Citations of History Journals

Yesterday I posted some data about how often journals cite other journals. And one of the things that jumped out was how rarely generalist journals cite various specialist journals. I suggested an inference from that: generalist journals are not as generalist as they are often thought to be. And I think that’s largely correct, and I’ll be presenting more data on it over upcoming days and weeks.

But today I want to issue a caveat. I don’t think we can draw many inferences about a journal’s coverage of history from who it cites.

I started out looking through recent editions of the Philosophical Review to see how many history articles it had published. I’ve been an external editor for the Review for several years, so I’m somewhat biased here, but I thought the coverage of many areas of history of philosophy was decent. And indeed, it seems there have been several articles in the 2010s that are naturally classified as history articles.

The list includes (and I may have missed some):

  1. Deliberation as Inquiry: Aristotle’s Alternative to the Presumption of Open Alternatives, Karen Margrethe Nielsen, 2011
  2. Kant’s Conception of Number, Daniel Sutherland, 2017.
  3. Kant’s First Paralogism, Ian Proops, 2010.
  4. Leibniz and the Foundations of Physics: The Later Years, Jeffrey McDonough, 2016.
  5. Leibniz and the Ground of Possibility, Samuel Newlands, 2013.
  6. Leibniz and the Puzzle of Incompossibility: The Packing Strategy, Jeffrey McDonough, 2010.
  7. Locke’s Simple Account of Sensitive Knowledge, Jennifer Smalligan Marušić, 2016.
  8. Minds, Composition, and Hume’s Skepticism in the Appendix, Jonathan Cottrell, 2015.
  9. Russell on Substitutivity and the Abandonment of Propositions, Ian Proops, 2011.
  10. Sidgwick’s Axioms and Consequentialism, Robert Shaver, 2014.
  11. Space as Form of Intuition and as Formal Intuition: On the Note to B160 in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, Christian Onof and Dennis Schulting, 2015.
  12. Substance and Independence in Descartes, Anat Schechtman, 2016,
  13. Theories about Consciousness in Spinoza’s Ethics, Michael LeBuffe, 2010.

Given how few articles the Review publishes, roughly 12 per year, that seems like a reasonable number of history papers. If one wanted one could quibble over the distribution – it’s very concentrated on Big Names from Modern Philosophy. But now we’re getting into deep questions about what a generalist journal with few articles per year could even look like. The main thing to note is that 13 history articles out of the roughly 100 we’ve published since 2010 is a reasonable number.

So how do these publications show up in the citations? Well, I went back and looked at the articles Web of Science lists as being cited by one of these 13 publications. And it’s a bit of a mess, because of the weaknesses of the Web of Science database. But as far as I can tell, here are the journals cited 3 times or more across those 13 articles.

Journal Cites
Philosophical Review 18
Journal of the History of Philosophy 12
Archiv Fur Geschichte Der Philosophie 8
Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 6
Nous 4
Philosophical Studies 4
Synthese 4
Hume Studies 3
Kant-Studien 3
Kantian Review 3
Mind 3
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 3

And those 86 citations really wouldn’t make a big dent in the graphs I’ve been using. The 18 citations to the Review itself would get thrown out, because I’m largely ignoring within journal citations. Of the other 68, only 29 are to dedicated history journals, and several of those I wasn’t even including in the research I did.

So this is just a limitation of the kind of study I was doing. I don’t think it tells us a lot about about history journals. It tells us something. CJP and PPR do cite JHP much more than other journals, and that’s roughly what you’d expect. But it’s possible for a journal to have very reasonable history coverage, just as much as you’d expect a generalist journal to have, and that not show up a lot in how much it cites specialist history journals.

Could it also be true that a journal to have very reasonable ethics coverage, just as much as you’d expect a generalist journal to have, and that not show up a lot in how much it cites specialist ethics journals? That is also possible, though I think it’s a bit less likely than in history. But since it is possible, that should put a limit on how strong a conclusion one draws from the data I posted yesterday.

Citation Patterns Across Journals

I’ve been interested for a while in the different things that get attention in different philosophy journals. Part of what got me interested in this was looking at the ways that different well known articles get cited, or not, in different journals. Below is a table showing how many times (according to Web of Science), six prominent turn of the century articles were cited. The articles are:

  1. Elizabeth Anderson, What is the Point of Equality, Ethics, 1999
  2. Peter K. Machamer, Lindley Darden & Carl F. Craver, Thinking about Mechanisms, Philosophy of Science, 2000.
  3. David Lewis, Causation as Influence, Journal of Philosophy, 2000.
  4. Michael G. F. Martin, The Transparency of Experience, Mind and Language, 2002.
  5. James Pryor, The Skeptic and the Dogmatist, Noûs, 2000.
  6. Jason Stanley & Zoltán Gendler Szabó, On Quantifier Domain Restriction, Mind and Language, 2000.

