Famous Papers First Rejected


The Strength of Weak Ties” (1973) by sociologist Mark Granovetter is an extraordinarily influential paper, one of the most cited in sociology (with nearly 30,000 citations, according to Google Scholar). Yet it was initially rejected. You can read the rejection letter via a link from here. It is an interesting case of peer reviewers dismissing an idea because they were apparently distracted by how a familiar term (alienation) was used in an unfamiliar way, and a corresponding lesson for authors about framing. (Thanks to Elizabeth Cohen for bringing this to my attention.)

Are there similar stories in philosophy of now-famous papers first being rejected? Bonus points if you have images of the rejection letters.

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kt
kt
6 years ago
anon
anon
6 years ago

What’s most striking is the vehemence of the referee comments. From the second report:

“I find that the treatment of the alienation issue is totally inadequate, and the author’s failure to come to grips with it is part and parcel of his fuzzy conception of the doctrine he criticizes, as well as his failure to seriously ask just what his universe may be.”

Imagine writing that about what would eventually come to be one of the most influential papers in your discipline. I’d hope that you would never write anything like that about a paper again. I also hope that all of us appreciate that we could be doing it at any time. Lesson: be a friendly and constructive referee, or risk going down in history (anonymously at least) as clueless.Report

Aaron Garrett
Aaron Garrett
6 years ago

Supposedly Radford’s “How Can We Be Moved by the Fate of Anna Karenina?” had been rejected so many times that he gave up. Eventually a friend arranged for it to be published in the Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society.Report

Asa
Asa
6 years ago

I remember hearing that when John MacFarlane submitted an early articulation of his views on truth relativism one referee’s criticism was that his view implied relativism.Report

adventurelawyer
6 years ago

This is a literary example, of course, but when it was finely published in 1980, “A Confederacy of Dunces” earned John Kennedy Toole a rare posthumous Pulitzer Prize eleven years after he committed suicide because nobody would publish it. Report

Jan Dowell
Jan Dowell
6 years ago

I don’t have copy with me, but there is tragicomic correspondence to be found in the collection Frege’s posthumous writings. He compares philosophers to cattle who will walk right up to a gate, but stubbornly refuse to pass through. I’ll owe a beer to whomever can (first) find the quote.Report