7.4 Topics and Decades

So far I’ve broken down the years by what I’ve called eras. These are helpful because they feature equal numbers of articles, and if you squint the right way they correspond to philosophically significant periods. But most people are more familiar with decades than with any kinds of eras like this. (Having the first era end in 1945 was fortuitous, but otherwise they are a bit arbitrary.) So I thought I’d run all the tests from the previous three sections with decades rather than eras as the underlying unit. Start with the 90 topics broken down by which are the most popular and the least popular topics in each decade. (As above, I’m using weighted sums of articles as the main measure here.)

Table 7.14: Most popular topics in each decade
1890s 1900s 1910s 1920s 1930s 1940s
Idealism Idealism Idealism Idealism Idealism Idealism
Psychology Psychology Life and Value Life and Value Ordinary Language Ordinary Language
Life and Value Life and Value Ordinary Language Ordinary Language Definitions Life and Value
Ordinary Language Ordinary Language Psychology Other History Life and Value Methodology of Science
Other History Other History Other History Psychology Methodology of Science Definitions
1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s
Ordinary Language Ordinary Language Ordinary Language Ordinary Language Ordinary Language Ordinary Language
Meaning and Use Meaning and Use Arguments Arguments Arguments Composition and Constitution
Verification Verification Sets and Grue Justification Justification Arguments
Idealism Sets and Grue Promises and Imperatives Theories and Realism Composition and Constitution Norms
Definitions Promises and Imperatives Verification Truth Reasons Justification

That’s mostly not that interesting. Idealism is the big story early, then the two ‘topics’ that are really more styles or techniques than topics - Ordinary Language and Arguments - are the big stories later. It is a bit interesting that some things come up a decade or two after the time I associate them with. I did not expect Sets and Grue, or Verification, to be the big stories of the 1970s. But this is just a story that we’ve seen a few times now; philosophical debates don’t burn out, they just fade away.

Let’s quickly look at the bottom of these lists, remembering that these are very noisy measures especially in the early decades.

Table 7.15: Least popular topics in each deacde
1890s 1900s 1910s 1920s 1930s 1940s
Norms Belief Ascriptions Formal Epistemology Population Ethics Formal Epistemology Abortion and Self-Defence
Population Ethics Models Models Formal Epistemology Population Ethics Belief Ascriptions
Cognitive Science Population Ethics Quantum Physics Belief Ascriptions Cognitive Science Formal Epistemology
Sense and Reference Quantum Physics Population Ethics Models Belief Ascriptions Cognitive Science
Models Races and DNA Belief Ascriptions Cognitive Science Abortion and Self-Defence Frankfurt Cases
1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s
Population Ethics Cognitive Science Vagueness Psychology Psychology Psychology
Wide Content Population Ethics Wide Content Races and DNA Beauty Heidegger and Husserl
Abortion and Self-Defence Vagueness Races and DNA Functions Heidegger and Husserl History and Culture
Cognitive Science Wide Content Game Theory History and Culture History and Culture Beauty
Game Theory Races and DNA Cognitive Science Beauty Faith and Theism Faith and Theism

The first table is almost all noise. In the first five columns, all of the topics listed have fewer than 1 article in each of the decades. The model getting confused by the words in one short article matching keywords of a later topic is enough to move off this list.

The second table is a bit more interesting. The model really doesn’t think we started talking about semantic externalism until the 1980s. I’ve mentioned this a couple of times now, and it really surprises me. And I thought at least some Cognitive Science work was getting going by the 1970s, though perhaps it just wasn’t turning up in these journals. In the last two decades, the relative erasure of traditional aesthetics and philosophy of religion from the twelve journals is quite striking. I thought in the 2000s the model would have been confused enough by Sleeping Beauty papers to have seen more aesthetics articles. It’s perhaps possible things went the other way, and actual aesthetics articles were mixed up with formal epistemology.

It’s a bit more interesting, I think, to look at the top of these tables after normalisation. So these tables rank the topics by what percentage of the works in that topic are in each decade. (Again, it’s weighted sum of articles that I’m using as the main underlying measure. And I’m normalising by the weighted sum of articles in each topic over the decades covered, i.e., 1890-2010, not over the whole study from 1876-2013.)

