Philosophical Rigor as Rigor Mortis, Or, How to Write a Publishable Paper Without Even Having to Think.
My anarcho-philosophical attention was recently drawn to this very interesting blog post, by Marcus Arvan, “Has Contemporary Philosophy Over-Fetishized Rigor?”
By “rigor” Arvan means, and I also mean, analytical clarity, consistency, a preparedness to give reasons for one’s claims, attention to validity in arguments, and a preparedness to defend one’s claims and arguments against actual or possible rational critics.
It’s hard to see how over-fetishizing philosophical rigor could be much worse than simply fetishizing philosophical rigor. But anyhow, leaving that bit of logic-chopping aside, as I understand them, Arvan’s basic claims are:
(i) that as examples from the Great philosophers amply show, big, original ideas are infinitely more important than mere philosophical rigor, and
(ii) that contemporary professional academic philosophy fetishizes, i.e., excessively valorizes, rigor, especially in the areas of intersubjective/public philosophical interaction, publication standards, and philosophical reputation/status, to its significant detriment, even to the point of killing real philosophy.
So philosophical rigor, fetishized, is philosophical rigor mortis.
I agree with all that completely. But I would also want to add two things.
First, the definition of “rigor,” as I intended it, means minimally adequate analytical clarity, minimally adequate consistency, a minimally adequate preparedness to give reasons for one’s claims, minimally adequate attention to validity in arguments, and a minimally adequate preparedness to defend one’s claims and arguments against actual or possible rational critics.
In short, “rigor” in this non-fetishized sense is essentially equivalent with what I’ll call “low-bar” or nonideal cognitive rationality.
As such, rigor in this non-fetishized sense is in no way special or unique to philosophy, and it is arguably built into our natural language competence, as a guiding norm.
Second, I think that much or even most of what passes for “rigor” in contemporary philosophy is in fact
(i) an ability, learned in graduate school, to ape the formal and exact sciences, with excessive and even obsessive attention to the look of formal and experimental methods, when this is combined with
(ii) a further ressentiment-driven need to devastate and deeply embarrass one’s philosophical colleagues, construed as competitors for success and status in the great zero-sum, winner-takes-all, professional academic Philosophy-Game, and
(iii) this culture of philosophy-gaming is accepted as the normative ideal of the discipline by amply rewarding those who win the Game with jobs at the most highly-ranked universities in the most highly-ranked philosophy departments, high-paying salaries, “named” professorships, prestigious fellowships and other prizes, etc.
To support this second set of contentions, I offer the following slightly satirical thought experiment.
By “slightly satirical thought-experiment” I mean that the imaginary scenario I will present differs only a LITTLE BIT from the actual world. You may even recognize some of the usual suspects.
In any case, the question it raises is this:
Am I right that following the steps I will describe would enable any contemporary professional philosopher, including all Ph.D. students in philosophy, and most MA students and undergraduate specialists in philosophy who desire and/or intend to become full-fledged professional academic philosophers, to write a paper that is publishable in a reputable professional journal, or am I right?
WELCOME TO THE PHILPAPERS/PHILOSOPHICAL GOURMET/LEITER REPORTS AMAZING ONLINE PUBLISHABLE-PAPER-GENERATING SYSTEM
I’m David Chalmers!
And I’m David Chalmers too!
I’m Berit Brogaard!
and I’m Brian Leiter!
And here are our five avatars–notice that two David Chalmers count as three avatars!
We’re here to guide YOU to professional success and TRUE happiness, like this,
by walking you, virtually*, through the virtually* guaranteed PHILPAPERS/PHILOSOPHICAL GOURMET/LEITER REPORTS amazing and super-simple TWENTY-STEP ALGORITHM that virtually* ensures you will write a paper that is publishable in one of the TOP TWENTY-FIVE MOST HIGHLY REPUTABLE PROFESSIONAL PHILOSOPHY JOURNALS, which the highly reputable LEITER REPORTS tells us, as rank-ordered here, are these:
1. Philosophical Review 2. Journal of Philosophy 3. Nous 4. Mind 5. Philosophy & Phenomenological Research 6. Ethics 7. Philosophical Studies 8. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 9. Philosopher’s Imprint 10. Analysis 11. Philosophical Quarterly 12. Philosophy & Public Affairs 13. Philosophy of Science 14. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 15. Synthese 16. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 17. Erkenntnis 18. American Philosophical Quarterly 19. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 20. Journal of the History of Philosophy 21. Journal of Philosophical Logic 22. Mind & Language 23. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 24. European Journal of Philosophy 25. British Journal for the History of Philosophy
virtually* = this protects us against lawsuits
Hey philosopher! Are you ready to say yay! again, like this?
