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October 06, 2005

philosophy, the profession

On Crooked Timber recently, Harry Brighouse observed that graduate students in philosophy are wise not to publish too much. If they do choose to publish, they should reserve their work for prestigious journals. He wasn't too sure about the hierarchy of prestige, but Ethics and Philosophy & Public Affairs were clearly top venues in his field (which is also, nominally, mine).

This whole discussion fills me with a vague anxiety that I rarely feel at my current stage of life. It transports me back 10 or 15 years to my days as a grad student and aspiring professor. I was extremely fortunate in some ways: for example, my doctorate was free. However, studying abroad and very much on my own, I received absolutely no tactical advice about how to play the academic game. So the idea that you shouldn't publish would never have occurred to me.

Brighouse's post provoked some discussion of the major journals. I admire the work that appears in venues like Ethics and Philosophy & Public Affairs. I must have read 50 articles from those publications in my life. Most have been difficult, challenging, and rigorous. But I don't read the journals regularly or keep up with the overall discipline of philosophy in any organized way.

The comments on Crooked Timber describe strengths, weaknesses, and trends in various journals. I lack the experience to join in this conversation. Already in graduate school, I read to investigate certain themes that lay far outside contemporary philosophy. For instance, for my dissertation, I constructed an argument about historical thought in Nietzsche's time. For that purpose, I read a great deal of nineteenth-century German history. For secondary sources on Nietzsche, I was as likely to consult authors from the 1800s as those from the 1980s and 1990s. Nowadays, I spend more time with developmental psychology. Whatever my interests, I have always found articles in Ethics and PPA as the result of subject searches, not by reading those publications regularly.

None of this would cause me any anxiety or regret if I disparaged contemporary ethics and political theory. Then I would simply be glad that I landed in a job that allowed me to wander far afield. It is because I recognize the excellence of Brighouse's profession that I wonder whether I have been wise to drift away from it.

Posted by peterlevine at October 6, 2005 10:48 AM

Comments

As I said over at CT, Peter, I think that there are quite a few journals that recognize the discipline of contemporary political philosophy as stretching far beyond the strictly normative, analytical and ethical. Not to knock Ethics or PPA, but the articles they print rarely engage me the way the more historically minded pieces published by RoP or Political Theory do. And, of course, there are philosophy journals which do a lot with psychology as well. The fact is, I don't subscribe to any one journal; my interests, perhaps like yours, are so disparate that I have, through subject searches, more than enough reading to fill all my time.

Posted by: Russell Arben Fox [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 7, 2005 10:16 AM

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