Here are the 21 journals these six papers have (collectively) been most cited in, along with a count of how often they were cited in each.

Journal 1 2 3 4 5 6
Phil Studies 3 7 15 19 51 19
Synthese 0 50 8 4 23 9
Phil of Science 0 69 4 0 0 0
PPR 1 4 5 10 21 5
Erkenntnis 0 17 13 2 7 4
Mind & Lang 0 1 1 5 1 28
Biology & Phil 0 30 4 0 0 0
AJP 0 1 8 4 11 6
BJPS 0 17 9 0 1 1
Nous 1 1 7 3 6 7
Ethics 21 0 0 0 2 0
Analysis 1 0 3 2 5 10
Phil Psych 1 16 1 2 1 0
J Phil 4 1 10 0 3 1
Mind 2 0 0 7 5 5
J of Pol Phil 16 0 0 0 0 0
Phil Review 1 0 6 1 6 2
CJP 5 0 3 0 3 4
Econ and Phil 12 3 0 0 0 0
EJP 1 0 0 8 5 1

A few quick notes about this data.

  • It all comes from Web of Science, and as I’ve discussed previously, there are flaws with that data. I think the flaws don’t make a huge difference to the points I’m making, but they exist.
  • I’ve tried to sort the citations to Nous from the citations to Philosophical Issues and Philosophical Perspectives, which Web of Science sometimes (but only sometimes) collapses.
  • These are the journals that most cited the six articles in Web of Science. If a journal that Web of Science doesn’t index cited the six of them 15 or more times, I wouldn’t know about it. And Web of Science added a lot of journals in 2008, so even some journals it now indexes won’t appear there.

The last point affects one thing that might jump out at you from that list, or at least jumped out at me. These are almost all pretty high prestige journals. And, conversely, almost all the high prestige journals are on the list. (Philosophical Quarterly is probably the most notable omission, relative to my personal ranking of journals.) You can imagine a world where the really significant articles of 15-20 years ago are discussed much more in lower ranking journals, perhaps because they are mimicking what was going on in elite journals some time before. A priori, I wouldn’t have been surprised to find we were in such a world. But this is some (weak) evidence against it.

But what I really want to stress is how uneven the pattern is here. The two most cited articles of those six, by a lot, are the Anderson, and the Machamer et al. Here are the citations each has on Google Scholar, and on Web of Science as of today. (These numbers are sure to change in the future.)

Article Google Cites Web of Science
Anderson 2104 552
Machamer et al 1844 668
Lewis 703 183
Martin 490 163
Pryor 768 268
Stanley and Szabó 777 239

So in terms of their impact on the journals collectively, those two articles have each been something like three times more influential than the other four articles. And those ‘other four articles’ rank somewhere between essential and field-defining in their importance to their subfields. And both the Anderson, and the Machamer et al, articles are in fields that I thought were pretty central to contemporary philosophy: political philosophy and philosophy of science. So they should be cited a lot in the ‘generalist’ journals, right? Right? Well, here’s the table above, this time with articles 1-2 collapses and articles 3-6 collapsed, and just the ‘generalist’ journals listed, and with the sort by the number of times articles 1 + 2 were cited.

Journal Cites to 1 + 2 Cites to 3-6
Phil Studies 10 104
PPR 5 41
J Phil 5 14
CJP 5 10
Nous 2 23
Mind 2 17
AJP 1 29
Analysis 1 20
Phil Review 1 15
EJP 1 14

It’s only six articles, and I guess anything can happen in a small sample, but it was enough to suggest to me a hypothesis.

There is no such thing as a generalist philosophy journal.

How could we test this? Here was one way that I thought of. Philosophy has journals that are recognised as specialist journals. Some of them, like Ethics and Philosophy of Science are roughly as high status as the generalist journals. We could measure how often articles in each journal cite other journals. If there was a generalist journal, it should routinely cite the high status specialist journals, and it should be routinely cited in both generalist and specialist journals.

So to that end I decided, again using Web of Science, to make a giant database of which journals cited which other journals. To avoid the problem that Web of Science can be a bit erratic in when it updates, I decided to focus on citations where both the cited article and the citing article were published between 1976 and 2015. And I focussed just on journals that Web of Science had indexed throughout that range, or (if they started after 1976) which Web of Science indexed from their foundation.

I chose 30 journals that were a mix of generalist journals and specialist journals. In part the choice was influenced by what Web of Science had available. And in part it was based on a deliberate over-sampling of specialist journals, because what I really cared about is the interaction between generalist and specialist journals. Here is the list of 30 I ended up with.