Table 7.16: Most distinctive topics in each decade
1890s 1900s 1910s 1920s 1930s 1940s
Psychology Idealism Idealism Idealism Idealism History and Culture
Idealism Psychology Psychology Life and Value Definitions Heidegger and Husserl
Self-Consciousness Self-Consciousness Life and Value Psychology Propositions and Implications Dewey and Pragmatism
Emotions Life and Value Self-Consciousness Physicalism Early Modern Beauty
Life and Value Dewey and Pragmatism Other History Other History Physicalism Marx
1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s
Meaning and Use Verification Crime and Punishment Duties Wide Content Models
History and Culture Meaning and Use Egalitarianism Abortion and Self-Defence Cognitive Science Evolutionary Biology
Verification Promises and Imperatives Radical Translation Medical Ethics and Freud Population Ethics Vagueness
Definitions Crime and Punishment Abortion and Self-Defence Population Ethics Quantum Physics Composition and Constitution
Dewey and Pragmatism War Feminism Egalitarianism Reasons Norms

The early decades are not much of a surprise. The big topics from those years are big in every decade, with slightly more attention paid to history as we get into the 20th Century.

Early Modern hits a high point in the 1930s before Ryle stops it appearing in Mind.

The founding of Philosophy and Phenomenological Research makes Heidegger and Husserl particularly prominent in the 1940s.

And there is a sudden burst, especially in Journal of Philosophy of attention both to philosophy of History and Culture, and to Aesthetics. Unlike the attention to pragmatism and other distinctively American fields, these two topics don’t disappear in the earyl 1950s, but they do slow down rapidly.

Wittgensteinian philosophy turns up in the middle of the century, just like you’d expect.

And then one that is a surprise to me: Feminism having its distinctive decade be the 1970s. Looking back, especially at Ethics, there was a bit more feminist philosophy published then than in later decades. Before doing this project, I had a mental picture of Anglophone analytic philosophy being very hostile to feminist work, and this very very slowly breaking down over the last few decades. This looks a bit like evidence against that view, so let’s dig a little deeper into where these articles are coming from. Here is a list of the articles from the 1970s that the model gives a probability of at least 0.4 of being in Feminism.

