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I’m surprised questioning isn’t on this list.

Trystan Goetze

I like Ichikawa's suggestions a lot. I think it's in general good for us to think about the role of commentators — and journal reviewers, for that matter — as being in the business of suggesting ways to improve worthwhile work, rather than setting out to destroy flawed work. (After all, all philosophical work is flawed in some way!)

Another important thing commentators do, which Ichikawa mentions only in the course of explaining other commentator moves, is to briefly summarize the paper or select arguments from it. I often find this helpful as an audience member, especially for longer talks (like symposium sessions at the APA).

Commentators can also give the author suggestions regarding style or structure. For example, suggest ways of ordering their arguments that could be more rhetorically effective. Doing this could also help the audience's understanding of the talk in advance of the Q&A.

Here's a way to reframe the commentator's role at a higher level, based on the practice at the Canadian Philosophical Association, where authors don't get formal time to respond to commentators. (De jure, anyway. De facto, most session chairs I've seen have allowed authors a few minutes to reply.) On this conception, the job of the commentator is to seed the discussion period by outlining interesting questions that audience members can pick up or expand upon. These could be objections, but they could also be any of Ichikawa's other suggestions.

The commentator's role, in short, is not to take part in a one-on-one duel with the author, but to play a central role in the intellectual community of the conference session.

Prof L

Maybe I'm the odd one out here, but I really love the objection-raising bit. I hope what's motivating this is not the growing contemporary dislike of conflict. Philosophy has generally moved from very contentious q&a sessions to something that verges on fawning. While much of this movement is good (everyone who is old enough remembers VERY awkward and sometimes cruel and mean-spirited exchanges), I find it refreshing to see some good old-fashioned objections in comments or in author-meets-critics sessions, not mean-spirited but hard-hitting nonetheless. If we give this up, I think we'll be worse off. So please: let's not change these norms!

Prof G

I'm 100% with Prof L. I think enthusiasm for proposals like Ichikawa's is strongest among those unfamiliar with the alternatives. Q&A's in other branches of the humanities too-easily devolve into Q: "Here's a poorly articulated tangent." A: "That's a neat tangent! It makes me think of something unrelated."

Like it or not, objections keep speakers honest. And without empirical results to put guardrails on discussion, we need objections to maintain focus and incentive clarity. It would be great if we didn't need incentives to be clear and focus. But we do.

I think that people who dislike objections either dislike point-scoring objections or the mean-spirited tone that Prof L describes. I dislike those too. But we shouldn't throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Except when I give a talk. Then everyone should avoid objections and follow Ichikawa's advice.

Trystan Goetze

It is perhaps worth emphasizing, in the light of responses such as those of Prof L and Prof G, that Ichikawa is not suggesting that we *stop* using commentaries to offer objections. (Nor do I in my comment above.) Indeed, you'll note that at least three of his suggested moves (and arguably several of the others) involve making an objection. The point is rather that offering a list of objections is not the only valuable thing a commentary can do. Are objections good? Sure. Do they improve a paper? Often. Are they the *best* way to further discussion of a presentation? Not always.

Prof G

Trystan, to use Ichikawa's verb, I'll emphasize/remind you that neither L nor I said we should *not* employ the question-schema that Ichikawa sketches. We simply both stressed the value of objections as a methodology for philosophical exchange. Insofar as we adopt a degree of non-objection commentaries, then we displace objection-based commentaries by that very degree (assuming a fixed time for comments).

Assistant Professor

Like others, I enjoy some of the objections (presumably in part it is enjoyable because we have been trained into this style and see it as the expected norm) because it gives me a chance to clarify what the commentator got wrong about my view, and also to refine my view that was not clear such that the commentator got it wrong. BUT, like others, I agree that useful comments in conferences or journal reviews should ideally offer some constructive suggestions, and this is what Ichikawa reminds us. I don't think everyone should get a medal for participation in philosophy and all ideas and arguments are equally good - but it would be nice to see some more collaboration, humility, and charitability when we engage with the work of others, rather than to primarily see the arguments of others as something to knock down. If it is easy to knock down, could we more routinely offer some suggestions for how to build it back up in more structurally sound ways? I think this is what Ichikawa is gesturing toward, and I like it!


