Jorge J. E. Gracia (1942-2021)

I am very sorry to report that Jorge Gracia died earlier this week. Readers of this blog will know him best for his work in medieval philosophy, but throughout his career the inspiring breadth of his interests surely caused many to think, “There must be more than one Jorge Gracia.”

Happenings in July

I’ve been very negligent in posting about a two-year postdoc in Prague, in medieval philosophy. The deadline is TOMORROW, July 15, 2021. Information here, at #4. The position starts in January 2022.

The deadline for submissions for the Res Philosophica Essay Prize has been extended until August 1, 2021. The topic is “Theological Dogma and Philosophical Innovation in Medieval Philosophy.” There’s fame and money to be won.

Claude Panaccio may have retired, but you can see him on YouTube, speaking about “Ockham on Substance” at a Brazilian conference in honor of Carlos Arthur Ribeiro do Nascimento.

There’s an international conference this fall on Arnau of Villanova, organized at Barcelona, but online, on October 4-8, 2021. Details here.

Bloomington, Dublin, Rio

The Richard Rufus Project is looking for a research associate. It’s a one-year position, with a possible extension. A PhD and training in medieval manuscripts are essential. Applications should be received by June 20, 2021. Details here.

The SMRP is organizing a session for the Renaissance Society of America’s annual meeting, on the theme of “Identity and Agency in Renaissance and Medieval Thought.” The meeting is scheduled for March 30th to April 2, 2022, in Dublin. The cfp deadline is July 16th, 2021. (Details here. The dates currently on the SMRP website, March 3-April 2, are doubtless wishful thinking brought on by a bad case of COVID-fever.)

The 6th Rio Colloquium on Logic and Metaphysics in the Later Middle Ages will take place on July 1st, July 8th and July 22nd. The theme of the meeting will be When Things Go Wrong. Failure and Error in the Later Middle Ages. Alas, it is entirely online.

OUP’s Prestige Monopoly

In reading through the 2020 volume of The Philosophical Review, I noticed a funny thing: every book they reviewed was published by Oxford University Press. Well, not every book but, to be exact, 23 out of 25. That’s not how I remember things being back when I was a student, so I went back and looked. In 1990, OUP was also the leading recipient of reviews in The Philosophical Review, but accounted for just 12 of the 61 reviews. Books from 21 other presses were also reviewed, and Blackwell and Cambridge were tied for runner-up, with 7 entries apiece.

I asked my own student, Colton Kunzeman, to go through the intervening years, and he produced this illuminating chart:

A quick look at some other philosophy journals that publish a significant number of book reviews turned up these numbers for 2020:

  • Mind: 23 of 36 reviews (64%)
  • Australasian Journal of Philosophy: 13 of 15 (87%)
  • Analysis: 24 of 26 (92%)
  • Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews: 70 of 167 (42%)

The NDPR rate is significantly lower, I think, because they review so many books. They can in effect review all of OUP’s philosophy monographs and still have room for a lot of other presses. As for Mind’s rate of 64%, if that seems comparatively unimpressive, bear in mind that the remaining 36% is split among all other presses. To put that in perspective, Mind in 2020 reviewed roughly 10 times more OUP books than books from any other publisher.

What’s going on here?

What these numbers suggest, and what anyone who’s paying attention will have noticed to some degree already, is the extent to which OUP is increasingly the dominant publisher in philosophy. It’s not the case, to be sure, that OUP dominates all parts of philosophy publishing. With regard to textbooks, guidebooks, and translations, they have lots of competition. But when it comes to scholarly monographs, OUP has secured for itself a near monopoly on the field: not a monopoly in terms of absolute numbers, since plenty of other presses are publishing monographs in philosophy, but a prestige monopoly. If you aspire to publish the sort of book that will get reviewed in a top journal, you had better get your book accepted at OUP.

