Jargon & Citation in Philosophy

A study of papers published in academic science journals on the topic of “cave science” found that “papers containing higher proportions of jargon in their titles and abstracts were cited less frequently by other researchers.”

Kay Rosen, “Echoes”

The study, “Specialized terminology reduces the number of citations of scientific papers,” by Alejandro Martínez and Stefano Mammola (both of the Water Research Institute at the National Research Council, Verbania Pallanza, Italy) focused on cave science because, according to a New York Times article about the study, “cave science is a particularly jargon-heavy field” that attracts researchers from a range of fields, like anthropology, ecology, geology, and zoology, “each of whom brings their own terminology.”

Do philosophy papers that contain a higher proportion of jargon in their titles garner fewer citations?

I took a quick, unscientific look at the question. I used Web of Science to search for articles on “mind” or “consciousness” published in philosophy journals from 1980 to 2010 to see which are the most cited. (I picked mind/consciousness because that’s an area of research that a range of scholars who aren’t philosophers also work and it does have its share of jargon.)  Below are the top 50 results. There are probably better ways to do this, but this was relatively easy; feel free to suggest alternative methods, or even better, just do them and share your results in the comments.

Authors Article Title Source Title Times Cited (all WOS databases) Publication Year
Clark, A; Chalmers, D The extended mind ANALYSIS 2122 1998
Rosenthal, DM 2 Concepts of Consciousness PHILOSOPHICAL STUDIES 327 1986
McGinn, C Can We Solve the Mind Body Problem? MIND 303 1989
Gallagher, S The Practice of Mind – Theory, simulation or primary interaction JOURNAL OF CONSCIOUSNESS STUDIES 297 2001
Haggard, P; Libet, B Conscious intention and brain activity JOURNAL OF CONSCIOUSNESS STUDIES 295 2001
Rupert, RD Challenges to the hypothesis of extended cognition JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY 272 2004
Lutz, A; Thompson, E Neurophenomenology – Integrating subjective experience and brain dynamics in the neuroscience of consciousness JOURNAL OF CONSCIOUSNESS STUDIES 270 2003
Thompson, E Empathy and consciousness JOURNAL OF CONSCIOUSNESS STUDIES 217 2001
Pitt, D The phenomenology of cognition, or, What is it like to think that P? PHILOSOPHY AND PHENOMENOLOGICAL RESEARCH 201 2004
Clark, A; Toribio, J Doing Without Representing SYNTHESE 195 1994
Schwitzgebel, E The Unreliability of Naive Introspection PHILOSOPHICAL REVIEW 189 2008
Zahavi, D Beyond empathy – Phenomenological approaches to intersubjectivity JOURNAL OF CONSCIOUSNESS STUDIES 184 2001
Thompson, E; Stapleton, M Making Sense of Sense-Making: Reflections on Enactive and Extended Mind Theories TOPOI-AN INTERNATIONAL REVIEW OF PHILOSOPHY 180 2009
Sterelny, K Minds: extended or scaffolded? PHENOMENOLOGY AND THE COGNITIVE SCIENCES 170 2010
Chalmers, DJ The Singularity A Philosophical Analysis JOURNAL OF CONSCIOUSNESS STUDIES 168 2010
Wilson, D; Sperber, D Truthfulness and relevance MIND 169 2002
Putnam, H Sense, Nonsense, and the Senses: an Inquiry into the Powers of the Human Mind  (Dewey Lecture 1 – The Antinomy of Reason) JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY 148 1994
Dreyfus, HL The return of the myth of the mental INQUIRY-AN INTERDISCIPLINARY JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY 152 2007
Burge, T Intellectual Norms and Foundations of Mind JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY 145 1986
Sutton, J; Harris, CB; Keil, PG; Barnier, AJ The psychology of memory, extended cognition, and socially distributed remembering PHENOMENOLOGY AND THE COGNITIVE SCIENCES 144 2010
Makinson, D; Van der Torre, L Input/output logics JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHICAL LOGIC 138 2000
Menary, R The holy grail of cognitivism: a response to Adams and Aizawa PHENOMENOLOGY AND THE COGNITIVE SCIENCES 133 2010
Bennett, K Why the exclusion problem seems intractable, and how, just maybe to tract it NOUS 126 2003
OConnor, T Emergent Properties AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL QUARTERLY 127 1994
Noe, A; Thompson, E Are there neural correlates of consciousness? JOURNAL OF CONSCIOUSNESS STUDIES 124 2004
Schwitzgebel, E Acting Contrary to Our Professed Beliefs, or  the Gulf between Occurrent Judgment and Dispositional Belief PACIFIC PHILOSOPHICAL QUARTERLY 116 2010
Knobe, J; Prinz, J Intuitions about consciousness: Experimental studies PHENOMENOLOGY AND THE COGNITIVE SCIENCES 116 2008
Chalmers, DJ Does a rock implement every finite-state automaton? SYNTHESE 112 1996
Hill, CS Imaginability, conceivability, possibility and the mind-body problem PHILOSOPHICAL STUDIES 108 1997
Dennett, DC Who’s on first? Heterophenomenology explained JOURNAL OF CONSCIOUSNESS STUDIES 108 2003
Williamson, T Philosophical ‘intuitions’ and scepticism about judgement DIALECTICA 103 2004
Gallagher, S Phenomenology and experimental design – Toward a phenomenologically enlightened experimental science JOURNAL OF CONSCIOUSNESS STUDIES 105 2003
Gallagher, S Inference or interaction: social cognition without precursors PHILOSOPHICAL EXPLORATIONS 98 2008
Kleingeld, P Kant’s second thoughts on race PHILOSOPHICAL QUARTERLY 97 2007
O’Regan, JK; Noe, A What it is like to see: A sensorimotor theory of perceptual experience SYNTHESE 96 2001
Stoljar, D Two conceptions of the physical PHILOSOPHY AND PHENOMENOLOGICAL RESEARCH 97 2001
Lepore, E; Loewer, B Mind Matters JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY 98 1987
Thomasson, AL Realism and human kinds PHILOSOPHY AND PHENOMENOLOGICAL RESEARCH 100 2003
Clark, A Pressing the flesh: A tension in the study of the embodied, embedded mind? PHILOSOPHY AND PHENOMENOLOGICAL RESEARCH 95 2008
Colombetti, G Appraising valence JOURNAL OF CONSCIOUSNESS STUDIES 92 2005
Kriegel, U Consciousness as intransitive self-consciousness: Two views and an argument CANADIAN JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY 93 2003
Clark, A Intrinsic content, active memory and the extended mind ANALYSIS 90 2005
Tucker, C Why Open-Minded People Should Endorse Dogatism PHILOSOPHICAL PERSPECTIVES 89 2010
Van Gulick, R Reduction, emergence and other recent options on the mind/body problem – A philosophic overview JOURNAL OF CONSCIOUSNESS STUDIES 93 2001
Noe, A Is the visual world a grand illusion? JOURNAL OF CONSCIOUSNESS STUDIES 89 2002
Thagard, P Brain and the Meaning of Life BRAIN AND THE MEANING OF LIFE 87 2010
Vermersch, P Describing the Practice of Introspection JOURNAL OF CONSCIOUSNESS STUDIES 82 2009
Sloman, A; Chrisley, R Virtual machines and consciousness JOURNAL OF CONSCIOUSNESS STUDIES 84 2003
Leslie, SJ Generics and the Structure of the Mind PHILOSOPHICAL PERSPECTIVES 81 2007

