The New York Times Eliminates Dedicated Philosophy Column


The New York Times has instituted several changes to its publication of opinion pieces, and one of them is the discontinuation of The Stone, its dedicated space for publishing philosophy.

Kathleen Kingsbury, who became the paper’s Opinion Editor in January, has instituted changes in that section apparently aimed at updating and simplifying its organization and format. This involved, for example, replacing the “op-ed” label with “guest essay,” and getting rid of ongoing series of op-eds. The Times’s Disability series was ended, too.

The Stone was started in May, 2010. Moderated by Simon Critchley (The New School) and edited by the Times’s Peter Catapano, it regularly published essays by a wide range of philosophers and others. Some of these have been collected in two books, and there is another volume of them due out next year. The column not only provided a platform for individual philosophers, but also served as a prominent public signal about the importance of philosophy.

The Times will continue to publish works by philosophers, says Mr. Catapano, but submissions by them will be competing for space against guest essays on all other topics, rather than just against other possible columns for a philosophy-oriented series. This may result in less philosophy published, but Mr. Catapano said that as the changes were just recently implemented, it is too early to know for sure. “I’m being philosophical about it,” he added. He remains the editor to whom philosophers interested in writing a guest essay for the Times should pitch their ideas.

(Thanks to Bryan Van Norden for alerting me to this development).

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Jorge Regula
3 months ago

There is no sense mincing words here — this is an absolute disgrace!

Although Critchley’s editorial tastes rubbed many the wrong way, there is no doubt that the Stone was immensely valuable in getting important ideas in philosophy out in the main stream. Moreover — and this speaks against their decision to terminate the series — (i) the Stone was one of the only genuinely far-reaching forums for philosophy to reliably reach a wider audience; (ii) the present time we are living in is more politically polarized and facing more diverse existential threats than arguably ever before (climate threats, threats to democracy worldwide, rise of new society-altering technologies, etc.). Cutting philosophers’ only ‘big microphone’ in this way is really ill timed and senseless in the face of these challenges. Shame on them!Report

Aeon Skoble
3 months ago

I guess I should lament the NYT’s attitude, which as you suggest signals a diminished sense of philosophy’s importance, but on the other hand, there were probably three awful essays for every one good one, so there’s that. Meanwhile, I still can’t figure out what’s so dang offensive about calling them “op-eds” that they felt compelled to change the name.Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Aeon Skoble
3 months ago

I’ve seen very many people over the years refer to something in an op-ed as something “the New York Times said”. I’m guessing that they hope the term “guest essay” is more transparent. It seems quite plausible to me that it might be.Report

Richard Russell Wood
3 months ago

Dangerous minds.Report

Alex LeBrun
3 months ago

I am certain many will share Jorge Regula’s sentiment that this is ultimately a bad thing. But I think the philosophy community should to take some time to reflect here.

The Stone was discontinued because it wasn’t popular enough. We cannot blame the public for not being sufficiently engaged with; it is our duty to engage, not theirs to listen. And we apparently failed. If I had to venture a guess, it is that philosophers often write public articles about things that interest philosophers, and these things are usually quite boring for the general public.

We don’t sufficiently engage with everyday life in our application of philosophy. Contemporary analytic philosophers don’t realize how pervasively philosophy changes our lives. Where are the articles on how critical thinking influences one in scrolling through twitter? on how to interpret claims made by governments, corporations, or individuals when those claims are in the best interest of those groups? on how basic logical fallacies can help us spot conspiracy theories? on how specific philosophical views have influenced your ordinary behavior?

