Philosophical Perspectives

It might be behind paywalls for many of you, but the latest Philosophical Perspectives is out. The number of papers by friends (and writers) of TAR is impressively large. I worry a bit that the paper Andy and I wrote for it looks a little slight in such august company. We’re the Page 2 to their, perhaps. (Of course in the off season I only read page 2, so take the analogy how you like.) But it’s impressive company to be in. And I think the paper we wrote is basically correct, even if it isn’t quite as deep as some of the other contributors.

106 Replies to “Philosophical Perspectives”

  1. Let me just add apropos of Fritz’s parenthetical aside that I don’t approve of anonymous attacks either on people I agree with or on people I disagree with. Nor do I approve of pseudonymous (sp?) attacks, unless the pseudonym is a fairly recognised and long-used one. Nor do I approve if the attack is on people I often agree with but disagree with on this point. You get the idea.

    There’s a technical point here that may have contributed to misunderstandings further up the thread. (Or maybe it didn’t, but I’m feeling more charitable this morning than last night.) In the old days people would often use information in the link attached to their name to individuate. E.g. they’d give their real email address or link to their home page, and that was clear even if their name wasn’t. Since I took out links as an anti-spam device, that option is removed. Basically now you either give your full name, or you give a long-used pseudonym, or you’re effectively posting anonymously, and should be held to the appropriate standards for such posts.

  2. Let’s see. Like Keith DeRose I’m getting e-mails from people in less prestigious departments thanking me for raising an issue they’re very disturbed by but don’t feel safe raising themselves. And then there are reassuring posts from senior folks at Stanford, Oxford, and Princeton saying don’t worry, cronyism doesn’t happen, it’s just excellence being recognized. How much fancy epistemology does it take to figure out what’s going on? Could it be that sitting in the centre of circles of privilege makes it harder to see that they’re there?

  3. This has been a really interesting and thoughtful thread- thanks to Brian for not shutting it down when things started to get spicy!

    A brief follow-up to Fritz’s remark that “One’s anxiety level really ought to be tied pretty closely to one’s knowledge of one’s home institution’s approach to tenure/promotion issues and to one’s knowledge of whether one’s work is measuring up to local standards”:

    This claim seems right, but only for cases where one has no aspirations to move any where else. And, I take it, much of the concern from people feeling “underplaced” (junior and senior) is precisely that they want to move, or to at least have the option of moving. (Other people to whom this might apply include folks who might be okay with where they are, but harbor hopes of living in California or New York some day). So, maybe the principle for such folks should be something like “be as anxious as you would be if you were trying to get tenure/employment in the place you would like to be.” If that is the principle, though, it seems like many folks who could be quite comfortable in local circumstances should be at least somewhat anxious given the fact of variable standards of tenure/hiring elsewhere and given how difficult it is to move up (or even laterally). This is especially true if one aspires to be in one of those schools with great faculty but an unpredictable or seemingly bizarre record with tenure-line faculty. But maybe such places do not exist.

  4. Manuel — you’re exactly right. My observation applies only to those focused on their local situation.

    I don’t recommend your principle, however, because “hiring from the outside” is at most places very different from “tenure from within” issues. It’s no exaggeration to say that in extreme cases people hired from outside with tenure in some situations would have had no chance of tenure from within. In the other direction, being at the level of a typical person tenured from within at various places won’t make one a good candidate to be hired from the outside (one will need to be judged far stronger than the typical internal case). There are many situations in between these extremes.

    thanks again for the correction on my earlier too simplistic remark.

  5. Explanations of why the worries under discussion are considered ill-founded or somehow illegitimate are of course appreciated, however much one might disagree with those explanations.

    Issuing the simple injunction to “pay no attention” to the worries is perhaps the most disheartening response one could come up with.

  6. Fritz says: “Prof. Harman does not say if he means his
    ovservation that the volume is ‘terrific’ to be the support
    for his claim that this thread should be ignored (as I
    understand it, Ralph W made this sort of suggestion

    Answer: Yes. Fritz began by implying that the volume is
    subpar in various ways and that Philosophical Perspectives
    is at risk of losing “its status” as “a top publication
    venue”. Without such an implication of inferiority, the
    ensuing discussion just does not make sense.

    Suppose Fritz had started this thread by saying that the
    latest issue of Philosophical Perspectives (which he
    says he has read from cover to cover) differs from earlier
    issues in having very few papers by “leading senior figures”
    and the result is a terrifically good volume. It would then
    not have made any sense for him to add that, if this happens
    again, Philosophical Perspectives will “lose its
    status” as “a top publication venue.”

    It seems to me that the editor is to be especially praised
    for publishing such excellent material from younger
    philosophers instead of following Fritz’ suggested practice
    of basing the volume on the contributions of “leading senior
    figures.” That’s what an editor of such a volume is
    supposed to do: publish something interesting.

  7. Brian,

    Seems to me you’re missing an important point about anonymous posting, at least in this context. Recall what this thread is about: cronyism and its implications for the young scholar. Suppose that there is a grain of truth, however small, in the claim that cronyism is important in the profession (it’s unlikely that there isn’t a small grain of truth here). Now do you reall want to insist that Anon, who might be a grad student hoping to work in the profession, use his/her own name in weighing in on the dangers of cronyism? Seems to me a bit rich. I suspect that Anon is more spooked than the evidence justifies: “cronyism” is a real feature of the profession, but it actually functions as an efficient device for identifying philosophical talent. Inevitably, though, some people suffer simply through lack of social skills, connections to the right networks. No system is perfect; they all have costs as well as benefits. I think publishing/hiring people known to you or people you respect has more benefits than costs, but Anon’s worries are understandable.

  8. Neil, I was too harsh on anon last night, and I’m sorry for the overly strong language I used. But I think the content of what I said was right, even though the form wasn’t the best.

    Anon faced three options.

    (1) Post anonymously.
    (2) Post under their real name.
    (3) Not post.

