Underappreciated Philosophical Writing of the Past 50 Years, Part 2: 1980s
Last week we began a decade-by-decade series on underappreciated philosophical writing of the past 50 years.
Today, we turn to the 1980s.It might be helpful to repost part of what I said last week:
A valuable philosophical work may get overlooked because it was published in a lesser-known venue. Or perhaps it was published in a part of the world or in a language that those in the mainstream tend to ignore. Perhaps sociological aspects of the profession concerning dominant writing style preferences or attitudes about the prestige of the author’s institutional affiliations led to its dismissal. Maybe it was ahead of its time, speaking to issues or presenting ideas or arguments the significance of which was only recognized much later. Maybe it was appreciated in its time, but somehow got lost in the crowd of publications since…
It’s not an exact science, of course, judging both the significance of the work and the extent to which it is currently appreciated. I encourage people to err in ways that are more inclusive, as it’s better to hear about something you’ve already heard about than to miss out on hearing about something new (to you) and good.
Readers, let’s hear your suggestions for overlooked, underappreciated, or insufficiently known philosophical writings from the eighties, along with some brief remarks as to why you think they’re worth drawing attention to.
(Of course, you’re also welcome to continue to add to the 1970s post.)
Thomas Donaldson’s Corporations and Morality. First person to write broadly about the several modern ethical and metaphysical problems we face with corporations using a traditional philosophical approach.Report
According to my informants at Google, this book has a whopping >1300 citations!
Do you mean that it’s underrated by a certain group in particular? (I’ll admit I wasn’t familiar with it, despite working in ethics.)Report
In its practical effect perhaps? Some corporations adopted things from it, but mostly ethicists found it valuable outside the corporate world?Report
This paper really impressed me when it was first published in 1985. Epistemic Dependence. Author(s): John Hardwig. The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 82, No. 7 (Jul., 1985).Report
That paper may have been under appreciated at the time, but I think with the recent growth in social epistemology it is pretty well appreciated now.Report
This is a fun one to teach to freshman. I like to pair it with bad American Idol audition videos.Report
Marvin Minsky’s Society of Mind (1985) is a thorough and engaging account of how the mind works.Report
Donald Regan’s (1980) Utilitarianism and Co-operation (which I summarize here) was the best thing written on coordination problems until Doug Portmore built upon it in his recent paper on ‘Consequentialism and Coordination’. Nowadays I’d probably just recommend that people read the latter, but the original Regan book was both really excellent and yet bizarrely neglected.Report
I got a lot out of Annette Baier’s _Progress of Sentiments_ as a book of Hume interpretation. I definitely am not sure if it is neglected in the Hume Studies community, but I am pretty sure that it is not a standard text for students who are first really engaging Hume (I’d guess that Don Garrett’s book is a likely candidate for that). Please correct me if I am wrong about that!Report
This seems to be a 90s book?Report
Hurley’s Natural Reasons. Everyone has heard of it but too few have read it. Little cited and little discussed. It is forbiddingly difficult and slightly dated in its very 1980s Oxford deference to Wittgenstein and Davidson. But it is a masterpiece. One of the richest and credible defences of nortmative naturalism there is.Report
Philosophy of Language:
The idea that some properties are reference magnets because they are “natural” is widely attributed to David Lewis. In fact, Lewis got it from (and cites) Gary Merrill, whose “The Model-Theoretic Argument Against Realism” remains virtually unknown.
Philosophy of Science:
Alan Garfinkel’s Forms of Explanation, a one-hit wonder, is one of my favorite books of all time, any genre. It’s cited as an early defense of contrastivism, but it’s so much more than that. (It’s “bursting-full” of fascinating ideas, as Brad Skow puts it in his last book.) Garfinkel is now a cardiologist, oddly enough, but still insisting on structural explanations!
In a 1982 book called The Case for Idealism, John Foster developed a notion of “sustainment” that is shockingly like the more recent idea of “grounding.” Transitive, irreflexive, necessitating, hyperintensional, underwrites fundamentality, etc. — Foster had it figured out!
I heard about this (and Merill) from David Balcarras: https://www.academia.edu/35907302/Foster_on_sustainment
Also ahead of its time: in 1981, Jonathan Dancy was the first to distinguish grounding from (merely modal) supervenience in a wonderful paper called “On Moral Properties.” There he talks about “resultance” (W.D. Ross’s term), and argues that it is a contingent relation, setting the stage for his later work on moral particularism.
