Tyron Goldschmidt Has Written Nothing To Deserve A Drink


…so make sure you buy him one next time you see him. Goldschmidt, a visiting assistant professor of philosophy at Wake Forest University, has just published, in Dialectica, “A Demonstration of the Causal Power of Absences.” I’ve taken the liberty of reproducing the article in whole, below, to save folks who lack institutional access to Dialectica the $38 PDF download fee. Here it is, in its entirety:

goldschmmidt - demonstration causal power absences

Well done, Dr. Goldschmidt.

But not everyone is amused. There’s at least one serious response, authored by Nathan Wildman and Neil McDonnell (Hamburg). And in my inbox this morning was an email with a link to the paper and the following commentary:

I’d love some discussion of this on Daily Nous. Is it appropriate for a purportedly professional journal to publish what is basically a joke? Was this article reviewed? What crazy reviewer said ‘accept’? Have the editors lost their minds? I think publishing jokes is insulting to the community and to Dialectica’s authors.

Of course, I’m wondering if this email is sincere or itself written as a joke. It’s like a Borges story over here this morning. Anyway, if it’s sincere, I’d just repeat a nugget of wisdom from an old professor of mine: one can be serious without being somber.

Goldschmidt’s paper reminded me of the classic, “The World’s Greatest Law Review Article” — but that’s in law. There have got to be others in philosophy. Readers?

 (Related.)
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Sergio Tenenbaum
Sergio Tenenbaum
5 years ago
Roger Clarke
Roger Clarke
Reply to  Sergio Tenenbaum
5 years ago

Alternative link with non-paywalled version: http://philpapers.org/rec/WILS-4Report

Seth Merritt
Seth Merritt
Reply to  Sergio Tenenbaum
5 years ago

Theres one in sociology in a similar vein “Fuck Nuance” by Kieran Healy at Duke.
http://kieranhealy.org/files/papers/fuck-nuance.pdf
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Matt Benton
Matt Benton
5 years ago

Also this one, from Sorensen. I never got up the will to send him money.

http://mind.oxfordjournals.org/content/106/424/743Report

Helen De Cruz
5 years ago

Since I cannot come up with any witticisms, I’ll just simply say that it’s great papers like this are published from time to time – just a reminder not to take ourselves too seriously. Report

Dan Weiskopf
5 years ago

A decent essay, although I would have recommended a little deeper look at the literature, since it ignores this obvious example of prior art:

Upper, Dennis. (1974). The unsuccessful self-treatment of a case of “writer’s block”. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 7, 479.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1311997/

In a Borgesian sense, these are conceptually distinct routes to the same (null) content — although, on reflection, perhaps the content *isn’t* the same. A blank page doesn’t, after all, always mean the same thing. Even an empty medium can be expressively variable, given a different title and framing (just ask Rauschenberg or the artist Tom Friedman). Craig Dworkin’s already written a book on this (“No Medium”, MIT Press 2013) but even so, “How much can nothingness say?” would be a fine title for a paper in Buddhist-inspired aesthetics.Report

Samuel Lebens
Samuel Lebens
5 years ago

One of the many great things about Tyron Goldschmidt is that you can never be sure if and when he’s joking, and if and when he’s being completely serious!!
It’s interesting to note that an identical article (other than title and footnotes) was published to make a completely different academic contribution to a completely different field: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1311997/pdf/jaba00061-0143a.pdf
I think that this just goes to show the causal versatility of absences.Report

Samuel Lebens
Samuel Lebens
5 years ago

Wow, I was just typing that, when the previous comment came up! Those absences were working their magic simultaneously.
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John Schwenkler
John Schwenkler
5 years ago

Matt Benton links to Sorensen’s advertisement for a cure, but not to Tamar Gendler’s reply: http://philpapers.org/rec/GENCOTReport

Clayton Littlejohn
Clayton Littlejohn
5 years ago

On the issue of whether the paper should be published it seems there is nothing to discuss. (Jokes have often made it into print when they serve a philosophical purpose (and even when they don’t-see Anscombe on Bennett.))

I think Tyron’s demonstration is undermined by the presence of his paper, but the editors were right to publish it, he was right to submit it, and I plan on citing Tyron’s paper whenever I write on the causal powers of absences and presences. Anal retentives should hold their breath and wait for that to happen.Report

Pendaran Roberts
Pendaran Roberts
5 years ago

I hereby call all philosophers to submit articles to Dialectica. All that’s required to get published is a quick smart ass comment. I did two on color, the area I work in. One is ‘A demonstration of the reality of color’, which is a just a picture of a color wheel. The other is ‘A demonstration of what the colors are’, which is just a color wheel with all the colors named.

I have already updated my CV with the new publications! I’ll have a TT job in no time. I suspect I’ll have 100 publications by the end of the month!

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Dale Miller
5 years ago

I wonder: will he be working the paper up into a book?Report

Bob Barnard
Bob Barnard
Reply to  Dale Miller
5 years ago

A notebook perhaps?Report

Neil McDonnell
Neil McDonnell
5 years ago

I think the problem with taking the paper as a straight joke is the very fact it was published. I take it that those who think it shouldn’t have been accepted are bothered that not *everyone* will think it just a joke, and that those who don’t may form hardened views on a subtle and difficult topic.

