Publishing Philosophy One Doesn’t Believe

“Is there anything wrong with publishing philosophical work which one does not believe?”

That is the central question of “Publishing Without Belief,” a recent article in Analysis by Alexandra Plakias, assistant professor of philosophy at Hamilton College.

Salvador Dalí, detail of “The Madonna of Port Lligat” (1950)

Professor Plakias argues that publishing without belief is not wrong: “the practice isn’t intrinsically wrong, nor is there a compelling consequentialist argument against it.”

Here are some of the reasons she offers for her answer:

  1. “requiring philosophers to publish only what is true, or what they know, advantages philosophers with more permissive standards for knowledge or truth, while disadvantaging those with higher standards.”
  2. “biographical information about the author—including his or her personal convictions—should be… irrelevant to assessments of the merits of their argument… we don’t necessarily base our acceptance of an argument on the speaker’s (or author’s) attitude towards it.”
  3. Publishing without belief doesn’t necessarily involve hypocrisy, lack of thoroughness, or insouciance (bullshitting). “The speaker (or writer) who doesn’t believe her argument isn’t telling her audience that she believes what she’s saying—she’s asking the audience to believe it.”
  4. We don’t have sufficient reasons to think that “a philosopher won’t whole-heartedly defend a view she’s put into print, even if she isn’t convinced of its truth.”
  5. “Securing academic employment depends on publishing, usually in a peer-reviewed journal… Suppose, as seems plausible, the position defended in a paper has a bearing on how likely that paper is to be accepted for publication. And suppose the views we end up believing are, in part, beyond our control. I submit that we should do our best to minimize the extent to which the ability to have a philosophical career depends on factors outside an individual’s control. The process of publishing philosophy is subject to so many contingencies that we ought to eliminate them wherever we can, especially where these affect the prospects of early career philosophers whose beliefs are not yet calcified.”

You can read the whole paper here (ungated draft here*)—and don’t miss its last line. Discussion welcome.

(Update Below)

*Two notes. First, Professor Plakias asks people to cite the published version in their written work. Second, if you have trouble viewing the draft, try doing so in a browser in which you are not logged into Google.

UPDATE (10/1/2020): Will Fleisher (Northeastern) responds to Plakias in a reply article in Thought:

Alexandra Plakias has recently argued that philosophers may permissibly publish claims they do not believe. This raises the question: when is it permissible to publish without belief? Is it always? I provide three counterexamples to the idea that it is always permissible to publish without belief. I argue that it is only permissible to publish a certain kind of claim when one does not believe it. I call these advocacy role claims. Another kind of claim is impermissible to publish without belief: what I call evidential role claims. These types are distinguished by their function. Advocacy role claims aim to promote productive debate and disagreement. Evidential role claims aim to add to the common stock of evidence. The resulting theory incorporating the distinction explains the differences between Plakias’ cases and mine. It is applicable to publishing in a wide variety of fields beyond philosophy.

Ungated version here.

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