Abbreviation Journal
BJA British Journal of Aesthetics
JAAC Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism
JHP Journal of the History of Philosophy
PHR Phronesis
KS Kant Studien
JPP Journal of Political Philosophy
PPA Philosophy and Public Affairs
ETH Ethics
BP Biology and Philosophy
PSCI Philosophy of Science
BJPS British Journal for the Philosophy of Science
SYN Synthese
EP Economics and Philosophy
RSL Review of Symbolic Logic
JPL Journal of Philosophical Logic
RM Review of Metaphysics
EPI Episteme
LP Linguistics and Philosophy
ML Mind and Language
Mind Mind
AN Analysis
PQ Philosophical Quarterly
AJP Australasian Journal of Philosophy
PS Philosophical Studies
PPR Philosophy and Phenomenological Research
Nous Nous
PR Philosophical Review
JP The Journal of Philosophy
PPQ Pacific Philosophical Quarterly
SJP Southern Journal of Philosophy
APQ American Philosophical Quarterly
CJP Canadian Journal of Philosophy

In part because it was easier to collect the data this way, and in part because I think it is a more meaningful measure, I didn’t count cites of more than one article from a journal in a given year, in a particular citing article. So if an article cited both my Intrinsic Properties and Combinatorial Principles, and David Lewis’s Redefining ‘Intrinsic’, both of which are PPR 2001, that would count as citing PPR once. I think that’s the right way to measure things; otherwise we’ll end up treating engagement with a symposium as a bigger deal than it really is.

And, as mentioned above, I separated out the Nous citations from Philosophical Issues and Philosophical Perspectives.

I fed this data into the (amazing) Circos Table Viewer, and here’s the first of the outputs. (Click on any image to get a higher res version.)

Between each (distinct) pair of journals, there are two lines, showing how often they cite each other. The lines go from the outer circle to the inner circle, and represent how many times the journal on the outer circle is cited by the journal on the inner circle. So you can see at a glance, for instance, that among this group, the Journal of Philosophy is cited many more times than it cites other journals, and the Canadian Journal of Philosophy cites other journals (in this group) much more often than it is cited by them.

The graph is a bit of a mess, so I tidied it up in two ways. First, I removed 8 journals that weren’t adding a lot to the graph, because they had very similar patterns to other journals that I included. (The 8 are BJA, PHR, KS, JPP, EP, RSL, RM and EPI.) We’ll come back to those 8 in a bit, but for now I want to focus on the 22 remaining. Second, I used Circos’s feature that lets you cut out the thinnest 50% of the lines, so we can focus a bit more on what’s remaining. Here’s the result:

And we see a large scale version of what the six articles above suggested. With perhaps the exception of Philosophical Studies, there are very few journals that have strong connections to both the leading political philosophy journal, Philosophy and Public Affairs, and the leading Philosophy of Science journals, Philosophy of Science and BJPS. What really surprised me was how weak the links to Ethics are. I’m not surprised that some generalist journals don’t publish much aesthetics, feminist philosophy or history of philosophy: I knew those were gaps in coverage. I was surprised at how little philosophy of science, political philosophy, and even ethics, there seems to be in some leading journals.

I’ll write more about this in future posts, including deeper dives into which journals do and don’t interact with which specialist journals, and some important caveats to the no generalist journals conclusion. (Spoiler alert: Past performance is not necessarily a guide to future results.)

And I’ll do a long look at how the journals have changed over time. The four takeaways will be:

  1. The Journal of Philosophy was unbelievably influential in the 1980s, but is now merely one leading journal among many.
  2. Stewart Cohen has done an incredible job with Philosophical Studies. (This is a bit of a recurring theme actually.)
  3. David Lewis gets cited a lot. It ends up being important to remember when the Lewis articles appear when getting a sense of the impact of various journals across time.
  4. The interactions between generalist and specialist journals don’t change a lot over time, but they do change a bit, and some of the differences are worth pausing over.

FOLLOW UP POSTS (this will be edited as I add more)

Come to Michigan!

It’s the time of year when students thinking of applying to PhD programs have to decide where to apply, and faculty need to advise these students on applications. So I thought I’d add a few words about the ways in which my department (Michigan philosophy) has changed over the last few years in ways that are relevant to these students. A bunch of things have happened that make us a much more attractive destination than we were a little while back for a large class of students. (I won’t say much about the ways in which this place continues to be great in ethics, and in epistemology, and in philosophy of language, and in philosophy of physics, and in many other fields. The focus here is on new strengths.)