    I can understand an argument why (1) was better than (2), though I don’t agree with it. I don’t really see an argument that in the context (1) was better than (3). If there was a matter of general public interest that had to be addressed urgently, well maybe. But violating prima facie norms against anonymous attacks to post the startling news that Gil Harman and Liz Harman are related, I don’t think that’s the right thing to do.

    But I also think the worries about cronyism in this context are misplaced. Even if there’s a bias in favour of hiring/publishing/promoting friends, and there probably is because there probably is in every field of human endeavour, that doesn’t show that anon took the right course. Because the choice here, presumably, is between being known for disapproving of something Gil Harman said, and not being known. As far as I can tell, whatever network effects there are work in favour of people who are known but mildly disliked over people who are unknown. The real danger, given the kind of system that exists, is being anonymous.

    Perhaps anonymous knew all this and didn’t want to personally profit from the exposure their argument would get. That would be noble, and maybe that was the motive.

  9. Tom:

    I certainly didn’t say that there was no such thing as cronyism. In particular, I didn’t say what you appear to be attributing to me, among others, viz., “..don’t worry, cronyism doesn’t happen, it’s just excellence being recognized.” (I won’t purport to speak for others.) So let me ask you directly, didn’t I acknowledge that being in the “in crowd” as a junior person helps and not being in the “in crowd” hurts in the same measure?

    I thought by saying that I was acknowledging the reality that you and your correspondents are worried about. My point wasn’t to deny that reality, but to say that it’s not the only reality.

    My point, which you seem not to think valid, was that even if you’re in the ‘in crowd” by virtue of mere connections, say — for example, the pedigree of one’s advisor or of the well-connected people who happened to take an interest in you for one reason or another — you still have to do good work to get tenure or to sustain a “name” for oneself.

    And, by the way, my experience, though partly shaped by Stanford includes also many years collectively at Rutgers before that and before that Maryland, Wesleyan, and Middlebury College. So I think I’ve seen a bit of the academic universe — not the whole thing, by any means, but a fair bit.

    Fritz, by the way, is certainly right that tenure standards, procedures, etc vary. And it’s certainly true that some people in our profession value their own students and their own philosophical lieutenants working on some corner of their program inordinately. It’s also true that some people are not judicious or fair-minded, etc.

    Still, nothing in my own experience of this profession convinces me that there aren’t a lot of open, fair-minded, judicious people out there who can see beyond external pedigree to the work itself. So I still insist that although it’s a struggle — and for more reasons than this discussion has even hinted at — good work will find a place, not necessarily a perfect place but a place. And at important junctures, depending on the openess, fair-mindedness and judiciousness of those who are asked to judge that work, it will be fairly judged.

    Even some of the sternest gatekeepers, powerbrokers, in-crowd makers and grand poohbahs really are fair-minded enough, are interested enough in the advancement of inquiry, have enough experience of exclusion themselves, that they will judge the work not merely by external pedigree, but by its current actual content.

    I’m not sure, but you seem to disagree with this. Do you think the profession is so cronyish, so corrupt, so insular, that once you get into the in crowd, you’re in it forever, no matter what you actually produce? And do you think that if you don’t get the great job right away, shortly after graduate school, you can simply forget it? If so, what do you base that belief on?

    Again, let me hasten to add, so you’re not attacking a straw man again, that I fully recognize that landing a less than ideal job can itself — because of working conditions, or the colleagues from whom one has the opportunity to learn or not learn or a whole host of other things — be a barrier to producing good work.

    But I’m not talking about what it takes to produce good work. That’s an entirely different subject.

    I’m talking about whether good work, once produced, can EVER overcome the obstacles to advancement that the social structure of the profession places in the path of the “outs” and whether medicore work has any effect on one’s standing as a member of the so-called “ins.”

  10. On the “insiderism” charge, which keeps coming up, it’s again worth noting that there are faculty here from Maryland, Wisconsin, Syracuse and Rice, which are on the periphery of any elite there is (at best), and faculty from Alabama and Holy Cross, which are outside the elite by any possible measure. So let’s not get carried away by the insiderism charge.

    And let’s not blame this edition of Perspectives excessively either. What’s notable about this year is that it is more inclusive than is normal, not less. It’s a clear example of one of the things Ken said, that the networks in question aren’t there to let people coast off past successes.

    Really I wholeheartedly agree with Ken’s post. There’s no special club that you have to join in grad school or in your first job to be part of this magical “in-crowd”. I did a PhD at a school several people here probably haven’t heard of on the far side of the world, didn’t start an academic job until 13 months after I finished that PhD, that academic job was a 3-year position that was probably well well down the preference list for a lot of graduates (though like many others would be I was thrilled to get it), and a few years later I’m about as central to these networks and in-crowds as anyone. So on the one hand I don’t have an unbiased perspective. On the other hand, I’m a pretty good example of how these are not devices solely for perpetuating inequality.

  11. As a young student who thinks about going on to graduate school in philosophy, I’d like to thank Keith de Rose, Fritz, Tom Hurka etc. for their frank assessments, even though they have not increased my confidence that going to grad. school is a good idea.

  12. As a young student who thinks about going on to graduate school in philosophy, I’d like to thank Keith de Rose, Fritz, Tom Hurka etc. for their frank assessments, even though they have not increased my confidence that going to grad. school is a good idea.

  13. I write this anonymously because I cannot risk retaliation, which I already have felt from some in the “in-crowd” for not showing proper deference in conversation or at conferences. Brian, I should say, always has been good to me.

    Brian: A three year fellowship at Syracuse would be “well down the preference list” for a lot of graduates? I can imagine few better ways to start one’s philosophical career. I know you’re a nice guy; were you joking when you said this?

    Ken makes a good point about conferences and the power to use them as networking mechanisms. A few observations, though.

