Monday, November 23, 2020

Nazi Philosophers, World War I, and the Grand Wisdom Hypothesis

A Theory of Jerks and Other Philosophical Misadventures is now out in paperback. Yay!

I'll celebrate by sharing a sample chapter here.

Chapter 53: Nazi Philosophers, World War I, and the Grand Wisdom Hypothesis

As described in chapter 4, I’ve done a fair bit of empirical research on the moral behavior of ethics professors. My collaborators and I have consistently found that ethicists behave no better than socially comparable nonethicists. However, the moral violations that we’ve examined have mostly been minor: stealing library books, neglecting student emails, littering, forgetting to call mom. Some behaviors are arguably much more significant -- donating large amounts to charity, vegetarianism -- but there’s certainly no consensus about the moral importance of those things. Sometimes I hear the objection that the moral behavior I’ve studied is all trivial stuff: that even if ethicists behave no better in day-to-day ways, on issues of great moral importance -- decisions that reflect on one’s overarching worldview, one’s broad concern for humanity, one’s general moral vision -- professional ethicists, and professional philosophers in general, might show greater wisdom. Call this the Grand Wisdom Hypothesis.

Now let’s think about Nazis. Nazism is an excellent test case of the Grand Wisdom Hypothesis, since pretty much everyone now agrees that Nazism is extremely morally odious. Germany had a robust philosophical tradition in the 1930s, and excellent records are available on individual professors’ participation in or resistance to the Nazi movement. So we can ask: Did a background in philosophical ethics serve as any kind of protection against the moral delusions of Nazism? Or were ethicists just as likely to be swept up in noxious German nationalism as were others of their social class? Did reading Kant on the importance of treating all people as “ends in themselves” help philosophers better see the errors of Nazism, or did philosophers instead tend to appropriate Kant for anti-Semitic and expansionist purposes?

Heidegger’s involvement with Nazism is famous and much discussed, but he’s only one data point. There were also, of course, German philosophers who opposed Nazism, possibly partly—if the Grand Wisdom Hypothesis is correct—because of their familiarity with theoretical ethics. My question is quantitative: Were philosophers as a group any more likely than other academics to oppose Nazism or any less likely to be enthusiastic supporters? I am not aware of any careful quantitative attempts to address this question.

There’s a terrific resource on ordinary German philosophers’ engagement with Nazism: George Leaman’s (1993) Heidegger im Kontext, which includes a complete list of all German philosophy professors from 1932 to 1945 and provides summary data on their involvement with or resistance to Nazism. In Leaman’s data set, I count 179 philosophers with habilitation in 1932 when the Nazis started to ascend to power, including dozents and ausserordentlichers but not assistants. (Habilitation is an academic achievement beyond the doctorate, with no equivalent in the Anglophone world, but roughly comparable in its requirements to gaining tenure in the US.) I haven’t attempted to divide these philosophers into ethicists and nonethicists, since the ethics/nonethics division wasn’t as sharp then as it is now in twenty-first century Anglophone philosophy. (Consider Heidegger again. In a sense he’s an ethicist, since he writes among other things on the question of how one should live, but his interests range broadly.) Of these 179 philosophers, 58 (32 percent) joined the Nazi Party.[28] This compares with estimates of about 21–25 percent Nazi Party membership among German professors as a whole.[29] Philosophers were thus not underrepresented in the Nazi Party.

To what extent did joining the Nazi Party reflect enthusiasm for its goals versus opportunism versus a reluctant decision under pressure? I think we can assume that membership in either of the two notorious Nazi paramilitary organizations, the Sturmabteilung (Storm Detachment, SA) or the Schutzstaffel (Protection Squadron, SS), reflects either enthusiastic Nazism or an unusual degree of self-serving opportunism: Membership in these organizations was by no means required for continuation in a university position. Among philosophers with habilitation in 1932, 2 (1 percent) joined the SS and another 20 (11 percent) joined (or were already in) the SA (one philosopher joined both), percentages approximately similar to the overall academic participation in these organizations.

I suspect that this estimate substantially undercounts enthusiastic Nazis, since a number of philosophers (including briefly Heidegger) appear to have gone beyond mere membership to enthusiastic support through their writings and other academic activities, despite not joining the SA or SS. One further possible measure is involvement with Alfred Rosenberg, the notorious Nazi racial theorist. Combining SA and SS members and Rosenberg associates yields a minimum of 30 philosophers (17 percent) on the far right side of Nazism—not even including those who received their posts or habilitation after the Nazis rose to power (and thus perhaps partly because of their Nazism). By 1932, Hitler’s Mein Kampf was widely known and widely circulated, proudly proclaiming Hitler’s genocidal aims. Almost a fifth of professional philosophers thus embraced a political worldview that is now rightly regarded by most as a paradigm example of evil.

