitious, interesting paper that makes a lot of claims than one that does very little.

Chris

I'd like to offer a defense of cookie-cutter philosophy from the perspective of a junior person in the field. First, let me say that I adore Plato and Nietzsche, and count them among Western culture's greatest philosophers. However, expecting junior people to produce not just good, tightly argued, and readable papers that engage with a huge amount of literature in our areas, but in addition expect us to be great and original stylists, would put even more pressure on already-burdened junior people. At least at present the standards for what counts as a good and publishable paper are relatively clear. Changing the benchmarks will just add one more thing for junior people to compete over, and a rather nebulous thing at that (for instance, I have met plenty of people who dislike Nietzsche's writing).

I get the argument that allowing for a wider range of philosophy texts to be publishable and count toward one's 'philosophy credit score' (getting a job, tenure, or whatever) perhaps could allow people with more diverse sorts of backgrounds to make contributions. But I think that in practice what would happen would be what I describe above, as it adds another (rather vague) burden on aspiring philosophers who are already being crushed by the weight of expectation on them.

S

Chris: a counterpoint to your argument is that there are a number of junior people who *aren't* succeeding by the traditional metrics -- potential current Nietzsches, Platos, etc -- and who could only be helped by recognizing a wider array of philosophical contributions. Of course, a larger issue is whether a contemporary Nietzsche would seek to enter philosophy academia at all in the first place -- probably many of the most influential philosophers wouldn't (or didn't in their day, like Spinoza). But it seems like we should allow room for the more creative people in our discipline who are currently languishing by not being able to get anything published, etc. (I know a lot of people like this -- particularly those who do more continental work, as Helen mentioned, where the choice of journals if you still want to be recognized by the more 'mainstream' departments is really narrow.)

Evan

There is another cause for why philosophy journals are the way they are (for the most part) for so long: editors’ time on the job. I recently came across a resignation letter written by a philosophy professor who was an editor for 25 years. This can explain why philosophy may have a hard time changing its norms. 25 years is a long time. Combined with pre-established views, values, and biases I think these may be some causes of the practical contradiction between a journal’s aim/mission and its actual function. As Helen observed:

“Australasian Journal of Philosophy says they are open to any area of philosophy, but when I look at the latest issues I see mostly analytic philosophy.“

I suspect that the philosopher would stay longer if they wanted to. My questions are: 1) Are there term limits for editors?
2) What are the average amount of years philosophy editors work?
3) Should there be term limits for editors? Why or why not?
4) What are the benefits and (unintended) costs of such proposal?

Helen L. De Cruz

Thanks so much for a really cool discussion unfolding! I think there should be term limits for editors. Editors do an excellent (and often thankless and time-consuming) job, but being involved now in editorial work it's become even more apparent to me that editors really shape how a journal functions, and I think it would be good if there were some regular turnover. But, it's also really hard to find someone who wants to do the job and has enough seniority!
I think there are benefits to the fact that we have a standard measure, and people who do particularly well tend to be people who (1) write articles that tick all the boxes and yet also are genuinely innovative etc. or (2) people who write on trendy topics and who can cut into the market that way.
There's nothing wrong with (1) or (2) but it does mean a lot of talented people just don't get the their work published in places where it would help them, who need to leave the discipline, or who question whether philosophy is for them. I would not want the journal article to disappear, but it would be good if we had some additional ways to recognize excellence in philosophy (not, hopefully, as additional hoops to jump through as in e.g., you have to have op-eds or short stories on your CV when you go up for promotion), but alternative pathways to thrive academically if your work doesn't lend itself to journal articles in generalist journals.

sahpa

Chris and S are hitting on two different things that typically both travel under the 'philosophy' passport. On the one hand, there's the hifalutin, centuries-long, culturally shaped and shaping thing that includes Saul Kripke or Chris Korsgaard just as much as Confucius, Plato, and Nietzsche. On the other, there's the relatively disciplined, institutionalized (primarily Anglophonic) profession whose internal norms have lots of sources, not least of which are particular practitioners like Russell and Moore, but also at least as much university bureaucracies and economic pressures. These two things are in a kind of fundamental tension with one another. If you're doing philosophy in the professional sense, that's going to make it hard to do philosophy in the wisdom-tradition sense; and vice versa. And there reason is something like this: one of the essential strands of philosophy in the wisdom-tradition sense is to subject professional norms to critical scrutiny. (Lije Millgram makes this point nicely on his website when talking about the job market: "the defining moment of philosophy was Socrates buttonholing guild members on the street and insisting that they account for themselves" see: https://www.elijahmillgram.net/perch.html.)

One of the reasons I like Tom's contrarianism is because he presses the professional sense to the fore. In my reply, I wasn't trying to press the wisdom-tradition sense. I was just pointing out the dynamics that professional norms themselves often enough exhibit. (Unfortunately I referenced Nietzsche in doing so, which seems to have set the debate running as it did.) And I think these dynamics make enforcement of those professional norms a rather delicate matter. Take any particular instance of professional work that's a bit askew: does it violate the norms, which thereby counts against its *being* a work within that profession, or is it a salvo in the ongoing process of defining and redefining those norms?

Chris is very much attuned to the professional stakes of playing with that fire, it seems to me. As a professional matter, you're probably better off not trying to be too innovative vis-a-vis the norms themselves. So if you want to stand out (as Helen mentioned), you'll have to somehow find a way to be innovative well within their confines.

We might lament this situation when we consider philosophy in more the wisdom-tradition sense, but I think those lamentations are for naught unless there's reasonable alternatives. But the institutionalization of philosophy, professional norms and all, has captured the social relationships required to do good philosophy (in the wisdom-tradition sense). Until that can be overcome, we're in a bit of a trap.

Enzo Rossi

Let me play devil's advocate: if a philosopher's literary and/or artistic contributions are of sufficient merit, then this philosopher should be employable in an art school or creative writing department. I can envisage and would welcome cross-appointments if people do both artistic and scientific philosophy (for lack of better terms).

To put this another way: this debate is about whether the academic discipline of philosophy should be just a Wissenschaft or something else as well. It seems to me that the "something else" is already covered by other academic disciplines (fine arts, creative writing), so I don't see a pressing need to expand the definition of philosophy.

Evan

Enzo: I took my time to respond to your argument because it is quite challenging. And I like a challenge haha. I would propose what I call a “relevant engagement” with these other non-philosophical skills within philosophy.

It should be relevant because it has a constraint: the work e.g. artwork should be philosophically relevant; it should express a philosophical theme, idea, or argument. My proposal actually corresponds to the fact that some philosophical works already cite poems in their work. For example, Philip Pettit used a line from Shakespeare in his book The Robust Demands of the Good; Descartes' used his own image to depict his dualism; Wittgenstein used the duck-rabbit image in his work to convey his idea.

I think this is a good middle way between some philosophers who want to be more creative and the philosophers who are afraid that philosophical practice might go astray.

In sum, from a historical perspective, philosophy has been doing “creative” works alongside their theories and arguments already. And as long as the “creative” works are philosophically relevant (which they have been in the past) we should allow more spaces for such works within philosophy.

Descartes' image: http://exhibits.hsl.virginia.edu/treasures/rene-descartes-1596-1650/

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