Part of the reason for this, perhaps, is that there’s been a steadily smaller market for monographs in recent years, and as a result academic presses generally devote fewer resources to this than they used to. (On that subject my colleague at Norlin Library, Frederick Carey, recommends this article and this book, esp. ch. 5.) Still, obviously, there are plenty of presses that are publishing monographs in philosophy, and the reality seems to be that OUP is just outcompeting them, at least in this segment of the market. I asked Peter Momtchiloff, the OUP-UK editor for philosophy, if he was willing to comment on this situation, and he responded: “I think we have worked hard on philosophy publishing for a long time, aiming to cover all the areas that are typically covered in research-oriented philosophy departments, and responding to what philosophers think is good rather than trying to impose external ideas of what philosophy research publishing should be like. Apologies if this sounds boastful or ingratiating.” To me that sounds excessively modest. For decades now, Peter has worked like no other editor in the field to cultivate relationships with both young and established scholars. He makes people feel as if OUP really wants their books, and over time these relationships have paid off. (Peter Ohlin, the OUP-US editor, has a similarly longstanding presence in the field and receives rave reviews from those who work with him.)

Yet although this story is in part one of triumph for OUP, it also should leave philosophers feeling a certain amount of concern. Even if OUP’s monopoly is benevolent and well-earned, we should ask ourselves whether it is in the interests of the field. One way in which it would not be is if OUP were doing an inferior job editing and publishing its books. To gauge this situation, I reached out to 10 senior scholars in the field who recently published books with OUP and asked them for their impressions. All were kind enough to reply, and most were wholly enthusiastic. Typical responses were “wonderful experience,” “really excellent,” “always been really happy,” “extraordinary positive,” “uniformly good experiences.” So this perhaps can be added to the story of why OUP has become so dominant: that they do very good work publishing books. And to this it might be added that their books are reasonably priced and generally available in paperback.

To the extent that the scholars surveyed had reservations, those concerned the process of copy editing, proofreading, and typesetting.  One scholar spoke of the “train wreck” of the typeset page proofs that had to be straightened out over a “bazillion hours.” I myself have noticed that OUP books are not always edited as carefully as one would like. In one short but prominent recent OUP book, I managed to find—simply by reading through the book in the usual way—51 typos, as well as countless stylistic infelicities of the sort that any decent copy editor ought to have fixed. I asked Peter Momtchiloff whether there might have been some decline in OUP’s production standards, and he passed this query on to the production department and got the response one would hope for, that “our quality standards haven’t changed.”

Be that as it may, the production process has certainly changed. A decade ago, books went through a multi-stage production process: copy editing, which was then reviewed by the author, followed by typesetting, which was then proofread by the author and the press. Of late, however, those stages have been compressed into one. Books are copy edited and typeset and then sent to the author, who is expected at that point to cope with any difficulties that have arisen in either the copy editing or the typesetting stage. The scholar quoted in the previous paragraph blamed the “train wreck” on this compression of stages. As for proof reading, that same scholar was frankly perplexed by the question, having seen no sign of any proofreading. This, too, was how the other author responded when I forwarded my list of 51 typos: not by blaming OUP for the mess, but with self-blame for being terrible at proofreading.

With these thoughts in mind, last month I asked the production manager of the latest volume of Oxford Studies in Medieval Philosophy whether this book would be proofread. Writing from India, he replied: “We do have the service for proofreading and I can check with editorial for the possibility on this if you prefer to hire one…. Kindly note inclusion of this new service could have an impact on the overall schedule and incurs additional cost for proofreading.” When I expressed surprise to him that OUP itself wouldn’t proofread the book, he replied, “We do the in-house proofread by default for all OUP books at our end.” Now, I’ve had generally excellent experiences with the people to whom OUP outsources their production, and with this production manager in particular. Even so, this exchange left me not altogether confident in the ongoing rigor of OUP’s quality standards.

I asked Peter M. a few more questions. He told me that the OUP philosophy editors publish around 200 academic books a year, split fairly evenly between the UK and US offices. He said they do not keep statistics on acceptance rates, but that “most unsolicited proposals are rejected.” (It would be interesting to know more about this, since, notoriously, acceptance rates at the top journals in the field are now under 5%.) To a query about whether it might be desirable to evaluate submissions blind (as do most good journals), he replied that while, like other publishers, they do not judge submissions anonymously, still “decisions about publication are based on expert review of material submitted, not on the author’s standing or track record.” (Perhaps one should add that with a monograph, unlike with a single paper, it’s not likely that an expert in the field would be unable to discern the author’s identity.)

