1.1 Selecting the Twelve Journals

This is a study about the trajectory of topics across leading philosophy journals. But presumably most people reading this aren’t interested in philosophy journals as such; they are interested in the trajectory of philosophy. So it is important to select, as far as possible, journals that accurately reflect what’s going on in philosophy.

An obvious idea would be to just use generalist journals, because they will reflect what’s generally happening in philosophy. But this turns out to be a bad idea, since there really aren’t any generalist journals in philosophy. Perhaps because the journals in moral and political philosophy, and in philosophy of science, are so good, the so-called ‘generalist’ journals tend to under-represent work in those fields. Or, perhaps more precisely, they don’t always reflect the cutting edge work in those fields.

In previous work, I noted how little attention the leading generalist journals had paid to two of the most important late twentieth century articles, Elizabeth Anderson’s What is the Point of Equality?, and Peter Machamer, Lindley Darden and Carl Craver’s Thinking about Mechanisms. These papers each have over 2500 Google Scholar citations, but they have barely been mentioned in the leading generalist journals. An accurate picture of recent philosophy has to include the literatures these papers spawned, and those literatures on the whole aren’t found in generalist journals. So to get an accurate picture of philosophy, you need to include at least some specialist journals.

As a reminder, here are the journals that I’ve included.

Journal First Year Number of Articles
Analysis 1933 3393
British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 1950 1803
Ethics 1938 2048
Journal of Philosophy 1921 4389
Mind 1876 4848
Noûs 1967 1280
Philosophical Review 1892 2813
Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 1940 3300
Philosophy and Public Affairs 1971 609
Philosophy of Science 1934 3551
Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 1888 2322
The Philosophical Quarterly 1950 1905

As you can see, there are two moral and political journals, Ethics and Philosophy and Public Affairs, and two philosophy of science journals, Philosophy of Science and British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. I could possibly have got by with just one of each. But I thought Ethics and P&PA brought in different fields of philosophy, and so they were both worth including. And that meant it would be good to balance them with two philosophy of science journals. This had the side benefit that I didn’t have to decide which of those two philosophy of science journals was more representative.

But if I had those four ‘specialist’ journals, I needed enough ‘generalist’ journals that what I had felt representative of philosophy as a whole. Partially to get the balance right, and partially to make the graphs look nice, it felt like I needed eight more journals. I started with the current ‘big four’ journals.

  • Mind
  • The Philosophical Review
  • Journal of Philosophy
  • Noûs

I added Analysis because I wanted to be very sensitive to trends, and it feels (to me at least), that Analysis is often ahead of the trends in the field. That leaves three more spots. Here were the criteria I used to fill those.

  • The data for the journal had to be available through JSTOR’s Data for Reseachers. This was non-negotiable since that was my data source. But it was unfortunate, since it ruled out the Australasian Journal of Philosophy, which would otherwise have been perfect.
  • The journal had to have been publishing for a long time. It wouldn’t help balance much to add a journal that didn’t exist for much of the time I’m looking at. This ruled out Philosophical Studies. That’s a bit of a shame since you can’t tell the story of 21st century philosophy without Philosophical Studies. But it just doesn’t have enough history for the purposes of this study.
  • The journal had to not be too idiosyncratic. I wanted this to tell us something about the field, not just about those journals. This ruled out The Monist, which was very idiosyncratic in its early years. In recent years it is idiosyncratic in a good way; highlighting work the others sometimes overlook. But before World War II it is barely a philosophy journal in any recognisable sense.
  • The journal had to not be too much a philosophy of science journal, since the aim is to balance the two philosophy of science journals we have.
  • The journal had to primarily publish in English, since the analysis tools I’m using simply don’t work for cross-linguistic data sets. The last two criteria ruled out Synthese and Erkenntnis.

After all that, I was left with:

  • Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. This has slightly more non-English work than is ideal for current purposes, but I thought adding a little continental philosophy from its early years was worthwhile. And it became such an important journal that it felt wrong to leave it out.
  • Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society. Note that I’m including the supplementary volumes here.4 This is idiosyncratic in its early years; some secretaries of the Aristotelian Society have a bigger impact on this study than they do on the field. But without it you miss so much of British philosophy, including some themes in contemporary philosophy that aren’t always covered in the other major journals.
  • Philosophical Quarterly. For much of the twentieth century, this is much less prestigious than the other 11 journals I’m looking at. And this will become relevant when I look at the citation data. But it fits the other criteria very well. It adds a Scottish journal to the English and American journals I am otherwise looking at. It has slightly better history coverage than the other journals. And since I worked at St Andrews for so many years, I’m personally fond of it.

You might wonder why I didn’t add any other specialist journals, along with ethics and philosophy of science. The reasons were a bit varied.

I think you probably do get a better sense of mid-century philosophy if you add one logic journal. But you can’t do text mining on symbols. And in more recent years the sense in which the logic journals are primarily philosophy journals as opposed to mathematics journals has gotten weaker. So I left them out.

The twelve journals I have don’t include as much history of philosophy as there is in the profession. But that’s simply unavoidable if you’re doing a study based on journals. History of philosophy is primarily a book discipline not a journal discipline. You can see this in the citation data. Pick almost any prominent figure in history of philosophy, and odds are that I’ll have several journal articles with more citations than their most cited article. The prominent figure you picked will almost surely have several books that are more widely cited than any of my articles; the point isn’t that historians of philosophy are never cited. But they rarely have highly cited articles. Just as importantly, when a history article is widely cited, it usually appears in one of the twelve journals I’ve already included. For this reason, the model that I end up working with does have a lot of history categories. We just have to remember that the absolute numbers of articles in each of these categories is not representative of how important the categories are in philosophy.

And the other specialist journals are either too new (e.g., Mind and Language, or Linguistics and Philosophy) or representative of too small a section of contemporary philosophy to be worth including. Aesthetics, for example, is an important philosophical field. (And it shows up in the model in an interesting way.) But including the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism in the study would have made it look like aesthetics was one-thirteenth of the field. And that’s misleading. So I stuck with these twelve.

  1. And including them causes a few headaches. The articles in the supplementary volumes often have respondants. When they do, the metadata often lists both the original article and the reply article as co-authored. This is bizarre, though even more bizarre is that often the running head on the print article does the same thing. This can totally mess you up if you’re ever calculating philosophical Erdös numbers. (Which you probably know, because you probably have calculated them.) This study isn’t tracking authors, so it isn’t too painful. But I am using auto-generated citations as a way of picking out articles, and they will sometimes look co-authored when they are really not. I’m not going to try fixing this; it’s just a weirdness that we’ll live with.↩︎