One is that it is now a really great place to do work on race and gender. Obviously that’s always been possible, with Liz Anderson here. But having hired Ishani Maitra, Derrick Darby and Meena Krishnamurthy in the last few years, it’s now as good a place as any to do work at the intersection of analytic philosophy with work on race and gender. The department has (and has had for a few years now) an active Minorities and Philosophy chapter, and a (graduate student run) feminist philosophy and philosophy of race reading group. There is a good critical mass of students interested in philosophical issues about race and gender, which makes it (I think) a good environment to work in. And you see flow on effects from that; lots of students, and faculty, who don’t primarily work on race and gender nevertheless have active research programs in those fields. So there are lots of opportunities for feedback on one’s work.

We currently have 23 full-time faculty. We may expand this year, either due to hiring through the Collegiate Postdoctoral Fellowship Program, or through our search (joint with Asian Languages and Culture) for a new faculty member in Chinese Philosophy. But there are a lot of supports for philosophy here beyond the department. Michigan is in many ways a very theory-friendly university, so there are many departments that have faculty with philosophical interests. Some of those faculty have cross-listed appointments in philosophy. Chandra Sripada, whose tenure home is in psychiatry, is quarter-time here. And Scott Hershovitz and Gabe Mendlow in the law school both do a lot of philosophical work. A number of our students are working with Scott on various projects, and Gabe is teaching a graduate seminar in our department next term. When you add in the faculty in our department with interests in philosophy of law, we’re a very strong place for students with legal and philosophical interests. (Not coincidentally, we have a lot of graduate students who have either completed law degrees, or are completing law degrees while doing the PhD.)

The department is more diverse demographically than it used to be. Four of our last five hires have been non-white philosophers. (I’m the fifth.) Three of the last five hires have been women, so now the full-time faculty is over 1/3 women. And the graduate student body is a lot more diverse, along many dimensions, than was typical for an analytic philosophy department not too long ago. This is not to say that we are as diverse as, say, the psychology department here. But the trends are promising.

The university has a fellowship, the Rackham Merit Fellowship, that aims to promote diversity by “encouraging the admission and funding of students who represent a broad array of life experiences and perspectives”. This program has been around for a while, but some recent changes to its administration have meant that it has become much more accessible to philosophy students. Indeed, in the last two years we have recruited three students who were awarded these fellowships. The fellowships only go to students who had been already admitted to the program, but they result in extra funding, fellowship time and resources. So they make UM a more attractive destination for students from a range of non-traditional backgrounds.

Note that by state law, the fellowships can’t be awarded on the basis of race or gender. And they are not just intended for promoting racial diversity. They are also for first-generation immigrants, first-generation college students, community college graduates, students from financially disadvantaged backgrounds, students from geographic areas that are under-represented in universities, and so on. So there are a lot of different students who benefit from the program.

And one thing I didn’t realise about UM before I got here is that there is a lot of encouragement of inter-disciplinary work at the graduate level. Graduate students across the university are required to do some of their coursework outside their home department, and to have a faculty member from outside their home department on their thesis committee. This means we have more non-philosophy students in our seminars. And it means that our students get to take classes with faculty like Susan Gelman and Catherine Mackinnon. There is now a graduate certificate in Cognitive Science, and our students teach in Cognitive Science and in Psychology. So it’s a great place to do inter-disciplinary work.

So there has been quite a bit happening here. For what it’s worth, I’m sure we’re not the only department that has been rapidly changing. Especially if you are advising a prospective graduate student on where to apply, it’s worth taking some time to get up to date information on what different departments are like right now, and how they might or might not be suitable to your student’s interests. Hopefully many of these students will apply to, and end up working at, Michigan.

A Correction

In a previous post I said that the study of Shakespeare was well outside the bounds of philosophy as it is practiced, though it easily have been inside. This was a mistake. Klaas Kraay pointed out to me that there is even an upcoming conference on Shakespeare: The Philosopher.

I’m very happy to have been proven wrong about this. Shakespeare’s connection to philosophy seems like a rich and interesting field of study, and I’m thrilled to see people working on it.

It is a little interesting that the conference doesn’t look like it is growing out of work in history of modern philosophy, or even history of Renaissance philosophy, but out of aesthetics. That wasn’t what I expected either, though perhaps I should have. I suspect in general there are interesting connections to be drawn between the work of the leading poets, playwrights and, eventually, novelists. I wonder if we’ll think of work looking at those connections as being part of aesthetics, or part of history of philosophy? Either way, it’s wonderful to see this kind of work being done.

Higher-Order Evidence and Pascal’s Wager

I’ve been thinking a bit about the ways in which Higher-Order Evidence cases might be like Pascal’s Wager. In each case, an agent is presented with a reason for changing their doxastic state that isn’t in the form of evidence for or against the propositions in question.