Among philosophers who were not party members, 22 (12 percent) were “Jewish” (by the broad Nazi definition) and thus automatically excluded from party membership. Excluding these from the total leaves 157 non-Jewish philosophers with habilitation before 1933. The 58 Nazis thus constituted 37 percent of established philosophers who had the opportunity to join the party. Of the remainder, 47 (30 percent) were deprived of the right to teach, imprisoned, or otherwise severely punished by the Nazis for Jewish family connections or political unreliability. (This second number does not include five philosophers who were Nazi Party members but also later severely penalized.) It’s difficult to know how many of this group took courageous stands versus found themselves intolerable for reasons outside of their control. The remaining 33 percent we might think of as “coasters”—those who neither joined the party nor incurred severe penalty. Most of these coasters had at least token Nazi affiliations, especially with the Nationalsozialistische Lehrerbund (NSLB, the Nazi organization of teachers), but NSLB affiliation alone probably did not reflect much commitment to the Nazi cause.

If joining the Nazi Party were necessary for simply getting along as a professor, membership in the Nazi Party would not reflect much commitment to Nazism. The fact that about a third of professors could be coasters suggests that token gestures of Nazism, rather than actual party membership, were sufficient, as long as one did not actively protest or have Jewish affiliations. Nor were the coasters mostly old men on the verge of retirement (though there was a wave of retirements in 1933, the year the Nazis assumed power). If we include only the subset of 107 professors who were not Jewish, received habilitation before 1933, and continued to teach past 1940, we still find 30 percent coasters (or 28 percent, excluding two emigrants).

The existence of unpunished coasters shows that philosophy professors were not forced to join the Nazi Party. Nevertheless, a substantial proportion did so voluntarily, either out of enthusiasm or opportunistically for the sake of career advancement. A substantial minority, at least 19 percent of the non-Jews, occupied the far right of the Nazi Party, as reflected by membership in the SS or SA or association with Rosenberg. It is unclear whether pressures might have been greater on philosophers than on those in other disciplines, but there was substantial ideological pressure in many disciplines: There was also Nazi physics (no Jewish relativity theory, for example), Nazi biology, Nazi history, and so on. Given the possible differences in pressure and the lack of a data set strictly comparable to Leaman’s for the professoriate as a whole, I don’t think we can conclude that philosophers were especially more likely to endorse Nazism than were other professors. However, I do think it is reasonable to conclude that they were not especially less likely.

Nonetheless, given that about a third of non-Jewish philosophers were severely penalized by the Nazis (including one executed for resistance and two who died in concentration camps), it remains possible that philosophers are overrepresented among those who resisted or were ejected. I have not seen quantitative data that bear on this question.


In doing background reading for the analysis I’ve just presented, I was struck by the following passage from Fritz Ringer’s 1969 classic Decline of the German Mandarins:

Early in August of 1914, the war finally came. One imagines that at least a few educated Germans had private moments of horror at the slaughter which was about to commence. In public, however, German academics of all political persuasions spoke almost exclusively of their optimism and enthusiasm. Indeed, they greeted the war with a sense of relief. Party differences and class antagonisms seemed to evaporate at the call of national duty … intellectuals rejoiced at the apparent rebirth of “idealism” in Germany. They celebrated the death of politics, the triumph of ultimate, apolitical objectives over short-range interests, and the resurgence of those moral and irrational sources of social cohesion that had been threatened by the “materialistic” calculation of Wilhelmian modernity.

On August 2, the day after the German mobilization order, the modernist [theologian] Ernst Troeltsch spoke at a public rally. Early in his address, he hinted that “criminal elements” might try to attack property and order, now that the army had been moved from the German cities to the front. This is the only overt reference to fear of social disturbance that I have been able to discover in the academic literature of the years 1914–1916 … the German university professors sang hymns of praise to the “voluntary submission of all individuals and social groups to this army.” They were almost grateful that the outbreak of war had given them the chance to experience the national enthusiasm of those heady weeks in August. (180–81)

With the notable exception of Bertrand Russell (who lost his academic post and was imprisoned for his pacifism), philosophers in England appear to have been similarly enthusiastic. Ludwig Wittgenstein never did anything so cheerily, it seems, as head off to fight as an Austrian foot soldier. Alfred North Whitehead rebuked his friend and coauthor Russell for his opposition to the war and eagerly sent off his sons North and Eric. (Eric Whitehead died.) French philosophers appear to have been similarly enthusiastic. It’s as though, in 1914, European philosophers rose as one to join the general chorus of people proudly declaring, “Yay! World war is a great idea!”

