Thursday, August 30, 2018

Rebecca Kukla on Diversifying Philosophy

I'm on a mission to help diversify philosophy journals. The journals that are seen as elite in philosophy (but not only them) tend to draw on a somewhat narrow range of authors, addressing a somewhat narrow range of topics, using a somewhat narrow range of tools. It's not as bad as it could be, and not as bad (I think) as it once was, but there is a long way to go.

Philosophy is the broadest of all disciplines, with at least a bird's-eye view of everything important. For all X, there's a philosophy of X. I like to think that my discipline could become the broadest-minded too, welcoming of all methods and viewpoints and cultural backgrounds.

Alarmingly, elite Anglophone philosophy journals are even more demographically narrow than the famously demographically narrow philosophy departments of the large Anglophone countries. For example, only about 13% of authors in elite Anglophone journals are women, and less than 1% are Black, and only 3% of citations are to books or articles originally written in a language other than English.

At the Pacific Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association last spring, Nicole Hassoun, Sherri Conklin, and I organized a session on Diversity in Philosophy Journals, in which over 20 journal editors participated, as well as seven experts on the demographics of philosophy, and a large, engaged audience. Following up on that session, we recruited five of those journal editors to write guest posts for the Blog of the APA, concerning their experiences with trying to improve the diversity of their journals.

After a brief introductory piece last week by Nicole Hassoun, Subrena Smith, and me, the first editor's post is finally up, and it's terrific! Rebecca Kukla describes the editorial policies she has used to substantially expand the diversity of contributors and viewpoints in the Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal. As always, Kukla is vivid, practical, and bold.

I hope that you will read her post now!

Still to come over the next four weeks: Stephen Hetherington from the Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Lucy O'Brien from Mind, Purushottama Bilimoria from Sophia, and Sven Ove Hansson from Theoria.

[image from the Blog of the APA]

Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Four-Implicature Theory of Fortune Cookies

(your guide to properly understanding the dire messages from Panda Express)

Fortune cookies explicitly state the good and silently pass over the bad. In this way, they are like letters of recommendation. The wise reader understands the Gricean implicatures.

Gricean implicature involves implying one thing by saying something else, typically exploiting the hearer's or reader's knowledge of the context and of the norms of cooperative communication. Probably the most famous example, from Grice's classic "Logic and Conversation" (1967), is this:

A is writing a testimonial about a pupil who is a candidate for a philosophy job, and his letter reads as follows: 'Dear Sir, Mr. X's command of English is excellent, and his attendance at tutorials has been regular. Yours, etc.'

Although A does not explicitly say that Mr. X is an unimpressive student, the letter implicates it. For if Mr. X were an impressive student, the letter writer, as a cooperative conversation partner, would surely have said that. The reader knows that A knows that letters of recommendation should praise the quality of students who deserve academic praise. A thereby intentionally communicates to the reader that in his view Mr. X does not deserve academic praise. The best that can be said about X concerns his attendance and command of English.

With this in mind, consider these two principles governing the proper interpretation of fortune cookies:

(1.) Fortune cookies, like letters of recommendation, (a.) say only good things, and (b.) say the best that they can about those things.

(2.) All fortune cookies address the following four topics: health, success, social relationships, and happiness.

When a fortune cookie silently omits any of the four topics listed in Principle 2, it implicates that the news on that topic is bad. Furthermore, when a fortune cookie says something limited about health, success, social relationships, or happiness, it implicates that nothing better can be said. This is the Four-Implicature Theory of Fortune Cookies.

Consider, for example, my most recent fortune: "You have the ability to overcome obstacles on the way to success."

What a disastrous fortune! Although it may seem good to the naive reader -- like saying of a philosophy student that he speaks good English and attends regularly -- properly understood, the implicatures are catastrophic. Since only success is mentioned, we must infer that it is passing silently over bad news concerning my health, happiness, and social relationships. Worse, the cookie tells me only that I have the ability to overcome obstacles, not that I will overcome those obstacles. By Principle 1a, the fortune would have said that I will overcome those obstacles if in fact I will. It follows that I will not in fact overcome. Disaster on all four fronts!

