Thursday, September 17, 2020

Why Writing Philosophy Is Hard (and Why Every Historical Philosopher Focuses on the Wrong Things)

The number of true sentences is infinite. This is why writing philosophy is hard.

As if to prove my point to myself, I'm having some trouble choosing this next sentence.

With the exception perhaps of fiction, philosophy is the most topically wide open and diversely structured of writing forms. Literally every topic is available for philosophical inquiry. What rules and principles then guide how you write about that topic as a philosopher? Respect for truth is one guide -- but then again not always. Quality of argumentation is another -- but then again, philosophy is often less about presenting an argument than articulating a vision.

This issue arose acutely for me yesterday -- a day spent amid a flurry of invisible revisions (that is, making then reversing changes) on the book I'm drafting. What needs to be said explicitly? What can you pass over in silence? What can you assume the reader will accept without further support, and what requires defense or explanation? I find myself adding sentences of support or clarification, then later deleting them, then adding different ones, then expanding those -- then deleting the whole business, then deciding I really do want such-and-such part of it after all....

Here's a sentence from a paragraph I've been working on:

The experience of pain, for example, might be constituted by one biological process in us and a different biological process in a different species.

Is this something I can just say, and the reader will nod and move along? Or do I need to explain it? What exactly do I mean by an "experience of pain"? What is a "biological process"?  How much is built into the notion of "constituted"?  In philosophical writing -- unlike in most scientific writing -- phrases like this are very much open for challenge and inquiry. Indeed, the substance of philosophy often is just inquiring into issues of this sort and challenging the assumptions that lie in the background behind our casual use.

Suppose the meaning is clear enough: I don't need to explain it. I might still need to defend it. Although the sentence (variously interpreted) expresses majority opinion in philosophy of mind, not all philosophers agree. Indeed not all philosophers even agree that the external world exists. We can disagree about anything! It's perhaps the most special and obvious talent of philosophy as a discipline. (Wouldn't you agree?) For example, maybe species that are biologically sufficiently different (octopuses? snails?) don't really feel pain, and the species that do feel pain all have basically the same neural underpinnings? Or maybe there's no good understanding of "constitution" such that pains can be constituted by anything? Maybe the very idea of "consciousness" is broken and unscientific?

In philosophy, it seems, I can always reasonably choose to explain my terms and concepts more clearly (that's so central to the philosopher's task!), and I can always reasonably choose to defend my claims at greater length (since philosophers can challenge and doubt literally anything). My explanation will then in turn invoke new terms that might need explaining and my defense will rely on further claims that might need further defense. An infinite regress threatens -- not just an ordinary infinite regress, but a many-branching regress in which I suspect, eventually, every true sentence could eventually become relevant in some way somewhere.

For this reason good philosophical writing requires careful attunement to your audience. When every term is potentially requires clarification and every claim potentially requires defense, you need to make constant judgment calls about how much clarification and how much defense, in what dimensions and directions. To do this well, you need a good sense of your readers: what will make them prickle and what they'll be happy enough, in context, to let pass.

Students and outsiders to the discipline will rarely have a good sense of this. How could they? This is not because they are bad philosophers (though of course they might be) but because philosophical thought and writing is so open-textured.

Let me try to express this with an illustration.

Suppose, to simplify, that every idea has four (imagine only four!) respects in which it could reasonably be clarified or defended, and that each clarification or defense in turn admits four further clarifications and defenses. The structure of all possible ways to articulate your idea then looks like this:

[click to enlarge and clarify]

Of course you can't write that! So here's what you write:

[click to enlarge and clarify]

You go deep into clarification/defense 1b, skip 2 altogether, add a superficial remark on 3, deeply illuminate two aspects of 4a and a bit of 4c.

Unfortunately, the reader wanted a deep dive into two aspects of 2c and a little bit on 4:

[click to enlarge and clarify]

The reader finds your treatment of 1b and 4 tedious. Why are you spending so much time on that, when the issue that's really on their mind, what's really bugging them, is 2, especially 2c, especially these sub-ideas within 2c? 2c is the obvious objection! It's the heart of the matter, of course of course!

If you come from the same philosophical subculture as the reader -- if you're soaking in the same subliteratures, admiring the same great thinkers, feeling pulled by the same sets of issues -- then the shape of what you include and omit is much likelier to match the shape of what the reader feels you need to include (to have a good treatment) and omit (since they're not going to read the booksworths of material that could be written as subsections of basically any philosophy article).

This is the art of writing philosophy. It's a culturally specific knack, acquired mainly by immersion. It is so hard to do well! It's part of what makes philosophical work from other times and places often seem so wide of the mark, difficult to understand, and poorly argued.

Okay, I know what you're going to object now. (I think I know.) If all the above is true, how is it that we can appreciate philosophers as culturally distant as Plato and Zhuangzi? They certainly didn't write with us in mind!

Here are my two answers.

First, at least some historical figures played a role in shaping our sense of what needs and does not need clarification and defense, or (the more minor figures) were shaped by others in their era who also shaped us.

Second, and I think my stronger answer: This is why history of philosophy is creative and reconstructive. We reach toward them rather than the other way around. We allow ourselves to sink into their worldview where issue 2 is just taken for granted and where 4a is what really requires long, detailed development. And if 2 seems to us to require serious attention, we develop a speculative treatment of 2 on their behalf, piecing together charitably (maybe too charitably) what we think they would or must have thought about it.


If you enjoy my blog, check out my recent book: A Theory of Jerks and Other Philosophical Misadventures.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Believing in Monsters: David Livingstone Smith on the Subhuman

The Nazis called Jews rats and lice.  White plantation owners called their Black slaves soulless animals.  Pundits in Myanmar call Rohingya Muslims beasts, dogs, and maggots.  Dehumanizing talk abounds in racist rhetoric worldwide.

What do people believe, typically, when they speak this way?

The easiest answers are wrong.  Literal interpretation is out: Nazis didn't believe that Jews literally fit biologically into the taxonomy of rodents.  For one thing, they treated rodents better.  For another, even the most racist Nazi taxonomy acknowledged Jews as some sort of lesser near-relative of the privileged race.  But neither is such talk just ordinary metaphor: It typically isn't merely a colorful way of saying Jews are dirty and bad and should be gotten rid of.  Beneath the talk is something more ontological -- a picture of the racialized group as fundamentally lesser.

David Livingstone Smith offers a fascinating account in his recent book On InhumanityI like his account so much that I wish its central idea didn't conflict with pretty much everything that I've written about the nature of belief over the past 25 years.

Smith on Conflicting Beliefs and Seeing People as Monsters

According to Smith, the typical advocate of dehumanizing rhetoric has two contradictory beliefs.  They believe that the target group is fully human and simultaneously they believe that the target group is fully subhuman.

What is it to be human?  It is not, Smith argues, just to be a member of a scientifically defined species.  The "human" can be conceptualized more broadly than that (maybe including other members of the genus Homo) or more narrowly.  It is, Smith argues, a folk concept, combining politics with essentialist folk biology.  Other "humans" are those who share the ineradicable, fundamental essence of being "our kind" (p. 113).

To the Nazi, the Jew is literally subhuman in this sense.  The Jew lacks the fundamental essence that Nazi racial theorists believed they shared with others of their kind.  This is a theoretical belief, believed with the same passion and conviction as other politically charged theoretical beliefs.

At the same time, emotionally, perceptually, and pre-theoretically, Smith argues, the Nazi can't help but think of Jews as humans like them.  Moreover, their language shows it: In the next sentence, a Nazi might call Jews terrible people or a lesser type of human and might hold them morally responsible for their actions as though they are ordinary members of the moral community.  On Smith's view, Nazis also believe, in a less theoretical way, that Jews are human.

Suppose you're a Nazi looking at a Jew.  On the outside, the Jew looks human.  But on the inside, according to your theory, the Jew isn't really a human.  Let's assume that you also believe that Jews are malevolent and opposed to you.  Compare our conception of werewolves, vampires, and zombies.  Threateningly close to being human.  Malevolently defying the boundary between "us" and "them".  To the Nazified mind, Smith argues, the Jew is experienced as a monster no less than a werewolf is a monster -- a creature infiltrating our society, tricking the unwary, beneath the surface corrupt, and "metaphysically threatening" because it provokes contradictory beliefs in its humanity and nonhumanity.  Like a werewolf, vampire, or zombie, there might also be superficial differences on the outside that reinforce the creepy almost-humanness of the creature (compare the uncanny valley in robotics).

