Please find the transcription below
Renée Takken: Hi, my name is Renée Takken from Wiley’s Research team and I’m joined today by Professor Joseph Schear, Editor of the European Journal of Philosophy and Associate Professor of Philosophy at Christ Church, University of Oxford. Joseph will be talking to us today about how technology is changing research in philosophy. Thank you for joining us, Joseph.
Joseph Schear: My pleasure, it’s a pleasure to be with you.
RT: Great. Well, first of all, please tell me about EJP and what it’s trying to do.
JS: Well, it’s a timely question because we’re celebrating our 25th birthday this year. The European Journal of Philosophy was founded in 1993 by Mark Sacks. The reason he founded the Journal was because he looked historically in Europe and saw that there were rich exchanges across cultures and countries in philosophical debate but that the last 50 or so years of the 20th century — he was speaking roughly from World War Two up to 1993 — philosophy had been characterized by a fair amount of insularity and intellectual fragmentation.
The contrast between so-called analytical philosophy and continental philosophy, for example, arose during this period. Sacks sensed a growing awareness among philosophers in Europe and beyond to try to overcome this insularity; his idea was to set up one address where philosophers working in different traditions or in the same tradition in different countries in Europe could send their work and make it accessible to others.
He thought the time was right for this. Of course, politically and economically European unity was a very live theme at the time but he didn’t want the question of European unity to be just a political or an economic question but to also be an intellectual and a philosophical question. Now, 25 years later I can say that his project, the philosophical project, has been a major success. EJP is one of the premier journals of philosophy and the journal is recognized across the globe really for the quality of its essays and the breadth of its contributions to a historical and systematic debate.
For example, we see well over 600 submissions per year and we accept less than 10% of them. Over the 25 years of the journal’s existence there’s been an explosion of the kind of work the journal is keen to publish, work that refuses to be ordered by the old divisions and ideologies. Having said all that, there’s still a lot of work to do in order to realize and develop Sacks’ original vision.
Internal to his original vision was an element of geographical diversity, that is to set up a journal that would be a home for philosophy across the different European countries and beyond. In this regard the journal has some way to go. The vast majority of our submissions consistently come from the UK and the United States. The study, for example, of German philosophy and and its history has a very strong presence in the journal — and to some extent French philosophy too — and we would like to see more authors originating from beyond the English-speaking considering EJP a forum for their work. Currently, fewer than 10% of our authors per year originate from Germany and the story is the same for France, Italy, and Spain — much less South America and East Asia where there are strong and growing centers of interest in European philosophy. While we’ve come a long way at EJP in a very short life of 25 years there’s still a long way to go. One of the things we’re going to be trying to do over the next several years is develop some initiatives to try to make EJP an even more attractive destination for philosophers living and working beyond the English-speaking world.
RT: Wow, that’s really impressive and so exciting to hear all the ambitions for the future, thank you very much for that. This year’s theme of the Wiley Humanities Festival is: ‘Why Technology Matters: The Humanities in the Twenty First Century’ How has the rapid onset of technology impacted on the field of philosophy?
JS: That’s an interesting question. The first thing to say about that is that the emergence of technology and the spread of technology in the modern world is itself a subject or a stream of philosophical reflection. One sees this in work inspired by Heidegger and the tradition of Critical Theory that first arose in Frankfurt. Even more recently, you see this, for example, in the so-called ethics of emerging technologies. So developments in artificial intelligence and in robotics and in gene therapies and in social media throw up all kinds of new and interesting philosophical questions that many philosophers are working hard to address.
In addition to technology being a subject or a theme of philosophy, it of course has to be said that technology has changed and impacted the way philosophy is practiced. These points may seem obvious but they have had a profound impact on the field. You can now collaborate and talk to and interact in a very rich way with anyone in the world about whatever you’re interested in.
That sort of bandwidth of communication was not possible for most of philosophy’s history. Now the possibilities of collaboration and interaction and online conferencing and online interviewing and online debates in philosophy has vastly exploded; as a consequence there’s just a whole lot more of philosophy going on across different kinds of media. It used to be just Socrates walking around having conversations and then Plato and onwards writing dialogues, essays, and books. We have all of that now and that’s still the main currency in many respects but the possibilities of conversation the web has made available are now massively amplified.