    1. The following is common: A response is finished, and hands go up. The chair looks right past the little fish to see if anyone in the “in-crowd” has something to ask. Several times I’ve seen a chair wait to make sure that one of the “popular crowd” in the room didn’t have any questions before turning to the also-rans.

    2. The following also is common. It has happened to me and I’ve seen it happen many times. Non in-crowd person asks a question and gets a nominal response. 3 minutes later, someone in the “popular crowd” asks the very same question and it is treated with seriousness and depth.

    3. Third, guess who gets to go to conferences—not people with very high teaching loads. With someone who is teaching 3-4 classes at a time, one can’t take off on a Wednesday and return the following next Monday for a conference—at least not very often. Also, unlike research departments, many smaller “teaching” departments make an assistant professor front the cost for a trip. If it takes 4-5 months to get reimbursed (and this is generous given the bureaucracies at universities), many assistant professors can’t afford to go to many conferences. Furthermore, much of one’s tenure rides on teaching at the “teaching” schools, and one will be harmed come evaluation-time if she’s missed many classes because of conferences.

    So, I agree, Ken. Conferences are a great way of networking. They’re also yet another instance of the Bush tax cuts.

  14. Professor Harman clarifies that he does intend to argue from “the volume is excellent” to “ignore the discussion”. That inference is bad for the reasons I already provided and won’t provide again. And on the issue of “inclusiveness”, he is correct that I suggest that such volumes be centered around (my phrase, his is “based upon” which if different I would object to) the work of leading senior figures. Note though, that as I have emphasized, I’m strongly in favor of including interesting and first rate work by younger people. My suggestion is that such people be indentified from the pool of those younger people who have already “minimally” established themselves with a strong publication or two in a blind review top quality journal. Yes, that means not selecting a “sure thing” from a brand new person – but surely we all agree that the sure thing article can be sent to eg, Nous, Mind, Phil Review, etc… . Why do this? So that the charge of cronyism can at least be headed off with “no, this is a leading young person in ethics based on among other things the demonstrated record in top blind review journals.” I take it that many people would be quick to offer praise for inclusiveness if the “inclusive of friends only” charge weren’t so thick in the air. That’s their point, as I understand it.

    About the papers (and yes, I’ve read the volume closely – at least realize that I read before I spout off…): I offered general remarks about them earlier. Many are of course excellent (many of the contributors have records of always producing excellent work and this seems to continue). A few reinvent old wheels
    while showing little or no awareness that the same topic was covered in the same way not all that long ago in literature that most would think is mandatory reading for one writing professionally on a topic. Or so it seems to me. John reiterated that he stands by his judgment about including papers most likely to be thought to have this feature — fair enough. Nothing to discuss here without risking the tastelessness that Ken rightly wants us to avoid. Those who follow the ethics literature closely are well positioned to read the papers, evaluate them and confirm or disconfirm my evaluation.

    Brian is dancing around two issues: the “elite schools” and the “insider” issues. He is correct that there are faculty from a range of non-elite schools in the volume. But as he well knows, all or almost all of the one’s he mentions in his post are people non-trivially connected with that, uh, “East Coast social thing” discussed earlier and/or in other straightforward ways to the Editor discussed earlier (eg, overlap at Syracuse). Some, indeed, many of the inclusions and their papers are of course appropriate and excellent. But if, eg, the only such inclusions (or the great majority of them) appear to come from a certain social circle the “insiderism” appearance surfaces. That’s the “insiderism” that I’m sure others have complained about – not the current institutional affiliations. I doubt we’ll be provided with a chart showing these connections!

    Ken — about the tenure issues and other matters you ask me about: I don’t disagree with anything you say about them and I don’t hold any of the strong positions you ask me about. I didn’t comment on those aspects of your discussion because I largely agree with them. I added my one observation (about the importance of attending to one’s local issues) and intended it to be consistent with the more wide ranging discussion you offered. Remember my friend, we sometimes do agree. 🙂

  15. A personal observation about “inclusiveness” of younger people. When James Tomberlin asked me to be a “younger person” included in an earlier issue of Phil Perspectives, I asked “why me”, given the lineup of senior people he mentioned as likely contributors. He responded by saying “because you’ve published recently on the topic in Mind, and Nous” and that suggested to me that a suitable principle was at work allowing for the inclusion of younger people. Include them not on the basis of “connections” (I had plenty of those in some of the highest places) but on the basis of records. That seems like the right sort of principle to apply at the top invitation only journal in the profession.

  16. A number of times the following sort of comment has been made in this thread: “ I still insist that although it’s a struggle … good work will find a place, not necessarily a perfect place but a place.”

    I take it the idea here is that IF invited publications are subject to some degree of insiderism, this is not as bad as one might have thought because those excluded will be able to get their work published someplace, presumably in a refereed journal to which they have submitted their work.

    In response, it is worth noting that in the context of renewal, tenure and promotion decisions a publication in an invited forum, in fact, the mere invitation, is often interpreted (ideally rightly so) somewhat differently than an uninvited publication. (In my experience people outside a field — deans, provosts, etc. — are particularly likely to interpret invitations in this way.) The invitation will be taken to indicate, at least, that the author has come to be recognized as someone who reliably produces high quality work, as someone who the editor or editors were confident they could count on to produce a fine paper. If insiderism is in play, but the insiders invited really do consistently produce good work, which is not a wild supposition, those who draw this sort of inference will not be led astray. But if insiderism is widespread, those who should be recognized as reliably producing good work will not be so recognized.

    Invitated publications can also be taken to indicate something more, i.e., the author’s relative standing. It will be supposed that the editor or editorial board issued the invitation as a result of something like the following process. On the basis of a thorough knowledge of the area, they generated a comprehensive list of those working in the area who could be counted on to produce good work, and then invited those who in their judgment would produce the BEST work. I think that conference programs and invited publications are very often put together in this way. But when they are not and insiderism is at work, then the inference from invitations to a conclusion regarding the author’s relative standing, e.g., that an author is among the best younger scholars working in an area, will not be sound.

