More on the Philosopher’s Annual

Despite the fact that the Philosophers Annual (PA) is doing better on the political philosophy front, I have a few worries that were prompted by discussions on Facebook (thanks to J.D. and E.B. and others for bringing my attention to these issues). It seems that the PA has recognized papers in philosophy of race only twice since the year 2000: from the literature of 2001, Robert Bernasconi, “Who Invented the Concept of Race?”; and from the literature of 2000, Sally Haslanger, “Gender and Race: (What) Are They? (What) Do We Want Them To Be?” Something similar seems to be true of feminist philosophy as well. There have been three papers recognized in the area of feminist philosophy since 2000: from the literature of 2007, Sally Haslanger, “But Mom, Crop Tops are Cute! Social Knowledge, Social Structure and Ideology Critique”; from the literature of 2001, Karen Jones, “The Politics of Credibility”; from the literature of 2000, Sally Haslanger, “Gender and Race: (What) Are They? (What) Do We Want Them To Be?” Admittedly, I did a quick and incomplete survey (considering only up to the year 2000). If anyone has determined the exact numbers of entries in these two areas since the beginning of the PA, I would be grateful if you could share that information with me.

It cannot possibly be true that of the very best articles in philosophy since 2000 that only 5 of the best articles are in the area of race and gender. That we are led to this conclusion by the PA may suggest that there is something wrong with the methodology behind the PA.   So, what exactly is the methodology? Last year, in the comments on Eric Schliesser’s post about the exclusionary nature of the PA, David Chalmers very kindly shared the following:

i’ve been on the editorial board of the philosophers’ annual for years, but its inner workings are still somewhat obscure to me. i believe that the board members are selected by the overall editor, patrick grim, sometimes in response to suggestions from other board members. every year the board members are invited first to nominate articles and then to comment on and rate articles that have been nominated. then a group consisting of grim and three michigan graduate students (who change from year to year) choose the final selection of ten articles based on that information. i always supposed that board members’ comments were used as the main input into that process, but i’ve been told that in fact they’re only used to compile a list of 20 or so finalists — then all prior information is set aside while the four members of the core group read all the articles and compile a top ten. it’s not surprising that as a result, the selections in the annual in recent years show a heavy topical bias toward certain areas, correlating with topics of interest to the overall editors and to people at michigan (most striking in the case of formal philosophy, a specialty of both grim and the michigan program), and a corresponding bias away from certain other areas. of course grim deserves credit for getting the whole process started in the first place; and it’s not at all easy to figure out what a really good system for deciding the results would be.

I am not entirely sure who the “core group” consists of, but if the core group does not contain philosophers who specialize in philosophy of race or feminist philosophy this might explain why those areas are marginalized in the selection process. Similar things can be said about political philosophy and other typically excluded areas.

What should be done about this? As Chalmers suggests, it would be very difficult, if not almost impossible, to create a good selection system (though Alex Guerrero in the comments here suggests that something similar to the PGR might work). Perhaps we should simply eliminate the PA. Or, perhaps, rather than representing itself as choosing the very best articles in philosophy, the PA should represent itself as choosing the best articles from a certain perspective in philosophy. I don’t think that this would necessarily be a bad option. It would just be a matter of laying the cards on the table and we (the readers) would have a clearer idea of what the PA’s game is about.

Update: Brian Leiter thinks my criticism of the PA is unconvincing, noting that many areas outside of the ones I have mentioned have been under-represented or excluded such as the history of philosophy, philosophy of law, and aesthetics. I agree wholeheartedly with him about this and thank him for continuing the discussion. However, the fact that a number of areas have been excluded again and again (for well over a decade) only goes to my point. The PA does not necessarily represent the best articles in Philosophy (as a discipline), but the best articles from a particular perspective. I think this is fine. It just needs to be made clearer by those who run the PA.

Update:  phrynefisher at Feminist Philosophers  discusses some very important issues about which practitioners get represented in the PA, noting that “90% of this year’s best papers are by men. And this is not an unusual gender ratio for Annual volumes.”  This is well worth reading.