That motivates the response piece from Nathan and I. We think that those who think it does what the title says, should look a little deeper. Our response has some light-heartedness too, you should notice, but it is in effect a warning against taking the joke as more than just that.

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Adam Omelianchuk
Adam Omelianchuk
5 years ago

I like when journals publish humorous pieces from time to time. Two of my favorite are from the same volume of Philosophia Christi where one author, writing in the style of Aquinas, contends that St. Augustine’s name should be pronounced “aw-GUS-stin”, while the other, writing in the style of the logical positivists (Quine, maybe?) contends that it should be pronounced “AW-gus-steen.”

Check them out:
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0ByNZXdjYM2qNNTNiRkNTS2wzTW8/view?usp=sharing
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0ByNZXdjYM2qNVlFJLVh1OS1uYTA/view?usp=sharingReport

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  Adam Omelianchuk
5 years ago

For some reason I always find myself pronouncing it “uh-KWINE-us.”Report

Bryan Frances
5 years ago

I take it that the article is both a joke and serious. It’s funny, obviously, but it’s attempting to make a serious metaphysical point as well.

So, no: the relevant issue is not ‘Should journals waste space on jokes?’Report

Neil McDonnell
Neil McDonnell
Reply to  Bryan Frances
5 years ago

We think the serious point falls flat, hence the response.

And at one single page I agree that the space taken up is not at issue. Editorial/referee time similarly.Report

Peter Bele
Peter Bele
Reply to  Neil McDonnell
5 years ago

Neil: I’m not a metaphysician, so I’m out of my league here (and yes, it is sad to think that a blank page is out of my league), but doesn’t your response overlook the possibility that Goldschmidt’s paper demonstrates the causal efficacy of a particular kind of absence, namely a privation? (As you know, privations are absences of things that ought to be present–in this case, arguments among much else.) Your response to Goldschmidt demonstrates the privative nature of the absence when you conclude that the article is “lacking” in that it does not make a “contribution to an otherwise sophisticated debate”. You have identified something (a contribution to the literature) that really ought to be present in any scholarly article, and so you have shown that Goldschmidt’s absence is a privation. Anyone who has expressed concerns about whether a journal ought to publish such a thing has also illustrated the privative nature of Goldschmidt’s absence by pointing out there really ought to be more there if it’s going to be a published article.

Seeing the absence in question as a privation answers several of your objections. Your comparison with your radiator, for example, has no bite. Nobody expects your radiator to be colored, but people do expect published philosophy articles to have arguments and to make novel contributions, so the absences are different: your radiator’s absence is a negation, while Goldschmidt’s is a privation. Second, you demand that Goldschmidt locate his absence, but this is the easiest thing for him to do with the greatest precision: Dialectica, vol. 70, no. 1 (2016), p. 85. The location establishes the privative nature of the absence: all the unpublished versions of the paper sitting on people’s desks (like Joshua Miller’s below) are mere negations, while Goldschmidt’s, in virtue of its published status, is a privation of all the things one expects to find in the pages of Dialectica. Finally, Goldschmidt can use the location of his absence and its privative nature to explain why it is not every absence in the world (e.g. of Sanskrit text, or of the Queen’s gardening skills) that is doing the causal work. It is the absence of everything you would expect from a philosopher publishing in Dialectica on the causal efficacy of absences that is doing the causal work: e.g. knowledge of the secondary literature, rigorous argumentation, citations, numbered propositions, etc…Report

Neil McDonnell
Neil McDonnell
Reply to  Peter Bele
5 years ago

I think you are right about how useful privations are in understanding our willingness to accept certain negative causal ascriptions. Traditionally, this was thought to feature at the level of pragmatics, but McGrath makes a case to the effect that it is not a merely pragmatic feature at all, but a semantic one. Building on this, Menzies discusses the idea that *all* causation is a deviation from a norm. But as Beebee argued in 2004, normative considerations are not what we expect to feature in the truth of causal claims – they are not suitably mind-independent, or objective to fit with a reductive account. So much the worse for a reductive account, you might think, but it is certainly a cost of the ‘privation’ approach. Even if you do grant the role of normativity in causal ascriptions, there is work to be done to show *how* they fit (see Bernstein for one way), and what the implications of normativity in causation might be (Sartorio). I think that brings us near enough up to date.

Notice that our piece did not overlook this possible treatment of absence causal claims (we cite every one of the authors mentioned above). Notice also that we are not in any way offering an argument against the possibility of absence causation. Far from it. We only said that Goldschmidt’s paper does not add to a debate that has taken absence causal ascriptions very seriously for a long time.Report

Nathan Wildman
Nathan Wildman
5 years ago

FWIW, I think Tyron’s paper is clever, though, as Neil and Bryan point out above, I also think it’s meant to make a serious metaphysical point. And, concerning the latter, I don’t think it does what it says on the tin.Report

Joshua Miller
5 years ago

Does the absence do the causing or the presence (of a title, author, and DOI)?
Because if it’s the absence doing the causing, I must sadly accuse the author of plagiarizing my own unwritten paper on this topic.
I’m sure we can arrange an equitable remedy. Perhaps a retraction with republication as co-authors?