If there is anything that seems, in retrospect, plainly, head-smackingly obviously not to have been a great idea, it was World War I, which destroyed millions of lives to no purpose. At best, it should have been viewed as a regrettable, painful necessity in the face of foreign aggression that hopefully could soon be diplomatically resolved, yet that seems rarely to have been the mood of academic thought about war in 1914. Philosophers at the time were evidently no more capable of seeing the downsides of world war than was anyone else. Even if those downsides were, in the period, not entirely obvious upon careful reflection—the glory of Bismarck and all that?—with a few rare and ostracized exceptions, philosophers and other academics showed little of the special foresight and broad vision required by the Grand Wisdom Hypothesis.

Here’s a model of philosophical reflection on which philosophers’ enthusiasm for World War I is unsurprising: Philosophers -- and everyone else -- possess their views about the big questions of life for emotional and sociological reasons that have little to do with their philosophical theories and academic research. They recruit Kant, Mill, Locke, Rousseau, and Aristotle only after the fact to justify what they would have believed anyway. Moral and political philosophy is nothing but post hoc rationalization.

Here’s a model of philosophical reflection on which philosophers’ enthusiasm for World War I is, in contrast, surprising: Reading Kant, Mill, Locke, Rousseau, Aristotle, and so on helps induce a broadly humanitarian view, helps you see that people everywhere deserve respect and self-determination, moves you toward a more cosmopolitan worldview that doesn’t overvalue national borders, helps you gain critical perspective on the political currents of your own time and country, and helps you better see through the rhetoric of demagogues and narrow-minded politicians.

Both models are of course too simple.


When I was in Berlin in 2010, I spent some time in the Humboldt University library, browsing philosophy journals from the Nazi era. The journals differed in their degree of alignment with the Nazi worldview. Perhaps the most Nazified was Kant-Studien, which at the time was one of the leading German-language journals of general philosophy (not just a journal for Kant scholarship). The old issues of Kant-Studien aren’t widely available, but I took some photos. Below, Sascha Fink and I have translated the preface to Kant-Studien volume 40 (1935):

Kant-Studien, now under its new leadership that begins with this first issue of the fortieth volume, sets itself a new task: to bring the new will, in which the deeper essence of the German life and the German mind is powerfully realized, to a breakthrough in the fundamental questions as well as the individual questions of philosophy and science.

Guiding us is the conviction that the German Revolution is a unified metaphysical act of German life, which expresses itself in all areas of German existence, and which will therefore—with irresistible necessity—put philosophy and science under its spell.

But is this not—as is so often said—to snatch away the autonomy of philosophy and science and give it over to a law alien to them?

Against all such questions and concerns, we offer the insight that moves our innermost being: that the reality of our life, that shapes itself and will shape itself, is deeper, more fundamental, and more true than that of our modern era as a whole—that philosophy and science, which compete for it, will in a radical sense become liberated to their own essence, to their own truth. Precisely for the sake of truth, the struggle with modernity—maybe with the basic norms and basic forms of the time in which we live—is necessary. It is—in a sense that is alien and outrageous to modern thinking—to recapture the form in which the untrue and fundamentally destroyed life can win back its innermost truth—its rescue and salvation. This connection of the German life to fundamental forces and to the original truth of Being and its order—as has never been attempted in the same depth in our entire history—is what we think of when we hear that word of destiny: a new Reich.

If on the basis of German life German philosophy struggles for this truly Platonic unity of truth with historical-political life, then it takes up a European duty. Because it poses the problem that each European people must solve, as a necessity of life, from its own individual powers and freedoms.

Again, one must—and now in a new and unexpected sense, in the spirit of Kant’s term, “bracket knowledge” [das Wissen aufzuheben]. Not for the sake of negation: but to gain space for a more fundamental form of philosophy and science, for the new form of spirit and life [für die neue Form … des Lebens Raum zu gewinnen]. In this living and creative sense is Kant-Studien connected to the true spirit of Kantian philosophy.

So we call on the productive forces of German philosophy and science to collaborate in these new tasks. We also turn especially to foreign friends, confident that in this joint struggle with the fundamental questions of philosophy and science, concerning the truth of Being and life, we will not only gain a deeper understanding of each other, but also develop an awareness of our joint responsibility for the cultural community of peoples.

—H. Heyse, Professor of Philosophy, University of Königsberg


Is it just good cultural luck -- the luck of having been born into the right kind of society -- that explains why twenty-first-century Anglophone philosophers reject such loathsome worldviews? Or is it more than luck? Have we somehow acquired better tools for rising above our cultural prejudices?

Or -- as I’ll suggest in chapter 58 -- ought we to entirely refrain from self-congratulation, whether for our luck or our skill? Maybe we aren’t so different, after all, from the early-twentieth-century Germans. Maybe we have our own suite of culturally shared, heinous moral defects, invisible to us or obscured by a fog of bad philosophy.



[28] A few joined the SA or SS but not the Nazi Party, but since involvement in one of these dedicated Nazi organizations reflects at least as much involvement in Nazism as does Nazi Party membership alone, I have included them in the total.