Since most philosophers don’t think that highly of Pascal’s Wager, this isn’t the most flattering comparison. Indeed, some will think that if the cases are analogous, then the discussion of higher-order evidence isn’t really part of epistemology at all. Even if Pascal had given us a prudential reason to believe in God, he wouldn’t have given us an epistemic reason. I suspect, though, that this is a touch too quick. There are a variety of Pascal like cases where it isn’t so clear we have left epistemology behind.

Melati and Cinta are offered epistemic deals by demons. Here is the deal that Melati is offered.

There is this proposition p that you know to be true. I have a method M1 that will yield great knowledge about subjects of great interest. It is perfectly reliable. The only catch is that to use the method, you first have to firmly believe that p is false. If you do, you’ll get lots of knowledge about other things, indeed you’ll learn over 100 things that are of similar interest and importance to p.

And here is the deal that Cinta is offered.

Here are 100 propositions that you believe to be true. As you know, most people are not that reliable about the subject matters of those propositions. I can’t say whether you’re better or worse than average, though your accuracy rate is comfortably above 50%. Here’s what I can say. I have a method M2 that will yield very reliable beliefs about these subjects. People who have used it are 99% reliable when they use it. And given the subject matter, that’s a very high success rate. The only catch is that to use M2, you have to start by doubting every one of those propositions, and then only believe them if M2 says to do so.

There are two big parallels between Melati’s and Cinta’s deals. Both of them are asked to change their attitudes because that is necessary for commencing to use a method. At some level, they are asked to change their beliefs on prudential grounds. But note the payoff is not Pascalian salvation; it is knowledge. And the payoff is pretty similar in the two cases; probably around 100 pieces of new knowledge, and 1 false belief.

Yet despite those parallels, the cases feel very very different. Melati has no epistemic reason to believe that p is false. Indeed, it isn’t clear that she has all things considered reason to believe that p is false. And if she’s anything like me, she wouldn’t be capable of accepting the deal. (Carrie Jenkins, Selim Berker, Hillary Greaves and several others have discussed versions of what I’m calling Melati’s case, and the intuition that Melati has no epistemic reason to accept the deal seems incredibly widespread.)

Cinta’s situation is quite different. After all, the deal that the demon offers Cinta is very similar to the deal that Descartes offered his readers. Doubt a lot of things, including some things that you surely know, apply my method, and you’ll end up in a better position than where you started. In Descartes’s case, it wasn’t clear he was able to keep up his end of the bargain. That is, it wasn’t clear that he really had the magic method he claimed to have. But if he did have such a method, it wouldn’t be clear he was offering a bad deal. Moreover, we teach Descartes inside epistemology. If Cinta is being offered a version of Descartes’s deal, then it is arguable that she really has an epistemic reason to accept the deal.

What interests me about the cases of Melati and Cinta is that they suggest a way to capture the asymmetry in intuitions about higher-order evidence. Many people think that higher-order evidence can be good grounds to lose a belief. But I’ve never seen a case where the natural intuition is that higher-order evidence gives the agent grounds to adopt a belief where the first-order evidence is insufficient. Here’s a hypothesis that explains that. Higher-order evidence should be grouped in with things like Descartes’s motivation for doubting all one’s prior beliefs, if not with Pascal’s motivation for belief in God. And it is plausible that these kind of considerations in terms of epistemic consequences can provide reasons, perhaps even epistemic reasons, to lose a prior belief, without providing reasons to adopt a previously unheld belief.

Lasonen-Aarnio on Higher-Order Evidence and Dilemmas

My colleague Maria Lasonen-Aarnio’s great paper Higher-Order Evidence and the Limits of Defeat is just out in PPR. I agree with her conclusions about higher-order evidence. Indeed, on a number of points I agree with her because I’ve been convinced by her arguments. But I did want to register one quibble, one that I don’t think undermines the position she ultimately adopts. In fact, it offers a way to respond to an objection.

Lasonen-Aarnio is interested in cases with the following structure:

1. S has evidence E, and let’s assume S knows she has E, and E is in fact excellent evidence for p.
2. S has strong but misleading evidence, call it H, that E is not any kind of evidence for p.
3. S has no other evidence that tells in favour of p.

There is a widespread intuition in these cases that S should not believe p, because H undermines the support that E provides for p. Lasonen-Aarnio wants to argue against this intuition. Or, at least, she wants to argue against this intuition given a ‘rule-based’ conception of epistemic rationality. The difference between the two possible conclusions will turn out to matter for what I say.

