A reader of the Brains blog wrote me the other day concerning a referee report he’d received on a submission to a top “generalist” journal. (See here if you don’t understand the rationale for my punctuation practices.)
Despite praising the article overall and saying that it probably warranted publication, the referee advised rejection, partly on the ground that the author’s argument was too heavily reliant on “contentious (somewhat empirical) theories which belong to cognitive science as much as to philosophy of mind”. According to the referee, whereas the kind of detailed defense of these theories required for a generalist philosophical audience would have made the paper too long, the only place where it would be appropriate to “just acknowledge the reliance and get on with it” would be in a specialist journal like Philosophical Psychology or the Journal of Consciousness Studies.
The author adds, however, that (1) “given that the arguments I target in the paper were themselves published in generalist journals, it seems that an attempt to block them (if successful) belongs in a generalist journals as well, regardless of whether or not it utilizes cog-sci theories”; and (2) “it is common to utilize, without argument, contentious *philosophical* views in order to defend or attack other views. So why should things be different with respect to contentious *scientific* views?”
As I wrote in reply to the e-mail, I don’t think this report should be read as evidence of bias against empirically-informed work per se in journals like this one, but it does raise some interesting questions, among them whether others have had similar experiences, and what strategies you have for avoiding this sort of objection to your own work. I also wonder:
- Is this kind of problem more likely to crop up for work that appeals to large-scale empirical theories than work that appeals to specific empirical findings to support or undermine a philosophical position?
- Is it true that there’s more latitude given in top “generalist” journals to “just acknowledge the reliance and get on with it” when what’s being utilized without argument is a philosophical theory rather than a scientific one?
- As a rule, to the extent that empirically-focused work has trouble finding a home in top “generalist” journals, should philosophers writing in this tradition simply to give up on publishing in them? Or is the luster of those journals too great (and that of the specialist alternatives too dim, perhaps) for this to be a good strategy?
I’m happy of course to have others raise questions as well.