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Is a “10 Best Papers of the Year in Ethics” thing Worth Doing?

I’ve always thought that Philosopher’s Annual thing that puts out a top 10 articles of the year list tries to come up with such a list too quickly. It takes most of us some years to get around to reading stuff and even longer to have a sense of whether the paper was really interesting and valuable. But obviously if you wait too long papers from a particular year will no longer be vivid before us. So how long would it be ideal to wait before attempting such a thing–2 years? 4 years? Also, how would one best do it? Is there a voting system where all with a background in philosophy—say anyone who attended philosophy grad school–could vote that would be tolerably safe from voting mischief? Who ought to be able to vote on such a thing? Should it only be specialists in the area of the paper? Finally, is such a thing worth doing at all? It could seemingly helpfully pool our collective wisdom concerning papers that are important and perhaps not widely known. Or it could possibly just be an elitist exercise that is bound to work the benefit of the already well-known? Finally, I had in mind such a thing only for ethics stuff broadly construed. Is this worth doing and if so how should it be done?

3 Responses to Is a “10 Best Papers of the Year in Ethics” thing Worth Doing?

  1. Paul Prescott says:

    I vote ‘no.’ It seems to me that the ‘best of’ approach has consistently proven counterproductive. I don’t meant to suggest that it’s a bad idea in theory. But in actual practice, I don’t believe that the professional environment encouraged by such practices is constructive for the discipline, much less for the actual advancement of good philosophy, which often takes time to be met with recognition.

  2. David Shoemaker says:

    I don’t understand how the “best of” approach has “consistently proven counterproductive.” Has the Philosopher’s Annual in any way contributed to the professional environment in non-constructive ways? How so, precisely? I look at it and see articles I should think about reading from other sub-disciplines, which I’d have never known about otherwise, working in my own little world. That’s it. Have I somehow failed to pick up some signals about elites or failed to note how the rich get richer? These are surely all very excellent articles typically in very excellent journals.

    Now I can understand the thought that picking the “best” 10 is silly, as there’s no way nominators can read all the relevant articles and value across sub-disciplines is likely incommensurable. But there is a value to the list that shouldn’t be overlooked, namely, what I noted above: one can spread the word about excellent articles that others might have missed, and that could well be very helpful and interesting for one’s own work. And Sobel’s idea about waiting a few years is, astonishingly, a good one. So just have people nominate what they think of as truly excellent articles from, say, 2016-2018. Then figure out how to have people vote in a non-gaming way (e.g., register their professional emails with an .edu address and they can only vote once), and you’ll have a list of “The Most Notable Papers in Moral Philosophy from 2016-2018, As Voted on by the Readers of PEA Soup.” Surely some of the rich will get richer, but surely also some of the poor will get greater notice.

  3. Paul Prescott says:

    Re: “the ‘best of’ approach has consistently proven counterproductive.”

    I intended this as a thinly-veiled reference to practices of the Leiter Reports, which leads me, at least, to be very cautious. But mostly, I was just attempting to start a conversation on the proposal. I certainly agree that David’s idea of waiting a few years is a good one.

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