Also, while I wouldn’t call it “obscure,” I think Philippa Foot’s “Utilitarianism and the Virtues” is pretty underrated. Despite its influence, it’s not being read or assigned so much these days, partly because its ideas aren’t fully worked out, and partly because it got overshadowed by the literature on consequentializing. Still brilliant!Report
Three cheers for Garfinkel’s Forms of Explanation!Report
I’ve been assigning that Foot paper for 29 years now at every level of teaching. One of my colleagues says that people are only suited to teach at one level, so perhaps that explains my teaching it at all of them. But I think the quality of the paper also has something to do with it.Report
I rushed to recommend Regan’s Utilitarianism and Co-operation and Hurley’s Natural Reasons only to find both already mentioned… Perhaps both are secretly a bit more appreciated than I previously thought?Report
Probably most of them are. All works mentioned so far in this post have been cited 100-1000 times, most of them over 400 times. (That’s not to say these recommendations aren’t useful, but they are perhaps not as overlooked as one might think.)Report
Definitely right. But it’s worth emphasizing that even highly cited texts can be unappreciated (or forgotten over time).
I mentioned Garfinkel because most of his cites are superficial (“for an early defense of contrastivism, see Garfinkel, Chapter 1”). Foot’s paper racked up cites then somewhat dropped off the radar.
Still, it’d be nice to see a few more under-cited entries here.Report
Neither of these books can be called “ignored” (both are cited around 500 times, although most of the citations are fairly old now) but two books from the 80s by Allen Buchanan that seem to me to get significantly less attention than they deserve (and less than lots of his work) are _Marx and Justice: The Radical Critique of Liberalism_ (1982) and _Ethics, Efficiency, and the Market_ (1985). Both are clearly written, easy to read, and have discussions that are highly relevant for debates about liberalism, socialism, markets, and the like today. The chapters on “The Marxian Critique of Justice and Rights” and “Revolutionary Motivation and Rationality” in the first, and the chapter on market socialism in the later, are perhaps especially relevant and well done. I think that perhaps the Marx book was overshadowed by G.A. Cohen’s book, which appeared at close to the same time, but it seems to me that Buchanan’s has more of current value in it. Both books are worth going back to.
(Interestingly, the books are even largely ignored by Buchanan himself, who doesn’t seem to cite them in his later work at all, despite not having a general aversion to citing his own work.)Report
B.J. Diggs (1981): ‘A Contractarian View of the Respect for Persons’, American Philosophical Quarterly 18(4): 273-283. This paper was published a year before T.M. Scanlon’s ‘Contractualism and Utilitarianism’ and has been cited 22 times compared to Scanlon’s 1355 references. There are remarkable similarities, though, between the way in which contractualism is developed in this paper and in Scanlon’s work, and I remember seeing references in 90s to contractualism as the Diggs-Scanlon view. However, for some reason, this paper never caught on.Report
Judith Baker’s “Trust and Rationality” (1987) is a gem. It’s cited 139 times, but given the revival of pragmatism in particular, and interest in the interplay of the epistemic and practical more generally, it’s quite often simply ignored. For example, it’s rarely cited in the moral encroachment literature, let alone discussed.Report
V. H. Dudman, “Towards a Theory of Predication for English,” in The Australian Journal of Linguistics, vol. 5 (1985), pp. 143-96.
Written for grammarians, not philosophers. And less fun than some of his more polemical pieces that are perhaps better known to philosophers working on (e.g.) conditionals. But much, much more interesting, rich, and deeply challenging for philosophers wedded to a rather simplistic conception of predication (which is most of us).Report
One of Anscombe’s lesser known pieces, “Human Essence” (only 3 refs in Google scholar), I think it is one of her most important papers (given as a lecture in 1988, and later published in her collected works). In it, she lays out a way of thinking about essences in an Aristotelian-Fregean way (along the lines that Michael Thompson later popularized in ‘Life and Action’), viewing essences as, as it were, syntactic constraints on reality.