So far, that's Smith.  I hope I've been fair.  I find it an extremely interesting account.

On My View of Belief, Baldly Contradictory Beliefs Are Impossible

Here's my sticking point: What is it to believe something?  On my view, you don't really believe something unless you "walk the walk".  To believe some proposition P is to be disposed in general to act and react as if P is true.  Having a belief, on my view, is like having a personality trait: It's a pattern in your cognitive life or a matter of typically having a certain sort of posture toward the world.

What is it to believe, for example, that Black people and White people are equally moral and equally intelligent?  It is to generally be disposed to act and react to the world as if that is so.  It is partly to feel sincere when you say it is so.  But it's also not to be biased against Black applicants when hiring for a job that requires intelligence and not to expect the White person in a mixed-race group to be kinder and more trustworthy.  Unless this is your dispositional profile in general, you don't really and fully believe in the intellectual and moral equality of the races -- at best you are in what I call an "in-between" state, neither quite accurately describable as believing, nor quite accurately describable as failing to believe.

On this approach to belief, contradictory belief is impossible.  You cannot be simultaneously disposed in general to act as if P is the case and in general to act as if not-P is the case.  This makes as little sense as being simultaneously an extreme extravert and an extreme introvert.  The dispositions constitutive of the one (e.g., enjoying meeting new people at raucous parties) are exactly the opposite of the dispositions constitutive of the other (e.g., not enjoying meeting new people at raucous parties).  Of course, you can be extremely extraverted in some respects, or in some contexts, and extremely introverted in other respects or contexts.  That makes you a mixed case, not neatly classifiable as either overall.

The same is true, on my view, with racist and egalitarian beliefs.  You cannot simultaneously have an across-the-board egalitarian posture toward the world and an across-the-board racist posture.  You cannot fully believe both that all the races are equal and that your favorite race is superior.  Furthermore, in the same way that few people are fully 100% extravert or fully 100% introvert, few of us are 100% egalitarian in our posture toward the world or 100% bigoted.  We're all somewhere in the middle.

Conflicting Representations Are More Readily Acknowledged Than Contradictory Beliefs

As I was reading On Inhumanity, I was wondering how much Smith's commitment to contradictory beliefs matters.  Maybe Smith and I needn't disagree on substance.  Maybe Smith and I could agree that in some thin sense of believing, the Nazi has baldly contradictory "beliefs".

Here's something nearby that I can agree to: The Nazi has conflicting representations of Jews.  There's a theoretical and ideological representation of Jews as subhuman, and there are conflicting emotional, perceptual, and less-ideological representations of Jews as human.  This conflict of representations could be enough to generate the metaphysical threat and the anti-monster emotional reaction, regardless of what we say about "belief".

Smith is keen to convince people to recognize their own potential to fall into dehumanizing patterns of thought.  Me too.  In this matter, I suspect that my demanding view of belief will serve us better.  That would be one pragmatic reason to resolve the dispute about belief, if it's really just a terminological dispute, in my favor.

Here's my thought: It is, I think, much easier to see one's potential to host conflicting representations, on which one might act in inconsistent ways, than it is to see one's potential to host baldly contradictory beliefs -- especially if one of the two beliefs is one you are currently deeply committed to denying the truth of.

Smith's sympathetic, anti-racist readers might strain to imagine a future in which they fully believe that some disfavored race is literally subhuman.  That might seem like a truly radical change of view -- something only distantly imaginable after thorough indoctrination.  It is much easier, I suspect, to imagine that our minds could slowly fill with dehumanizing representations of another group, especially if we are repeatedly bombarded with such representations.  And maybe then, too, we can imagine our behavior becoming inconsistent -- sometimes driven by one type of representation, sometimes by another.

Full belief, I want to suggest, needn't be at the core of dehumanization, and an account of dehumanization needn't commit on how demanding "belief" is or whether baldly contradictory belief is possible.  Instead, all that's necessary might be confusion and conflict among one's representations or thoughts about a group, regardless of whether those representations rise to full belief.

Suppose then that you world fills you, over and over, with conflicting representations of another group, some humane and egalitarian, others monstrous and terrible.  Once the dehumanizing ones are in, they start to color your thoughts automatically, even without your explicit endorsement.  As they gain a foothold, you begin to wonder if there is some truth in them.  You become confused, wary, uncertain what to believe or how to act.  Your group enters in conflict with the group.  You feel endangered -- maybe by famine or war.  Resisting evil is difficult when you're confused: Passive obedience is the more common reaction to doubt and conflicting thoughts.

Beneath your confusion, doubt, and fear lie two conflicting potentials.  If the situation turns one way -- a neighbor who did you some kindness knocks on your door asking for a night of shelter -- maybe you start down the path toward great humanity and courage.  If the situation turns another way, you might find yourself passive in the face of great evil, unsure what to make of it.  Maybe even, if the threat seems terrible enough and the situation pulls you along, drawing the worst from you, you might find yourself a perpetrator.  Acting on a dehumanizing ideology does not require fully believing that ideology.


On September 29, I'll be chatting (remotely) with David Livingstone Smith at Warwick's bookstore in San Diego.  I think the public is welcome.  I'll share a link when one is available.

Friday, September 04, 2020

Randomization and Causal Sparseness

Suppose I'm running a randomized study: Treatment group A gets the medicine; control group B gets a placebo; later, I test both groups for disease X.  I've randomized perfectly, it's double blind, there's perfect compliance, my disease measure is flawless, and no one drops out.  After the intervention, 40% of the treatment group have disease X and 80% of the control group do.  Statistics confirm that the difference is very unlikely to be chance (p < .001).  Yay!  Time for FDA approval!

There's an assumption behind the optimistic inference that I want to highlight.  I will call it the Causal Sparseness assumption.  This assumption is required for us to be justified in concluding that randomization has achieved what we want randomization to achieve.

So, what is randomization supposed to achieve?

Dice roll, please....

Randomization is supposed to achieve this: a balancing of other causal influences that might bear on the outcome.  Suppose that the treatment works only for women, but we the researchers don't know that.  Randomization helps ensure that approximately as many women are in treatment as in control.  Suppose that the treatment works twice as well for participants with genetic type ABCD.  Randomization should also balance that difference (even if we the researchers do no genetic testing and are completely oblivious to this influence).  Maybe the treatment works better if the medicine is taken after a meal.  Randomization (and blinding) should balance that too.

But here's the thing: Randomization only balances such influences in expectation.  Of course, it could end up, randomly, that substantially more women are in treatment than control.  It's just unlikely if the number of participants N is large enough.  If we had an N of 200 in each group, the odds are excellent that the number of women will be similar between the groups, though of course there remains a minuscule chance (6 x 10^-61 assuming 50% women) that 200 women are randomly assigned to treatment and none to control.

And here's the other thing: People (or any other experimental unit) have infinitely many properties.  For example: hair length (cf. Rubin 1974), dryness of skin, last name of their kindergarten teacher, days since they've eaten a burrito, nearness of Mars on their 4th birthday....

Combine these two things and this follows: For any finite N, there will be infinitely many properties that are not balanced between the groups after randomization -- just by chance.  If any of these properties are properties that need to be balanced for us to be warranted in concluding that the treatment had an effect, then we cannot be warranted in concluding that the treatment had an effect.

Let me restate in an less infinitary way: In order for randomization to warrant the conclusion that the intervention had an effect, N must be large enough to ensure balance of all other non-ignorable causes or moderators that might have a non-trivial influence on the outcome.  If there are 200 possible causes or moderators to be balanced, for example, then we need sufficient N to balance all 200.

Treating all other possible and actual causes as "noise" is one way to deal with this.  This is just to take everything that's unmeasured and make one giant variable out of it.  Suppose that there are 200 unmeasured causal influences that actually do have an effect.  Unless N is huge, some will be unbalanced after randomization.  But it might not matter, since we ought to expect them to be unbalanced in a balanced way!  A, B, and C are unbalanced in a way that favors a larger effect in the treatment condition; D, E, and F are unbalanced in a way that favors a larger effect in the control condition.  Overall it just becomes approximately balanced noise.  It would be unusual if all of the unbalanced factors A-F happened to favor a larger effect in the treatment condition.

That helps the situation, for sure.  But it doesn't eliminate the problem.  To see why, consider an outcome with many plausible causes, a treatment that's unlikely to actually have an effect, and a low-N study that barely passes the significance threshold.