There are pros and cons to all of these actions listed. Objections have their drawbacks when they are weak, fallacious, unsound, and/or irrelevant. Whether or not an objection is good or instrumental at helping people arrive at truth (or even honesty) depends on the *content* of the objection.

However, one good thing I like about objection is that it can function to brush certain things *out* from under the rug that the author brushed *under* it. In other words, it can function to force the author to confront certain contexts that they willingly excluded or failed to include, which may undermine their entire argument once that relevant thing is included or taken into consideration.

For example, Russell did this tactic in his response to Strawson’s critique of him (”Mr. Strawson on Referring”). Russell revealed certain things Strawson brushed under the rug and demonstrated that if those things were included in Strawson’s phrase, Strawson’s argument would have collapsed.

It’s one way of bringing us closer to the truth and also holding people accountable for epistemic injustice (intentionally or unintentionally). Criticism is useful, but don’t underestimate the power of the revealer. Transparency is an underrated intellectual virtue these days. This isn’t surprising since sophistry hasn’t really left the academy since the time of Socrates.

Daniel Dennett

I'm disappointed that nobody alluded to Rapoport's Rules, as outlined and explained by me in INTUITION PUMPS. it's the best way to ensure that your target appreciates your critique and responds constructively. I REQUIRE my students to abide by the rules. See INTUITION PUMPS, pp33-6.

How to compose a successful critical commentary:
1. You should attempt to re-express your target 's position so
clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, "Thanks, I
wish I'd thought of putting it that way."
•2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they
are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
3. You should mention anything you have learned from your
target .
4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of
rebuttal or criticism.

Try it, you'll like it.
Dan Dennett

Marcus Arvan

Hi Dan: Thanks so much for weighing in! I completely agree, and we've discussed some similar issues in how to write good referee reports for journals. See https://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2019/03/writing-good-referee-reports.html

Jonathan's OP seemed to be more about different things that conference commentators can do, as opposed to what a *good* conference commentary should do or be structured like. But I completely agree with your take on how to compose a good commentary, and think it could be a good topic for a new discussion thread!

Sam Duncan

I think Ichikawa's list here is great and I'm really happy to report that the last time I went to the APA it seemed that more people were doing things on this list besides the objection. I also think it's way too easy to romanticize the bad old days of conference talks. I don't remember the old format being at all conducive to reaching truth or even a very good discussion. The discussions I remember, especially at big conferences, were lawyerly in the worst possible sense of that term. Billy Audiencemember would throw out an unfair and not terribly deep objection and Johnny Presenter would respond with a reply that itself didn't take the objection seriously or sought to dismiss it in the most superficial way. The objections often didn't require much deep understanding of the paper and presenters tried to dismiss even the good objections without taking them any more seriously than they had to, and they did this because if you took an objection seriously and admitted there was a problem the whole audience would react like chickens who saw blood. It wasn't just ugly it was unproductive. I hated presenting at conferences, especially big ones like the APA where you wouldn't see the person you mistreated laterand so there was no price for jerkery, because they were utterly unhelpful for improving my work or learning anything about the work of others. I think at the very least if one is going to raise an objection one ought to have a positive as a suggestion or an alternative. This isn't to say you have to save the paper, but my point is that this at least forces the audience member to actually engage with the paper. I'm not saying that we have to be nice to each other -- though sheesh what does it say about philosophers that we treat that as such an absurd suggestion-- but if conferences are going to be anything than elaborate chest pounding we do at least need to take each others' work seriously. I also wonder how much first hand experience those who mock other humanities and their discussions actually have of those discussions and if they have specific examples. I've sat through more than a few papers in history and religious studies and the Q and A doesn't look anything like this caricature.

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