[29] Jarausch and Arminger 1989.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

How to Publish a Journal Article in Philosophy: Advice for Graduate Students and New Assistant Professors

My possibly quirky advice. General thoughts first. Nitty-gritty details second. Disagreement and correction welcome.

Should You Try to Publish as a Graduate Student?

Yes, if you are seeking a job where hiring will be determined primarily on research promise, and if you can do so without excessively hindering progress toward your degree.

A couple of years ago, I was on a search committee for a new tenure-track Assistant Professor at U.C. Riverside, in epistemology, philosophy of action, philosophy of language, and/or philosophy of mind. We received about 200 applications. How do you, as an applicant, stand out in such a crowded field? I noticed three main ways:

(1.) Something about your dissertation abstract or the first few pages of your writing sample strikes a committee member as extremely interesting -- interesting enough for them to want to read your whole writing sample despite having a pile of 200 in their box. Of course, what any particular philosopher finds interesting varies enormously, so this is basically impossible to predict.

(2.) Your file has a truly glowing letter of recommendation from someone whose judgment a committee member trusts.

(3.) You have two or more publications either in well-regarded general philosophy journals (approx. 1-20 on this list) or in the best-regarded specialty journals in your subfield. (Publications in less elite venues probably won't count much toward making you stand out.)

A couple of good publications, then, is one path toward getting you a closer look.


* Publication is neither necessary (see routes 1 and 2) nor sufficient (if the committee doesn't care for what they see after looking more closely).

* If you spend a year postponing work on your dissertation to polish up an article for publication, that's probably too much of a delay. The main thing is to complete a terrific dissertation.

* If you're aiming for schools that hire primarily based on teaching, effort spent on polishing publications rather than on improving your teaching profile (e.g., by teaching more courses and teaching them better) might be counterproductive.

* Some people have argued that academic philosophy would be better off if graduate students weren't permitted to publish and maybe if people published fewer philosophy articles in general. I disagree. But even if you agree with the general principle, it would be an excess of virtue to take a lonely purist stand by declining to submit your publishable work.

What Should Be Your First Publication?

Generally speaking, you'll want your first publication to be on something so narrow that you are among the five top experts in the world on that topic.

Think about it this way: The readers of elite philosophy journals aren't so interested in hearing about free will or the mind-body problem from the 437th most-informed person in the world on these topics. If you haven't really mastered the huge literature on these topics, it will show. With some rare exceptions, as a graduate student or newly-minted assistant prof, publishing an ambitious, broad-ranging paper on a well-trodden subject is probably beyond your reach.

But there are interesting topics on which you can quickly become among the world's leading experts. You want to find something that will interest scholars in your subfield but small enough that you can read the entire literature on that topic. Read that entire literature. You'll find you have a perspective that is in some important respect different from others'. Your article, then, articulates that perspective, fully informed by the relevant literature, with which you contrast yourself.

Some examples from early in my career:

(a.) the apparent inaccuracy of people's introspective reports about their experience of echolocation (i.e., hearing sounds reflected off silent objects and walls);

(b.) ambiguities in the use of the term "representation" by developmental psychologists in the (then new) literature on children's understanding of false belief;

(c.) attempts by Anglophone interpreters of Zhuangzi to make sense of the seeming contradictions in his claims about skepticism.

These topics were each narrow enough to thoroughly research in a semester's time (given the tools and background knowledge I already had). Since then, (b) has grown too large but (a) and (c) are probably still about the right size.

The topic should be narrow enough that you really do know it better than almost anyone else in the world and yet interesting enough for someone in your subfield to see how it might illuminate bigger issues. In your introduction and conclusion, you highlight those bigger framing issues (without overcommitting on them).

The Tripod Theory of Building Expertise

Now if you're going to have a research career in philosophy, eventually you're going to want to publish more ambitiously, on broader topics -- at least by the time you're approaching tenure. Here's what I recommend: Publish three papers on narrow but related topics. These serve as a tripod establishing your expertise in the broader subarea to which they belong. Once you have this tripod, reach for more general theories and more ambitious claims.

Again, from my own career: My paper on our introspective ignorance of the experience of echolocation ((a) above) was followed by a paper on our introspective ignorance of our experience of coloration in dreams and a paper on the weak relationship between people's introspective self-reports of imagery experience and their actually measured imagery skills. Each is a small topic, but combined they suggested a generalization: People aren't especially accurate introspectors of features of their stream of conscious experience (contra philosophical orthodoxy at the time). (N.B.: In psychology, critiques of introspection generally focused on introspection of causes of our behavior, not introspection of the stream of ongoing inner experience.) My work on this topic culminated in an broad, ambitious, skeptical paper in Philosophical Review in 2008. These articles then were further revised into a book.

