(by guest blogger Manuel Vargas)
I take it that for any one reading this blog, it is not news that philosophical publication matters for disciplinary reputation. What I think is less widely recognized is how there are increasingly two main models around which philosophers organize their own writing, and what consequences this might have for individuals and the profession as a whole.
(By identifying two models I do not meant to suggest that these are the only models, that there are no mixed models, or that there are not differences internal to these models, broadly conceived. As seems necessary, imagine the relevant qualifications in what follows.)
The older, traditional model is one that aspires to produce only careful, precisely worked out, and exhaustively defended works. Doing this takes time, and on this model, quantity of production is not nearly so important as quality of production. Indeed, on this model, too much publication suggests a kind of shallowness, or a failure to carefully think things through.
In recent years, an alternative model has emerged in various parts of the profession, especially those that interact with the cognitive and social sciences. On this model, it remains a virtuous to produce careful, precise, and exhaustively defended works. But these virtues are not paramount. Instead, what is paramount is the presentation of a promising new idea, a novel argument, or a relevant datum that does not already have currency in the discussion.
Philosophers working under the newer model tend to publish more frequently. It is a model where one can justify a publication by presenting the new idea even if the presentation of it is not maximally careful, precise, or exhaustively defended. Moreover, to the extent that one’s interlocutors also operate with this model, one needn’t be especially worried about the old virtues: if the idea is a good one, the marketplace of ideas will do much of the precisifying, along with the articulation of objections and replies. It is a model that relies on something like a division of cognitive labor, where the marketplace of ideas does much of the work that old-model philosophers regard as a prerequisite to publication. Of course, a mangled presentation never benefits any idea, so the old virtues are never completely abandoned even on the new model. They are merely downgraded, and (partly) off-loaded.
There are I think, lots of things to say about how this plays out in the life of the profession. It is certainly relevant in hiring, tenure, and promotion, and in how subsets of the philosophical community regard one another. Philosophers working under the older model tend to regard the work of philosophers on the younger model as superficial, ill-conceived, not very philosophically rigorous. Philosophers on the newer model tend to regard philosophers on the older model as (let’s be honest) stuffy, remarkably unproductive (especially if at a Famous Institution), and oftentimes disconnected from the larger field or profession.
What I wonder is if, over time, there is any difference in useful philosophical production generated by these models? Take two communities, one working on the old model and one working on the new model. Add a hundred years. I wonder which community will, after a hundred years, have made more philosophical progress by whatever standard you measure such things?
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
(by guest blogger Manuel Vargas)