Guest Post by Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa
Recent discussions (e.g.. Marcus Arvan at dailynous HERE and Meena Krishnamurthy and Jessica Wilson at What's Wrong? HERE) about citation practices leave me confused. A few things are clear: properly credit ideas to the first person to have and/or publish them; don't just cite your friends; don't overlook women or minorities or non-native English speakers or disabled people or people who work at departments without PhD programs. (I'm not saying these are easy to implement, just that I'm not, like, confused about what the Good and the Bad is.)
But then people say stuff like, you have to cite everything that bears on what you're talking about, because it's not your place to judge what is and isn't worthy of discussion. And this one, I don't know what to think about or do with. I mean, for one thing, on at least some natural readings of 'bears', I can't do it. I just can't. Here’s my own current situation. I am writing a book on contextualism and the knowledge first program. It discusses Lewisian contextualism, counterfactuals, theories of evidence, theories of justification, norms of practical reasoning, norms of assertion, and belief. And those are just the topics there are whole chapters about. It also discusses in significant but more peripheral ways topics like quantifiers, presupposition, skepticism, foundationalism, basic knowledge, perception, disjunctivism, intuition, epistemic internalism, content externalism, ethics, and propositional attitude ascriptions. I have been writing this book for over four years; it is finally, I hope, nearly complete. But there are dozens—sometimes hundreds—of important publications on EACH of these topics that I don't have space to discuss, or even the time to digest fully. The solution can't be that people need to be spending way more time working on books than I've been doing—not if people with jobs should ever write books. And even if I had unlimited time, my book doesn't have unlimited space, and my audience doesn't have unlimited attention. And I'm not really willing to believe that the solution is that I shouldn't publish this book. This is going to be a good book, and contribute to a number of literatures in various helpful ways. But it's not going to cite everything.
How do I decide which things to cite, then, if it's not everything? This is a much harder question. Like I said up top, I try to cite the source for every important idea I discuss (whether or not I got the idea that way). If there's a publication that successfully refutes something I say, I should cite it. (I should probably also say something different instead.) But what else? Which of the many people who have argued for something somewhat similar, but somewhat different, to one of my points? Which of the many people who have attempted an argument against something I argue for? Which of the many people who have given an argument against something I'm presupposing?
Some published work is bad, and drawing further focus on it is a disservice to the profession. On the other hand, some published work goes wrong in an instructive way, and so it's useful to focus on it. Some work is great, but comes at the question from such an alien angle—rejecting many deep presuppositions of my project, say—such that engaging with it properly would require a radical sidetrack.
Some work is under-recognized; sometimes it's an intellectual good to draw philosophical attention to it. Some work is over-rated; perhaps it's less valuable to discuss it—but then, perhaps referees will insist. On the other hand, if a widely-accepted argument is mistaken, it's an intellectual good to explain why.
I do think it's a mistake to pretend that our citation choices don't have a significant effect on the discipline. But I think that's a responsibility we just have to grapple with; there's no one weird trick for value-neutral citation practices. (I think sometimes the 'cite everything' movement is motivated by the mistaken idea that it's one such.)
But I also have a responsibility to my own book. It has to be an interesting, coherent monograph with a comprehensible narrative. It can't spend most of its time running down rabbit-holes, rebutting dozens of people who have argued against various of my claims from totally unrelated points of view. It would be completely unreadable if it did that. So my choices about citations can't just be about the state of the discipline and the intrinsic merits of the publications I'm considering citing; I must also preferentially select sources that help me tell the story I'm trying to tell.
My book will probably end up having between 200–300 sources cited. This feels like a lot, in part because I’ve been worrying about underciting. But there’s at least an order of magnitude more publications that pass the ‘said something that bears on something I said’ test—there are thousands of things such that each of them would be a reasonably relevant thing to cite. Most of them, I’m making a judgment call to leave out.
No doubt, I'm going to make some judgment calls incorrectly. Probably I'm even going to make some judgment calls incorrectly because of ugly biases I have. I'm trying not to do that, but it's likely I won't avoid it entirely. I will apologize for such if and when I realize it. (This is something I'm totally willing to be called out on. I think it’s helpful to have these discussions, even when it’s uncomfortable.) But I won't and can't apologize for accepting the responsibility of taking a role in shaping the discourse in the area. That's what publishing is