Simultaneously, I built a tripod of expertise on belief: first, a detailed (but unpublished) criticism of Donald Davidson's arguments that believing requires having language, relying on a "dispositional" approach to belief; second, a dispositionalist model of gradual belief change in children's understanding of object permanence and false belief; third, a discussion of how dispositional approaches to belief neatly handle vagueness in belief attribution in "in-between" cases of kind-of-believing. These culminated in a general paper on the nature of belief, from a dispositionalist perspective.

Imagine a ship landing on an alien planet: It sets down some tiny feet of narrow expertise. If the feet are a little separated but not too far apart, three are enough to support a stable platform -- a generalization across the broader region that they touch (e.g., empirical evidence suggests that we are bad introspectors of the stream of experience; or dispositionalism elegantly handles various puzzles about belief). From this platform, you hopefully have a new, good viewing angle, grounded in your unique expertise, on a large issue nearby (e.g., the epistemology of introspection, the nature of belief).

Writing the Paper

A typical journal article is about 8000 words long. Much longer, and reviewers start to tire and you bump up against journals' word limits. Much shorter, and you're not talking about a typical full-length journal article (although some journals specialize in shorter articles).

Write a great paper! Revise it many times. I recommend retyping the whole thing from beginning to end at least once, to give yourself a chance to actively rethink every word. I recommend writing it at different lengths: a short conference version that forces you to focus efficiently on the heart of the matter, a long dissertation-chapter version that forces you to give an accurate blow-by-blow accounting of others' views and what is right and wrong in them. Actively expanding and contracting like this can really help you corral and discipline your thoughts.

Cite heavily, especially near the beginning of the paper. Not all philosophers do this (and I don't always do it myself, I confess). But there are several reasons.

First, other scholars should be cited. Their work and their influence on you should be recognized. This is good for them, and it's good for the field, and it's good for your reader. If you cite only a few people, it will probably be the same few big names everyone else cites, burying others' contributions and amplifying the winner-take-all dynamics in philosophy.

Second, it establishes your credibility. It helps show that you know the topic. Your great command of the topic shows in other ways too! But the reader and the journal's reviewers (who advise the editor on whether to accept your article) will feel reassured if they can say to themselves, "Yes, the author has read all the good recent literature on this topic. They cite all the right stuff."

Third, one of the ways that journals select reviewers is by looking at your reference list. Your citations are, in a way, implicit recommendations of other experts in the field who might find your topic interesting. Even if you disagree with them, as long as you treat them fairly and respectfully, reviewers are generally happy to see themselves cited in the papers they are reviewing. Citing helps you build a pool of potential reviewers who might be positively disposed toward your topic and article.

Your introduction and conclusion help the reader see why your topic should be of broad interest among those in your subfield. The body of your paper lays out the narrow problem and your insightful answer. Keep focused on that narrow problem.

If the topic is narrow enough that your friends can't imagine how you could write 8000 words about it, while you are expert enough that it's hard to imagine how you could do it justice in only 8000 words, that's a good sign.

Choosing a Journal

You needn't write with a particular target journal in mind. Just write a terrific philosophy article. (Lots of professors have circulating draft papers on their websites. Typically, these are in something pretty close to the form of what they submit to journals. Use these as models of the general form.)

In choosing a journal, you probably want to keep in mind three considerations:

(i.) Prestige of the journal, either in general or in your subfield.

(ii.) Response time of the journal (some data are available here) and possibly other editorial practices you care about, such as open access or anonymous reviewing.

(iii.) Fit between the interests of the journal's readers and your article.

(Wow, I'm really digging threes today!)

On iii, it can help to note where recent work on the topic has been published. You also want to consider whether your topic is more likely to be appreciated in a specialist's journal.

On i vs ii: Here you need to think about how much time you have to see the paper through to publication. If you're near the job market or tenure, you might want to focus on journals with quicker response times and less selective journals that are more likely to say yes. You might not want to wait a year for Journal of Philosophy to very likely tell you no. I recommend creating a list of six journals -- one aspirational journal that's a bit of a reach (if you have enough time), three good journals that you think are realistic, and two fall-back journals you'd still be happy to publish in. When that rejection comes, it's easier to cope if your backup plan is already set. Acceptance rates in the most elite philosophy journals are small, and bear in mind that you're competing with eminent scholars as well as graduate students and assistant professors.

I usually figure on about two years between when I first submit a paper and when it is finally accepted for publication somewhere.

Submit to only one journal at a time. This is standard in the field, and editors and reviewers will be seriously annoyed if they discover you're not heeding this advice.

Preparing Your Manuscript

Once you've chosen your journal, prepare your manuscript for submission to that journal by creating an anonymized version in a boring font with abstract, keywords, and word count, and any other advice that the journal lists on its webpage under its guide for authors. (One exception: You needn't spend all day formatting the references in the required way. As long as the references are consistently formatted, no one really cares at the submission stage.)

Boring font: Unless there's some reason to do otherwise, I recommend Times New Roman 12, double spaced.

