JAPA the Hutt? Three Anticipatory Worries about the New Journal of the APA

Banksy considers tagging Jabba the Hutt.

The incomparable Wikipedia tells us that:

Jabba the Hutt is a fictional character appearing in George Lucas’s space opera film saga Star Wars. He is depicted as a large, slug-like alien. His appearance has been described by film critic Roger Ebert as “Dickensian,” a cross between a toad and the Cheshire Cat.

The equally incomparable American Philosophical Association (APA) tells us that:

[it] plans to establish a new journal, the Journal of the American Philosophical Association (J-APA). This journal will be published in cooperation with Cambridge University Press. [T]he APA has established a distinguished committee to guide [it] in [its] plans for this journal and to search for inaugural editors and associate editors. This committee consists of Julia Annas, University of Arizona; Robert Audi (chair), University of Notre Dame; David Rasmussen, Boston College; T. M. Scanlon, Harvard University; Sally Scholz, Villanova University; Ernest Sosa, Rutgers University; and Alison Wylie, University of Washington. [It is] very pleased to say that this committee is now in full search mode.

My leading question is whether the J-APA, a.k.a. JAPA, is going to turn out to be, in effect, nothing but a large, slug-like alien, and a cross between a toad and the Cheshire Cat. I will very shortly explain what I mean by that, but first I want to define a technical term.

Jabba the Hutt with a hooka full of APA goodness.

The recent PhilPapers survey in 2009 was sent to all tenure-track philosophers at the so-called top-ranked 100 departments of philosophy worldwide. Some 2000 philosophers were surveyed. So that’s an average of 20 philosophers per so-called top-ranked department. I think it’s reasonable to believe that only the top 25 of those departments really matter in the great scheme of professional philosophical things, and that the other 75 departments are mostly methodological, content-based, and institutional mirrors of the top 25—basically, top 25 wannabees. So let’s call the 500 philosophers at those top 25 departments The Fortune 500 Philosophy Club. You know who you are.

Now back to JAPA. It seems clear to me that, on the one hand, the creation of JAPA is a direct reaction to a healthy and even pleasingly subversive complaint expressed by many APA rank-and-file members over the years: namely, that the members of The Fortune 500 Philosophy Club have a methodological, content-based, and institutional stranglehold on publishing at the top journals. So in that sense, it is an excellent idea to have a new top-flight philosophy journal that might break that three-way stranglehold.

On the other hand, however, I have three serious worries about the JAPA initiative.

First, it seems to me entirely possible that JAPA will simply end up further entrenching the methodological status quo in The Fortune 500 Philosophy Club, with at most a phony nod to “diversity” and the rank-and-file’s genuine complaint, by having one article per issue (or every second issue, or whatever) from each of the four all-too-familiar AOS areas (M&E, Values, History of Philosophy, Continental Philosophy), thus tying us up even more tightly into that philosophical straightjacket.

Second, it seems to me entirely possible that JAPA will simply end up further entrenching the content-based status quo at The Fortune 500 Philosophy Club, again with at most a phony nod to “diversity” and the rank-and-file’s genuine complaint, by exclusively, or almost exclusively, publishing papers that in effect replicate the doxological results of the PhilPapers survey, as recorded in Bourget’s and Chalmers’s “What Do Philosophers Believe?”

Third and finally, it seems to me entirely possible that JAPA will simply end up further entrenching the institutional status quo at The Fortune 500 Philosophy Club, yet again with at most a phony nod to “diversity” and the rank-and-file’s genuine complaint, by selecting the editor and the editorial board exclusively, or almost exclusively, from the members of The Fortune 500 Philosophy Club.

If so, then although it is true that there will be at least one more venue for publishing papers, which will surely benefit some of the 2000 members of the so-called top-ranked 100 philosophy departments, nevertheless, really, nothing will have changed.

In other words, if my worries are on target, then JAPA will indeed turn out to be, in effect, nothing but a large, slug-like alien, and a cross between a toad and the Cheshire Cat: JAPA the Hutt.

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About Z

Z is a 50-something cosmopolitan anarcho-philosopher, and previously was a tenured full professor of philosophy at a public university somewhere in North America, but still managed to escape with his life.

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