[a dire fortune from Panda Express]

Let's try another fortune: "You are kind-hearted and hospitable, cheerful and well-liked." This fortune concerns both social relationships and happiness, two of the four topics that all cookies address. We can therefore infer that the recipient will suffer ill-health and poverty. Concerning happiness, the news is good: The recipient is cheerful! However, the implicature concerning social relationships is mixed: If the best that can be said is that the recipient is kind, hospitable, and well-liked, and not that she finds love, or that people admire her, or that she has other such social goods, the implicature is that she is a bit of a doormat. To the wise reader of cookies, the message is clear: Other people appreciate how cheerful the recipient remains as they take unfair advantage of her kind-hearted hospitality.

I leave the fortunes below as an exercise for the reader.

ETA Aug 24:

OMG, today's fortune is even worse!

[printable fortune cookie sheet from Red Castle]

Thursday, August 16, 2018

To Reduce the Risk of Moral Catastrophes, Should Society Hire Lots of Philosophers?

In June, I wrote a post arguing that future generations might find our generation especially morally loathsome, even if we don't ourselves feel like we are morally that bad. (By "we" I mean typical highly educated, middle-class people in Western democracies.) We might be committing morally grievous wrongs -- atrocities on par with the wrong that we now see in race-based slavery or the Holocaust or bloody wars of conquest -- without (most of us) recognizing how morally terrible we're being.

In Facebook discussion, Kian MW pointed me to a fascinating article by Evan G. Williams, which makes a similar point and adds the further thought, bound to be attractive to many philosophers, that the proper response to such a concern is to hire lots of philosophers.

Okay, hiring lots of philosophers isn't the only remedy Williams suggests, and he doesn't phrase his recommendation in quite that way. What he says with that we need to dedicate substantial societal resources to (1) identifying our moral wrongdoing and to (2) creating social structures to implement major changes in light of those moral discoveries. Identifying our moral wrongdoing will require progress, Williams says, both in moral theory and in related applied fields. (For example, progress in animal ethics requires progress both in moral theory and in relevant parts of biology.) Williams' call for dedicating substantial resources toward making progress in moral theory seems like a call for society to hire many more philosophers, though I suppose there are a variety of ways that he could disavow that implication if he cared to do so.

The annual U.S. military budget is about $700 billion. Suppose that President Trump and his allies in Congress, inspired by Williams' article, decided to divert 2% of U.S military spending toward identifying our society's moral wrongdoing, with half of that 2% going to ethicists and the other half to other relevant disciplines. Assuming that the annual cost of employing a philosopher is $150,000 (about half salary, about half benefits and indirect costs), the resulting $7 billion could hire about 50,000 ethicists.

[With 50,000 more ethicists, these empty chairs could be filled!]

Two percent of the military budget seems like a small expenditure to substantially reduce the risk that we unwittingly perpetrate the moral equivalent of institutionalized slavery or the Holocaust, don't you think? A B2 bomber costs about $1-$2 billion. The U.S. government might want to consider a few bomber-for-philosopher swaps.

I write this partly in jest of course, but also partly seriously. If society invested more in moral philosophy -- and it needn't be a whole lot more, compared to the size of military budgets -- and if society took the results of that investment seriously, giving its philosophers prestige, attention, and policy influence, we might be morally far better off as a people.

We might. But I also think about the ancient Athenians, the ancient Chinese, and the early 20th-century Germans. Despite the flourishing of philosophy in these times and places, the cultures did not appear to avoid moral catastrophe: The ancient Athenians were slave-owners who engaged in military conquest and genocide (perhaps even more than their neighbors, if we're grading on a curve), the flourishing of philosophy in ancient China coincided with the moral catastrophe of the period of the Warring States, and the Germans perpetrated the Holocaust and helped initiate World War II (with some of the greatest philosophers, including Heidegger and Frege, on the nationalistic, anti-Semitic, political right).

Now maybe these societies would have produced even worse moral catastrophes if philosophers had not also been flourishing in them, but I see no particular reason to think so. If there's a correlation between the flourishing of philosophy and the perpetration of social evil, the relationship appears to be, if anything, positive. This observation fits with my general concerns about the not-very-moral behavior of professional ethicists and philosophers' apparent skill at post-hoc rationalization.