(Alternatively, perhaps it is not the absence doing the causing, in which case I must congratulate Professor Goldschmidt for presenting us with his authorial choices, and for helping us parse these thorny issues.)Report

Charles Young
Charles Young
5 years ago

Jim Carvellas, a basketball announcer, once devoted his pre-game show to the idea that the then Baltimore Bullets were in trouble in the upcoming game, because their best rebounder, Gus Johnson, was out with an injury. Of course the remaining Bullet players rebounded furiously for much of the game, spoiling Carvellas’s story line. And thus it was, until mid-third quarter, when the other team at last came to dominate the backboards, as predicted. Carvellas proclaimed, with glee, “Gus Johnson’s absence is beginning to make its presence felt!” So there!Report

Alan White
Alan White
5 years ago

I tried to think of other papers but drew a blank.Report

A. Donahoo
A. Donahoo
5 years ago

“Never stay up on the barren heights of cleverness, but come down into the green valleys of silliness.” —Wittgenstein, Culture and Value, 76e

“It is worth noting that Wittgenstein once said that a serious and good philosophical work could be written that would consist
entirely of jokes (without begin facetious).” —Norman Malcolm, Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir (2e), 27–28Report

David Pereplyotchik
5 years ago

Robert Fiengo and Howard Lasnik published a similar thing in Linguistic Inquiry in 1972: “On nonrecoverable deletion in syntax”
Here’s a link: http://prosodylab.org/2010/non-recoverable-deletion/Report

Cathy Legg
Cathy Legg
5 years ago

The paper could equally be a demonstration of an absent power of cognitionReport

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
5 years ago

Some classic philosophical joke papers (that are also quite serious):
A.N. Prior “The Runabout Inference Ticket” http://cas.uchicago.edu/workshops/wittgenstein/files/2009/04/prior.pdf
Deborah J. Brown “Swampan of La Mancha” http://philpapers.org/rec/BROSOL
Report

Paul Henne
Paul Henne
5 years ago

For after the drink: Parsons’ “The Eleatic hangover cure” http://analysis.oxfordjournals.org/content/64/4/364.extractReport

Peter Bele
Peter Bele
5 years ago

Poor editors! Imagine the challenge of finding reviewers for this article: “Let’s see. We need a couple of philosophers who know nothing…”Report

AnonyMoose
AnonyMoose
5 years ago

If, as is plausibly the case, all papers have the empty paper as a sub-paper, this issue brings to light plagiarism on an unprecedented scale.Report

Mylan Engel Jr.
Mylan Engel Jr.
5 years ago

The above reactions to the absent article seem to confirm its thesis.Report

Jeremy Fantl
Jeremy Fantl
5 years ago

I think it’s been mentioned on Daily Nous before, but there’s Jon Perez Laraudogoitia’s “This Article Should Not Be Rejected by _Mind_” (published in _Mind_).Report

Michael Brent
5 years ago

I like Goldschmidt’s paper and, contrary to what Nathan Wildman and Neil McDonnell say here and in their paper, I think Goldschmidt’s paper does, in fact, demonstrate the causal power of absences. For those who might be intertested, I’ve said a little more about why I think Goldschmidt’s paper succeeds here: http://philosophycommons.typepad.com/flickers_of_freedom/2016/02/the-causal-powers-of-absences.htmlReport

Ross Cameron
Ross Cameron
5 years ago

I think the paper is quite funny, and don’t really mind that serious journals publish the occasional lighthearted paper (remember ‘Nominalistic Things’ in Analysis?). But it’s not funny at all that some poor student might pay money for this – I hope the publisher commits to refunding any such purchase.Report

Tim
Tim
5 years ago

I love it. Very poignant. In a world where it is almost impossible to avoid being bombarded by every available media source, I find it refreshing. It’s significance extends beyond any so-called content. Reference to content or the lack there of, implies a rigid framework only to contain. The message implies one to consider exercising free will. To do so, one must cognizantly be engaged. To think, investigate , and ultimately create an Examined World.
Newspapers cash in on this in the form of Headlines. They seek to grab our attention. Difficult to avoid. Run the other way.
It is by will alone we put our minds in motion.Report

Sara Protasi
Sara Protasi
5 years ago

Off-topic, but kudos to Nathan Wildman and Neil McDonnell for having 50% of their references authored by women. See, women do metaphysics!Report

Alex
Alex
Reply to  Sara Protasi
5 years ago

Hey, Goldschmidt is doing pretty well in that respect as well: every single one of his references is to a woman!Report

Diana Philosofronieva
Diana Philosofronieva
5 years ago

A paper relevant to the discussion is ‘Sarcasm Detection: Beyond Machine Learning Algorithms’ – http://tinytocs.org/vol3/papers/TinyToCS_3_kumar.pdfReport