Fall 2021 News

The deadline for applying for the SIEPM One-to-One Stipend is September 30th, 2021. This stipend of 1,500 EUR supports junior researchers to visit and work with a senior researcher. See details here.

Monika Michałowska (Łódź) has organized a conference on The Oxford Calculators and Their Milieu on Ethics. It will be held online, March 10–11, 2022. The cfp deadline is October 30th, 2021. 

In addition to the big SMRP conference in early October, Notre Dame is hosting a conference next May 20-22, 2022 on medieval philosophy and theology. One way to get onto the program is to submit an abstract to the SMRP, before the end of November, 2021. Contact Fr. Philip-Neri Reese.

The SMRP awarded the 2021 Founder’s Prize for best paper by a younger scholar to André Martin (McGill University) for his paper “The Activity of the Soul and the Causality of its Object: Gonsalvus of Spain and the Influence of Peter John Olivi.”  Honorable mention went to Hashem Morvarid (University of Illinois at Chicago) for his paper “The Muʿtazila’s Arguments against Divine Command Theory.”

Peter Adamson has recently published an essay in the New Statesman, “Are Islamic Philosophers Critical of Authority?”

Statements on Plagiarism

In response a much-discussed recent plagiarism case, the executive committee of the SMRP has now joined the SIEPM in endorsing a statement intended to clarify the field’s norms regarding the nature of plagiarism. The original SIEPM statement is here. The SMRP’s endorsement does not seem to have been posted on the web yet, but it was circulated via email to SMRP members yesterday.

Copenhagen, Leuven, Budapest, etc.

The University of Copenhagen has announced two 2-year postdoc positions, both focused on twelfth-century logic. Applications are due October 15, 2021. Details here.

KU Leuven–more specifically, Christophe Geudens and Nicola Polloni–have organized a two-day seminar on Knowability and the Limits of Knowledge. It will be partly medieval in focus, and partly a general discussion of epistemology. It’s on Zoom, this Thursday and Friday (September 2-3, 2021), starting at 4pm in Leuven.

The energetic folk at Leuven have also organized a series of medieval colloquia, running through the fall and spring, and especially highlighting junior scholars. The format is hybrid, in person and on zoom.

Still more, there’s a large conference, which I don’t seem to have previously announced, on Aristotle’s De sensu in the Latin Tradition 1150-1650. It’s also a hybrid event, live and on Zoom, running from Pavia to Leuven. (September 13-14, 2021, in Pavia; September 17-18 in Leuven)

There are two major conferences on the Eucharist getting underway, in September, in Budapest. First there’s a philosophical conference, on the Metaphysics and Theology of the Eucharist, which starts tomorrow! (September 1-4, 2021). It’s another hybrid event, with the schedule available here. Then there’s the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress (September 5-12, 2021), which is aimed at a much wider audience.

The American Cusanus Society is holding their biennial conference in a month, on the theme of Mystical Theology and Renaissance Platonism in the Time of Cusanus (September 24-26, Gettysburg and Zoom). Information is on Twitter!

There’s a special issue in the works, for History of Philosophy and Logical Analysis, on Revisionary Metaphysics in the Middle Ages. The guest editors are Stephan Schmid (Hamburg) and Sonja Schierbaum (Wuerzburg), and they’ve put out a call for proposals. (The deadline is April 23, 2022.)

Joseph Koterski (1953-2021)

Father Koterski, a Jesuit priest and long-serving professor at Fordham University, died of a heart attack this past week. There’s a very nice obituary here. Among his many works, I might particularly praise his Introduction to Medieval Philosophy (Blackwell, 2009), which I regard as among the best single-volume introductions to the field.

August 2021 News

The draft schedule is now available for the first of what will hopefully be a regular series of SMRP conferences (Notre Dame, October 3-6, 2021). It’s going to be a huge event; the largest medieval philosophy conference in North America since I’ve been in the field. Information available here.

The American Catholic Philosophical Association is inviting submissions from junior scholars for its annual essay contest. Details here.

The Franciscan Institute is sponsoring a conference on Roger Bacon’s Moralis Philosophia, in celebration of a new English translation of this text by Jeremiah Hackett and Thomas Maloney (July 21-24, 2022, St. Bonaventure, NY). Cfp deadline is October 4, 2021. Details here.

There’s a webinar series running this summer on the history and theology of encounters between Catholic and Muslims. It’s sponsored by the Lumen Christi Institute and the American Cusanus Society. Details here.

The 43rd Cologne Mediaevistentagung (Sept. 5-9, 2022) has extended its Cfp deadline until August 31, 2021. The topic, a rather timely one for our field, is “Consensus.”

Katja Kraus’s research group at the Max Planck Institute is advertising a position for a scholar of the premodern science of soul and body, with expertise in Syriac, Persian, or Hebrew. The application deadline is August 31, 2021. Details here.

The Institute for Research in the Humanities (Wisconsin-Madison) is again advertising the Solmsen Fellowship, a year-long fellow which “sponsors scholars working in the humanities on European history, literature, philosophy, politics, religion, art and culture in the classical, medieval, and/or early modern periods before 1700.” Applications due October 28, 2021.

Congratulations to Tobias Hoffmann, who has been named Professor of Medieval Philosophy at Sorbonne Université. (That’s the position at Paris IV that has been vacant since Pasquale Porro returned to Italy several years ago.)

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.