Public philosophy articles are not academic journal articles; they don’t need to be obsessively researched, be peer-reviewed, or address objections. They need to be engaging, understandable, and relatable.Report

Last edited 3 months ago by Alex LeBrun
Manon Garcia
Manon Garcia
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
3 months ago

I agree overall with your arguments, Justin, but saying that we are living in a golden age of public philosophy with more of it being consumed than ever before seems completely wrong. I don’t see how anyone can think that public philosophy today reaches more people that Sartre, Beauvoir, Camus, or Michel Foucault in their times. Or even Zizek or Iris Murdoch to take two extremes. Public philosophy has been alive and well for decades outside of the very narrow space of American analytic philosophy. So pretending that our current age is the best time of public philosophy can only be based on a very narrow view of which space (only the US, it seems) and which philosophy (only analytic) matter.Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Manon Garcia
3 months ago

Hear! hear!Report

Evan
Reply to  Manon Garcia
3 months ago

Justin said, “public philosophy” and not “philosophy” in general. How many of these 20th/19th-century philosophers did public philosophy? Did they lecture the public? Have they written works aimed for the public? And if so, how widely were they read or listened to? I know Bertrand Russell did a lecture on the Reith Lectures, but so did Onora O’Neill and Kwame Athony Appiah in our time.

The Good Place referenced philosophical ideas and one of the characters was a philosophy professor and it reached 2.3 million viewers. Michael Sandel’s book Justice was aimed at writing for the public and it was a New York Times bestseller.

As well, philosophy YouTubers have gained millions of views like PhilosophyTube and Contrapoints.Report

Manon Garcia
Manon Garcia
Reply to  Evan
3 months ago

I am sorry but asking how many of these 19th/20th c philosophers did public philosophy is exactly displaying the kind of active ignorance I was arguing is displayed in Justin’s post. The very distinction between philosophy and public philosophy is the product of a type of philosophy grounded on the idea that writing for normal people is not part of what it is to do philosophy and only active ignorance of the history of philosophy and of what is philosophy outside of the US can make you think this type of philosophy is the only one there is. Since Socrates himself, a lot of philosophers have actually thought that philosophy was not only and not mostly for philosophers. And The Second Sex has reached much more people than any Contrapoints video!Report

Michael Lynch
Michael Lynch
Reply to  Alex LeBrun
3 months ago

I don’t think we can presume why either the Stone blog or the Disability Blog or various others at the nytimes were discontinued. I doubt it was their popularity or lack thereof–or solely that in any event. Newspapers, like any media outlet make changes for all sorts or reasons and in many ways the Stone had run well beyond what anyone would have imagined at the outset (over 10 years!) Indeed, I have it on good authority that in the early years of the Stone it was one the most widely read sections of the “Opinionator” (the over-all blog site Peter edited). Moreover, as someone who contributed to the blog myself for years, I can say that it certainly opened up my own work to many many readers that I would not have otherwise had. I think they did a great job and a great service to the field. Moreover, I think it played a significant part in the welcome “social turn” that we have seen philosophy take over the last few years, bringing leading figures in the field from George Yancy to Jason Stanley to Linda Alcoff into conversations about race, gender, and the epistemic consequences of far right politics. I am sorry to see it go, but I think philosophy (and the public’s awareness of philosophy) has been better for it.Report

Louis F. Cooper
3 months ago

As perhaps everyone already knows, the label “op-ed” has its origins in the fact that columnists typically appeared opposite the page where the newspaper’s “official,” unsigned editorials were published.

That hard-copy newspapers often take a back seat now to the digital versions is not a good reason to get rid of the label “op-ed” and replace it with the bland “guest essay.” For one thing, the label “op-ed” is broader because it can cover both the regular columnists and the guest essayists. Getting rid of the label “op-ed” strikes me as pointless.Report

Aeon Skoble
Reply to  Louis F. Cooper
3 months ago

Agreed, and I found their rationale “we shouldn’t be bound by the physical layout of the print edition” unconvincing, partly for the reason you give.Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Louis F. Cooper
3 months ago

I specifically remember learning in school what an “op-ed” was, and the origin of the term. If I hadn’t had a particularly enthusiastic English teacher, it’s hard to know when I would have learned it. It seems to me that replacing it with a more transparent phrase of ordinary language is an improvement. (Particularly because it helps clarify the difference between the regular columnists, and the one-offs, which is something that I only learned several years later!)Report

Louis F. Cooper
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
3 months ago

You could be right.

Maybe my attachment to “op-ed” is partly a matter of my age. I grew up with print newspapers (and typewriters, but I’m not even going to go there ;)).Report

mary
mary
3 months ago

Another reason to no longer subscribe!Report