One recent very positive development at OUP is an upgrade at Oxford Scholarship Online. In the past, as I’ve bitterly complained, Oxford books have been available online only in a fairly wretched reformatted version, unpleasant to read and full of errors. Those bad old versions are still there, but new books, at long last, are appearing in OSO as glorious digital images of the typeset book. Here is the first page of Peter Adamson’s new book on al-Rāzī, downloaded from OSO:

Yay! No one I’ve queried knows anything about this change, but it’s something to celebrate. OUP’s previous way of making material available electronically was amateurish in the extreme.

I remarked a while back that philosophers might be concerned by OUP’s dominance in the field, and that led to these reflections on the quality of OUP as a publisher. Despite my criticisms, I think the overall news there is quite good. As a profession, we’ve benefited quite a lot from OUP’s consistently high-quality presence in the field. Still, one might think that this line of inquiry misses what is most concerning in all of this. One of the scholars I surveyed wrote: “The thing that seems bad about the monopoly to me is that people have only one shot at publishing their books with a prestigious publisher.  It would be like if there was only one prestigious journal.” Here’s how I would elaborate on that remark. It may be that OUP’s prestige monopoly has progressed to such a point that to publish a book with any other press is immediately a mark against it. It’s easy to imagine, for instance, that when the editors at The Philosophical Review or Analysis look at an OUP book, they immediately lean toward reviewing it, whereas for any other book they immediately lean away (pending further considerations)? What about hiring and tenure decisions? Will a book published anywhere other than OUP immediately look second-rate on a CV? Well, one might say, that’s just how reputational judgments get made all the time, in all sorts of ways. OK, but if OUP is the only high-prestige publisher, and if so much accordingly rides upon its publication decisions, then this is concerning. Even though they publish a lot every year, and even though the scholars I surveyed are enthusiastic about their editorial procedures, it’s problematic if a career can be made or unmade on the report of just a single reader for a press.

I myself don’t think the situation, as it stands, is quite so dire. In the fields I work in, there’s important work coming out from all sorts of presses, and I don’t feel any sense that one must either publish with OUP or perish. But I do wonder whether, in parts of philosophy closer to what’s perceived as the mainstream, the field could be coming close to this sort of alarming situation. Philosophy would benefit, at any rate, from a frank discussion of this issue.

Summer Happenings

Nicola Polloni (Leuven) has organized a complex online initiative, The Elusive Substrate, which over the next year will study prime matter and hylomorphism “from ancient Rome to early Qing China” (via the Middle Ages). The first event–“Roman Preludes”–is this Friday (May 14, 2021) and activities will run, roughly every month, into summer 2022.

Monika Michałowska (Łódź) and Riccardo Fedriga (Milan) are organizing an international conference on The Will and Its Acts in Late Medieval Ethics and Theology (online, June 17-18, 2021). The format of the conference is interesting: the talks will be prerecorded and prewatched, and the conference itself will be devoted to discussion.

The program for this summer’s Women on Medieval Philosophy conference has been finalized. The online event runs July 8-10, 2021. All are welcomed to attend.

Graziana Ciola (Nijmegen) and Paul Bakker (Nijmegen) are organizing a conference for next spring on Marsilius of Inghen and His Legacy (March 3-5, 2022, in Nijmegen). Cfp deadline June 1, 2021.

The University of Geneva is advertising an “assistant” position in medieval philosophy. This is what, in the American context, would be called a “teaching assistant” position: it’s open to students who have their MA and wish to pursue a PhD. The ability to teach in French is required. The application deadline is the end of this week, May 15, 2021.

There’s an International Conference on Philosophical Anthropology in Ibn Sina scheduled for this coming December in Tehran (December 26-28, 2021). Cfp deadline July 22, 2021.

Stephen Ogden (Catholic University of America) is moving to a position at the University of Notre Dame, which he will begin next fall.