Anonymized: Remove the title page and your name. Remove revealing self-references, if any, such as "as I argued in Wong (2018)". You can either cut the reference, cite it in the third person ("as Wong (2018) argued"), or cite it anonymously "as I argued in [Author's Article 1]". Remove other compromises to anonymity, such as acknowledgements.

First page: Title, then abstract (look at the recent issues to see how long abstracts tend to run), then maybe five keywords (these don't matter much, but look at a recent issue for examples), and word count including notes and references (rounding to the nearest hundred is fine).

Second page: Title again, then start your paper.

Have page numbers and a shortened version of the title in the header or footer.

If your article has notes, I recommend formatting them as footnotes rather than endnotes for the purposes of review, even if the journal uses endnotes for published articles. It doesn't matter much, but most reviewers like it better and it makes your scholarly credibility just a little more salient up front.

All of the above, of course, would be overridden by contrary instructions on the journal's website.

If you're attaching to an email or submitting through a portal that asks for a cover letter, the cover letter need not be anything long or fancy. Something like:

Dear Prof. Lewis:

Attached please find "A Tactile Refutation of Duomorphholismicism" (about 8000 words), intended as a new submission to Holomorphicism Studies Bulletin. The article has been prepared for anonymous review and is not under consideration for publication elsewhere.


[Your Name]

Referee Reports

Your article will probably either be desk rejected by the editor or sent out to reviewers.

Desk rejection is a relatively quick decision (within a few weeks) that the article is outside of the scope of the journal, or doesn't meet the journal's standards or requirements, or is unlikely to be of sufficient interest to the journal's readers.

If your article isn't desk rejected, it will be sent to one or two, or sometimes more, reviewers. Reviewers are chosen by the editor based on some combination of (1) does the editor know of the person as a good scholar working in the field, (2) is the person reasonably likely to say yes, (3) has the person written decent referee reports in the past, and (4) if 1-3 don't bring anyone immediately to mind, the editor might skim the references to see if any names pop out as potential reviewers. Reviewers receive an email typically containing the title and abstract of the paper and asking if they are willing to review the paper for the journal. If the reviewer doesn't reply with a yes or a no within a few days, they will probably get a nudge. If the reviewer declines, they will typically be asked if they could suggest a few names of other potential reviewers. Refereeing is thankless work, and it can take a lot of time to do it well, and it doesn't benefit the reviewer professionally very much -- so sometimes it can take several weeks for editors to find suitable reviewers.

In philosophy, reviewers will usually be given at least two months to return a referee report (a few journals try to be faster). The referee report will have a recommendation of "accept", "revise and resubmit", or "reject" -- sometimes with finer-grained distinctions between accept and R&R such as "accept with revisions" or "minor revisions". It is rare to get a straight acceptance in your first round of submission. What you're shooting for is R&R.

After the reviewers complete their reports (sometimes requiring several rounds of nudging by the editor), the editor will make a decision. For the most selective journals, split decisions typically but not always go against the author (e.g., if Reviewer 1 says R&R and Reviewer 2 says reject, the editor is likely to reject). It's generally considered good practice for journals to share anonymized referee reports with the author, but not all journals do so.

If you are rejected with referee reports:

Remember your backup journal, already chosen in advance with this contingency in mind! Read the referee reports and think about what changes you might want to make in light of those referee reports. If the reports seem insightful, great! If the reviewers missed the point or seem totally uncharitable, maybe there are some clarifications you can make to prevent readers from making those same interpretative mistakes at the next journal.

Don't linger too long, unless the referee report really causes you to see the issues in a new way, sending you back to the drawing board. In most cases, you want to sling a revised version of your paper to the next journal within a few weeks.

If you get an R&R:

Read the referee reports very carefully. Note every criticism they make and every change they suggest. Your revision should address every single one of these points. You can rephrase things to avoid the criticisms. You can mention and explicitly respond to the criticisms. If the reviewer recommends a structural change of some sort, consider making that structural change. In general, you should make every change the reviewers request, unless you think the change would make your paper worse. Depending on how purist you are, you might also consider making some changes that you feel make your paper just a little worse, e.g., clunkier, if you think they don't compromise your core content. If you think a recommended change would make your paper worse, you need not make that change, but you should address it in a new cover letter.

You should aim to resubmit a revised version of your paper within a couple of months of receiving the referee reports. (If you send it the next day, everyone knows you didn't seriously engage with the reviewers' suggestions. If you send it ten months later, the reviewers might not remember the paper very well or might not still be available.)

Your new submission should contain a detailed cover letter addressing the reviewers' suggestions, alongside the revised version of your paper. My impression is that at most journals a majority of papers that receive R&R are eventually accepted. Sometimes it requires more than one round of R&R, and rejection after R&R is definitely a live possibility. To be accepted, the reviewers and editor must come to feel that you have adequately addressed the reviewers' concerns. The aim of the cover letter is to show how you have done so.