  17. Just to respond to Mike’s last post – I’ve actually heard just the opposite about articles published outside of the blind peer-review format. Many I know who faced or are facing tenure have been told that invite-only publications tend to be discounted for the very reasons that have been debated here – worries about whether such invitations genuinely track merit or quality. This, of course, is not to say that Mike’s points are false – in fact, I think they clearly make a lot of sense. But it does seem clear to me that the kind of reception of invite-only publications he’s articulated is certainly not universal.

  18. To Frank, the young student, contemplating grad school:

    If you have the talent, the drive, really love doing philosophy, and are fortunate enough to get into a strong graduate program, please don’t let this discussion discourage you away from that path. That would be truly disheartening to me at least. I bet even Tom and Keith would find it so.

    Although philosophy is really really hard, doing it can be tremendously rewarding. I’m of course not talking financial rewards. Although at the very very top of the profession people do pretty well, by any standard, you’ll never top the salary of the successful lawyer or banker down the streed.

    But people by and large really do care and care passionately about ideas, about advancing inquiry, about getting to the bottom of things, about truth, understanding the deep roots of our culture, our social lives, the scientific enterprise, and on and on.

    One of the ways that inquiry advances, I firmly believe, is by new voices constantly coming in to challenge old and ossified received wisdom. Old Farts — like I am getting to be much too quickly, rarely change their minds — although there are exceptions. New insight happens and proliferates through the community when the old voices become quieter and the new voices speak more loudly, more persistently.

    So, we need you, Frank.

    Sure there are institutional frustrations of the sort being discussed here. And believe me, we’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg of things that are, shall we say, imperfections in the way we do business. But I suspect that human foilbles and institutional imperfections are no less on display in business or law or the arts or politics. But that’s just a guess, since I’ve been an academic all my adult life.

    To Johannes Climacus, posting anonymously out of fear of retaliation from insiders:

    I understand your situation and I sympathize with your fear. In your situation, I probably wouldn’t remain anonymous and would probably tend to be more challenging and less deferential to those implicitly or explicitly demanding deference — at least I would have when I was younger, since I was a brash in your face, don’t f** with me sort of guy back then. But I understand that different people make different choices.

    Anyway, I want to say to you that Manuel Vargas said something deeply right, that applies to someone in your situation. It doesn’t make your life any easier. In fact, it makes it harder. Don’t let your current institution — especially if it is not a place you want to spend your career — determine how you approach your professional life. If you want a job at a research university eventually but you teach at a place with a heavy teaching load, little research support, less than stimulating students and colleagues, you certainly have a steep mountain to climb to get to that plumb research job. I fully recognize that. But you have to find ways to try and climb that mountain.

    Climbing the mountain probably means that you have to view yourself as really having one and half or maybe even two jobs. One job is the job you get paid for. The other is one you have to do on your own time (and, unfortunatley, on your family’s time, if you have one). That’s the job of keeping up with the journals, finding a way to get to conferences, constantly writing stuff for the journals, trying to grow a network through, say, your intellectual compatriots from grad school who have landed in better places and can help you broaden your connections.

    It’s really hard, I don’t deny that. And you may not be locally rewarded for it at your home institution, since doing it well may well mean that you are destined to leave it behind. It’s certainly easy to be discouraged.

    My only message is that its still possible, even if rare, to climb the mountain. That’s partly because people do care about ideas, about the advancement of inquiry, about getting to the bottom of things. If you can find away to do good work, it will find a place and it may come to the attention of judicious, fair-minded people.

    (By the way, if we were in, say, Germany or France or Brittian, I’d feel far less confidence of saying any such thing. It’s a peculiar virtue of the American Academy, actually, that it’s so much less clubby than the British, French, German, etc model. People really do care, by and large, about the work more than the pedigree.)

    None of that obviates the issue about whether insiderism is okay, how pernicious it is or isn’t. That’s not my point now really.

    To Mike Depaul:

    Your post is well reasoned. I see no flaw in it.

    Actually, I wasn’t, I don’t think, trying to make any very deep point about whether the existence of alternative avenues morally compensates for the existence of insiderism w.r.t invitation only journals in what you quote from me.

    I was and am trying to speak to those who feel deep anxiety about their chances of ever achieving success from “the outside” given that there is an insider/outsider divide of any sort in invitations to conferences, in invitations to journals, etc.

    I was just saying that whether or not we ever make this phenomenon go away — which we won’t — there is still a reasonable chance that you can get good work noticed and reap some of the rewards for doing good work. I don’t intend to be inviting the further inference that, therefore, the problem being discussed here is a non-problem. I hope that’s clear.

    I first wrote because I was upset that my colleague was I thought singled out as a questionable contributor. I thought that pretty tasteless and not something I as chair could let stand. I write now mainly out of a fear that this discusssion is in some ways utterly discouraging to younger people. I know I would be discouraged by it. I don’t want to see that happen. So I’ve been trying to say that there’s more to the reality out there then this discussion sometimes suggests. I don’t mean to suggest that once we have a more complete pictures the hard issues go away. They are just set in a broader context.

  19. When I started my career, I was told what Matt McAdam was told, namely, that refereed journal articles count more than invited articles. I still think this is largely true. For example, Brown’s university tenure committee would be skeptical if someone coming up for tenure was heavily loaded toward invited papers, partly for the reasons discussed here and reiterated by Matt, and partly because a committee of people not in the field can’t make its own judgment about the quality of the invitation. So I am disagreeing with Mike DePaul’s parenthetical comment. Clearly a large number of invitations from a diverse collection of hosts and editors is a positive sign, and a good thing to have in a cv, so I guess I don’t disagree with the gist of what Mike was saying.
    By the way, I am looking at Philosophical Perspectives 6 (ETHICS, 1992). Its list of contributors is very impressive, and it was very impressive twelve years ago, too. And, the papers are very good indeed (I reviewed the volume for Noûs, so I read the papers carefully). However, I don’t believe the contributions are much cited in subsequent literature, although (i) I think Julia Annas’s “Ancient Ethics and Modern Morality” is an exception, and maybe also Susan Wolf’s “Morality and Partiality”, and (ii) I wouldn’t know about some of them, like the Fischer and Ravizza free will piece, because I don’t follow that literature.
    So, this was a volume that really did go get contributions from Big Names, and the papers are first rate, and yet they aren’t particularly well cited. Just goes to show you.