Preview of coming attractions: my next blog post is going to depart from my usual narrow focus on medieval philosophy, and look at the dominance of Oxford University Press in the field of philosophy.

(The Post Previously without a Title)

Deadlines are approaching for various SIEPM initiatives:

  • The application for one-to-one stipends is the end of this week (May 1, 2021). These are stipends for junior scholars to work directly with senior individual scholars.
  • Submissions for the annual SIEPM junior scholar award are due June 1, 2021.
  • You also have until June 1 to nominate your favorite senior scholar for an SIEPM Lifetime Achievement Award.

All this and more can be found at the SIEPM website.

Juhana Toivanen is advertising a three-year postdoc position at the University of Jyväskylä. The project concerns the social and political dimension of moral vices from medieval to early modern philosophy.

The SMRP is advertising its annual Founder’s Prize, aimed at younger scholars. The deadline for submissions is June 1, 2021. There doesn’t yet seem to be up-to-date information on the web, but I am told the deadline is June 1, 2021.

A conference next month in Stockholm, on the history of final causation, has succumbed to the inevitable and is going online. But that means anyone can listen! May 20-22, 2021, details here.

Olivier Boulnois (Paris) will be giving the Stanton lectures, virtually, at Cambridge University, throughout May 2021. His topic will be Paul and Philosophy.

The Journal of the History of Ideas is searching for a new co-executive editor to join the current editorial team. Applications should be received by June 1, 2021.

The 23rd European Symposium of Medieval Logic and Semantics has been postponed: it will now be meeting in June 2022, still in Warsaw.

The 43rd Kölner Mediaevistentagung will take place September 5-9, 2022. The topic will be consensus. Proposals, with a brief abstract, are due July 31, 2021.

Congratulations to Khaled El-Rouayheb (Harvard), whose won the 2020 best-article prize at the British Journal for the History of Philosophy, for a paper on “The Liar Paradox in Fifteenth-Century Shiraz.”

Although I don’t generally announce new publications individually, I cannot refrain from calling to your attention the beautiful new two-volume tribute to Irène Rosier-Catach, published this spring by Aracne. By my count, it contains chapters from 87 different scholars!

Oxford Studies in Medieval Philosophy

It’s nearly ten years since I began editing OSMP, and I’ve decided that volume 10, for which I’m currently accepting submissions, will be my last.

I am delighted to report, however, that the series will continue on in the sure hands of Peter King and Martin Pickavé. They’ll take charge this fall. Until then, the current system for submissions remains in place.

And, I might add, I still have plenty of room in my final volume for good papers!

More Spring Announcements

Res Philosophica is sponsoring an essay prize on the topic Theological Dogma and Philosophical Innovation in Medieval Philosophy. There’s a cash prize to be won, and of course publication in the journal. Papers must be received by July 1, 2021.

The long-awaited third meeting of the Avicenna Study Group, originally scheduled for last June, has now been reorganized by Andreas Lammer (Trier) as a weekly series, beginning June 1, 2021. Details here.

The Roger Bacon Research Society has scheduled a series of online talks over the next 12 months, each on a different aspect of Bacon’s scientific theory. Next up (March 19, 2021) is Alexander Fidora (Barcelona) on “The Division of Science.”

The Graduate Student Chapter of the Aquinas and the Arabs International Working Group is meeting on March 19-20, 2021. Details here.

The Medieval Philosophy in the UK Network is holding its next meeting online, on March 26, 2021. Details here.

The University of Würzburg has rescheduled, for the coming summer, last year’s summer school on Affective Intentionality in Medieval Philosophy and Phenomenology (July 26-30, 2021). Application deadline is March 31, 2021.

Trinity College Dublin is sponsoring an online course in Byzantine Greek: both a beginners and a more advanced class. The price is quite reasonable, with further financial support available. Details here.

Doctor Virtualis is planning a special 20th-anniversary issue on Analogy and the Middle Ages. Deadline for submissions is April 30, 2021.

There’s a conference in honor of Miguel Cruz Hernández scheduled for September: Pensamiento del Islam: fundamentos, instituciones y sociedades (Alcalá la Real, September 24-25, 2021).