Here's my study: I'm interested in whether silently thinking "vote" while reading through a list of registered voters increases the likelihood that the targets will vote.  It's easy to randomize!  One hundred get the think-vote treatment and another one hundred are in a control condition in which I instead silently think "float".  I preregister the study as a one-tailed two-proportion test in which that's the only hypothesis: no p-hacking, no multiple comparisons.  Come election day, in the think-vote condition 60 people vote and in the control condition only 48 vote (p = .04)!  That's a pretty sizable effect for such a small intervention.  Let's hire a bunch of volunteers?

Suppose also that there are at least 40 variables that plausibly influence voting rate: age, gender, income, political party, past voting history....  The odds are good that at least one of these variables will be unequally distributed after randomization in a way that favors higher voting rates in the treatment condition.  And -- as the example is designed to suggest -- it's surely more plausible, despite the preregistration, to think that that unequally distributed factor better explains the different voting rates between the groups than the treatment does.  (This point obviously lends itself to Bayesian analysis.)

We can now generalize back, if we like, to the infinite case: If there are infinitely many possible causal factors that we ought to be confident are balanced before accepting the experimental conclusion, then no finite N will suffice.  No finite N can ensure that they are all balanced after randomization.

We need an assumption here, which I'm calling Causal Sparseness.  (Others might have given this assumption a different name.  I welcome pointers.)  It can be thought of as either a knowability assumption or a simplicity assumption: We can know, before running our study, that there are few enough potentially unbalanced causes of the outcome that, if our treatment gives a significant result, the effectiveness of the treatment is a better explanation than one of those unbalanced causes.  The world is not dense with plausible alternative causes.

As the think-vote example shows, the plausibility of the Causal Sparseness assumption varies with the plausibility of the treatment and the plausibility that there are many other important causal factors that might be unbalanced.  Assessing this plausibility is a matter of theoretical argument and verbal justification.  

Making the Causal Sparseness assumption more plausible is one important reason we normally try to make the treatment and control conditions as similar as possible.  (Otherwise, why not just trust randomness and leave the rest to a single representation of "noise"?)  The plausibility of Causal Sparseness cannot be assessed purely mechanically through formal methods.  It requires a theory-grounded assessment in every randomized experiment.

[image source]

Thursday, August 27, 2020

What is "Validity" in Social Science? Validity As a Property of Inferences vs of Claims

If you want to annoy your psychology and social science friends, I have just the trick!  Gather four of them together and ask them to explain exactly what validity is.  Then step back and watch them descend into confusion and contradiction.  Bring snacks.

We use the term all the time, with a truly bewildering array of modifiers: internal validity, construct validity, content validity, external validity, logical validity, statistical conclusion validity, discriminant validity, convergent validity, face validity, criterion validity....  Is there one thing, validity in general, which undergirds all of these uses?  And if so, what does it amount to?  Or is "validity" more of a family resemblance concept?  Are all true statements in some sense valid?  Or is validity more specific than that -- perhaps a matter of appropriate application of method?  Can a study or a conclusion or a method or an instrument be valid even if it's entirely mistaken, as long as proper techniques have been employed?  Oh, and wait, is validity really a property of studies and conclusions and methods and instruments?  They seem so different and to have such different criteria of success!

[image: A Defence of the Validity of the English Ordinations]

I've found surprisingly few general treatments of validity in the social sciences which articulate the concept with the kind of rigor and consistency that would satisfy an analytic philosopher.  One of the best and most influential recent attempts is Shadish, Cook, and Campbell 2002.  I'm going to poke at their treatment with one question in mind: What is validity a property of?

Shadish, Cook, and Campbell begin with a seemingly clear commitment: validity is a property of inferences:

We use the term validity to refer to the approximate truth of an inference.[1]  When we say something is valid, we make a judgment about the extent to which relevant evidence supports the inference as being true or correct (p. 34).

In the next paragraph, they emphasize again that validity is a property of specifically of inferences:

Validity is a property of inferences.  It is not a property of designs or methods, for the same design may contribute to more or less valid inferences under different circumstances....  So it is wrong to say that a randomized experiment is internally valid or has internal validity -- although we may occasionally speak that way for convenience (p. 34).

Characterizing validity as a property of inferences resonates with the use of "validity" in formal logic, where it is also generally treated as a property of deductive inferences (well, more accurately, a property of deductive arguments -- but close enough, if we treat inferences as psychological instantiations of arguments).  In formal logic, an inference or argument is deductively valid if and only if, in virtue of its form, it's impossible for the conclusion of the inference to be false if the premises of the inference are true.  [Okay, fine, maybe it's not that simple, but let's not go there today.]

Consider, for example, modus ponens, the inference form in which "P" and "If P, then Q" serve as premises, and "Q" serves as the conclusion.  (P and Q are propositions.)  Modus ponens is normally viewed as a valid form of inference because under the assumption that the two premises are true, the conclusion must be true.  If it's true that Socrates is a man and also true that If Socrates is a man, then Socrates is mortal, then it must also be true that Socrates is mortal.

Logicians normally distinguish validity from soundness: An inference is sound if and only if the inference is valid and the premises are true.  An inference can of course be valid without being sound, for example: (P1.) I am wearing three hats.  (P2.) If I am wearing three hats, I am a famous actor.  (C.) Therefore, I am a famous actor.  That's a perfectly valid inference to a perfectly false conclusion (thanks to at least one false premise).

Inferences are not true or false.  They are valid or invalid.  What is true or false are propositions: the premises and the conclusion.  Got it?  Good!  Lovely!  Now let's go back for a closer look at Shadish et al.  This time let's not forget footnote 1.

We use the term validity to refer to the approximate truth of an inference.[1]  When we say something is valid, we make a judgment about the extent to which relevant evidence supports the inference as being true or correct.

[1] We might use the terms knowledge claim or proposition in place of inference here, the former being observable embodiments of inferences.  There are differences implied by each of these terms, but we treat them interchangeably.

Okay, now wait.  Is validity a property of an inference or is it a property of a claim or proposition?  An inference is one thing and a claim is another!  Shadish et al., despite emphasizing that validity is a property of inferences, confusingly add they will treat "inference" and "knowledge claim" interchangeably.  But an inference is not a knowledge claim.  An inference is a process of moving from the hypothesized truth of one or more claims to a conclusion which, if all goes well, is true if the claims are true.

Could we maybe just say that validity is a property of an inference that has a true conclusion at the end, as a result of employing of good methods?  (This would make "validity" in Shadish et al.’s sense closer to "soundness" in the logician’s sense.)  Or differently but relatedly could we say that validity is a property that a claim has when it is both true and the result of methodologically good inference (and where the truth and inference quality are non-accidentally related)?  Or is validity about justification rather than truth -- "the extent to which relevant evidence supports the inference as being true or correct" (italics added).  Justification can of course diverge from the truth, since sometimes evidence strongly supports a proposition that turns out to be false in the end.  Or should we go back to process here, as suggested by the term "correct", since presumably an inference can be correct, in the sense that it is the right inference to make given the evidence, without its conclusion being true?

Oy vey.  I wish I could say that Shadish et al. clarify this all later and use their terms consistently throughout their influential book, but that's not so -- as indeed they hint in their remark, quoted above, about sometimes speaking loosely as though experiments (and not just inferences or claims) can be valid.  Their book is a lovely guide to empirical methods, but by the standards of analytic philosophy their definition of validity is a mess.

But this post isn't just about Shadish et al. (despite their 47,473 citations as of today).  It's about the treatment of validity in psychology and the social sciences in general.  Shadish et al. exemplify a conceptual looseness I see almost everywhere.

As a first-pass corrective on this looseness let me propose the following:

Psychologists' and social scientists' claims about validity, in my judgment, make the most sense on the whole and are simplest to interpret if we treat validity as fundamentally a property of claims or propositions rather than as a property of inferences (or methods or instruments or experiments).  A causal generalization, for example, of the form that events of type A cause events of type B in conditions C is "valid" if and only if events of type A do cause events of type B in conditions C.  To say that a psychological instrument (such as an IQ test) is "valid" is fundamentally matter of saying that the instrument measures what it claims to measure: Validity is a matter of the truth of that claim.  A study is valid if the claims of which it is composed are true (both its claims about its conclusions and its claims about the manner in which its conclusions are supported).  A measure has "face validity" if superficially it looks like the claims that result from applying that measure will be true claims.  Two measures have "discriminant validity" if the following claim is true: They in fact measure different underlying phenomena.

