A new philosophy journal article is ruffling some feathers. On the one hand, whatever. I don't actually feel strongly about the subject of the article or even about this this or that argumentative move made in the article, so I decided against identifying it to avoid the appearance that this post is meant to shade that particular article or its author. But I do want to comment on a general trend in professional philosophy of the kind I'm about to describe, given that (I'll purposefully describe it cynically for, uh, clarity's sake):
The historically and presently exclusionary nature of professional philosophy, both with respect to both access and content, have positioned people who've made it into the club to comment on newly popular social issues in a particular way. There is often a very small literature on such topics within the disciplinary boundaries of philosophy, that is, when a literature exists at all. Given the additional fact that current citational norms seem to apply specially or entirely to works written within professional philosophy, one proximate result it that professional philosophers don't have to do very much research to have read "the literature".
These facts, in concert with existing structural facts in the discipline, and make some behaviors predictable:
The Ground Floor Problem: Some scholars will try to can get in on the ground floor. By writing the first defense of x or y, or opening a discussion on z, they can be the standard bearer of a position for years to come, even if they didn't actually say anything - or, to be fairer, anything that couldn't be gleaned from sources outside of the discipline read with a professional philosopher's perspective and set of goals.
The Garbage In Garbage Out Problem: If intellectual standards are real and commensurable (and I think they are both!) then my guess is the standards over this corner of philosophy will be much more lax than from other ones. If no one in the relevant evaluative circle knows the topic area, it's less likely that your work will receive a devastating objection - both because the audience that reviews your work is less likely on average to produce one and, perhaps more importantly, the audience that evaluates challenges to your claims is badly epistemically positioned to evaluate their strength. More importantly, they can attribute a fair amount of ignorance to their audience on both what's been said about the subject and the subject itself, which will interact in important ways with what I go on to say on the prescriptive side of things.
If the norms over professional philosophy subjects is continuously interpreted as importantly involving responses to what one's contemporaries are already saying about them, and scholarliness is graded by the citation of one's past and present colleagues, topics on which professional philosophers have said little or nothing are particularly vulnerable to lasting and damaging distortion.
Much has been said about how to change citation norms in philosophy, especially after observing the stark gender biases around what sort of person (hint: men) tends to be positioned as an agenda setter. Krishnamurthy and Wilson considered a norm on which those positioned to review work intervene to avoid the further marginalization of philosophers from marginalized identities, Arvan countered with a norm requiring philosophers to read everything recent and relevant (presumably in our field, though he doesn't expressly say this). Marcia Baron and Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa point out some contraints on any good norm, reparative or not: respectively, that a norm over citation doesn't generate perverse distributions of intellectual labor that harm the norm's intended beneficiaries, and that such a norm also doesn't turn citation into such a weighty and laborious goal that it makes the author lose focus on their philosophical project.
I largely agree with Baron and Jenkins Ichikawa on what should constrain citation norms in the interest of fairness or justice with respect to professional philosophers, both the author and their colleagues. And I recognize Krishnamurthy/Wilson and Arvan as also admirably concerned with that kind of justice, though I disagree with their stated ways of pursuing it. Specifically, I think the pursuit of fairness and justice outside of the discipline is incompatible with the field's norms as they are and these two specific alternatives.
I'll start with a cheap shot and work my way to fairness. Much of the discussion about citation norms has gone by without anyone ever discussing how or even whether philosophers actually know what they're talking about. If philosophy is to be in a relation of use or even of basic respect to those in the society whose labor makes it possible to exist as a profession, we might stare at that problem a bit longer. A fairer, more charitable, and less petty me will concede that this is probably a background commitment of everyone involved in the discussion. After all, many philosophical debates deal with things that don't require specialized knowledge to grasp the phenomenon at issue. Some other debates are of fairly parochial interest to professional philosophers, and one can skip the commentary of other academic disciplines or social formations outside the university without putting their competence of the underlying phenomenon at risk.
But for some topics this just isn't so. For some topics, not everyone knows what's going on, and the people that do aren't congregated in philosophy departments - either because they are in different departments or because it concerns a kind of knowledge that isn't sedimented in the university at all. A philosophical paper on the organization of hospitals, for example, had better be accountable to medical workers some type of way, yet it is often more obvious to see moves in a paper attempt to appeal to metaphysicians who taught a bioethics class that one summer. Historians, political scientists, activists, and government officials might have something to say about your paper on policy. And, to lower the veneer very slightly: there are entire departments on many campuses for the discussion of race and gender, at some universities, there are labor studies departments, at some, disability studies departments, and there still seems to be a norm allowing philosophers to reinvent those wheels. A handy rule of thumb: if there's a department dedicated to the subject area your journal article fits in and you are not prepared to defend your paper in a talk to that department, do not attempt to publish. The underlying idea: for philosophers to continue to regard their own as the primary site of intellectual accountability is to confuse the professional incentives deciding who gets to sit with the cool kids at the conference with principles that are actually about knowing shit.
Of course, individuals doing work in these areas have often taken it upon themselves to get exactly the kind of feedback I'm pointing to. But there doesn't seem to be an analogue of those individual efforts at the level of discipline-wide norms. So, here's a pair of not particularly elegant norms I endorse:
Kid in a Candy Store (Epistemic Norm): read your ass off, anything that seems relevant. also cite whichever of these you end up making use of.
Kid in the Hot Seat (Practical Norm): present your work formally or informally to your subject-peers outside of philosophy (whether in other academic disciplines or outside of academia)
A caveat up front, given how folks have responded to these: I'm certainly not saying that philosophers should read any and respond to everything that is related to what they are thinking about. Indeed, a basic premise of my thinking on this is that doing that would be literally impossible. I just fail to infer from that impossibility to the (I think) wildly implausible conclusions that disciplinary boundaries are good epistemic clues as to what one should read given the impossibility of reading everything, or the equally implausible conclusion that, because philosophers do not and cannot know everything, they are justified in assuming that they already know enough (please hire me).
The Kid in the Hot Seat norm basically says that we should make a discipline wide (perhaps institutionalized?) practice of the thing that some individual philosophers do, which is present their work in multiple related fields, whether it's a meeting for lunch or giving a formal talk or lecture. Basically the aspiration is to have an answer to the question "what does (relevant community) generally say about this idea of yours?"
*thanks to a number of people on Facebook for helping me think about these ideas, particularly Leif Hancox-Li, Axelle Karera, Liam Kofi Bright, Jared Rodriguez, Meena Krishnamurthy, and others