  20. I think Mike DePaul’s points about how invited publications are viewed at evaluation time are right on track, but, to answer Matt McAdam, I think Mike’s points apply only to the more presitgious venues. Papers listed as being in some book the evaluator has never heard of, edited by folks the evaluator hasn’t heard of or doesn’t think of as prominent are some of the least-helpful publication lines on a CV. But Philosophical Perspectives and the Oxford Studies series are not at all like that; they’re real prizes, I think.

  21. In my original post I said nothing about the impact of invited as compared to refereed publications. So those of you who have responded by saying that you have heard or believe that refereed publications typically count for more have not disagreed with anything I said or believe. I was only trying to articulate one way invited publications can be perceived, and a way in which I think they are rather commonly perceived. But of course the perception in a particular case will depend upon a person’s entire mix of publications. A list primarily consisting of invited publications can surely be suspect. I was thinking more of a situation where a person has an adequate number of good refereed publications. Add in one or two nice invitations and the package can look much better than it would if a couple more submitted publications (say in merely solid journals) were added. Why? Tenure and particularly promotion depend in part on how a person’s work is being received in the profession. And even if external referees say the work is very good, if the author is not being invited to any conferences or to contribute any papers, it is easy to conclude that the work has not really made much of an impression on colleagues in the profession. Admittedly this sort of thing will weigh much more heavily with respect to promotion and hiring for senior positions than tenure. A solid list of only refereed publications is extremely unlikely to be suspect at the tenure stage. But even at this level, I do think that a nice invitation or two can serve as, so to speak, the cherries on top, and make the whole package look much more appealing.

    Final point: Why go on about these fairly obvious matters? In an effort to emphasize, particularly to those of us who are sometimes in a position to issue invitations, that such invitations are not only good things in so far as it is nice to have one’s work published, speak at conferences, etc., but also things that can play a more or less important part with respect to people’s employment prospects. I think it a good thing to remind ourselves of this so that when we are in a position to do so, we strive to distribute invitations appropriately.

  22. That is the important thing here, Mike. It’s easy to think that the inviter’s job is only to produce an excellent collection, and if you happen to know some people who will do good papers, then by all means go with that. As I’ve admitted, that’s how I thought not that long ago. And maybe that thinking is appropriate for various one-time shots. But when you think about how this affects employment prospects, and especially when a situation arises where the same small group of editors will be in charge of so many of the best invited slots year after year, I hope we can all see that that way of thinking about things really has to go if we’re to have anything like a fair system.

  23. Perhaps ‘invited publication’ volumes should take the time to explain the process and basis for the invitations? That would throw some light on the social insider issues.

  24. All of this ‘break up the Yankees’ kvetching is most unphilosophical. Somehow I can’t imagine Nietzsche, no stranger to professional disappointment, wasting his time dissecting the ins and outs of academic publishing. Same thing for my dissertation director, the late Barbara Humphries, a heckuva philosopher who actually eschewed publishing in journals.

    I also want to go on record as saying that the so called East Coast clique is the best thing to happen to the APA in a long time. I’d hate to show up at a conference and not find a significant number of its members in attendance. They generate philosophical excitement, which, to me anyways, is what it’s all about, not career advancement. Philosophy is a vocation:

    “And up again into the small, narrow, modest, coldly furnished chambre garnie, where innumerable notes, pages, writings, and proofs are piled up on a table, but no flower, no decoration, scarcely a book, and rarely a letter. … Wrapped in his overcoat (for the wretched stove smokes only and does not give warmth), his fingers freezing, his double glasses pressed close to the paper, his hurried hand writes for hours- words the dim eyes can hardly decipher. For hours he sits like this and writes until his eyes burn.” (Stefan Zweig describing Nietzsche)

  25. Got you Ken — I read the stuff below my name as shifting to some questions for me. But I now see you simply mentioned a point I’d made and moved on with further questions for Tom. Tom can and does, of course, speak for himself just fine.

  26. Ken:

    Thanks for the questions; let’s see if I can answer.

    I agree that we shouldn’t attack straw men. As you say, you’ve acknowledged that personal connections, departmental affiliation, etc. play some role in determining how successfully people’s careers go, how much impact their ideas have, and so on. On the other side, those of us with concerns about this side of the profession don’t deny that the objective quality of a person’s work also matters, sometimes decisively. People like John Hawthorne are the relevant examples. But still I think there are differences of degree, about the following three questions.

    (1) How much influence do connections, etc. have on careers and impact, as against objective quality of work? Those we can call “optimists” — and you can decide whether the label applies to you — answer: not that much. Those on the other side, “pessimists” (though they might prefer “realists”) answer: a significant amount. The pessimists don’t say quality is never important, so it’s never possible to make a name starting from outside the group of connected people. They just think it’s significantly harder (and maybe you agree when you tell Johannes Climacus how hard his climb will be).

    (2) How objectionable is the influence of connections, etc.? Optimists answer: not that objectionable. They may say this because they answer “not much” to (1), or because they think that even if the influence is significant there’s nothing to worry about in it. (Do Ralph Wedgwood and Gil Harman suggest this view, when they say the only relevant question about the PP volume is the quality of its contents?) Pessimists, by contrast, answer: fairly objectionable. And they say it in part because of concerns about fairness to people outside the relevant loops.