Validity, in the psychologists' and social scientists' sense, is best conceptualized as a property that belongs to claims: the property those claims have when they are true.  Attributions of validity to ontological entities other than claims, such as measures and studies, can all be reinterpreted as commitments to the truth of certain types of claims that are implicitly or explicitly embodied in the application of measures, the publication of studies, the making of inferences, etc.  (That good method has been used to arrive at the claims, I regard as a cancelable implicature.)

Why go this direction?  If we treat "validity" as a matter of the quality of the inference or the degree of justification of the conclusion regardless of whether the conclusion is in fact true, then we will have a plethora of valid inferences and valid conclusions, and by extension valid measures, valid instruments, and valid causal models that are completely mistaken, because science is hard and what you're justified in concluding is often not so.  But that's not how social scientists generally talk: A valid measure is one that is right, one that works, one that measures what it's supposed to measure, not one that we are (perhaps falsely) justified in thinking is right.

I diagnose the confusion as arising from three sources: First, widespread sloppy conceptual practice that uses "valid" loosely as a general term of praise.  Second, a tendency among those who do want to rigorize to notice that the philosophers' logical notion of validity applies to arguments or inferences, and consequently some corresponding pressure to think of it that way in the social sciences too, despite the dominant grain of social science usage running a different direction.  Third, a confusing liberality both about the types of validity and the ontological objects that can be said to have validity, which makes it hard to see the simple core underlying idea behind it all: that validity is nothing but a fancy word for truth.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Philosophy That Closes vs. Philosophy That Opens

Topic X, you might think, admits three viable philosophical positions, A, B, and C.  Since this is philosophy, though, probably you're wrong!  You could be wrong in two different ways: A, B, and C might not all be viable.  Alternatively, some position other than A, B, and C might be viable.  Either way, the claim "The viable options are A, B, and C" is false.

Philosophy that closes aims to avoid the first type of error.  It torpedoes bad positions to better converge on the one correct view of Topic X.  Philosophy that opens aims to avoid the second type of error.  It enlivens previously neglected or underappreciated positions, expanding rather than contracting our sense of the possibilities.

Both types of philosophy are valuable, but philosophy that opens can seem dialectically weaker.  "This is true and that is false!" rings in the mind, in books, and in journal articles much better than "Hey, consider this neglected possibility that might be true."

What do I mean by "viable"?  Something like this: A philosophical position is viable if a typical good reasoner in our philosophical community, informed of the relevant arguments, ought to conclude that it might well be correct.  A remote chance of correctness isn't enough (maybe there's a remote chance that I'm a brain in a vat).  But a viable position needn't be the likeliest one: Several positions might be viable, some more plausible than others.

The viable is of course vague-boundaried and disputable.  The disputability of viability is, in fact, central to how philosophy works.  Philosophers constantly negotiate the boundaries of the viable by aiming to open up or close off various possibilities.

Consider the metaphysics of consciousness.  Most 21st century Anglophone philosophers regard physicalism as a viable option: Consciousness is ultimately a matter of how we are physically configured.  Within physicalism, most or many would probably regard both functionalism (which focuses on abstract organizational structure) and biological accounts (which focus on the specific makeup of the organism and maybe its evolutionary history) as viable.  Maybe you have a preferred position; but you can see how a reasonable interlocutor might arrive at a different conclusion.

But is substance dualism viable -- the idea that we have immaterial souls, irreducible to anything purely physical?  Some philosophers (a distinct minority) favor substance dualism.  Of course, those philosophers find it viable.  Others might disfavor substance dualism while regarding it as still a viable possibility.  Still others think we're warranted in dismissing it entirely.

What about idealism -- the idea that only minds exist, and everything that we think of as material is in fact somehow a configuration of our (and/or God's) minds?  Or panpsychism, the view that consciousness is ubiquitous in the universe, even in simple entities like electrons?  Or consciousness eliminativism, the view that there really are no conscious experiences of any sort at all?

It's easy to read people as closers.  Arguing in favor of Position A seems to implicitly signal that you regard Positions B and C as demonstrably wrong, unless you wave your arms around canceling that implicature.  Even then, readers will often forget your caveats and interpret you as convinced that only A could be true.

I do think that people arguing in defense of commonly accepted positions are often aiming to close off other options.  Dialectically, this makes sense.  There's not much need for the community to hear that Popular Position A is viable.  More interesting and informative would be to learn that Popular Position A is in fact the one correct view that we ought finally to settle on.

However, philosophers arguing for unpopular positions might set their sights lower: not to convince others that substance dualism, or panpsychism, or idealism (or group consciousness, or that we have ethical obligations to plants, or that non-existence is better than existence) is in fact the one correct position that we ought to settle on, but only that the position is viable, possessing important but neglected philosophical virtues (and its competitors perhaps possessing troubling vices), and that we ought to treat it as a live option.  You can argue for this even if you think the underappreciated option is probably not true.  This is the philosophy of opening.

It is rather rare for philosophers to argue that a possibility is viable and ought not be dismissed while explicitly acknowledging that they regard other possibilities as more likely.  But why is it rare?  Why shouldn't we expect that we are are at least as likely to make philosophical errors of omission and close-mindedness as to make philosophical errors of over-inclusion and excessive open-mindedness?  Why shouldn't we focus at least as much on exploring the philosophical possibilities we could be wrongly neglecting as we focus on narrowing down to the one correct view?

What do you love about philosophy?  Some people love the feeling that they have arrived at the one correct view on a topic of profound importance.  Others love the beauty of grand systems.  Still others love the clever back-and-forth of philosophical combat.  But what I love most about philosophy is none of these.  I love philosophy best when it opens my mind – when it reveals ways the world could be, possible approaches to life, lenses through which I might see and value the world, which I might not otherwise have considered.

For me, the greatest philosophical thrill is realizing that something I’d long taken for granted might not be true, that some “obvious” apparent truth is in fact doubtable – not just abstractly and hypothetically doubtable, but really, seriously, in-my-gut doubtable.  The ground shifts beneath me.  Where I’d thought there would be floor, there is instead open space I hadn’t previously seen.  My mind spins in new, unfamiliar directions.  I wonder, and wondrousness seems to coat the world itself.  The world expands, bigger with possibility, more complex, more unfathomable, and weird.



Disjunctive Metaphysics (May 27, 2011)

The Crazyist Metaphysics of Mind (Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 2014)

The Philosophical Overton Window (Jan 20, 2018)

[image source]

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Top Science Fiction and Fantasy Magazines 2020

Since 2014, I've compiled an annual ranking of science fiction and fantasy magazines, based on prominent awards nominations and "best of" placements over the previous ten years. Below is my list for 2020. (For all previous lists, see here.)

Method and Caveats:

(1.) Only magazines are included (online or in print), not anthologies, standalones, or series.

(2.) I gave each magazine one point for each story nominated for a Hugo, Nebula, Eugie, or World Fantasy Award in the past ten years; one point for each story appearance in any of the Dozois, Horton, Strahan, Clarke, or Adams "year's best" anthologies; and half a point for each story appearing in the short story or novelette category of the annual Locus Recommended list. (In 2020, one of the "year's best" is based on a tentative Table of Contents.)

(3.) I am not attempting to include the horror / dark fantasy genre, except as it appears incidentally on the list.

(4.) Prose only, not poetry.

(5.) I'm not attempting to correct for frequency of publication or length of table of contents.

(6.) I'm also not correcting for a magazine's only having published during part of the ten-year period. Reputations of defunct magazines slowly fade, and sometimes they are restarted. Reputations of new magazines take time to build.

(7.) I take the list down to 1.5 points.

(8.) I welcome corrections.

(9.) I confess some ambivalence about rankings of this sort. They reinforce the prestige hierarchy, and they compress interesting complexity into a single scale. However, the prestige of a magazine is a socially real phenomenon that deserves to be tracked, especially for the sake of outsiders and newcomers who might not otherwise know what magazines are well regarded by insiders when considering, for example, where to submit.


