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04/07/2022

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Conrad

I see writing for a "top" journal as less stifling than Helen does. It's a constrained art form, like the pop song or the sonnet. There are rigid constraints on all three art forms. But it's a mistake to think that pop songs, sonnets, and Mind articles are less creative or worse vehicles for human expression in virtue of their constrained form than sprawling prog operas, free verse, and the poetry that a junior philosophy prof submits as part of their tenure file.

A different criticism is that the "top" journal form is no better or worse a form of philosophical expression than poetry, so it's arbitrary to privilege the former over the latter when allocating philosophy's scarce goods. But we shouldn't allocate those goods arbitrarily. So we shouldn't privilege Mind articles qua Mind articles over poetry.

There is something to this criticism. I'd love for there to be more jobs for philosophers and for some of those jobs to go to poetry-philosophers. But jobs are scarce, so we should examine this argument more closely. I think it depends falsely presupposes that we should assess a quality Q, such a philosophical "merit" (humor me), using form A rather than form B only if A better tracks Q than B. But this is dubious. Suppose we want to assess the quality of being a good runner. The 100m dash doesn't track being a good runner any better than the 200m dash, nor vice versa. But it would not be unfair or wrong to distribute medals for best runner according to who runs the fastest 100m dash (or the fastest 200m dash or a marathon) if we don't have enough medals for all three events.

The alternative is to have no fixed standards for which race to run when distributing medals for best runner. Some years it will be a marathon. Others, it will be the 100m dash. This is the analogue of accepting poetry in addition to Mind articles in a candidate's tenure file or from applicants for TT jobs.

This is worse for junior philosophers in at least two respects (your post also addresses some points to senior philosophers; I set those aside). First, it makes it harder for graduate students to set expectations since it is less clear which achievements are most prized by the profession. Second, it introduces more noise into the hiring procedure. If we accept, say, poetry as a serious contribution to a job file, on a par with a Mind article potentially, then we'll get some job committees who prefer the poetry and some who prefer the Mind articles. Candidates will have to roll the dice on which forms of expression to pursue to get a job. Candidates are gambling with their futures enough already. So we shouldn't introduce an addition source of uncertainty into their pursuit of a career. Favoring, say, Mind articles over poetry may favour a form of philosophical expression that is not intrinsically superior to the other. But accepting all forms of philosophical expression introduces even more uncertainty into junior philosophers' lives. This is a case where increasing a group's options actually makes them worse off.

Finally, since hiring is a zero-sum game, diminishing the impact that a Mind article has on a job committee effectively increases the weight given to other components of one's file. Does anyone think that reference letters should be given *more* weight than they currently receive? Or that committees should care more PhD pedigree or demographic pedigree? If Mind articles matter less, these factors will matter more. And they shouldn't.

F. Contesi

I agree with Conrad that writing for a 'top' journal in philosophy at the moment is an art form. But it should not be---philosophy should be judged on its content:

https://iai.tv/articles/analytic-philosophy-has-a-language-problem-auid-2096?_auid=2020

Conrad

F. Contesi, I look forward to a time where it's possible to beam one's philosophical thoughts directly into the (consenting) interlocutor's mind, but until that shining day, good form is a necessary condition on accurately judging content.

Helen De Cruz

Thank you Conrad, I like all the points you raise. I'm going to just respond to a couple of them.

First: on the point of job candidates now at least having some norms. Philosophy is even now not a meritocracy where there is a clearly defined metric (the top journal single-authored philosophy paper) that will get you a job guaranteed. We pretend that it is, and in that respect philosophy is gamified, raising the paper in the top journal as a necessary condition for being part of the profession.
Sure, publishing a paper in such a venue will definitely increase your probability of success but is no guarantee. Each year there are stories of candidates with several papers like this who get no interviews, no jobs. So the gamification makes the process deceptive, because search committees are already more diverse in their interests than we think. I can easily imagine someone putting the file of a candidate in the "hold" pile because she published a poetry collection.

Transparency for job candidates is great, but it's never going to be absolute (for one thing, as Marcus and others have often noted, many teaching colleges are not so interested in having candidates with top journal papers). There are also the general issues with meritocracy as outlined by Jo Littler and others.

I can see the sense of having a beautiful form to express your creativity. As a performer of ancient music, I enjoy the creativity that composers can bring to fairly fixed classical forms such as the Gigue or the Sarabande. And I occasionally read a beautiful, creative paper in a journal such as Mind. But by and large, I do not enjoy reading papers in top journals. This is not to say they aren't creative, or profound, just that it's not resonant with how I do philosophy now, or the topics I'm currently interested in.

It's the same for many other people--we would thrive best as a profession if we had a plurality of approaches. Such a plurality would not be (more) confusing to job candidates, who are already now reading tealeaves and lured into the gamification. At least, candidates would in a less gamified approach do things they thought worthwhile. They might succeed, or might not, just like now. And for some, writing papers for top journals is really what they want to do, and do best, but at least there would be more forms for us to do it in and to find philosophical expression.

M

Changing the criteria by which candidates are evaluated doesn't change the fact that there are way more qualified candidates than there are decent jobs. So there will still be just as strong an incentive to game the measures of evaluation, whatever they are (or are perceived to be).