    (3) Is there anything we can do about the influence? Here an optimist like you sounds, perhaps unintentionally, pessimistic. You say, rightly, that we can never entirely eliminate the influence of connections, etc. But do you mean to conclude that therefore we shouldn’t do anything about it? Some of us on the other side think there are changes that could be made to the profession that, while not eliminating the problems, would alleviate them to some degree. And we’d like to try to figure out what those might be. But we think the first step is just to recognize that the problems exist.

    Of course, at this point people start to diverge — about the desirable solutions. For example, I think Fritz just wants some changes in the way invited volumes like PP operate, whereas I’m more broadly skeptical of these volumes altogether, like James Klagge. But the general idea is that this area is one where procedural abuses are possible, and we should try to see if we can reduce their frequency.


  27. Tom,

    Are you suggesting that the PP in question is subpar because its editing was connections driven? If so, then your recourse is to attack the articles you find wanting. If you are right, eventually your voice will be heard. (I’ve been to many APA sessions and I’ve never seen a chair ignore anyone so as to call on the member of a clique. I’ve seen them call on leading experts first, but that’s what they are supposed to do. And usually everyone get’s a turn.) Or are you concerned with refuting Prof. Harman’s claim that “the only relevant question about the PP volume is the quality of its contents”? If that’s it, then you are way off base. PP’s editor should not have to concern himself with promoting anything but the study of philosophy. In particular, he should not have to worry about the affects his decisions will have on others’ careers. Surely you do not think that our discipline would be well served were journal spaces distributed in an egalitarian manner.

  28. Robert Allen wrote:

    “Or are you [Tom Hurka] concerned with refuting Prof. Harman’s claim that “the only relevant question about the PP volume is the quality of its contents”? If that’s it, then you are way off base. PP’s editor should not have to concern himself with promoting anything but the study of philosophy. In particular, he should not have to worry about the affects his decisions will have on others’ careers. Surely you do not think that our discipline would be well served were journal spaces distributed in an egalitarian manner.”

    Robert, by “in an egalitarian manner” do you mean:

    (i) such that the space available in journals is divided amongst the number of willing contributors, with an equal number of pages for each,


    (ii) such that everyone’s paper is considered on an equal footing, independent of his or her connections, pedigree, etc.?

    Although I’m sure Tom can speak for himself, my guess is that (i) is too absurd a view for you to impute to Tom, while (ii) seems so unobjectionable that if you do impute it to Tom, it’s hard to see what the fuss is all about.

  29. i but not ii would be called ‘egalitarianism’, which is what Tom said he wanted. ii would be entailed by blind reviewing, which may or may not be the best way to edit an issue of a philosophy journal. But are all arguments from authority unreliable? If my trusted colleague tells me that Larry is likelier than Jerry to advance a certain discussion and I invite the former to submit to my upcoming volume on the basis of that recommendation, have I done something that is epistemically suspect? The “fuss” is all about Tom’s suggestion that the PP editor did something amiss because he failed to consider how his decisions would affect others’ careers. I like my PP just as much as the next philosopher and I say if he put out an excellent volume of essays, then he should receive kudos. End of story.

  30. Let me say first that I don’t know anything about this issue of PP other than what’s in this thread, so my comments are to the general form of the arguments rather than to the specifics of this case.

    Robert, you said (roughly) that if one has testimony, from a trusted source, that A is more likely than B to advance a discussion, a decision to invite A to submit to a journal is not epistemically suspect. Let’s assume, for a second, that this is true: it doesn’t follow that it is very relevant to the case at hand for, as I understand this thread, no one is complaining that John invited A rather than B, some other person who was reported, from a trusted source, to be less likely than A to produce a quality paper.

    Now to the question of whether the decision is epistemically suspect: it’s hard to say, for the case you give is underdescribed. Suppose, unbeknownst to you, that although your colleague is right that A is likelier than B to produce a quality paper, philosophers C, D, E, and F are likelier than A to do so; in this case, there would seem to be something epistemically remiss about inviting A. Your inquiry has pointed to A, and thus your decision to go with A is not epistemically suspect in the sense that the decision is supported by your inquiry. But the point is that your inquiry is remiss: it points to A, but an epistemically better inquiry would not have done so. This is the sense in which the decision would be epistemically suspect.

    Perhaps you will agree with that example; I think the case upon which you and Tom will differ is this one: (i) the editor’s trusted colleague recommends A over B; (ii) there are philosophers C, D, E, and F who are as likely as A to produce a quality paper; and (iii) the likelihood that C, D, E or F will produce a quality paper (or advance the discussion, etc.) is not greater than the likelihood that A will. I gather that in this case you will say it is fine to invite A, whereas Tom will disagree.

    Here the case needs to be split into two. In one, the editor (or you, as we are supposing) is simply unaware of the existence of C,D,E and F, or aware of their existence but unaware that they are as likely as A to produce a quality paper. In the other, you are aware of C,D,E, and F, and aware they are as likely as A to produce a quality paper, but opt for A for what we can refer to as ‘personal’ reasons.

    What one thinks of the former case will hinge on what one thinks of the latter. In that case (the latter), disagreement over the normative status of the editor’s decision to invite A would not be over the epistemic status of the decision vis-a-vis the goal of assembling an excellent journal; it would be rather over the decision’s moral status, or its status ‘all things considered’. I think I know what Tom would think about this case, but I’m curious to know what you think of this case.

    Suppose you think it would be a problem. Then, returning to the former case, it is at least plausible that there is a problem with this case as well, especially if your lack of awareness of C,D,E, and F (or of the likelihood that each will produce a quality paper) rests upon what is (we are supposing for the moment) problematic about the second case, that personal considerations interfere with your judgement.