What can we learn from this, if anything? It’s hard to say. In part this is because of the nature of the sample, which is small, and because I only scanned the titles of the articles for jargon, not the abstracts. (It would be great if someone wanted to approach this more carefully!) Additionally, there is some ambiguity as to what counts as jargon. Sometimes “jargon” is used to refer not just to unfamiliar words/phrases but also to familiar words/phrases used in technical ways or as “terms of art.”

The most cited article on the list, by a mile, is “The Extended Mind,” which I think counts as sufficiently non-jargony. It seems we don’t begin to see clear jargon showing up in the titles until the 7th-most cited article on the list, which contains the word “neurophenomenology.” Someone might ask, what about “extended cognition” in the title of the 6th-most cited article? Does our jargon criteria put “extended mind” on one side of the divide and “extended cognition” on the other? I don’t know. In the title at #9 we have the phrase “phenomenology of cognition,” which rings jargony to my ears. So among the top ten most cited articles on the list, we have 2 or 3 that have jargon in their titles.

In the next ten (11-20) we see jargon (such as “naive introspection,” “intersubjectivity,” “enactive”, and “extended cognition”) in four of the titles. Looking at the middle ten (21-30), we get more jargon, such as “socially distributed remembering”, “input/output logics”, “cognitivism”, “the exclusion problem”, and “finite-state automaton.” One article has a non-jargony title, “Acting Contrary to Our Professed Beliefs” but a jargony subtitle, “the Gulf between Occurrent Judgment and Dispositional Belief.” That gives us 5 or 6 articles with jargon in their titles. In the next set (31-40) we get 3 (“heterophenomenology,” “phenomenology,” “precursors”). Turning to the 41 through 50 on the list, jargon includes “valence,” “intransitive self-consciousness”, “intrinsic content”, “generics,” and possibly “reduction,” getting us 4 or 5 titles with jargon.