RT: Yes, exactly. It’s changed the way we do research in philosophy tremendously, which is very exciting because do you think that has also perhaps encouraged diversity in research and publishing?
JS: It depends on what one means by diversity. It is true that philosophical texts and new essays published in philosophical journals — from the very old and obscure to the cutting edge — are now accessible online in a way that they never were before. So it used to be the case that if you wanted to read Nietzsche’s letters to his grandmother, for example, you had to be in a privileged position to go to a special spot in an archive, somewhere in Germany, to find this text. And now these things are available increasingly online and through open access forums.
Inevitably, since there’s more access, more availability, there’s going to be more people who are going to be able to think about these things; one would hope that this would mean that you would have an increase in geographical diversity at the very least. Whether technology has encouraged other forms of diversity in philosophy like gender diversity, for example, or ethnic diversity, I’m afraid I can’t say with confidence that technology has done that. Gender and ethnic diversity are still massive problems in the philosophical profession. There’s now a growing awareness of those problems in contrast to even the recent past but it’s not clear to me that (or how) technology is encouraging diversity in those senses.
I’d like to think about how that could happen. Technology now enables triple-blind editorial reviewing processing, in a way that’s much easier than it was for example when people were submitting articles by mail, where you would presumably have to have some in-house editorial manager block out the name at the top of the page of the submission, perhaps with a heavy black felt pen. Now through ScholarOne for example it’s very easy to institute a triple-blind editorial procedure, which we have done at EJP.
So you might think that from my point of view as editor of EJP, that my not knowing the gender of the submitting author (via the name, for example) would decrease the chances of my unconscious biases against women being activated. So the triple-blind procedure, easily enabled through recent developments in editorial technology, would favour increasing gender diversity. The research on this is not really decisive though. In fact, the research that’s been done in philosophy at least suggests that journals that don’t practice triple-blind reviewing, that is to say journals where editors are aware of the names of the authors of the submissions, in fact score higher as it were on the diversity agenda than those journals that practice triple-blind procedures.
That would be a case where technology might presumably be promising for encouraging and enriching diversity in philosophical publishing, but that hasn’t been the case.
RT: Well, thank you for your thoughtful response on that. Finally, how have the digital humanities changed your own research?
JS: Well, one thing to say about the ‘digital humanities’ is that this is a term that I think means various things in various contexts. One thing that I found helpful is the way in which texts are available online through my phone or tablet in a way that was never possible before. I can be in a talk now, this happened recently: I was listening to a lecture on Heidegger and his views about being. The lecture cited a text in a cursory way just quickly, he didn’t want to dwell on it, and then he moved on in his PowerPoint presentation.
Since the reference was made clear, I was able to call up the text on my phone and look at it a little closer as I listened to his lecture and then think more about why I thought that his use of that text in support of the claim that he was making was questionable. I wouldn’t have been able to linger with that text before I had it on my phone, unless I had luckily brought the book to the lecture. Just the ease of access to texts that digitising the humanities makes available through open access forms (and otherwise) has been massively helpful for humanities research.
It is also true that there have emerged tools which I haven’t used yet myself, but I imagine sometimes in the future I will, tools for analysing and enriching engagement with texts, that sometimes fall under the heading ‘digital humanities’. For example, if I were looking at a Nietzsche text online, as I’m looking at a particular passage there might be a link to several scholarly articles that have been devoted to that passage, or devoted to that paragraph, reference to which pops up as I’m reading the original text.
That kind of thing (though potentially distracting!) should help collaboration and debate in philosophical research and philosophical publishing. Again I haven’t really used that kind of thing myself yet. But that’s more of a function of my being a bit old-fashioned rather than the digital humanities itself being problematic. Philosophers are problem-based and text-based creatures; the problems are pursued largely though texts. The more that texts are accessible and the more they are analysable and manipulable using the tools that the digital humanities makes available, the better as far as I can tell.
RT: Excellent. Well, it’s fascinating to hear about how philosophy as a field continues to develop and now almost reinventing itself in light of and with the support of technological advances. Joseph, thank you very much for sharing your expert insights with us. Also thank you to our listeners and I hope you will enjoy the rest of the Wiley Humanities Festival.