Since I missed the 70s, I want to mention one of my favorite papers I read recently: Lawrence H. Powers, “Knowledge by Deduction” (1978) (54 refs). It starts out by presenting a solution to Meno’s paradox, but by the end he has (successfully in my mind) argued that we need to fundamentally rethink the way in which we process information. It is a deep paper, but accessibly written. I also think it would be a great piece to teach (even the first half for an intro epistemology) as it is a nice example of how to engage with the history of philosophy. Indeed, one of the virtues of the paper is that it gives you a nice activity to run with your students!). As more and more attention is paid to the way questions structure our thought, I wouldn’t be surprised if this paper undergoes a resurgence in importance.Report
I am glad to see Alan Garfinkel’s Forms of Explanation mentioned. It is a fantastic book on the limits of explanations, reductionism, and social explanations of wealth distribution and success. It heavily influenced my dissertation and how I see socioeconomic stratifications in general. What a great book!Report
Paul Ziff’s 1984 book: Epistemic Analysis. He does for ‘know’ what he did for ‘good’ in his Semantic Analysis. Epistemic Analysis was reviewed in two places,Philosophical Books and Philosophical Review. It has no citations. If you publish with Reidel, that is what can happen.Report
I was so surprised by the “no citations” claim that I checked. According to Google Scholar, it counts 62 citations. They tend to be fairly generous, but the first page of listed citations begins with Williamson’s book on Vagueness, which surely counts as a proper citation, and continues with a good number of other scholarly sources:
I read a couple of really good things on the ethics of belief from the 1980s that I haven’t seen discussed elsewhere:
“Ignorance, Self-Deception and Moral Accountability” by Elizabeth Linehan, Journal of Value Inquiry (1982)
“What ought we to believe? Or the Ethics of Belief Revisited” by Jack W. Meiland American Philosophical Quarterly (1980).Report
All of Mark Wilson’s work ought to be read more widely, but especially his 1985 “What is This Thing Called Pain?”, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 66 (3-4):227-67 (1985) . That paper dismantled the Fodor/Putnam orthodoxy regarding functionalism, reduction, and multiple realization 20 to 30 years ago; most of us are just now coming around to the idea that the classic anti-reductionist arguments just don’t pass muster. It also advances a version of physicalism that is actually concerned with physics, again notable for the time period.Report
Chris Pallis’s , Brain Stem Death – The Evolution of a Concept (1987). Appeared earlier in a 1983 volume explaining diagnostic criteria for death on the basis of the complete failure of the brain stem. This document profoundly influenced the President’s Council’s “white paper” on brain death in 2008. Gives a good history and overview of the relevance of neurological criteria pre-Ad Hoc Committee. More critics of brain death should read it (especially the author of the recent Aeon piece linked in the mini-heap!) — lots of confusion about the origin and rational for the concept could be cleared up.
Judith Jarvis Thomson, “Ruminations on an account of personal identity”, in J. J. Thomson, ed. On Being and Saying: Essays for Richard Cartwright (MIT 1987). How can the psychological continuity theory of personal identity be formulated without any appeal to temporal parts? So clear, so precise, so good. And fun to read, in that weird Judith Jarvis Thomson way. Google scholar says it has 19 total citations, in 33 years.Report
David Rapport Lachterman’s The Ethics of Geometry: A Genealogy of Modernity is a truly funky work. I find the book impossible to classify (Kantian philosophy of math about Euclid and Descartes; early modern; meta-philosophy; a response to Foucault, etc.) and its dazzling main thesis is to separate modern philosophy from the classical kind. (A strange subtext is the fate of Spinozism.) In my experience, I never see it cited or discussed. Yet scholar.google claims it’s been cited 264 times; so not pure neglect.Report
Francis Sparshott’s “The Riddle of Katharsis” (in Centre and Labyrinth: Essays in Honour of Northrop Frye, ed. by Eleanor Cook, University of Toronto Press, 1984) is th best thing I’ve ever read about the Poetics. it’s also an incredibly entertaining and witty read, and the addendum about Northrop Frye is a very wise and charitable discussion of the influence of Jungian ideas on research in the humanities.Report
Thank you David Stern. I stand corrected about the zero citations. But Google scholar collects all manner of items as citations.Hundreds of mine are not to anything I wrote. In the case of Ziff’s Epistemic Analsyis, one is to an M.A. thesis, some to odd art things outside of philosophy, and even inside of philosophy, in a good journal, the PDF of the article listed next to the citation does not, in fact, contain any reference to Ziff publications, let alone this one. You need to poke around in Google citation lists. My revised claim is that there is no article on Ziff’s book in a philosophy journal. It seems he is referenced in a lineup with others in various places, but no one seems to have found the book good enough to discuss head on. So it goes. To see if my revised claim is truly true, I would need to read the very works supposedly citing him. I forgot my password to my old university account, so can’t get into their online library anymore.Report
At one point one of my papers (I forget which one – I think it’s been corrected, as sometimes happens) was showing a citation in some journal devoted to porcine agriculture. I was actually pretty excited about that, and wondered what people interested in hog farming were citing me for, but then I noticed that it was obviously a false positive given that the particular issue of the journal was published before I was born. Too bad. It was sad to find out I didn’t have as much interdisciplinary appeals as I had hoped.Report
Stephen Clark’s “How to Believe in Fairies” in Inquiry 1987 is kind of wonderful.Report
Ruth Millikan’s “Language, Thought, and Other Biological Categories” is brilliant, if dense. AFAIK almost nobody read it, and almost nobody seems to read it these days, or if they do, they read the first chapter and stop. But it’s amazing, and has such a wide range of application.
(She’s been honoured for her contributions and is hardly a minor figure in philosophy. But I still think Millikan is critically under-appreciated, and LTaOBC in particular is underserved.)Report
It has over 4,000 citations according to google scholar…Report
Frank Cioffi’s “When do Empirical Methods By-pass ‘The Problems Which Trouble Us’?” (1983) – where he gives us a sense of why certain questions (largely, aesthetic ones) do not deserve empirical investigation: “What we want with respect to certain phenomena are not their causes, but their bearings. The lack of closure, the sense of unfinished business that we experience with respect to them is not always a matter of factual ignorance, to be relieved by the discovery of causal relations.”Report