1. Asimov's (191.5 points) 

2. (174.5) 

3. Clarkesworld (167.5) 

4. Fantasy & Science Fiction (131.5) 

5. Lightspeed (128) 

6. Uncanny (72) (started 2014) 

7. Subterranean (64) (ceased short fiction 2014) 

8. Analog (63.5) 

9. Beneath Ceaseless Skies (51) 

10. Strange Horizons (46) 

11. Interzone (33.5) 

12. Apex (30.5) 

13. Nightmare (25.5) (started 2012) 

14. Fantasy Magazine (17.5) (merged into Lightspeed 2012, occasional special issues thereafter, scheduled to relaunch in November 2020) 

15. Fireside (15) (started 2012) 

16. Slate / Future Tense (11.5) 

17. The Dark (8.5) (started 2013) 

18. The New Yorker (7.5) 

19. McSweeney's (7) 

20t. Black Static (6.5) 

20t. FIYAH (6.5) (started 2017) 

20t. Tin House (6.5) (ceased short fiction 2019) 

23t. Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet (6) 

23t. Shimmer (6) (ceased 2018) 

23t. Sirenia Digest (6) 

26t. Electric Velocipede (5) (ceased 2013) 

26t. GigaNotoSaurus (5) 

28t. Conjunctions (4.5) 

28t. Omni (4.5) (classic popular science magazine, briefly relaunched 2017-2018) 

28t. Terraform (4.5) (started 2014) 

31. Boston Review (4) 

32. Postscripts (3.5) (mostly ceased short fiction in 2014, occasional pieces thereafter) 

33t. B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog (2.5) (started 2014)

33t. Beloit Fiction Journal (2.5) 

33t. Buzzfeed (2.5) 

33t. Harper's (2.5) 

33t. Kaleidotrope (2.5) 

33t. Matter (2.5) 

33t. Paris Review (2.5) 

33t. Realms of Fantasy (2.5) (ceased 2011) 

41t. Future Science Fiction Digest (2) (started 2018) 

41t. Intergalactic Medicine Show (2) (ceased 2019) 

41t. Mothership Zeta (2) (ran 2015-2017) 

44t. Black Gate (1.5) 

44t. Cosmos (1.5) 

44t. Daily Science Fiction (1.5) 

44t. e-flux journal (1.5) 

44t. Flurb (1.5) (ceased 2012) 

44t. MIT Technology Review (1.5) 

44t. New York Times (1.5) 

44t. Weird Tales (1.5) (off and on throughout period)



(1.) The New Yorker, McSweeney's, Tin House, Conjunctions, Boston Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, Harper's, and Paris Review are literary magazines that occasionally publish science fiction or fantasy.  Slate and Buzzfeed are popular magazines, and Omni, Cosmos, and MIT Technology Review are popular science magazines, which publish a bit of science fiction on the side. e-flux is a wide-ranging arts journal. The New York Times is a well-known newspaper with an occasional series of "Op-Eds from the Future". The remaining magazines focus on the F/SF genre.

(2.) It's also interesting to consider a three-year window. Here are those results, down to six points:

1. (64.5)
2. Uncanny (53) 
3. Clarkesworld (49.5)
4. Lightspeed (44.5)
5. Asimov's (36.4)
6. F&SF (33)
7. Beneath Ceaseless Skies (21)
8. Analog (19)
9t. Apex (15.5)
9t. Nightmare (15.5)
11. Strange Horizons (12.5)
12. Slate / Future Tense (9)
13. Fireside (8)
14. FIYAH (6.5)

The classic "big three" print SF magazines are Asimov's, F&SF, and Analog. The three-year list makes clearer how these classic paid-subscription magazines have been challenged by free online magazines, especially, Uncanny, Clarkesworld, and Lightspeed (all founded 2006-2014).

These three-year results also confirm, I think, my decision to use a ten-year window. For example, my impression from chatting with people in the field is that Asimov's is still arguably the most prestigious venue in the mind of the median SF insider, though increasingly challenged by and Clarkesworld -- just what the ten-year results say.

(3.) Looking back on my original 2014 list, I'm struck by these differences:

(a.) More magazines are represented in 2020. Twenty-nine magazines appear on the 2014 list; fifty-one appear now. Now, that's not quite an apples-to-apples comparison, since my methodology changed in 2015 to include the Locus list and go down to 1.5 points. However, the more comparable 2015 list still only contains forty magazines. Although several magazines have closed since 2014, overall there are now more opportunities to publish in venues that are regularly read by Locus editors and Best-of editors and awards nominators. I credit the rise of online magazines, which are less expensive to publish.

(b.) The falloff between the top-ranked and the mid-ranked magazines is less steep in 2020 than it was in 2014. For example, in 2014, the top ranked magazine (Asimov's) earned 8 times as many points as the tenth ranked magazine (Lightspeed). In 2020, the 1st:10th ratio was only 4 to 1. I'm inclined to credit, again, the rise of free online magazines. The rise of such magazines means that publication outside of the bigger circulation print magazines doesn't doom a story to obscurity. This makes it easier for authors to choose other magazines that they personally like for whatever reason. Another factor might be better communication among authors, allowing authors to find magazines that are a good fit for their stories.

(c.) The relative decline of Asimov's and F&SF. Both are still terrific magazines! But in 2014 they were the two giant gorillas, far ahead of all other contenders: 197 and 146 points respectively, while no other magazine had even a third as many points. F&SF is now 4th. Asimov's is still 1st, but based on the past three years' data, it looks quite possible that or Clarkesworld will soon claim the #1 spot.

(4.) Left out of these numbers are some terrific podcast venues such as the Escape Artists' podcasts (Escape Pod, Podcastle, Pseudopod, and Cast of Wonders), Drabblecast, and StarShipSofa. None of these qualify for my list by existing criteria, but podcasts are also important venues.

(5.) Check out Nelson Kingfisher's analysis of acceptance rates and response times for most of the magazines above.

(6.) Other lists: The SFWA qualifying markets list is a list of "pro" science fiction and fantasy venues based on pay rates and track records of strong circulation. is a regularly updated list of markets, divided into categories based on pay rate.

(7.) For fun, I charted the evolution of this ranking over time, from 2014-2020.  The graph below shows the percentage of award nominations and best ofs in the previous ten years for magazines that were in the top ten at any point during the period, excluding magazines that have ceased publication.  Solid lines are the traditional "big 3" print magazines, dashed lines are the four rising free online magazines I noted in (2) above, and dotted lines are others.  (There were some methodological changes during the period, so the values aren't strictly comparable year to year, but close enough.)

[if image doesn't display correctly, click to enlarge and clarify]

[image source]

Thursday, August 06, 2020

It's Not Hard to Be Morally Excellent; You Just Choose Not To Be So

In my chat last week with Ray Briggs and Joshua Landy at Philosophy Talk (on the "ethical jerk"), I mentioned in passing that I think it isn't hard to be morally excellent, if we want to be.  Most of us simply choose not to be.  I've said this in passing in blog posts and published works (e.g., in my article "Aiming for Moral Mediocrity"), but I don't think I've ever made it the central topic of a post.

In this line of thinking, I have been influenced by ancient Chinese Confucianism.

Is goodness really so far away?  If I simply desire goodness, I will find that it is already here (Kongzi, Analects, 7.30, Slingerland, trans., capitalization revised).

"Pick up Mount Tai and leap over the North Sea."  If you say, "I cannot," this is truly not being able.  "Massage the stiff joints of an elderly person."  If you say, "I cannot," this is not acting; it is not a case of not being able.  So Your Majesty's not being a [good] king is not in the category of picking up Mount Tai and leaping over the North Sea.  Your Majesty's not being a [good] king is in the category of massaging the stiff joints of an elderly person." (Mengzi, 1A7, Van Norden, trans., brackets added).

I find it surprising that so many people seem to disagree.  Maybe we're primed to disagree because it's a convenient excuse for our moral mediocrity.  "Gosh," you say, "I do sure wish I could be morally excellent.  But it's so hard!  So see, I'm not really to blame for being morally so-so."

I think most of us can agree that giving time or money to a worthy cause would be morally good.  And most of you, my readers, I assume, are affluent by global standards in the sense that you can afford luxuries like paying $8 for a lunch or subscribing to multiple video or music streaming services.  Even if you really don't have a few spare dollars for a good cause -- or even if you are (conveniently!) suspicious about finding any worthy charities -- unless you are on the very precipice of ruin or spread very thin with caretaking duties, you could probably find some ways to be more helpful to others.  Surely there is some person or organization you know that could really benefit from your help, or from some small or large kindness.

