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Bill Edmundson
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I had an experiance similar to kurt's. Like kurt, I don't know whether I should say this, but…. I once reviewed a paper by an author whose identity was unknown to me, and I recommended against publishing it. Many months later, I recognized the submission in the pages of the very journal I had refereed for. It was, of course, signed, and the name was a big one. A member of the journal's Editorial Board, too. Perhaps coincidentally, I was not asked again to review for that journal for many years. My opinion of the article itself has never changed; but I am ashamed to say that I doubt that my recommendation would have been the same had I known whose work it was I was judging. ("Revise and resubmit" is the last refuge of scoundrels.) It is possible that I was dead wrong, and that the merits of the piece were so great and so obvious that my review was justly discounted. Readers may judge from their own experience how often their work has muscled its way into the pages of a premier journal over an inept referee's flat recommendation to the contrary. The integrity of blind review requires blindness at the highest editorial levels. Ideally, a journal would have each submission go through an "anonymity check" by someone not otherwise involved in the decision in any way. Submissions that fail that check should not be allowed to go either to the editors or to referees.
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Mar 15, 2010
Stipulate that a theory is a secular theory just in case divinity doesn't come into its details. With the important exception of biology, the natural sciences generally have been secular in that sense at least since Laplace and Kant, and arguably since Bacon. Moral theory in general hasn't been secular in that sense for nearly as long, although many secular moral theories have been around (e.g. Hume's). Moral theory is generally secular today, in that even theologically inspired moral theorizing recognizes it must take care to keep divinity out of its details (typically by offering secularized versions of argumentation to supplement any that require theological assumptions). When did moral theory become generally secular? That's not easy to say. Anglophone moral philosophy was not secularized until the influence of Henry Sidgwick had displaced the influence of William Paley. That was under way during the latter half of the 19th century, and it was accelerated by the influence of Darwin. The transition was almost complete by 1906, when the force of the San Francisco earthquake pitched the statute of Louis Agassiz from the frieze of the Zoology Building at Stanford, causing it to stick javelin-like into the pavement below. Agassiz was an accomplished field zoologist but, as a theorist, an unyielding anti-Darwininan. David Starr Jordan, Stanford president and intellectual wunderkind, was widely said to have quipped that he preferred Agassiz in the concrete to Agassiz in the abstract. That this apocryphal version of another man's quip, running in the opposite direction, should have been the one to go into circulation is evidence that among biologists the "abstract" hypothesis of species as special creations (read: divine creations) had lost out to the evolutionary account. Moral theory could become generally secular only after the natural sciences of life agreed that the coming-to-be and the species-nature of humankind --humankind being the subject of moral theorizing-- could be explained without invoking a divine creator. (The Vatican itself today takes the position that speciation by natural selection is consistent with Catholic teaching.) By this account, secular natural science has had at least a century-long head start over secular moral theory. Unlike moral philosophy, natural science is not necessarily centered on questions about the nature of homo sapiens (and similarly rational beings). Progress in moral theory generally has had to wait on the resolution of a question of natural science that was not one that progress in the natural sciences had to wait on.
I like Robert Allen's last remark, "No arguments, no philosophy." It sounds right. Philosophy, as I understand it, is about how one's commitments, intuitions, or whatever, hang together: about what can go with what, what can't go with what, what things lead to other things, and what the costs are, in terms of giving up some intuitions and commitments to keep others. Subtract the arguments and what's left are the commitments and intuitions but as as points, apercus, along with maybe striking contrasts and appealing analogies, but without the diligent ambition to draw it all together, to qualify what isn't so without the qualification, and to cast away what can't be kept.