By a ‘rule-based’ conception of epistemic rationality, I mean (and I think Lasonen-Aarnio means too), a theory with the following two principles:

1. All epistemic norms are to be explained by the existence of epistemic rules.
2. For any one of these rules that explain epistemic norms, there is a distinction between following the rule, and merely complying with it, and full rationality requires following not merely complying.

Lasonen-Aarnio’s first step is to argue that even if you accept the intuition here, you should still think that rules like “Believe what the evidence supports” are good rules. It’s true that the intuition in question implies that the rule is somehow trumped. But that doesn’t mean we should have a more restrictive rule saying “Believe what the evidence supports, unless one of these conditions obtain”, where the conditions are the conditions where the rule is trumped. The reason for this is that the intuition that started us down this track is completely general. Any time an agent gets evidence that a rule is unreliable or untrustworthy, the intuition says that rule is trumped. So no finite rule can accommodate all the possible trumping conditions.

One possibility would be to have an infinite rule. It isn’t hard to describe what such a rule would look like. Consider the function from possible situations to belief states that are permissible in that situation. (Ignore the possibly serious problem that such there are too many situations for this to even be a function.) Call this an über-rule of rationality. Such a rule could cover all cases, including the one S faces in our example at the start.

But there is a pressing problem that Lasonen-Aarnio raises here. The reasons for thinking that no finite rule will capture the intuition are reasons for thinking that the über-rule will be infinitely complex. And that in turn means it will be hard for agents to genuinely follow the rule. Put another way, once we start considering über-rules, the distinction between following a rule and merely complying with it will be obliterated, since the most a non-Godlike agent could do is merely comply with it. But once this distinction is obliterated, we have abandoned the rule-based conception of epistemic rationality. After all, any theory whatsoever can be rephrased as a rule-based theory, provided we let rules be nothing more than functions from situations to evaluations of actions in that situation, and the most we expect of agents is complaince with that ‘rule’. The rule-based conception wasn’t meant to be this trivial!

One natural move here, one taken by David Christensen, is to say that agents like S face a dilemma. S should believe p, in virtue of 1, and should not believe p, in virtue of 2. But Christensen, like others moved by the intuition we started with, doesn’t think this is a ‘pure’ dilemma. Rather, he thinks that although S will do something irrational whatever she does, it is worse for her to hold on to her belief in p than to scrap it. Lasonen-Aarnio argues against this possibility, and it is here I want to quibble with her.

As Lasonen-Aarnio sets things up, S faces two rules.

  • Rule 1 – With evidence E, believe p!
  • Rule 2 – With evidence that E is not good evidence for p, don’t believe p!

But these rules don’t imply that it is better to comply with Rule 2 than with Rule 1. That needs further explanation.

Lasonen-Aarnio assumes that the further explanation will consist of a third rule, one that instructs agents to comply with Rule 2 rather than Rule 1 when given a choice. And on the strong conception of a rule-based conception of epistemology that we started with, she has to be right. Moreover, I think the intuition she’s contesting, the one that says S should give up the belief in p, really doesn’t look that plausible without this very strong conception of epistemology as rule-based.

If we drop this way of thinking about the rule-based conception of epistemology, there is a way out. Let’s say there is an extra normative fact that it is better to comply with Rule 2 rather than Rule 1. (Or, for that matter, that it is better to comply with Rule 1 than Rule 2. I’m really most interested here in the general issue of whether there can be impure dilemmas, not which way this particular one should be resolved.) That normative fact is not explained by, or grounded in, the existence of an epistemic rule. It’s true that the normative fact can be converted into a rule, in much the way that we generated the über-rule above. But that conversion would be misleading, for the distinction between following and complying is not intuitively relevant here.

This is a very general point about impure dilemmas. It is very plausible that the moral worth of an action depends on the action being done for the right reasons. If we’re sympathetic to moral rules, we’ll say that this means that the action is done by a person following, and not merely complying with, the moral rule. Following Nomy Arpaly and Julia Markovits, I don’t think it is important that the agent recognise the rule as a moral rule, or perhaps even as any kind of rule. But that doesn’t undermine the importance of the following/complying distinction, since an agent can genuinely follow a rule without thinking of it as a moral rule. An agent might refuse to lie out of respect for her interlocutors, even if she mistakenly believes (perhaps on general consequentialist grounds) that there is nothing particularly wrong with lying. In that case I think she is genuinely following, not merely complying with, a rule against lying.