You want to be morally better?  Easy!  Donate some money, skipping a luxury or two if necessary.  Or find a little time to help someone who needs it.  And that's the just the start -- two easy things right off the top of my head that almost anyone can do.  With a little thought, I'm sure you could think of lots of morally good things to do that you aren't doing.

Instead, if you're like most of us, you choose to do other things.  You watch videos or play computer games or scroll through Twitter.  You spend some extra time and money having yourself a delicious instead of a simple lunch.  You save your money for some luxury you want -- a beautiful shirt, a hardback novel, or just the pleasure and security of having a large bank account.  You flake, you run late, you disappoint someone, you don't quite carry your load in something today, because it's not convenient.  You buy products from companies with bad practices, supporting those practices, simply because you like the products better or they're a little less expensive.

What's actually hard?  Well, many people find advanced calculus hard.  They try and try, but they just can't get the knack.  Also, many people find it hard to climb steep boulder faces.  They can't stretch their toes to the right spots, keep their finger grip on the little ridges, and pull themselves up.  I will never scale El Capitan, and no doggedness of will is going to change that.

Morality isn't hard like calculus and rock climbing are hard.  In fact, it's almost the opposite.  Just trying to do it typically gets you at least halfway there!  ("Is goodness really so far away?")  You might try and fail to be helpful; but even if you try, that's already (usually) morally better than not trying at all.  You might try to give money to a good cause and get scammed instead, doing more harm that good -- but that's not so common, I think, and again even the trying is admirable.  It's not that we try and fail to be morally excellent.  Not usually.  It's that we don't try.

Many people find dieting hard.  Dieting is hard in a somewhat different way than rock climbing and advanced calculus.  If you really try not to eat that chocolate bar, it's not going to jump into your mouth.  Gravity won't pull it into you the same way gravity will pull you off the face of El Capitan.  Still, there's something painful about resisting that chocolate bar, as it's calling to you.  And more generally there's something painful about the slow, steady hunger of dieting.  For most of us (not all of us), although we could lose a few pounds if we set to it, in a way that we could not climb El Capitan, there nonetheless a sense in which dieting is difficult.

But morality isn't even hard like dieting is hard -- not usually.  If you're a real miser or if you are genuinely impoverished, donating $25 to save the sight of someone with trachoma might feel as emotionally painful as resisting your favorite dish when you are acutely hungry.  Or if you're bursting with anger at someone, it might be emotionally hard to swallow that anger and act kindly.  But moderate moral improvement doesn't typically require such uncomfortable choices.  Unless your situation is unusual, it wouldn't ache your gut to be more helpful to your elderly parents, or to pause to express appreciation to a secretary, or to drive a somewhat less expensive car and give the money to your favorite good cause.  It might even feel good.

Not being morally excellent is more like choosing not to walk ten miles down the road to the next town (if you are someone with typical walking ability and decent shoes).  You could walk that ten miles.  It would take a few hours, but it wouldn't be difficult.  It's just that you don't want to do it, because you have other priorities for your time and resources.

To be clear: When I say it's not hard to be morally excellent, I'm not thinking of extreme of self-sacrificial sainthood.  Just consider a few of the morally best people you personally know, people you admire for their integrity, their generosity, their kindness.  Just ordinary people, though ones you recognize to be somewhat morally better than you are -- not unreachable saints.  My father-in-law is one such person.  (Or are you already the morally best person you know?)

You could be like those morally excellent ordinary people if you wanted to be, just like you could walk ten miles to the next town a few times a week if you wanted to.  You just choose not to be as morally good as that, because you prefer other things.

You might still want to be morally excellent in the following thin sense.  You'd like to be morally excellent if you could be morally excellent without paying the costs of moral excellence.  This is the same sense of wanting in which the lackadaisical student might want an A, if she could have one with no effort.  Of course all students want As in that sense!  Such half-hearted wanting is cheap.  There's little moral worth in the desiring of free goods and virtues for yourself.  "I'd love to be honest, if I could be so without losing the benefits that come with lying."  Sure, same for all of us.  That's not seriously wanting something.  Serious wanting involves willingness to prioritize that thing over other things you also care about.

It is not hard to be morally excellent.  It's as simple and easy as massaging an elder's joints.  You simply prefer not to.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Does Studying Philosophy Change Your Real-World Behavior: Schwitzgebel vs. Schwitzgebel?

In a coincidence of timing, two seemingly contradictory pieces of work by me are both being released today.

One is an interview of me by Ray Briggs and Josh Landy at Philosophy Talk on "the ethical jerk". The interview focuses on my work on the moral behavior of ethics professors, in which (mostly in collaboration with Josh Rust), I find over and over again that professional ethicists do not behave much differently from socially similar comparison groups (such as other professors of philosophy and professors in departments other than philosophy). In particular, Josh and I found that despite ethicists being much more likely than other professors to say that it's bad to each the meat of mammals such as beef and pork, ethicists did not detectably differ from other professors in their self-reports about whether they ate the meat of a mammal at their previous evening meal. (However, see Schoenegger and Wagner's different results here, and my discussion here.)

The second is an empirical paper, collaborative with Brad Cokelet and Peter Singer. From the abstract:

We assigned 1332 students in four large philosophy classes to either an experimental group on the ethics of eating meat or a control group on the ethics of charitable giving. Students in each group read a philosophy article on their assigned topic and optionally viewed a related video, then met with teaching assistants for 50-minute group discussion sections. They expressed their opinions about meat ethics and charitable giving in a follow-up questionnaire (1032 respondents after exclusions). We obtained 13,642 food purchase receipts from campus restaurants for 495 of the students, before and after the intervention. Purchase of meat products declined in the experimental group (52% of purchases of at least $4.99 contained meat before the intervention, compared to 45% after) but remained the same in the control group (52% both before and after). Ethical opinion also differed, with 43% of students in the experimental group agreeing that eating the meat of factory farmed animals is unethical compared to 29% in the control group.

If you feel some tension between these two perspectives, I do too. Does studying philosophical arguments for vegetarianism change people's behavior or not? No, you might think, based on the ethics professors results. Yes, you might think, based on the students' results.

Cokelet, Singer, and I address this apparent conflict near the end of the article:

These data can be reconciled with Schwitzgebel and Rust's (2014) noneffects in at least two ways. As Schwitzgebel (2019a) notes, to the extent ethicists' moral behavior is guided by social conformity with non-ethicist peers, ethicists would not be expected to behave differently than their non-ethicists peers, even as their philosophical expertise grows and their opinions change. In contrast, students' opinions about peer behavior might change considerably as a result of ethics instruction, with behavior following suit. Alternatively but not incompatibly, Nahmias (2012) has suggested that Schwitzgebel's null results for ethicists may be compatible with moral behavioral change among philosophy students if professors tend to be settled in their ways, having already undergone, as undergraduates, all the moral change that exposure to philosophy is likely to inspire.

Even these explanations might be too simple, though. I am increasingly convinced that the philosophical ethical reflection changes behavior mainly when the reflection includes a personal, emotional, or narrative dimension -- as suggested by Lori Gruen on the issue of vegetarianism here and as suggested by my student Chris McVey's recent PhD dissertation (some preliminary results here, publishable writeup pending).

(P.S. I'm on vacation, so responses might be slower than usual.)

Thursday, July 23, 2020

The 233 Most-Cited Works in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Last summer my son David and I scraped the bibliographies out of the massive Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy to generate a list of the 295 most cited contemporary authors in the Stanford Encyclopedia. I have found that this approach gives more plausible results as a measure of influence in mainstream Anglophone philosophy than do other quantitative bibliometric approaches (like Google Scholar rankings or Web of Science).

Last fall, I'd meant to do one more project with the data -- but things pulled me away, and I'm only now returning to it. That's a list of most cited works in the Stanford Encyclopedia. My most-cited authors approach, at least as I implemented it, might have tended to overplay the impact of philosophers with moderate contributions to several fields relative to philosophers who published one or two field-changing works. (Thomas Kuhn, for example, ranks only #75 on last year's list, despite his transformative impact on philosophy of science.) Also, tracking influential works is an interesting project in its own right, separate from the project of tracking influential philosophers.

Before proceeding to the list, notes and caveats.

(1.) Each work counts once per main-page bibliographic entry in the SEP. Thus, a work with a total of 33 is cited in 33 different main page entries. Subpage entries are not included.