  1. E. D. Watt (1970) “Professor Cohen’s Encyclical” Ethics 80:218-221.
  2. James W. Nickel (1972) “Discrimination And Morally Relevant Characteristics” Analysis 32:113-114.
  3. J. L. Cowan (1972) “Inverse Discrimination” Analysis 33:10-12.
  4. Don E. Marietta,Jr. (1972) “On Using People” Ethics 82:232-238.
  5. Philip Silvestri (1973) “The Justification Of Inverse Discrimination” Analysis 34:31-31.
  6. Michael D. Bayles (1973) “Reparations To Wronged Groups” Analysis 33:182-184.
  7. William A. Nunniii (1974) “Reverse Discrimination” Analysis 34:151-154.
  8. James W. Nickel (1974) “Should Reparations Be To Individuals Or To Groups?” Analysis 34:154-160.
  9. Robert Simon (1974) “Preferential Hiring: A Reply To Judith Jarvis Thomson” Philosophy and Public Affairs 3:312-320.
  10. Robert C. Solomon (1974) “Sexual Paradigms” Journal of Philosophy 71:336-345.
  11. Alison Jaggar (1974) “On Sexual Equality” Ethics 84:275-291.
  12. W. E. Cooper (1975) “What Is Sexual Equality And Why Does Tey Want It?” Ethics 85:256-257.
  13. Alan H. Goldman (1975) “Reparations To Individuals Or Groups?” Analysis 35:168-170.
  14. William T. Blackstone (1975) “Freedom And Women” Ethics 85:243-248.
  15. Joyce Trebilcot (1975) “Sex Roles: The Argument From Nature” Ethics 85:249-255.
  16. George Sher (1975) “Justifying Reverse Discrimination In Employment” Philosophy and Public Affairs 4:159-170.
  17. Stanley S. Kleinberg (1976) “Woodruff On Discrimination” Analysis 37:46-48.
  18. Paul Woodruff (1976) “What’s Wrong With Discrimination?” Analysis 36:158-160.
  19. L. M. Purdy (1976) “Abortion And The Husband’s Rights: A Reply To Wesley Teo” Ethics 86:247-251.
  20. Sara Ann Ketchum and Christine Pierce (1976) “Implicit Racism” Analysis 36:91-95.
  21. Janice Moulton (1976) “Sexual Behavior: Another Position” Journal of Philosophy 73:537-546.
  22. Alan H. Goldman (1976) “Affirmative Action” Philosophy and Public Affairs 5:178-195.
  23. Gertrude Ezorsky (1977) “On”Groups And Justice"" Ethics 87:182-185.
  24. Anne C. Minas (1977) “How Reverse Discrimination Compensates Women” Ethics 88:74-79.
  25. Gertrude Ezorsky (1977) “Hiring Women Faculty” Philosophy and Public Affairs 7:82-91.
  26. Mary Anne Warren (1977) “Secondary Sexism And Quota Hiring” Philosophy and Public Affairs 6:240-261.
  27. Susan Moller Okin (1977) “Philosopher Queens And Private Wives: Plato On Women And The Family” Philosophy and Public Affairs 6:345-369.
  28. Paul Woodruff (1978) “Unfair To Groups: A Reply To Kleinberg” Analysis 38:62-64.
  29. Robert S. Gerstein (1978) “Intimacy And Privacy” Ethics 89:76-81.
  30. Jane English (1978) “Sex Equality In Sports” Philosophy and Public Affairs 7:269-277.
  31. Robert Gray (1978) “Sex And Sexual Perversion” Journal of Philosophy 75:189-199.
  32. Bernard R. Boxill (1978) “The Morality Of Preferential Hiring” Philosophy and Public Affairs 7:246-268.
  33. John Robertson (1979) “Woodruff On Reverse Discrimination” Analysis 39:54-57.
  34. Sara Ann Ketchum (1979) “Evidence, Statistics And Rights: A Reply To Simon” Analysis 39:148-153.
  35. George Sher (1979) “Reverse Discrimination, The Future, And The Past” Ethics 90:81-87.

Four things about this list jump out. One is that a lot of these articles are very short. If I’d weighted by pages not by articles, the topic probably wouldn’t have turned up on this list. A second is that these articles are as much about race as about gender. That’s not too surprising; a lot of philosophers still talk as if “race-and-gender” is a single word. And the model reflects that. A third is that there are a lot of men on this list. And a fourth is that the median topic here is how awfully bad affirmative action is, and how it’s really just as bad as the discrimination it is supposed to remedy. To be fair, a number of philosophers (including some of the men) are replying to this argument. But it’s a bit special how much more interested philosophers got in discrimination once affirmative action became a live possibility.

I’ll end this section with a quick look at the topics that have the lowest percentages of their works in a particular decade. Since there are many topics in any decade with practically zero works, this is a very noisy measure.

Table 7.17: Least distinctive topics in each decade
1890s 1900s 1910s 1920s 1930s 1940s
Norms Quantum Physics Formal Epistemology Population Ethics Formal Epistemology Abortion and Self-Defence
Population Ethics Population Ethics Quantum Physics Formal Epistemology Population Ethics Formal Epistemology
Sense and Reference Belief Ascriptions Models Belief Ascriptions Cognitive Science Belief Ascriptions
Radical Translation Models Population Ethics Radical Translation Belief Ascriptions Cognitive Science
Space and Time Radical Translation Modality Norms Norms Population Ethics
1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s
Population Ethics Cognitive Science Idealism Idealism Psychology Psychology
Wide Content Population Ethics Psychology Psychology Idealism Idealism
Abortion and Self-Defence Wide Content Vagueness Life and Value Verification Heidegger and Husserl
Cognitive Science Evolutionary Biology Wide Content Other History Beauty History and Culture
Formal Epistemology Vagueness Other History Verification Life and Value Verification

Most of that is noise, but the one thing that jumps out is the low position of “Other History” in the 1970s and 1980s. There was less and less history in these journals over time. But even within the space allocated to history, the focus got really narrow for a while I think things have gotten a little better in recent years, and especially after the end of this study, but for a while it was a striking gap in the literature.