In cases of moral dilemmas, there will be some undefeated moral rule that the agent breaks no matter what she does. In some of these, there will be a less bad choice to make. An agent faced with a choice between lying and breaking a promise might do wrong either way, but it may be worse to break the promise. (This isn’t because promise-breaking is always worse than lying; I’m just making an assumption about the particular case.) Now we could say that in such a situation there is a rule saying it is worse to break the rule against promise-breaking than the rule against lying. But this would be a misleading way of speaking, since intuitively there isn’t a difference between following and merely complying with this meta-rule. Or, if there is a difference, it is that ‘mere’ compliance is better. Someone who keeps the promise out of respect for the promisee is merely complying with the meta-rule. But that’s better than either of the obvious ways of following the meta-rule. Someone who lies rather than breaks a promise because it maximises their moral value is excessively self-concerned. And someone who thinks that they should minimise how disrespectful they are to others is treating the person they are lying to too much as a means. It’s better to simply follow the rule against promise-breaking, and comply with the meta-rule. And that’s to say the meta-rule isn’t really a rule in the relevant sense; it’s simply a normative fact that in this circumstance, one action is worse than another.

The same story holds, without the attendant moralising, in the epistemic case. It could be perfectly rational to merely comply with a meta-rule, while following the underlying rules. That position allows for impure epistemic dilemmas, at the cost of giving up a fully rule-based conception of epistemology. I don’t think that’s in conflict with what Lasonen-Aarnio says. Indeed, it helps her overall project I think.

On first reading her paper, one might worry that Lasonen-Aarnio’s arguments overgeneralised; that if they worked they would show that there was no such thing as an impure dilemma. And that seems like an implausible result, at least to me. But in fact she doesn’t ‘prove’ any such thing. Rather, her conclusion is that the thoroughly rule-based conception of epistemology is incompatible with impure dilemmas. Since the best versions of normative internalism in epistemology seem to end up committed to a thoroughly rule-based conception, and to impure dilemmas, her argument is (as she says) a strong argument for normative externalism in epistemology.

Arbitrary Boundaries in Academia

I’ve been thinking a bit about the arbitrariness of the boundaries around philosophy. This is part of my general concern with trying to think historically (or sociologically) about contemporary philosophy.

I think it’s beyond dispute that there are, as a matter of fact, some boundaries. For instance, work in sports analytics isn’t part of philosophy. I wouldn’t publish a straightforward study in sports analytics in a philosophy journal, and I wouldn’t hire someone to an open philosophy position if all their work was in sports analytics. And I think just about everyone in the profession shares these dispositions.

In saying all this, there are a number of things I’m not saying.

1. I’m not saying that philosophy is irrelevant to sports analytics. Indeed, some of the biggest debates in sports analytics have been influenced by familiar epistemological arguments.
2. I’m not saying that sports analytics is irrelevant to philosophy. If someone wanted to use a case study from recent debates in sports analytics to make a point in social epistemology, that could be great philosophy. (I’m sort of tempted to write such a paper myself.) But something can be relevant to philosophy without being philosophy. (As a corrollary to that, I’m not saying that there couldn’t be any point to a course on sports analytics in a philosophy department. Perhaps if it was a great case study, more philosophers would need to learn the background to the case.)
3. I’m not saying there could not be something like philosophy of sports analytics. I don’t know what such a thing would be – it feels like it reduces to familiar applied epistemology – but someone could try it.
4. I’m not saying work in sports analytics is no good. Indeed, I think some of it is great.
5. I’m not saying sports analytics doesn’t belong in the academy. As a matter of fact, there isn’t anywhere it happily lives. But if David Romer and others succeed in making it part of economics, or Brayden King makes it part of management studies, I’ll be really happy.
6. And I’m not saying there is some special thing that philosophy timelessly or essentially is that excludes sports analytics. Indeed, the rest of this post is going to be sort of an argument against this view.

But even with all those negative points made, I think it is still pretty clear that philosophy as it is currently constituted does actually exclude sports analytics.

That’s all background to a couple of questions I would be interested in hearing people’s thoughts about.

1. What are the most closely related pairs of fields you know about such that one of the pair is in philosophy (in the above sense), and the other is not?
2. What fields are most distant from philosophy as it is currently practiced, but you think could easily have been in philosophy in a different history?

My answers are below the fold.
Continue reading “Arbitrary Boundaries in Academia”

Higher-Order Thought Experiments

I’m currently reading about Higher Order Evidence, starting with David Christensen’s important paper on the subject. The literature includes a lot of cases, of which this one from David is fairly indicative.

I’m a medical resident who diagnoses patients and prescribes appropriate treatment. After diagnosing a particular patient’s condition and prescribing certain medications, I’m informed by a nurse that I’ve been awake for 36 hours. Knowing what I do about people’s propensities to make cognitive errors when sleep-deprived (or perhaps even knowing my own poor diagnostic track-record under such circumstances), I reduce my confidence in my diagnosis and prescription, pending a careful recheck of my thinking.