    If, however, you think there would be no problem in the second case, then that would be an interesting claim, and one that, I would think, would at the very least need a little qualification. Suppose, for instance, that an editor chooses A over C, an equally qualified candidate, simply because C is a member of a racial minority, or a Christian, or has bad hair. I take it that these would be objectionable ‘personal’ reasons. What about if the personal reasons are ‘is a friend’, ‘went to the same school as me’, ‘is a jolly fellow’, and so on? I am inclined to think these are objectionable as well, chiefly because whether one is a friend, for instance, or viewed as a jolly fellow, often rests on other things — such as whether s/he is a member of a racial minority, or a Christian, or has bad hair, etc.

    I guess what puzzles me is that I think this stuff is enormously complex, and very difficult to sort out, but I get the impression that you think it’s all a rather simple matter…as you put it: “if he put out an excellent volume of essays, then he should receive kudos”.

    Finally, let me say again that I don’t know anything about the actual case of PP and am not speculating about the actual decisions that were made…I’m just interested in the general form of the arguments.

  31. The original complaint was that this year’s Philosophical Perspectives didn’t include enough papers by senior figures. Hawthorne invited many senior scholars, but they declined.

    Yes, the stated purpose of PP is to publish leading philosophers. But if the most senior people aren’t available, the editor has a decision to make—he can preserve the standard ratio of mature to emerging talent and offer the top spots to the next most senior people; or he can change the mix. This year, PP chose to highlight emerging talents. I think this was a legitimate editorial decision given the logistical constraints.

  32. Nick,

    That’s right, I think it’s simple matter. I want to read a good PP and I really don’t care if the editor has gotten by with a little help from his friends, so to speak. (The question of how Prof. Tomberlin managed to pull it off year after year never even crossed my mind.) To me, it’s cronyism only if the product or service is lousy.

    That the PP’s editor’s actual decision may have been a bit more complicated than the one in my e.g. does not mean that the latter’s point is inapplicable to the former: we should not expect an editor to eschew the judgment of his trusted colleagues. And, no, I wouldn’t have a problem with an editor choosing his friend over an equally qualified writer. The philosophers whom I have had the privilege of knowing do not choose their friends on the basis of personal reasons of the first sort.

  33. I started subscribing to Noûs in 1994. At that time, the price of a personal subscription was $34.50. That was already after Blackwell had started publishing it. The first issue of Philosophical Perspectives to be published as a supplement to Noûs was the 1996 volume. The first issue of Philosophical Issues to be published as a supplement to Noûs was the 2000 volume. Now the price of a personal subscription is $108. Wouldn’t a lot more people subscribe to Noûs if the price were about half that? And wouldn’t it be better for the profession for that many more people to be reading the refereed articles in a major journal than for the present number to be getting these volumes of invited papers? I think so.

    There have definitely been some good papers in some of these volumes. I got a lot out of the Language and Mind and Language and Philosophical Linguistics volumes. But I also suspect (on the basis of reading them and some other knowledge) that a lot are papers that their authors knew were not going anywhere else and saw a chance to unload. Between volumes 17 and 18 there was a sea change in the editorial board; so we’ll see.

    There needs to be some way to get papers past the Guardians of Ideas Whose Time Has Past. Invited volumes are one such means. But whether they will be that depends on the skills of the editors. (They need the prescience to recognize an article that will stir things up in useful ways.) If there are editors who have those skills, I think their skills would be better employed in editing a journal that takes submissions.

  34. “To me, it’s cronyism only if the product or service is lousy.”

    Very strange view. What if the product or outcome is not lousy but might have been better? What if the product is not lousy but is nonetheless the result of denying opportunity for equally deserving candidates? Seems closer to the truth that such candidates ought to be given an equal opportunity. I mean, it seems closer to the truth than “cronies trump”.

  35. I haven’t weighed in much on the substance of the “cronyism” charge or the general propriety of some degree of cronyism. I haven’t made up my mind about this, really. I have said I think you can’t eliminate it and also that it’s not the only reality that affects one’s chances of publication.

    I’m reluctantly — because this thread is getting way out of hand and I hate to contribute to keeping it going — starting to worry about what people who have some strong moral(ish) objection to invitation only journals think about the following.

    Suppose a profit-making entity decides to publish an invitation only journal and decides that it will empower an editor, with the advice of a board, to decide who to invite. Suppose that the board and the editor decide to use their knowledge, incomplete and imperfect as it it, of who is doing what to issue invitations. And suppose that by and large they publish outstanding collections of articles on a yearly basis.

    Now suppose that, despite the generally excellent record of the relevant journal, it turns out that there is some substantial cadre of people who because of lack of connections with the board and/or editors are systematically left out.

    My questions concerns the legitimacy of any complaints by these left out folks and to whom their complaints are legitimately addressed.

    Are the complaints of the left-out legitimatley addressed to the publisher? (As in “Publisher, you owed me fair consideration and you didn’t give it to me, therefore …)

    It seems to me such a complaint could be legitimately addressed to the publisher only if the publisher had some sort of obligation to have a “fair and open process” in which all are invited to compete on equal footing.

    But I wonder where such an obligation would come from. I hasten to add that it’s also not clear to me that the publisher doesn’t have such an obligation either.

    But it does sort of feel as though the burden of proof would be on someone who thought that the publisher owed it to the philosophical community to invite all comers on equal footing.

    Why would it the publisher “owe” our community any such thing. Its not a member of that community, but a profit-making, purely self-interested supplier to that community. If the market demand were for a journal that was open to all comers, that would be one thing. But apparently that’s not what pure market forces demand.

    I do suppose that with a little organization and cooperation among the consumers the market could be pushed in that direction. Are we obligated to ourselves to try to make such a thing happen?

    Okay, if we suppose, for the moment, that publishers doesn’t have any direct obligation to us not to allow cronyism in its selection process, might the board and/or editors be so obligated?

    Maybe more of a prima facie case can be made that the board and editor have some such obligation. Unlike the publisher, the editor and the board are members of our professional community. They are not just profit-making suppliers of it. Maybe membership in that community directly generates the relevant obligations.

