On Philosophy’s Uselessness to Society – Daily Nous

In “Publishing in Philosophy,” Michael Huemer, professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado, provides an abundance of detailed and helpful advice about writing and publishing philosophical work. He also includes several criticisms of the refereeing system and some suggestions for fixing it. Along the way is an interesting discussion of philosophy’s uselessness to society.  He draws attention to three aspects of this uselessness [emphasis added]: 1. Unwanted Writings The philosophy publication system is also pretty much useless to society, where it seems to me that one might reasonably have hoped for something useful. Quite a bit of intellectual talent and energy is being channeled into producing thousands upon thousands of papers and books that hardly anyone will ever read or want to read. These articles and books are written almost entirely for other academics working in the same sub-sub-sub-specialization that the author works in. The main reason they are written is so that the author can get tenure or otherwise get credit for publishing. The main reason they are read even by the tiny number of people who read them is so that the readers can cite those articles in their own articles. Some years ago, I looked up statistics on how much philosophy was being published. At the time, the Philosopher’s Index (which indexed most articles and books in the English-speaking world) was getting 14,000 new records per year. The number has probably expanded greatly since then. PhilPapers presently lists 646 new records this week. What proportion of those books and articles could the average philosopher possibly read? In my years in the profession, I have read many papers. Almost none of them were read for the purpose of my learning anything interesting from them. Most were read solely so that I could give an evaluation to them – as in the case of student papers, which are written solely to be graded and then are generally thrown away; or journal submissions, which one reads solely so that one can say whether they should be published. My guess is that I’ve read more journal submissions as a referee than I’ve read published papers as a scholar. When the main reason why people do x is so that someone else can evaluate their ability..

Source: On Philosophy’s Uselessness to Society – Daily Nous