I suppose making hiring and promotion decisions by lottery would change this, but there's about a 0 chance of that happening.

Caligula's Goat

It's a terribly distorted view of the "game" of philosophy to think that publications are the only thing that matter.

I've been on a lot of search committees, we've almost never hired the person with greatest number or most prestigious publications. Hiring, and the philosophy game, is more like the artworld than it is like a high score. Content (research) matters but only insofar as it speaks to the people in the gallery (i.e., particular search committees).

Does a Picasso score higher than a Cassatt? The question is almost meaningless. Both are highly prized and recognized in their own circles for their own functions. A good curator (i.e., department) wants to create a gallery that is representative of really good works (i.e., representative of good philosophy in all its various forms). Sure there are artistic movements that become popular and then give way to other things (expressionism, dadaism, pop art // natural language analysis, naturalism, x-phi) but to think that what got a work/philosopher into a gallary/department is sheer output is to completely misunderstand the game.

I really do hate the gamification analogy, it feeds into a terrible misunderstanding of what it is that philosophy hiring is after.

Q

M is right, which is why the only solution to these problems is to dramatically reduce PhD admissions.

Z

Q: Alternatively, we could be less paternalistic and simply inform students that the job market sucks and they should do a PhD only if they’re comfortable with outcomes that don’t involve academia.

Q

Z: I'm suggesting we drastically cut PhD spots not for the benefit of would-be applicants, which would be paternalistic, but for the benefit of current PhD students and job market candidates. The very existence of a glut of candidates forces the kind of gamification and hoop-jumping that Helen is worried about here; if there were way fewer candidates, things would be less competitive, and everyone would face less pressure to publish a ton in top journals and so on. Cutting PhD spots is a way to reduce the market pressure on all of us.

Animal Symbolicum

If M is right, then perhaps, as Q says, the only solution *given current conditions* is to reduce admissions. But to open up the profession for the long term, we probably have to change the current conditions, which include too much administration disappearing too much of what little money schools are getting. These conditions are symptoms of neoliberal metastasis. There is a case to be made — a case that cuts across left and right political divisions — for resisting neoliberalism in the name of education (among many other goods, of course). This begins on the community, city, county, and state strata. We philosophers might not have the resources to spearhead the project — being so busy subjecting ourselves to the indignities of the game or, in accordance with Caligula's Goat's observation, to the vagaries of departmental curators — but perhaps we could play some small part in getting things going.

Z

Q: god help those well connected and lucky enough to be among the benefitted class. There’s a reason these proposals always come from people at top ranked institutions. They’re good at seeking rents for their students.

Z

I have an idea: we can make it easier to be a musician by dramatically limiting the class of people eligible to perform at open mics. It’ll be terrific!

outgroup member I guess?

"We know the arguments for the cognitive division of labor, outlined by authors such as Helen Longino, Philip Kitcher and others." I don't know what arguments are being referred to here, nor how they relate to more diversity in philosophical practice. Anyone?

V

I agree with Q and I didn't go to a school ranked highly enough to benefit from limiting the number of people accepted to grad programs.

I'm also fine with some paternalism. The fact is that at 22, it's really hard to know what will make you happy. Now that it's been a decade since I started this adventure, I see things very differently than at 22 -- and with greater wisdom.

You'll never see the reduction though. The need for TAs is not really the problem: there are work-arounds. The real problem is that having a grad program is considered more prestigious than not having one, and professors are prestige-mongerers.

P.S. if any of you reading this happen to be young and considering grad school, I strongly recommend that you talk to older individuals *outside* of academia about the decision to go into academia, and inform those people about your job prospects if you go the academic route. By "job prospects" I mean not just your odds of getting a job, but what kind of salary and pressures you might expect on the job if you happen to get one. My guess is that you'll find that many people look back at their 22 year old selves and find they were naive in their opinions what would make them happy. We just aren't very good at estimating that, especially when we are that young.

Z

We’re also not so good at estimating it on behalf of others. I’ll just report that I probably wouldn’t have gotten into grad school if they admitted fewer people. It was a long shot, but I’ve got a tenured job at an R1 right now after 3 tries on the market. I’d made peace with the grim prospects and earnings before I undertook the decision, and I’d be pretty annoyed if people who thought they knew better or wanted to protect their interests stepped in to artificially reduce my chances.

Helen De Cruz

Hello outgroup member. Apologies (I just didn't want to make a very long piece).
Kitcher: https://www.jstor.org/stable/2026796
Longino: https://www.jstor.org/stable/2027028
These are about science, but I think they also apply to philosophy.
A paper of mine on this specifically (freely accessible) here--https://helendecruz.net/docs/DeCruz_Rea_Panchuk.pdf

Yan Kancuch

Many valuable art forms are constrained but not all constrained art forms are valuable.

A small but important difference between pop songs and sonnets on one hand and top academic articles on the other is that the former are good things that make the world more lovely and livable.

One good sign of this is when an art form's audience also includes people who aren't the makers of that art form.

Not all departments

Caligula's Goat: Of course, I was waiting for the "not all departments!!" comment. That's great that you don't put that much weight on journal prestige. But so. Many. Departments. Do. Failing to recognize this is just naive. I'm glad you come from an enlightened department (although do you *really* not put any stock in journal prestige? I highly doubt it) but you're greatly outnumbered.

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