    But that doesn’t seem to me a terribly promising line, unless you think that in contracting with the publisher the members of the board and the editor are to some degree required to act on behalf of the community as a whole. But where would such an obligation come from?

    Of course, it would be odd if the editor and board did not care at all about the community at large. But why isn’t the commitment to prompting the writing of excellent papers and making them widely available service enough to the profession at large?

    It would be different, I think, if we were talking about a series put out by a learned society that we had jointly constituted to work on behalf of us all, for the collective advancement of the members of the profession.

    But that’s not what PP is. It isn’t produced by US. It’s produced by THEM (and those working on behalf of THEM).

    Of course, that may point to a deeper problem. Should we, as a collective, objection to scholarly production be driven at all by the self-interest of profit making entities?

    I don’t know the answer to that, but I do think its a delicate and important issue, though. (And Blackwell is not the worst problem here by any means, as we all know.)

    So, I don’t know where I come out. Certainly it seems wrong to me to suppose that a commercial publisher has any direct obligation of “fairness and inclusiveness” to all member of the profession, especially if the market place itself doesn’t demand such fairness and inclusiveness.

    It’s unclear to me whether an editor contracting with said publisher has some independent obligation of fairness.

    Maybe we collective could decide we want to enforce such obligations, though boycotts and protests and the like. But I doubt we’d reach much consensus on that.

  36. Mike,

    Don’t most consumers think of cronyism as tending to yield inferior goods and services? And how much better are you talking about? Would you play the cronyism card just because an issue of a journal could have been slightly better? I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t complain about being denied an opportunity to A unless I was CLEARLY better at A-ing than the person who was granted it. This is an especially appropriate policy when it comes to philosophizing, since, let’s face it, judgments regarding it are more than a little bit subjective. Moreover, since we are talking here about an invitation only issue of a journal, providing an = opportunity to all qualified candidates was not an option. So, if the PP issue is good, which I’d bet it is, then the fact that equally deserving candidates were not also invited to submit is simply not a cause for concern.

  37. Prof. Taylor,

    To answer your question, “(an editor’s) commitment to prompting the writing of excellent papers and making them widely available” is “service enough to the profession at large.”

  38. Just in case anyone is interested in this bit of information: Over here in the UK we have a regular research rating exercise in which a selection of one’s writings are evaluated by a panel of the great and good. For your submission you’re advised – not formally I think, but certainly this is common informal advice – to submit uninvited articles in refereed journals rather than invited articles where possible. There’s thus a general feeling over here at least that the former are ‘weightier’ than the latter.

    That’s not to say, of course, that there isn’t kudos attached to being in a good invited volume which could count in one’s professional favour in other ways.

  39. to Brian Weatherson:

    maybe anon should not have posted anonymously as he did.

    and then again, maybe Gilbert Harman, recognizing that he is closely involved with one of the contributors to that PP volume, should not have submitted an uninformative, dismissive two-line posting to the effect that this thread should be ignored. Such practice breeds suspicion more than anything else.

  40. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t complain about being denied an opportunity to A unless I was CLEARLY better at A-ing than the person who was granted it

    What can I say to this? You deny (what I regard as obvious) that equally deserving people ought to be treated equally. Specifically in this case that they ought to afforded equal opportunities. I guess that’s a point on which I would have expected some agreement.

  41. Thomas,

    What Prof. Harman actually said, with which I wholeheartedly agree, is that nothing but the QUALITY of the journal in question is relevant to assessing the work of its editor. I’m the one who said that those who are dissatisfied with the new PP should attack the articles they find wanting instead of wasting their time kvetching about not having their work included in it.

  42. Mike,

    Ok, so you don’t play by the same rules as I do. But didn’t I also say that the editor of an invitation only issue of a journal cannot invite all qualified writers to submit a piece of work? You are treating this matter as if the opportunity involved was a job or admission to a school.

  43. Thomas,

    Speaking of anonymous postings, anyone posting over a common 1st name such as ‘Thomas’ or ‘Mike’ or a pseudonym such as ‘babybeluga’ (she’s my baby) might just as well be posting anonymously.

  44. But didn’t I also say that the editor of an invitation only issue of a journal cannot invite all qualified writers to submit a piece of work?

    I suppose I don’t find this esp. informative. Obviously the editor cannot invite every qualified writer. So? Does something important follow from that? Isn’t that beside the reiterated point that far too few were offered the opportunity? The observation has been that it is wildly improbable that this selection was the result of anything like equal opportunity (something in the neighborhood would have been nice). Since the observation is pretty obvious, I can’t help but agree.

  45. Mike,

    No, it’s not beside my point, since no matter how the selection was made only a FEW people would be invited. The question is, should the selection have been made on the basis of the editor’s knowledge of the field plus whatever advice his trusted colleagues could provide, leading to connections helping. I say ‘yes’; you obviously favor a different approach. But, then, you must either think that something other than the quality of the journal matters here or that relying on connections compromises the quality of editing. But what else could the editor have done short of issuing a call for papers? Ask people whose judgment he has not learned to trust? Given that there are MANY talented philosophers working in the field of ethics, all you could have accomplished with any proposed alternative is a slight reduction in the number of grousing ethicians.

  46. Mike,

    What you are really saying is that the editor should chosen more ethicians having no connection to his colleagues, never mind that that would have left him with less confidence that he was putting out the best possible product.

  47. What I doing is agreeing with what many others have found blindingly obvious. It is highly improbable that this is the group of contributors we would find on the hypothesis that the editor took into serious consideration a less circumscribed group of those genuinely qualified to contribute. On the other hand I think this is the group we would very likely find on other salient hypotheses. I’d wager that this is a true proposition.

  48. Mike,

    We are talking past each other. I accept your hypothesis. I just don’t think that the editor was OBLIGED to “consider() a less circumscribed group of those genuinely qualified to contribute,” only put out a good PP.

Comments are closed.