Who is the best philosopher? What is the best philosophical idea? What is the best philosophy book ever written? These are not, to put it politely, the best questions.
We all know that. There are so many distinct properties that are fairly reasonably taken into account in evaluations of philosophers, ideas, and books, and so many reasonable ways to weight these factors, and so many reasonable ways to specify “best” (best at best). what? The best for what?), that any attempt to identify the “best” philosopher, idea or unqualified book will be an exercise in equivocation and confusion.
And this question: what is the best philosophy journal? Seems to me to be an article with the previous ones, but while most academic philosophers would find these other questions embarrassingly naive and reluctant to answer them without various qualifiers and caveats, it seems that many are taking this question on the journals. seriously.
For example, when Brian Leiter (Chicago) asks his blog readers which reviews are the best (here, for example), several hundred people, probably many of them philosophers, proceed to their classification in a survey of which he publishes the results. I think the most charitable interpretation of what respondents to surveys like this think they are doing is to answer the question “which journals have a higher proportion of articles that I deem to be of high quality”? (Some may instead answer the question, “Which journals have a higher proportion of articles that I consider most of the others to be of high quality?”, But I will leave that possibility and its complications aside.) If so true, the survey results tell us overall what respondents think is the likelihood that an article published in a journal is of high quality; the higher the newspaper appears in the results, the more likely it is that an article in it is an article that respondents would consider high quality.
Such surveys can be informative. (Perhaps similar information could be gleaned from examining journal acceptance rates.) However, since respondents to such surveys do not specify the criteria by which they rate articles published in journals, since we do not know who is choosing to answer such surveys and are therefore limited in our ability to guess their criteria, since aggregation can smooth out interesting details, and (to deviate for a moment from the most charitable behavior of respondents) Since such surveys can be self-reinforcing in ways that affect how people respond to them, they are limited.
It could therefore be useful to be more explicit on the criteria used to judge philosophy reviews. Now, of course, there are different aspects of philosophy journals to judge (e.g. how well they handle the editorial experience from the author’s point of view, how accessible their content is, composition), but let’s focus on their content.
That is, when you think about the quality of the work that journals publish in order to form judgments on philosophy journals, what do you think of? When making a judgment on the quality of a philosophy journal, what do you pay attention to with regard to the articles published by that journal?
I hope that the responses to this article will generate criteria and vocabulary for making increasingly varied reviews of journal quality (perhaps for use in surveys or other information resources). A richer, pluralistic, and more transparent understanding of journal quality can be useful to potential authors considering where to send their work, and to readers and researchers who might be exposed to philosophical work that they would otherwise have overlooked, and could potentially reduce backlogs in some journals currently near the top of monolithic rankings.
(This post is the result of a social media conversation started by Quill Kukla.)