(2.) What counts as the "same work"? The distinction admits vague and contentious cases, and implementing it mechanically raises further problems. Here's what I did: To count as the same work, the work had to begin with exactly the same title words (excluding punctuation marks, "a", "an", or "the"). Later editions were counted as the same work as earlier editions (including in a few cases of "such-and-such revisited" or the like) and articles republished in collections were counted as the same work if the particular article rather than the collection as a whole was cited. Also, works that appeared first as articles then later were expanded into books with the same or similar title were counted as the same work. Multi-volume works counted as the same work if citations were generally to all volumes as a single bibliographic entry (Parfit's On What Matters); but not if citations were generally to a specific volume (Lewis's Philosophical Papers). A specific paper in a volume (e.g., "Causation" in Philosophical Papers, Vol 2) would then be classed as the "same work" as the Journal of Philosophy article of the same title rather than as the same work as a general citation of that volume.

(3.) Historical philosophers, especially non-Anglophone philosophers, have low counts for several reasons. First, historical entries often treat primary texts in a separate section, not listing those texts among the bibliographic sections we scraped. Second, historical texts are often cited under different titles that my procedure would not match (e.g., in the original language, or in translation, or in different translations, or in differently titled collections). Also, in general, non-historical entries in the Stanford Encyclopedia vastly disproportionately cite recent work. See my notes at the end for further reflections.

(4.) Citations in the role of editor are not included.

(5.) Please excuse the haphazard cut-and-paste formatting. Dates are sometimes first appearance, sometimes later appearance or edition or translation.

(6.) Corrections welcome, as long as they are consistent with the principles above and don't constitute a distortive general revision, unsystematically applied on one author's behalf, of the method described in the technical details at the end of the post.


The 233 Most-Cited Works in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

1. (cited in 115 main-page entries) Rawls, J. (1972), A Theory of Justice.
2. (cited in 88) Kripke, S. (1980). Naming and Necessity.
3t. (63) Lewis, David, 1986, On the Plurality of Worlds.
3t. (63) Nozick, Robert, 1974, Anarchy, State and Utopia.
3t. (63) Quine, W.V.O., 1960, Word & Object.
6. (62) Parfit, Derek, 1984, Reasons and Persons.
7. (56) Scanlon, T.M., 1998. What We Owe to Each Other.
8. (55) Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 1953, Philosophical Investigations.
9. (53) Chalmers, D., 1996, The Conscious Mind.
10. (48) Rawls, John, 1993, Political Liberalism.
11. (47) Kuhn, T.S., 1970 [1962], The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.
12. (45) Putnam, Hilary, 1975, “The Meaning of ‘Meaning’”.
13t. (43) Moore, G. E., 1903/1993a, Principia Ethica.
13t. (43) Quine, W. V. O., 1953, “Two Dogmas of Empiricism”.
15. (41) Russell, Bertrand, 1903, The Principles of Mathematics.
16t. (40) Sidgwick, H. (1907), The Methods of Ethics.
16t. (40) Williamson, Timothy, 2000, Knowledge and Its Limits.
18t. (39) Hume, David, 1978, A Treatise of Human Nature.
18t. (39) Jackson, F., 1998, From Metaphysics to Ethics.
18t. (39) van Fraassen, Bas C. 1980, The Scientific Image.
21. (38) Kaplan, David, 1989, “Demonstratives”.
22t. (37) Carnap, R., 1956, Meaning and Necessity.
22t. (37) Lewis, David, 1973, Counterfactuals.
24t. (36) Nozick, Robert, 1981, Philosophical Explanations.
24t. (36) Russell, B., 1905. ‘On Denoting’.
26. (35) Fodor, J., 1987, Psychosemantics.
27t. (34) Popper, Karl, 1934, The Logic of Scientific Discovery.
27t. (34) Raz, J., 1986. The Morality of Freedom.
27t. (34) Ross, W. D., 1930, The Right and the Good.
30t. (33) Ayer, A.J., 1936, Language Truth, and Logic.
30t. (33) Ryle, Gilbert, 1949. The Concept of Mind.
32. (32) Evans, Gareth, 1982, The Varieties of Reference.
33t. (31) Korsgaard, Christine M. (1996). The Sources of Normativity.
33t. (31) Locke, John (1690/1975), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.
35t. (30) Dretske, F., 1981, Knowledge and the Flow of Information.
35t. (30) Gauthier, David, 1986. Morals by Agreement.
35t. (30) Mackie, J., 1977, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong.
35t. (30) Russell, B., 1912. The Problems of Philosophy.
39t. (29) Armstrong, David M., 1968, A Materialist Theory of Mind.
39t. (29) Armstrong, D.M., 1997, A World of States of Affairs.
39t. (29) Goodman, N., 1954, Fact, Fiction and Forecast.
39t. (29) Lewis, David, 1969, Convention, a Philosophical Study.
39t. (29) Plantinga, Alvin, 1974, The Nature of Necessity.
39t. (29) Wittgenstein, L., 1921, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.
45t. (28) Dummett, M., 1973, Frege, Philosophy of Language.
45t. (28) Rawls, John, 2001, Justice as Fairness.
45t. (28) Wiggins, D., 1980, Sameness and Substance.
50t. (27) Dennett, D.C., 1991. Consciousness Explained.
50t. (27) Gibbard, Allan, 1990, Wise Choices, Apt Feelings.
50t. (27) McDowell, J., 1994a. Mind and World.
50t. (27) Nagel, T., 1986, The View From Nowhere.
50t. (27) Searle, John R., 1983, Intentionality.
50t. (27) Strawson, P. F., 1959, Individuals.
50t. (27) Woodward, J., 2003, Making Things Happen.
55t. (26) Davidson, D., 1980. Essays on Actions and Events.
55t. (26) Jackson, F., 1982. ‘Epiphenomenal qualia’.
55t. (26) Millikan, R. G., 1984. Language, Thought and Other Biological Categories.
55t. (26) Williams, Bernard, 1985. Ethics and the Limit of Philosophy.
59t. (25) Butler, Judith, 1990, Gender Trouble.
59t. (25) Chisholm, R., 1977, Theory of Knowledge.
59t. (25) Lewis, D., 1973, “Causation”.
59t. (25) van Inwagen, 1990, Material Beings.
63t. (24) Putnam, H., 1981. Reason, Truth and History.
63t. (24) Smith, Michael, 1994, The Moral Problem.
63t. (24) Stalnaker, R. 1987. Inquiry.
63t. (24) Young, Iris Marion, 1990, Justice and the Politics of Difference.
67t. (23) Anderson, Elizabeth. 1999. “What is the Point of Equality”.
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67t. (23) Russell, B., 1918, “The Philosophy of Logical Atomism”.
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80t. (22) Quine, W. V. O., 1970, Philosophy of Logic.
80t. (22) Ramsey, F. P., 1926, “Truth and Probability”.
80t. (22) Rawls, J., 1999, The Law of Peoples.
80t. (22) Spirtes, Peter, Clark Glymour, and Richard Scheines, 1993, Causation, Prediction, and Search.
80t. (22) Zalta, E., 1983, Abstract Objects.
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94t. (21) Dupré, John, 1993. The Disorder of Things.
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94t. (21) Kant, Immanuel, 1781/87 [1987], Critique of Pure Reason.
94t. (21) Kripke, S., 1982. Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language.
94t. (21) Nussbaum, M., 2000, Women and Human Development.
94t. (21) Pogge, Thomas, 2008. World Poverty and Human Rights.
102t. (20) Brink, David, 1989. Moral Realism and the Foundations of Ethics.
102t. (20) Chisholm, R., 1957, Perceiving.
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102t. (20) Finnis, J., 2011, Natural Law and Natural Rights.
102t. (20) Gettier, E. (1963). Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?
102t. (20) Grice, H. P., 1989. Studies in the Way of Words.
102t. (20) Griffin, J., 1986. Well-Being.
102t. (20) Hempel, C., 1965, Aspects of Scientific Explanation and Other Essays in the Philosophy of Science.
102t. (20) Kitcher, P., 1993. The advancement of science.
102t. (20) MacIntyre, Alasdair, 1984, After Virtue.
102t. (20) Quine, W.V.O, 1961, From a Logical Point of View.
102t. (20) Searle, John, 1963, Speech Acts.
102t. (20) Sider, T., 2001, Four-Dimensionalism.
102t. (20) Swinburne, Richard, 1977, The Coherence of Theism.
102t. (20) Williamson, Timothy, 2007, The Philosophy of Philosophy.
117t. (19) Anscombe, G. E. M., 1963. Intention.
117t. (19) Blackburn, Simon, 1984, Spreading the Word.
117t. (19) Brandt, R., 1979. A Theory of the Good and the Right.
117t. (19) Dennett, Daniel, 1987, The Intentional Stance.
117t. (19) Dretske, Fred, 1988, Explaining Behavior.
117t. (19) Fischer, John Martin and Mark Ravizza, 1998, Responsibility and Control.
117t. (19) Fodor, Jerry, 1983, The Modularity of Mind.
117t. (19) Frankfurt, Harry, 1971. ‘Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person’.
117t. (19) Hare, R. M., 1981, Moral Thinking.
117t. (19) Okin, Susan, 1989, Justice, Gender and the Family.
117t. (19) Shafer-Landau, Russ, 2003, Moral Realism: A Defence.
117t. (19) Strawson, P.F., 1962, “Freedom and Resentment”.
117t. (19) Tarski, A., 1956, Logic, Semantics, Metamathematics Papers from 1923–1939.
117t. (19) Turing, Alan M., 1936, “On Computable Numbers with an Application to the Entscheideungproblem”.
131t. (18) Armstrong, David Malet, 1978, Universals and Scientific Realism.
131t. (18) Austin, J.L., 1962, How to do Things with Words.
131t. (18) Davidson, D., 1963, “Actions, Reasons and Causes”.
131t. (18) Dawkins, R., 1976. The selfish gene.
131t. (18) Fodor, J.A., 1974, “Special Sciences (Or: The Disunity of Science as a Working Hypothesis)”.
131t. (18) Hobbes, T., 1968, Leviathan.
131t. (18) MacKinnon, C., 1989, Toward a Feminist Theory of State.
131t. (18) Nussbaum, Martha C., 2006, Frontiers of Justice.
131t. (18) Parfit, Derek, 2011, On What Matters.
131t. (18) Priest, Graham, 2006, In Contradiction.
131t. (18) Rorty, Richard, 1979, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature.
131t. (18) Savage, Leonard, 1972, The Foundations of Statistics.
131t. (18) Searle, J., 1992, The Rediscovery of the Mind.
131t. (18) Street, S., 2006, “A Darwinian Dilemma for Realist Theories of Value”.
131t. (18) van Fraassen, B., 1989, Laws and Symmetry.
131t. (18) Wright, C., 1983. Frege’s Conception of Numbers as Objects.
147t. (17) Axelrod. R., 1984, The Evolution of Cooperation.
147t. (17) Carnap, R., 1950. ‘Empiricism, Semantics and Ontology’.
147t. (17) Cartwright, N., 1983, How the Laws of Physics Lie.
147t. (17) Davidson, D., 1971, ‘Mental events'.
147t. (17) Davidson, D., 1984, Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation.
147t. (17) Dummett, Michael, 1991, The Logical Basis of Metaphysics.
147t. (17) Feyerabend, P., 1975, Against Method.
147t. (17) Field, Hartry, 1989, Realism, Mathematics and Modality.
147t. (17) Fine, K., 1994. “Essence and Modality”.
147t. (17) Fodor, Jerry, 1990, A Theory of Content and Other Essays.
147t. (17) Goodman, N. (1976), Languages of Art.
147t. (17) Grice, H. P., 1975. “Logic and Conversation”.
147t. (17) Hacking, I., 1983. Representing and Intervening.
147t. (17) Hintikka, Jaakko (1961), Knowledge and Belief.
147t. (17) Lewis, David K., 1991, Parts of Classes.
147t. (17) Lycan, W.G., 1996, Consciousness and Experience.
147t. (17) Machamer, P. K., Darden, L., and C. Craver, 2000, “Thinking About Mechanisms”.
147t. (17) Noë, Alva, 2004, Action in Perception.
147t. (17) Perry, J., 1979, “The Problem of the Essential Indexical”.
147t. (17) Rawls, J., 1955, ‘Two Concepts of Rules’.
147t. (17) Salmon, Nathan U., 1986, Frege’s Puzzle.
147t. (17) Shannon, C. E. 1948. “A Mathematical Theory of Communcation”.
147t. (17) Stalnaker, Robert, 1968, “A Theory of Conditionals”.
147t. (17) Stich, S., 1983, From Folk Psychology to Cognitive Science.
147t. (17) Tarski, A., 1933, “The Concept of Truth in Formalised Languages”.
172t. (16) Armstrong, D.M., 2004, Truth and Truthmakers.
172t. (16) Blackburn, Simon, 1993, Essays in Quasi-Realism.
172t. (16) Bratman, M., 1987, Intention, Plans, and Practical Reason.
172t. (16) Cartwright, N., 1999, The Dappled World.
172t. (16) Dummett, M., 1978. Truth and Other Enigmas.
172t. (16) Field, H., 1980, Science Without Numbers.
172t. (16) Geach, Peter T., 1980, Reference and Generality.
172t. (16) Goldman, Alvin I., 1999, Knowledge in a Social World.
172t. (16) Harman, Gilbert, 1986. Change in View.
172t. (16) Hilbert, David and William Ackermann, 1928, Grundzüge Der Theoretischen Logik.
172t. (16) Hume, David, 1751 [1975], Enquiries concerning Human Understanding and concerning the Principles of Morals.
172t. (16) Keynes, John Maynard, 1921, A Treatise on Probability.
172t. (16) Lehrer, Keith, 2000, Theory of Knowledge.
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172t. (16) McMahan, J., 2003, The Ethics of Killing.
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A Few Observations