Congratulations to Jari Kaukua (Jyväskylä), who won the Journal of the History of Philosophy‘s prize for best article, for his paper on “Avicenna’s Outsourced Rationalism.”

Latest News in the Field

I ought to have posted before now that the Franciscan Institute (St. Bonaventure, NY) is advertising a tenure-track assistantprofessor position in theology. They seek candidates whose doctorate is in theology, with a strong knowledge of the Franciscan tradition. The soft deadline was March 1, 2021, but I should think it’s not too late to get an application in.

Christophe Geudens (Leuven) and Nicola Polloni (Leuven) have formed MeLO, the Medieval Logic and Ontology Seminar. They’ve scheduled online talks throughout this spring.

The Max Planck Institute’s research group on premodern sciences is holding a series of online talks this spring, many of interest to medievalists. Details here.

The British Society for the History of Philosophy holds its annual conference, online, on April 21-23, 2021. This year’s topic is Women in the History of Philosophy.

The postponed inaugural conference of the Society for Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy has been rescheduled for October 3-6, 2021 (U. of Notre Dame). Already, they’ve received around 70 proposals for talks, but they’re open to receiving still more, until April 11. Details here.

The Catholic Theological Faculty of Prague has organized a conference in honor of of Professor Stanislav Sousedík’s 90th birthday, focusing on three subjects: Second Scholasticism, Analytical Metaphysics, and Christian Apologetics (October 27-29, 2021). Details here.

A conference on Augustine’s De civitate Dei is being organized in Leuven/Brussels for next January, focused on political doctrine, textual transmission and early medieval reception. Details here; cfp deadline is March 31, 2021.

There’s a new, open-access tool available for the “accurate machine-reading of medieval Latin texts.” The folk who have developed this tool are holding an online training session on March 10, 2021. As I understand it, there are two things here: the Transkribus platform, designed in general for historical texts, and a specialized “model” for medieval Latin. If anyone out there knows more about this program, and how useful it might be for our world, comments to this post would be warmly welcomed.

Finally, I’m sorry to report the death of Fabrizio Mondadori (1943-2021), a longtime professor at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, and the author of a series of brilliant papers on modality, especially the work of John Duns Scotus. There’s a nice obituary here.

News for a Cold Planet

Globally, we’re in no position to object to cold weather but, still, it’s cold here! It’s also, unaccountably, been a long time since I posted anything, so here’s an attempt to catch up:

A online conference showcasing the work of female scholars working in medieval philosophy is being held on July 8-10, 2021. It’s being organized by folk at KU-Leuven. Details here. The cfp deadline is March 1.

The SIEPM has two colloquia tentatively scheduled for this summer, which may or may not happen in person (details here):

  • June 7-9, 2021, in Ramat Gan, Israel, on “Dialectic in the Middle Ages: Between Debate and the Foundation of Science”;
  • June 14-15, 2021, in Porto, on “Per cognitionem visualem. From the Visual Exegesis to the Visualization of Cognitive Processes in the Middle Ages and Beyond” (originally scheduled for 2020).

The International Congress of the SIEPM, which meets only once every five years, is scheduled for August 23-27, 2022, in Paris. Further details to come.

There’s an online summer school scheduled for July 5-9, 2021, organized out of Groningen, on Methodologies in the History of Philosophy. Applications are due by March 14.

Thomas Hibbs (University of Dallas) is directing a summer program for PhD students on Justice in Thomistic Ethics (July 18-24, 2021, in Washington DC). Application deadline March 31.

The American Philosophical Association has announced an annual Alvin Plantinga Prize, awarded for “original essays that engage philosophical issues about or in substantial ways related to theism.” The prize money is significant, but you must be an APA member. The deadline is March 30, 2021.

Scott Williams (UNC Asheville), in collaboration with Gordon Wilson, has created an extremely useful webpage on Henry of Ghent, complete with extensive links to online texts, an up-to-date account of where the critical edition stands, and a comprehensive bibliography.

There’s an interview with Ana Maria Mora Marquez (Gothenburg) at the blog 3:16.

I’ve got more material to share, but that’s all for this post. Will be back soon.