Philosophical Writing’s (Lack of?) Appeal to Other Academics


“It would be great for philosophy if more philosophical papers were written in a way that was appealing to scholars from across the academy.”

So says Brian Weatherson, Marshall M. Weinberg Professor of Philosophy at the University of Michigan, in a recent interview at the Blog of the APA.

He continues:

Many philosophers nowadays are trying to write pieces that are accessible to non-academics, and that’s great. But it would also be great to have more scholarly writing that was appealing to historians, and psychologists, and economists, and all our other colleagues in colleges and universities. This was something the great figures of Continental philosophy did very well, but Analytic philosophers who get read across the academy are the exception not the rule. And if more academic hiring moves from the departmental level to the collegiate level (as is starting to happen at Michigan), it will be prudent for individual philosophers to write their academic work in a way that is intelligible to, and even appealing to, their fellow academics.

A few questions:

  1. What makes for scholarly writing that is appealing to historians, psychologists, economists, and others? Is it on specific subjects? Or in a certain style (or not in a certain style)? Or engaging with (and citing) the work of historians, psychologists, economists, etc.? Or…?
  2. What are some examples of philosophical papers that are written in a way that are appealing to academics outside of philosophy departments? Non-philosophers reading this are especially welcome to contribute examples.
  3. How are the “great figures of Continental philosophy” supposed to function as exemplars for us? (Weatherson advises us to write in a way that is “intelligible” to our fellow academics, but I sometimes think that some of the great figures of Continental philosophy get the broad multidisciplinary attention they do in part because of a lack of definitive intelligibility; that is, their writings lend themselves to multiple and diverse understandings, and the obvious lack of a consensus in philosophy on what the Great Figures are saying leaves an opening for nonphilosophers to join the interpretive conversation or make use of their favored interpretation, in a less risky way, for their own work. See this related post on Williams’ line about how philosophy should leave room for the reader to “add his own egg.”)
  4. Are analytic philosophers “who get read across the academy” rarer than economists or historians or psychologists, etc., who get read across the academy?
  5. Is academic hiring at your institution moving from the departmental level to the collegiate level?

Further questions and discussion welcome.

Laura Owens, detail from Ten Paintings installation at the Wattis Institute

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