PPE - Please Publish Everything?

Politics, Philosophy and Economics
October 22, 2004

It is not easy to say what makes for a good academic journal. The quality of papers it publishes is obviously the most important factor, but there is more to a good journal than this. It must also have a sensible aim in covering a certain subject matter and then adopt a style of writing that is appropriate to that aim. What makes The Philosophical Review such a wonderful journal, to take just one glowing example, is not only the fact that it publishes many sparkling papers but also that it balances its aim of covering philosophy broadly with a style that is accessible to scholars working across the field. A good journal can also strike the balance in some other way, by aiming to dig deep into a specific field of research, and then adopting a style that demands a high level of expertise on the part of its readership.

Politics, Philosophy and Economics , which first appeared in 2002, is published in association with the Murphy Institute of Political Economy at Tulane University. In its founding year, it featured articles by, among others, Brian Barry on the nature of power, David Miller on a contextualist theory of justice, Martha Nussbaum on John Rawls' law of peoples, Thomas Pogge on global justice and Philippe van Parijs on linguistic justice.

This initial dominance by leading normative political theorists eased up a little in the journal's second year, when political scientists and economists began to make an appearance in its pages. In and among various normative papers, we find an article by Norman Schofield that defends an empirical thesis on the nature of political elections, and an article by George Klosko, Michael Keren and Stacy Nyikos that offers a descriptive cross-country analysis of supreme-court decisions on compulsory military service.

In its third year, Politics, Philosophy and Economics devoted most of its first issue to a symposium on game theory and methodology in economics. So the journal's coverage is by no means restricted to normative political theory, and it does include papers from all three fields in its title.

Moreover, its papers have been, for the most part, of a high standard.

This journal has generally lived up to its stated aim: "to bring moral, economic and political theory to bear on the analysis, justification and criticism of political and economic institutions and public policies", and yet one might raise a couple of worries here.

The first is that the journal is sometimes in danger of losing focus. Quite clearly, the aim is not to publish merely any good paper from any of the fields named in the journal's title, but rather to bring papers together from those fields that share a focus on political and economic institutions and policies. And yet it seems that on several occasions it has published articles that do not do this.

As well as papers that take an empirical and normative focus, the journal has published papers in the history of political thought (on John Stuart Mill). As well as publishing papers on linguistic justice (whether individuals belonging to a linguistic minority ought to receive some sort of compensation) the journal has published a paper in conceptual analysis (an examination of the concept of negative liberty) and one in analytical moral theory (a critical discussion of act-utilitarianism). These are all good papers, but one might question whether they are in line with the journal's stated aim. The danger is that we end up with a collection of good but unrelated papers drawn from three fields of scholarship.

A further worry might be raised about the style of writing in Politics, Philosophy and Economics. Clearly, the journal aspires to be accessible to a broad audience across its three fields, and yet it is doubtful whether all its papers are widely accessible. The editors go some way to ensure a straightforward writing style, for example by putting formal or technical analyses in articles in appendices. So far, however, the journal contains a couple of articles in which formal equations, perhaps unavoidably, stretch across large sections of the main body of the text. This is the case with a paper by Robert Goodin and David Estlund that tries to show, via several formal equations, how Bayes' formula for revising beliefs may commit us to the disturbing conclusion that electoral minorities should revise their beliefs in line with those of the electoral majority.

Another article, by Keith Dougherty and Julian Edward, which examines the expected costs of "k-majority rules", is similarly daunting for readers who are not so formally inclined. On these occasions, there is some danger that the style of writing is insufficiently accessible for a journal whose aim is to draw papers from, and appeal to, several fields of scholarship.

Despite these questions about its aim and style, this is an impressive journal that will be of interest to political scientists, as well as to philosophers and economists who take an interest in political affairs.

Paul Bou-Habib is lecturer in philosophy, Keele University.

Politics, Philosophy and Economics

Editor - Gerald F. Gaus and Jonathan Riley
Publisher - Sage
Pages - Triannual
Price - Institutions £225.00; Individuals £38.00
ISSN - 1470 594X

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