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If you work in applied ethics, you will probably have to write on something considered controversial. So, in that case, you just have to deal with it (or change your subfield).


The things the OP lists don't strike me as the sort of topics that (frequently or normally, anyways) lead to acrimonious debate.

For the really controversial things, I suspect what may matter is the dispositions of the people deciding on your tenure case, rather than the overall stats.


What do you mean by “controversial”?


The OP lists "material/idealism" as a controversial topic--I'm asking because I'm genuinely confused about this. Am I just out of the loop, or is this not been a well-motivated distinction that people haven't cared about since the 18th century? Or is there secretly a cabal of Berkeleyans who run all the journals and presses behind the scenes?


I don't know about the probabilities either.

However, I guess I would make the following recommendation. If you were to publish on a controversial topic, I'd publish at least more than more paper on it. That way, you are actually making a sequence of contributions. My guess is that one paper on (e.g.) nihilism is more likely to be held against you than three distinct ones developing different ideas on the same topic. That's my guess.


Humey, I think OP means that if, say, you are defending idealism, that'd be rather controversial these days. (Slightly related, IMO lots of materialist defenses are inadequate at best; some, not even understanding "matter" adequately, fail at the starting gate).


Write on whatever you want! You could always have studied to be an accountant or something, but you became a philosopher after all!

Assistant Professor

It might be helpful to draw a distinction between philosophically controversial positions and socially/politically controversial ones.

I take it the former, which might take an unpopular or minority view within philosophy itself but (if done well) contributes something new and surprising to the about the topic would be really innovative work well worth pursuing. It could be a niche area that gets a lot of reaction/citation, and maybe even shows the field why your view should not be as controversial as it currently seems.

The former - the kinds of socially and politically "controversial" views that lead people to get canceled or deplatformed - is likely more precarious both personally and professionally. Part of the challenge in assessing one's tenure chances while doing philosophy in these kinds of controversial areas is there are many confounding factors that could contribute: how you go about this work, where you publish (and how much attention it gets), which views you hold internal to a controversial topic (and who your opponents are and what power they hold).

In theory universities respect academic freedom, in practice I have received advice to wait to publish very "controversial" things until after tenure. But I find this approach a bit disingenuous - like here is all my boring but socially acceptable philosophy and now that you can't get rid of me here is what I really think... this very paradox would be worth writing about... but only once I get tenure.


I am inclined to think if you are truly worried about this - if it disrupts your sleep - you are in the wrong line of business. There are many workplaces and jobs that do not put one in such a situation. But, as some commentators note, if you think you are going to publish vanilla until you get tenure, and then cut lose, you are fooling yourself. By then you will be walking like a hunchback, so as not to offend others.

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