In my cover letters, I usually quote the reviewers' letters word for word (block indented), inserting my replies (not indented). If they have praise, I insert responses like "I thank the reviewer for the kind remark about the potential importance of this work" (or whatever). For simple criticisms and corrections, you can insert responses like "Corrected. I appreciate the careful eye." or "I now respond to this concern in a new paragraph on page 7 of the revised version of the manuscript."

For more difficult issues, or where you disagree with the reviewer, you will want to explain more in your cover letter. It might seem to you that the reviewer is being stupid or uncharitable or missing obvious things. While this is possibly true, it is also possible that you are being defensive or your writing is unclear or you are not seeing weaknesses in your argument. You should try always try to keep a tone of politeness, gratitude, and respect -- and if possible, think of misreadings as valuable feedback about issues on which you could have been clearer. I try to push back against reviewers' suggestions only when I feel it's important, and hopefully on at most one substantial issue per reviewer.

If there's a strongly voiced objection based on a misreading, this should be handled delicately. First, revise the text so that it no longer invites that misreading. Be extra clear in the revised version of the text what you are not saying or committing to. Then in the cover letter, explain that you have clarified the text to avoid this interpretation of your position. But also answer the objection that the reviewer raised, so they aren't left feeling like you ducked the issue and they aren't left curious. In this case, your response to the objection can be entirely in the cover letter and need not appear in the paper at all. (You might or might not agree that the objection would have been fatal to the position they had thought you were taking.)

Generally, the revised paper and the reply to reviewers will go back to the same reviewers. Typically, a reviewer will recommend acceptance after an R&R if they feel you have adequately engaged with and addressed their concerns (even if in the end they don't agree), they will recommend rejection if they feel that you didn't engage their concerns seriously or if your engagement reveals (in their judgment) that their original concerns really are fatal to the whole project, and they will recommend a second round of R&R if they feel you've made progress but one or two important issues still remain outstanding.

Some people add footnotes thanking anonymous reviewers. In my view it's unnecessary. Everyone knows that virtually every article contains changes made in response to the criticisms of anonymous reviewers.

After It's Accepted

(1.) Celebrate! Yay!

(2.) Put it on your c.v. as "forthcoming" in the journal that accepted it. Yay!

(3.) Keep your eye out for page proofs. Some journals give you just a few days to implement corrections after receiving the proofs, and it's not uncommon for there to be screwy copyediting mistakes that it would be embarrassing to see in print. You can also make minor wording changes and corrections during proofs. Journals discourage making big changes at this stage, such as inserting whole new paragraphs, though if it's important you can try to make the case.


Nov 20, 2020, 12:21 pm, ETA

Marcus Arvan at Philosophers' Cocoon and Bryce at Daily Nous raise some valuable counterpoints, with some finer-grained thoughts about who should and who should not focus on publishing in this way in graduate school. I expect there will be further interesting comments on both sites.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

The Nesting Problem for Theories of Consciousness

In 2016, Tomer Fekete, Cees Van Leeuwen, and Shimon Edelman articulated a general problem for computational theories of consciousness, which they called the Boundary Problem. The problem extends to most mainstream functional or biological theories of consciousness, and I will call it the Nesting Problem.

Consider your favorite functional, biological, informational, or computational criterion of consciousness, criterion C. When a system has C, that system is, according to the theory, conscious. Maybe C involves a certain kind of behaviorally sophisticated reactivity to inputs (as in the Turing Test), or maybe C involves structured meta-representations of a certain sort, or information sharing in a global workspace, or whatever. Unless you possess a fairly unusual and specific theory, probably the following will be true: Not only the whole animal (alternatively, the whole brain) will meet criterion C. So also will some subparts of the animal and some larger systems to which the animal belongs.

If there are relatively functionally isolated cognitive processes, for example, they will also have inputs and outputs, and integrate information, and maybe have some self-monitoring or higher-order representational tracking -- possibly enough, in at least one subsystem, if the boundaries are drawn just so, to meet criterion C. Arguably too, groups of people organized as companies or nations receive group-level inputs, engage in group-level information processing and self-representation, and act collectively. These groups might also meet criterion C.[1]

Various puzzles, or problems, or at least questions immediately follow, which few mainstream theorists of consciousness have engaged seriously and in detail.[2] First: Are all these subsystems and groups conscious? Maybe so! Maybe meeting C truly is sufficient, and there's a kind of consciousness transpiring at these higher and/or lower levels. How would that consciousness relate to consciousness at the animal level? Is there, for example, a stream of experience in the visual cortex, or in the enteric nervous system (the half billion neurons lining your gut), that is distinct from, or alternatively contributes to, the experience of the animal as a whole?