Going with the higher counts of jargon, the distribution looks like this (left to right = higher citation counts to lower; jargony titles marked with an X).

If we look at just the top 12 most cited articles, it does seem that more jargony titles are cited less. So: boo jargon. On the other hand, nearly half of the top 12 most cited articles have jargony titles. So: jargon, no big deal. That our conclusions about what we can learn from this little exercise depend so much on framing suggest that we probably ought to refrain from drawing conclusions until we have more, and more thorough, research on the matter.

The authors of the cave science study think that the use of jargon risks hampering communication across different disciplines, a phenomenon they dub “Wittgensteinian shortfall”:

Not without irony, we would like to conclude by introducing a new jargon ourselves: the ‘Wittgensteinian shortfall’. Since words are tools to communicate ideas, let this obscure combination of terms be used to raise awareness of the problems previously discussed by associating the philosophical ideas of the late Wittgenstein with the shortfall metaphor frequently used in used in ecology. We define the Wittgensteinian shortfall as the inability to successfully communicate specific ideas across different scientific communities. These different communities could thus be seen as characterized by different language games. 

We might wonder about the degree to which philosophy is subject to “Wittgensteinian shortfall.” To figure that out, we’d need to produce distinct citation counts based on citatations of articles in philosophical works and in non-philosophical works. It would be useful to hear if anyone is working on that or  related matters.

In general, philosophy has a high rate of uncited publications. If jargon is a contributing factor to that, it would be good to find out.

Related: “Biting the Bullet”: A Note on Style from Caspar Hare

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Alfred MacDonald
Alfred MacDonald
3 years ago

My concern with philosophy is that it has ninja-jargon / cryptojargon, or jargon that readers don’t know is jargon. For example, “extended” is a word that most people will think means “elongated”; likewise with “obtains” which is used to mean “holds true” but most people will think means “gets something.” “Property” is arguably this in that it doesn’t have so much a different meaning as a hyper-precise one; “mind” is arguably this, too. So readers may read a medical publication and think “I don’t know many of these words so I don’t know what this means”, while the same thing may not happen in philosophy publications.

Last edited 3 years ago by Alfred MacDonald
Curtis Franks
Reply to  Alfred MacDonald
3 years ago

Nearly as I can tell, all uses of “mind” as a noun are jargon. But I’m no etymologist, mind you.

Alex Spencer
Alex Spencer
Reply to  Curtis Franks
3 years ago

I wouldn’t say so. “I’m of two minds about it” is something people say. And “he’s out of his mind.” I’m sure more examples could be generated. Though certainly philosophers do use the term in a much more technical way.

Christopher Britton
Christopher Britton
3 years ago

One worry is that picking philosophy of mind may skew the results a bit due to much of the jargon being shared across disciplines. For instance, “phenomenology”, “cognitivism”, “naive introspection”, “finite-state automaton” and the like show up pretty often in work from psychology. Even more obscure jargon like “family resemblance” and “cluster concept” are common because of Rosch’s work, and “module” in Fodor’s technical sense is common as well. Philosophers of mind and psychologists talk with each other enough that I feel we’re often at least aware of one another’s jargon, even if there isn’t always full understanding. And the divergence point between philosophy and psychology is recent enough that much philosophical jargon persists.

Embodied cognition is also pretty big in certain psychology circles. I believe Rosch does work on it. The cognitive linguists are big fans of it as well. So jargon relating to the extended mind and even enactivism has been taken on by the cognitive sciences.

Kenny Easwaran
3 years ago

It would be interesting to see if field-specific jargon is a positive or negative for “core” fields rather than “interdisciplinary” fields. A natural prediction would be that more jargon is good for cores, because you can communicate faster and more precisely, and it is negative for interdisciplinaries, because it’s a barrier to other disciplines.

Mark van Roojen
Mark van Roojen
3 years ago

I suspect the top of the citation lists is not where it matters. So many of those authors are going to be followed because of the people writing the papers, not because of titles.

Tim J
3 years ago

My education is in engineering rather than philosophy, so I’m probably coming at this from the science side, but my feeling is: although jargon might be needed for detailed discussion of a subject—for precision or conciseness—it should be possible to express the core concept under discussion without jargon. Jargon in a title can mean that you’ve not got a clear enough grasp of what’s at the core to express it in everyday language, so you’re relying on your discipline’s accepted understanding of it, crystallised into jargon, rather than communicating your own clarity of understanding to a potential reader.

Jargon is shorthand used for already understood concepts; an article title introduces a concept which the article hopes to make understood.