And are you now ready to write that PUBLISHABLE paper? All set? GO!
STEP 1: Go to the results of the AMAZING and TRUE, because SCIENTIFICALLY-conducted, 2009 PHILPAPERS SURVEY of contemporary professional philosophers at the LEADING DEPARTMENTS here,
You’ll find that the tradition ANALYTIC is favored by 81% (2486 out of 3057) of contemporary professional philosophers at the LEADING departments.
Are YOU an analytic philosopher? Yes of course you are!
But even if you’re not one yet, you CAN be an analytic philosopher, if you really WANT to be, just by being RIGOROUS!
Therefore, select ANALYTIC.
STEP 2: Still in the PHILPAPERS survey, on the Demographic Statistics page here, find the list of the THIRTY MOST ACCEPTABLE primary areas of specialization in contemporary professional philosophy, rank-ordered by the scientifically-rigorous method of POPULARITY:
1. Philosophy of Mind 2. Metaphysics 3. Epistemology 4. Philosophy of Language 4. Normative Ethics 5. Social and Political Philosophy 6. Meta-Ethics 7. 17th/18th Century Philosophy 8. Logic and Philosophy of Logic 9. Ancient Greek Philosophy 10. Philosophy of Cognitive Science 11. General Philosophy of Science 12. Philosophy of Physical Science 13. Continental Philosophy 14. Applied Ethics 15. Philosophy of Action 16. Philosophy of Religion 17. Aesthetics 18. Philosophy of Biology 19. 20th Century Philosophy 20. 19th Century Philosophy 21. Philosophy of Law 22. Philosophy of Mathematics 23. Philosophy of Social Science 24. Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy 25. Metaphilosophy 26. Decision Theory 27. Philosophy of Probability 28. Asian Philosophy 29. Philosophy of Computing and Information 30. Philosophy of Gender, Race, and Sexuality
STEP 3: Still in the PHILPAPERS survey on the Demographic Statistics page here, find out WHICH FIVE of the THIRTY MOST ACCEPTABLE primary areas of specialization are MOST favored by contemporary professional philosophers at the LEADING departments,
namely PHILOSOPHY OF MIND,
PHILOSOPHY OF LANGUAGE, and
Not to be confused with META-ETHICS or APPLIED ETHICS or SOCIAL AND POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY! No way René!
Select ONE of the FIVE MOST ACCEPTABLE specializations. For example, select PHILOSOPHY OF MIND.
STEP 4: Go to the PHILOSOPHICAL GOURMET and find the list of the TOP TEN PHILOSOPHY DEPARTMENTS–which is really the TOP TWELVE (oh boy, those analytic philosophers sure know how to count!)–in the overall rankings, here:
1. New York University 2. Princeton University 3. Rutgers University, New Brunswick 4. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor 5. Yale University 6. Harvard University 7. University of Pittsburgh 8. Stanford University 9. University of Southern California 10. Columbia University (incl. Barnard) 11. University of California, Berkeley 12. University of California, Los Angeles
STEP 5: Still in the PHILOSOPHICAL GOURMET REPORT, starting with the Advisory Board list here,
find any one of the members of the Board that belongs to one of the TOP TWELVE philosophy departments.
For example, Ned Block, New York University.
STEP 6: Still in the Advisory Board list in the PHILOSOPHICAL GOURMET here, click on the names of those who belong to one of the TOP TWELVE departments until you find one who lists PHILOSOPHY OF MIND, METAPHYSICS, EPISTEMOLOGY, PHILOSOPHY OF LANGUAGE, or NORMATIVE ETHICS or as a primary specialization, corresponding to the one you chose in STEP 3.
For example, choose Ned Block again!
STEP 7: Find the most recent article by that person in one of the TOP TWENTY-FIVE HIGHLY REPUTABLE PROFESSIONAL PHILOSOPHY JOURNALS listed above, e.g.,
Ned Block, “Seeing-As in the Light of Vision Science,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 89 (2014): 560-572, which you can find cited here.