[This is a guest post by Joel Katzav.--ES]
Philosophy encyclopaedias, as well as textbooks, anthologies and other standard introductory material used in academic philosophy, include extremely limited information about the institutions of philosophy and their organs. My focus here is on the relative absence of such information about philosophy journals. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, for example, includes no entries on specific philosophy journals. It does not even have an entry on philosophy journals as such. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy does better, with an article on comparative philosophy that focuses on how such philosophy struggles to find a place in mainstream philosophy journals (here). The Oxford Companion to Philosophy provides (here) more information on the general topic, though it only has a single, short (not entirely accurate) article on philosophy journals in general. Wikipedia does better, in a way, but its articles on specific journals are information stubs and/or advertising for the journals. An amusing instance is the journal stub of the Philosophical Review which still pretends that notable articles only start appearing in the journal in the 1950s, with no apologies to Dewey, Whitehead, Cassirer and many others.
The absence of widely shared narratives about the history of philosophy journals reflects the relatively meagre (certified) scholarship about this history; the little there is is relatively recent, sporadic in its coverage of the relevant history and still not part of the way the discipline understands itself (for examples, see Don Howard’s “Two left turns make a right”, Alan Richardson’s “Philosophy of Science in America” and Sally Haslanger’s “Changing the ideology and culture of philosophy: Not by reason (alone)”. Blogs have been the locus of significant discussion of journal practices (e.g., Healy), but are hampered by the ‘uncertified’ status of their output.
Let me call the absence of widely shared narratives about the history of philosophy journals, along with the absence of a body of scholarly work that might firmly underpin such narratives, PJ-absence. PJ-absence matters partly for philosophical reasons. Plausibly, philosophy journals have contributed substantially to philosophical argumentation over the last century or so. These journals have played important roles in determining which research programs are to be developed, which arguments are worthy of consideration and even what role argumentation is to have in (academic) philosophy. It is, for instance, remarkable that widespread approaches to philosophy, e.g., classical pragmatism and the speculative approaches that developed out of Absolute idealism, were excluded from the most influential English language philosophy journals long before they ceased to be developed, and thus that approaches and relevant arguments were ignored rather than examined. PJ-absence accordingly means the absence of intersubjectively shared knowledge of the important ways in which journals have moulded philosophical reasoning; it is a substantial deficit in philosophical self-knowledge.
Sociologically, PJ-absence plausibly facilitates the flourishing of myths about the historical and current roles of philosophy journals. Without scholarly grounded reflection on the history of such journals, the most we can hope for is relatively private reflection on the matter. In practice, the absence of the reality check provided by scholarly grounded reflection will plausibly help to ensure that the image of philosophy journals conveyed to most of us will be akin to the politics free self-image of philosophy portrayed in the majority of the journals, that is, an image of select, insightful figures from the recent past of analytic philosophy using pure reason to make real progress. While it does not take much to become sceptical of aspects of this image, it is one that is arguably influential, whether it be in defining the academic identities of those new to philosophy, or in justifying analytic only institutions, e.g., journals and departments.
Politically, one should keep in mind that philosophy journals play an important certifying role; they certify the quality of work as well as researchers themselves. The absence of scholarly grounded information about how philosophy journals function means an extremely limited body of shared information upon which to draw when one is, in one way or another, critical of the way in which they carry out their certifying roles. Such criticism, e.g., the criticism that comparative philosophy is not fairly represented in prominent, mainstream journals, has little by way of accepted data and arguments to go on. In general, one may claim institutionalised, unfair treatment for this or that approach to philosophy or group within philosophy, but that such treatment rather than merit-based exclusion is what is going on will be much easier to deny in the absence of relevant, substantiated shared information about philosophy journals. The experience-based views, or even knowledge, of a given group of philosophers can be deemed their opinions; the shared myths about journals can be taken at face value, until proven otherwise.
In sum, the neglect of the history of philosophy journals is a neglect of central philosophical questions – including how approaches to philosophy are selected – plays an important role in facilitating myths that maintain the integrity of mainstream, philosophy and buttresses the conservative politics of the field. A natural response, one I share, involves aiming to improve the practices of philosophy journals as well as reflection on these practices. Another response involves considering whether journals are, or even could realistically be, fit to play the central role they play in philosophical research. The limited work on philosophy journals means that it is at least an open question whether they can realistically serve as the places where reasonable arbitration between approaches to philosophy occurs or, even, whether they can be made fit for the more limited task of critical self-reflection within a philosophical approach.