(1.) As in the author-based SEP analyses, there are few women, people of color, and non-Anglophone philosophers on the list. The highest-ranked work by a woman is Korsgaard's Sources of Normativity (tied for 33), ETA: and a first-pass count suggests 20-22 works (9-10%) with a woman as author or co-author (among other things, I'm unclear on whether Butler should classed as nonbinary). I'm hesitant to make racial judgments -- and please let me know if I'm missing someone! -- the list appears to be entirely non-Latinx White, with the exception of Linda Martín Alcoff.

(2.) Bertrand Russell has seven works on the list, Jerry Fodor and David Lewis each have six, and David Armstrong and W.V.O. Quine have five. Russell's showing is surprising to me, given the relatively weak showing of works by other historical figures. Russell's Analysis of Matter appears on the list, but not for example Kant's Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals or Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. This highlights several limitations of the method for older and non-English works. A search of "groundwork of the metaphysics of morals" or "groundwork for the metaphysics of morals" yields 39 main page hits -- enough to rank 18th on the current list if all hits were included. But the references are split among references broken into "primary sources" sections (which were not systematically enough formatted to be scrapable), references citing the German title first, references citing one of the English titles first (which are close enough they were merged for analysis), and cases in which the work is mentioned but not included in the reference list (perhaps because it's assumed that readers will be familiar enough with it not to require reference?). The Nicomachean Ethics had all these disadvantages plus also the disadvantage of often not being bibliographically formatted in the standard way, with publication and/or translation year before the title, which led to its being disproportionately missed (see 5 below). Mill's Utilitarianism is another conspicuous absence, despite being in English (a search for Mill and utilitarianism yields 105 main page hits) -- partly because citation is sometimes absent or in primary sources sections and partly because some citations are of volumes in the collected works instead. A final factor that might partly explain Russell's commanding presence is the arguably disproportionately large number of SEP entries devoted to formal philosophy (logic, math, and such), where Russell had great influence.

(3.) As a fan of Chinese philosophy, I was pleased to see that a work on the history of Chinese philosophy made the list: A.C. Graham's career-culminating Disputers of the Tao. In general, however, historians of philosophy are not well represented on this list.

(4.) As one might expect, this list has weaknesses complementary to the author-based list. If an author returns to an issue multiple times in different works, or publishes an idea both in a standalone article and as a chapter in a book with a different title, SEP citations might be distributed more thinly across those works than they would be if the author had instead expressed the same idea in a single, definitive treatment.

(5.) Technical details: The matching algorithm looked for matches in the first four letters of the author's name and the first five letters of the first text appearing after numbers, punctuation marks, "the", "an", or "a", which for standardly formatted entries is the title. I then alphabetically sorted and hand-checked all bibliographic lines with at least 15 exact matches of both of the two parameters. This took several hours and was probably imperfect, but was not as difficult as it might seem. Note also: The scrape was conducted last summer, so recent entries and recent updates won't figure into the totals.

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