I'm not sure how skeptical to be. I hesitate to suggest that a massive infusion of social capital into philosophical ethics couldn't have a large positive impact on the moral choices we as a society make. It might be truly awesome and transformative, if done in the right way. But what would be the right way?

[photo credit: Bryan Van Norden]

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Top Science Fiction and Fantasy Magazines 2018

In 2014, as a beginning writer of science fiction or speculative fiction, with no idea what magazines were well regarded in the industry, I decided to compile a ranked list of magazines based on awards and "best of" placements in the previous ten years. Since people seemed to find it useful or interesting, I've been updating it annually. Below is my list for 2018.

Method and Caveats:

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

(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.

(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.) Lists of this sort do tend to reinforce the prestige hierarchy. I have mixed feelings about that. But since the prestige hierarchy is socially real, I think it's in people's best interest -- especially the best interest of outsiders and newcomers -- if it is common knowledge.

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

(9.) I welcome corrections.


1. Asimov's (229.5 points)
2. Fantasy & Science Fiction (162.5)
3. Clarkesworld (151.5)
4. (147.5)
5. Lightspeed (101) (started 2010)
6. Subterranean (75) (ceased 2014)
7. Analog (53.5)
8. Strange Horizons (46.5)
9. Interzone (43.5)
10. Uncanny (41.5) (started 2014)
11. Beneath Ceaseless Skies (38)
12. Fantasy Magazine (25.5) (merged into Lightspeed 2012, occasional special issues thereafter)
13. Apex (19.5)
14. Nightmare (13.5) (started 2012)
15. Postscripts (11.5) (ceased short fiction in 2014)
16. The New Yorker (8)
17. Realms of Fantasy (7.5) (ceased 2011)
18. Black Static (7)
19. McSweeney's (6)
20t. Electric Velocipede (5.5) (ceased 2013)
20t. Intergalactic Medicine Show (5.5)
20t. Sirenia Digest (5.5)
23t. Conjunctions (5)
23t. Jim Baen's Universe (5) (ceased 2010)
25t. Omni (4.5) (classic science/SF magazine, restarted 2017)
25t. The Dark (4.5) (started 2013)
25t. Tin House (4.5)
28. Helix SF (4) (ceased 2008)
29t. Cosmos (3)
29t. GigaNotoSaurus (3) (started 2010)
29t. Shimmer (3)
29t. Terraform (3) (started 2014)
33t. Beloit Fiction Journal (2.5)
33t. Black Gate (2.5)
33t. Buzzfeed (2.5)
33t. Harper's (2.5)
33t. Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet (2.5)
33t. Lone Star Stories (2.5) (ceased 2009)
33t. Matter (2.5) (started 2011)
33t. Slate (2.5)
33t. Weird Tales (2.5) (ceased 2014)
42t. Boston Review (2)
42t. Fireside (2) (started 2012)
42t. Mothership Zeta (2) (started 2015)
45t. Abyss & Apex (1.5)
45t. Daily Science Fiction (1.5) (started 2010)
45t. e-flux journal (1.5)
45t. Flurb (1.5) (ceased 2012)
45t. MIT Technology Review (1.5)


(1.) The New Yorker, Tin House, McSweeney's, Conjunctions, Harper's, Beloit Fiction Journal, and Boston Review are literary magazines that occasionally publish science fiction or fantasy. Cosmos, Slate, Buzzfeed, and MIT Technology Review are popular magazines that have published a little bit of science fiction on the side. e-flux is a wide-ranging arts journal. 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. Clarkesworld (74)
2. (69.5)
3. Asimov's (65)
4. Lightspeed (56.5)
5. Uncanny (41.5)
6. F&SF (39)
7. Beneath Ceaseless Skies (23)
8. Analog (20)
9. Strange Horizons (14)
10. Nightmare (12.5)
11. Interzone (9.5)
12. Apex (6.5)

(3.) 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.

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

(5.) 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.

[image source; admittedly, it's not the latest issue!]