Second: If we want to attribute consciousness only to the animal (alternatively, the whole brain) and not to its subsystems or to groups, on what grounds do we justify denying consciousness to subsystems or groups? For many theories, this will require adjustment to or at least refinement of criterion C or alternatively the defense of a general "exclusion postulate" or "anti-nesting principle", which specifically forbids nesting levels of consciousness.

Suppose, for example, that you think that, in humans, consciousness occurs in the thalamacortical neural loop. Why there? Maybe because it's a big hub of information connectivity around the brain. Well, the world has lots of hubs of complex information connectivity, both at smaller scales and at larger scales. What makes one scale special? Maybe it has the most connectivity? Sure, that could be. If so, then maybe you're committed to saying that connectivity above some threshold is necessary for consciousness. But then we should probably theorize that threshold. Why is it that amount rather than some other amount? And how should we think about the discontinuity between systems that barely exceed the threshold versus barely fall short?

Or maybe instead of a threshold, it's a comparative matter: Whenever systems nest, whichever has the most connectivity is the conscious system.  But that principle can lead to some odd results. Or maybe it's not really C (connectivity, in this example) alone but C plus such-and-such other features, which groups and subsystems lack. Also fine! But again, let's theorize that. Or maybe groups and subsystems are also conscious -- consciousness happens simultaneously at many levels of organization. Fine, too! Then think through the consequences of that.[3]

My point is not that these approaches won't work or that there's anything wrong with them. My point is that this is a fundamental question about consciousness which is open to a variety of very different views, each of which brings challenges and puzzles -- challenges and puzzles which philosophers and scientists of consciousness, with a few exceptions, have not yet seriously explored.



[1] For an extended argument that the United States, conceived of as an entity with people as parts, meets most materialist criteria for being a consciousness entity, see my essay here. Philip Pettit also appears to argue for something in this vicinity.

[2] Giulio Tononi is an important exception (e.g., in Oizumi, Albantakis, and Tononi 2014 and Tononi and Koch 2015).

[3] Luke Roelofs explores a panpsychist version of this approach in his recent book Combining Minds, which was the inspiration for this post.

[image source]

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

Gender Proportions among Faculty in 98 PhD-Granting U.S. Philosophy Departments

If you need a reprieve from an excessively exciting U.S. election, here's some mostly unsurprising news about gender proportions in philosophy.

Yesterday, the Women in Philosophy / Demographics in Philosophy research group released draft numbers on women faculty in PhD granting philosophy departments in the United States. These data are based on publicly available sources (mostly department websites) and reflect a snapshot from 2019. Follow the link for methodological details. Two important changes are a coding category for publicly nonbinary philosophers and more methods for checking the accuracy of the data. The project was led by Gregory Peterson and mostly follows the 2015 methodology of Sherri Conklin, Irina Artamanova, and Nicole Hassoun. (I also consulted during some phases of the project.)

Overall, across the 98 programs studied, women comprised 24% (681/2801) of the faculty. This isn't far from the 27% women among respondents to the American Philosophical Association's 2018 faculty survey, the 26% women across a wide swath of college philosophy instructors from Debra Nails and John Davenport's study of the 2017 Directory of American Philosophers, and the 24% in Conklin and colleagues' 2015 analysis.

Among tenured and tenure-track faculty, Peterson and collaborators find 28% women (477/1689), very similar to the 27% that Julie Van Camp found looking at the same set of 98 PhD granting departments in 2018.

Thus, within a few percentage points, the picture from 2015-2019 is very consistently around 24%-28% women faculty in philosophy departments, across a variety of data collection methods and variety of samples. The results are broadly similar whether you look at elite PhD programs, APA membership, or at all faculty listed in the Directory of American Philosophers.

Peterson and colleagues find four philosophers among the 1689 who were publicly non-binary as of fall 2019 (less than 1%). I could imagine this number rising a bit with corrections.

They also break the data down by rank. Looking at the three primary tenure-stream ranks, I see:

Assistant: 43% women (122/283)
Associate: 32% (148/456)
Full: 21% (207/950)

Here are the same data with 95% confidence intervals:

[click to enlarge and clarify]

This difference by rank is striking, but not unusual in these sorts of analyses. (In the Directory of American Philosophers, the corresponding numbers are 34% assistant, 28% associate, and 21% full. In Conklin and colleagues 2015, the numbers are 42% assistant, 30% associate, and 23% full.)

The question that immediately arises is whether these numbers reflect a generational shift. Should we expect a change in the gender proportions in the philosophy professoriate over the next 10 to 20 years, as these assistant professors age? In other words, to what extent is the difference a cohort effect, reflecting a generally much higher percentage of women in the younger generation than in the older generation? And to what extent is it, instead, a rank effect, reflecting either slower and less certain advance for women from the lower to the higher ranks or more recruiting and better retention of men at higher ranks?

We are not currently in the position, I think, to answer that. Check back a decade or two!