Throwing Away Ideas

Everywhere I go now, this blog is a major topic of conversation. If I wasn’t so fond of it, I might start to resent the attention it gets. One of the things that came up was a worry that I was giving away ideas without getting much credit. This would be a serious worry if it were true, but I don’t think it is for a number of reasons.

First, more people read TAR than read many journals. Not more than read the best journals, but more than read many journals. So I’m already getting credit, or at least reputational movement, from posting here.

Second, it’s always possible for people to credit TAR in journals. If they are building on ideas first floated here, I’d hope they would. This is something I’d like to see happen. If I ever see a paper that starts “On February 27 (or whenever) on TAR, Brian Weatherson suggested … This is right (wrong) for the following reasons” I will be incredibly happy. More so if it’s defending than attacking me, but still happy either way!

Third, I really believe there should be more of a division of labour in philosophy. Everyone has a different distribution of skills. I’m really rather good at generating ideas, but average at best at most the other relevant philosophical skills, e.g. sorting good ideas from bad ones, placing ideas relative to the existing literature, developing ideas to meet objections, communicating ideas in a way that gets them understood, etc. There’s a few things I could do at this point. One is to try and get better at the things I’m bad at, and I do that. Another is do joint work with people who have some of the skills I lack. Both of those seem like good things to do, but in the short term I think I advance debate most by just firing off unpolished thoughts here, and letting the world decide if they are any good, or worthy of development, and so on. If other people who work on more comprehensive projects find points here they can use in their larger arguments, that’s all to the good.

Finally, it’s not like I’m not publishing little because of TAR. I’m getting more things to publication stage with the blog than I ever was before it. Like most people I imagine, in the old days I’d have ideas and then forget about them before I could get a chance to seriously write them up. Now I’ve solved that problem – find a place to unseriously write ideas up.

4 Replies to “Throwing Away Ideas”

  1. I think you’ve got your negation backwards. You wrote: “Finally, it’s not like I’m not publishing little because of TAR”.

    Assuming I read this right, it’s two negation operators over the proposition “I’m publishing little because of TAR”. I think you meant to say something more like “It’s not like I’m publishing little because of TAR”. Or perhaps, “It’s not like I’m not publishing much because of TAR” (which I think is the exact formulation you had in mind).

    I wouldn’t mention it normally, but there have been a whole lot of Language Log posts on implicit negatives lately, so I’ve been looking for examples.

  2. Yep, that’s a mistake. I often change how I want to say something half-way through a sentence and then forget to go back and alter the first half of the sentence.

    No double negative is too trivial to ignore.

  3. “Finally, it’s not like I’m not publishing little because of TAR”.

    It may be a slip of the tongue. There are two versions of what you may really (deep down) think:

    1. The simple version: “It is because of TAR that I’m publishing little”,

    but since you don’t think that you’re publishing little,

    2. The sophisticated version: “It is not because of TAR that I’m publishing so much”

    is more plausible,

    which entails (?):

    “It is me who is an ideas-thrower-away on TAR”.

    Istvan, TheMindReader


  4. I’m really rather good at generating ideas, but average at best at most the other relevant philosophical skills, e.g. sorting good ideas from bad ones, placing ideas relative to the existing literature, developing ideas to meet objections, communicating ideas in a way that gets them understood, etc.

    SNAP! Me too. As you imply, the kind of academic who is attracted to blogging is likely to be one with this kind of asymmetric skill set.

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