The higher-order evidence (HOE) here is that the narrator (let’s call him DC, to avoid confusion with the philosopher) knows he has been awake 36 hours, and people in that state tend to make mistakes. Here are three interesting features of this case.

1. The natural way to take the HOE into account is to lower one’s confidence in the target proposition.
2. The natural way to take the HOE into account is to take actions that are less decisive.
3. The HOE suggests that the agent is less good at reasoning about the target field than he thought he was.

If one includes the peer disagreement literature as giving us cases of HOE (as David does), then the literature includes a lot of case studies, thought experiments, intuition pumps and the like.

To the best of my knowledge, all the published cases have these three features. Does anyone know of any exceptions? If so, could you leave a comment, or email me about them? I’d be particularly interested in hearing from people who have presented cases that don’t have these features – I’d like to credit you!

To give you a sense of how we might have examples of HOE without these features, consider these three cases. In all cases, I want to stipulate that the agent initially makes the optimal judgment on her evidence, so the HOE is misleading.

A is a hospital resident, with a patient in extreme pain. She is fairly confident that the patient has disease X, but thinks an alternative diagnosis of Y is also plausible. The treatment for X would relieve the pain quickly, but would be disasterous if the patient actually has Y. Her judgment is that, although this will involve more suffering for the patient, they should run one more test to rule out Y before starting treatment. A is then told that she has been on duty for 14 hours, and a recent study showed that residents on duty for between 12 and 16 hours are quite systematically too cautious in their diagnoses. What should A believe/do?

B is a member of a group that has to make a decision. The correct decision turns on whether p is true. The other members of the group are sure it is true, B is sure it is not true. B believes, on the basis of a long history with the group, that they are just as good at getting to the truth as she is, and they have no salient evidence she lacks. The norms of the group are that if all but one person in the group is sure of something, and the other is uncertain, they will act as if it is true, but if the one remaining person is sure it is false, they will keep on discussing things. B is very committed to the norm that she should tell the group the truth about her beliefs, so if she reacts to the peer disagreement by becoming uncertain about p, she will say that, and the group will act as if p, while if she remains steadfast, the group will continue deliberating. What should B believe?

C has just read a book putting forward a surprising new theory about a much studied historical event. (This was inspired by a book suggesting JFK was killed by a shot fired by a Secret Service agent, though the rest of the example relies on stipulations that go beyond the case.) The author’s evidence is stronger than C suspected, and she finds it surprisingly compelling. But she also knows the author will have left out facts that undermine her case, and that it would be surprising if no one else had developed this theory earlier. So her overall credence in the author’s theory is about 0.1, though she acknowledges a feeling that the case feels more compelling than this. C then gets evidence that she may have been infected with a drug that makes people much more sensitive to the strengths and weaknesses of evidence than usual. (This isn’t true; C wasn’t infected, though she has good grounds to believe she was.) If that’s right, her initial positive reaction to the book, before she qualified it by thinking about all the experts who don’t hold this view, may have been more accurate. What should C believe?

For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t want to rest an argument for my preferred view on HOE on intuitions about these cases. But I would be interested in knowing any discussion of them, or anything like them, in the literature.


This blog has been going slowly, so I thought the natural thing to do was to start a new one on Tumblr:

The idea is that links, small points, and (more importantly) ideas about the profession will go there, and TAR will be for longer posts, and for research work. But I’ll stop doing links posts here.

On the latter, I’m currently about one-third of the way through writing a book manuscript on normative uncertainty. I’m writing it in MultiMarkdown, so hopefully it will be easy to post things to the web as they are done. With any luck, I’ll have some long posts coming soon from draft chapters.

The short version of the book is that it will take the ideas from Running Risks Morally, and Disagreements, Philosophical and Otherwise, and blend them into a single work on why uncertainty and ignorance about what to do, or what to believe, is much less philosophically significant than many people think.


This blog has been getting very quiet, hasn’t it?!

I’m currently writing a book on normative externalism, trying to build up a general theory out of the things I said in Running Risks Morally, and Disagreements, Philosophical and Otherwise. Hopefully I’ll have some draft chapters to post soon. Until then…

  • Congratulations to Rohan Sud for winning an Outstanding GSI Award from the University of Michigan’s Rackham Graduate School. Concidentially, Rohan has also just had a paper published in Philosophical Studies, a paper on decision rules that he presented at last year’s BSPC.
  • I suspect many of you will know about Samir Chopra’s excellent philosophy blog. He also has an excellent cricket blog, The Cordon, hosted at Cricinfo, and a fascinating looking (I haven’t read it yet), book on cricket, Brave New Pitch. It’s great to see philosophy-cricket overlaps; there should be more of it!
  • And there is a new philosophy news site, Daily Nous. I hope it is a great success.