The Fragmentation’s Disvalue

The Fragmentation’s Disvalue

Over the summer, Nicholas Rescher (Pittsburgh), in his capacity as executive editor of American Philosophical Quarterly, published a brief editorial entitled “Growing Pains” (vol. 51, no.3) in which he notes the growth of the philosophy profession and laments its bad effects.

He writes:

The scholarly output of the profession has far outstripped its numerical growth. Over the period from 1975 to 2005, the number of professional journals increased from approximately 100 to approximately 300. And the number of philosophical publications (books and papers) increased from just over 5,000 to about 12,000. Over the period at issue, a profession that has grown by only some 20 percent has increased its published output well over twofold. Under the pressure to “publish or perish,” the productivity of academics has seen a striking increase. By all visible indications, academic philosophy has become not only more professionalized but also substantially more professional.

But while all this is doubtless to the good, it has its negative side as well. For, perhaps inevitably, the growth in professionalism has been accompanied by a marked increase in specialization and division of labor. During this 1975–2005 period, the number of thematically specialized philosophical societies in America increased from around 50 to around 90. The discipline’s topical fragmentation has kept pace with publication, and thereby far outpaced its population growth.

The proliferation of academic philosophers has served to impede rather than promote the sharing of common interests. Ironically, when philosophers look for discussion partners for sharing their own concerns with colleagues, the fragmentation of an enlarged profession affords them fewer rather than more opportunities.

Has there been increased specialization and fragmentation in philosophy over the past 40 years, and does it have the bad effects Rescher thinks it does?

(Thanks to John Schwenkler for the heads up about Rescher’s editorial)

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