Journal of Practical Ethics: a new open-access journal

by Ingrid Robeyns on June 20, 2013

So this looks interesting – the Oxford Uehiro Center for Ethics has launched a new open access journal called Journal of Practical Ethics, with as subtitle: A Journal of Philosophy, Applied to the Real World. Roger Crisp and Julian Savulescu have written a brief introduction in which they explain how they will run their journal and why they believe there is a need for such a journal. They argue, rightly in my view:

We believe that the ideas and arguments of many moral and political philosophers are of significant relevance to problems in contemporary life. Not only are these arguments of interest to the general public, but they are of relevance to political and social leaders, legislators and civil servants. However, there is less than optimal penetration of this philosophical work beyond the confines of academe.

I think this is great news – we need more of these ‘bridges’ between academic philosophy and the wider public that are initiated by academics, since academics have the best access to/information about the latest philosophical research that deserves to be ‘translated’ to a wider audience, and academics can also make sure that no unacceptable simplifications are made (I can’t speak for the UK, but some of what is being published under the heading ‘popular philosophy’ in my country makes me want to cry. Translation for a wider audience shouldn’t mean having no standards at all, apart from the standards of the market for popular philosophy. This, incidentally, is the topic of a blogpost I have been wanting to write for a while and which I promise you for sometime in the next two weeks).



Matt 06.20.13 at 9:31 pm

Thanks for pointing this out, Ingrid. It looks exciting in many ways, though I think the goal (of providing discussion that is both rigorous and able to “penetrate” to the public and officials) will be a hard one to meet. I’ll admit that this bit of the description caught my attention:

Our vision is to build an open access journal that will bring the best work in philosophy to bear on pressing issues of public, political or interdisciplinary interest. …

The Journal of Practical Ethics is an invitation only, blind-peer-reviewed journal.

I think it’s quite hard to have an invitation-only journal that doesn’t become somewhat narrow, in many different ways, and in my experience, the “blind peer review” for invitation only journals is rather less serious than for other kinds. (Among other things, papers tend to be less anonymous, and with good reason- if I’m invited to write on topic X, it’s usually because I know and have written on it, but that makes it very clumsy to make the paper truly anonymous. That’s not the only problem, but it’s a big one.) So, I hope it works out and thrives, but think there are some reasons to worry, given the set-up they have.


Tony Lynch 06.20.13 at 11:06 pm

I’m with Matt. Not a good start: First lesson of Practical Ethics? – Whatever you do, the first thing is to wait for/ingratiate yourself with, the ones wielding the power. Then when you are asked you will be able to “bear on pressing issues”, for you are now, of course, a Very Serious Person.


Lee A. Arnold 06.20.13 at 11:48 pm

I look forward to them retrodicting the discount-rate argument about climate mitigation to 100 years ago, when people might have said, “Ohmigod, global warming! But we don’t have to do anything about it now! In 2013, they will have more lots more wealth to deal with it!”


x.trapnel 06.21.13 at 12:15 am


Matt 06.21.13 at 1:55 am

Let me offer at least a partial defense of the APA plan. (*) One of the most significant (perhaps the most significant) reason why the APA decided to start a journal was to help make being a member of the APA more attractive. The journal is free to all APA members, and it’s not hard to join the APA. It’s also fairly inexpensive compared to many other professional organizations. But, the journal could not service its purpose of providing a reason for joining the APA if it were available at no cost to everyone. Given this, it makes sense to make the journal available for free to members, but only for a fee to non-members. Perhaps, all things considered, this is a bad plan- maybe it will lose money, hurting the APA’s already not great finances, and won’t help attract members. But, it seems that one would have to be in the grips of an ideology to think the very idea was illegitimate.
(*)This isn’t meant to be a defense of the journal in the sense that I think it will be a very good journal. I’m agnostic on that so far. There are reasons to worry, but I don’t think they are decisive as of yet.


x.trapnel 06.21.13 at 2:26 am

I don’t think it’s necessarily illegitimate. I just think it’s an unwise use of scarce resources, because there really *would* be value in having a(nother) very prestigious and open-access journal, and the APA’s launching this journal will, if it does take off, make doing so a bit more difficult, because there really is a limited amount of reviewing time and energy, especially among the set of people whose names can generate prestige. The APA is somewhat unique in being able to act institutionally–they had (and perhaps still have) an opportunity to lead the charge for doing the better thing, and did not do so.

They could have at least *tried* some other options: go with a (cheap) author-pays model, and say that APA members would get one publication-fee waiver per year. (This might be particularly effective, insofar as if you had even a decent shot at publishing, it would be a great deal, making buying a membership almost rationally required for anyone who wants to tell themselves they are good enough to publish top-notch papers.) It’s worth noting that the very same press that APA’s partnering with, Cambridge, just recently introduced an interesting open-access mathematics journal, and was willing to waive fees for the first three years with that journal as an experiment. I don’t see why the philosophers couldn’t strike a similarly good bargain.


nepo sseccas 06.21.13 at 8:30 am

Matt: “But, the journal could not service its purpose of providing a reason for joining the APA if it were available at no cost to everyone.”

Two alternatives:
1. give APA members exclusive access for 1 month, after which they become open access articles
2. require APA membership to publish in the journal


Chris Bertram 06.21.13 at 9:17 am

The Uehiro Centre does seem preoccupied with gee-whiz “look at us” projects. “Moral enhancement”, for example. If that’s the agenda the invitation-journal will be pursuing then I don’t expect the sum total of human understanding to be much expanded. See their website

On the other hand, the first issue does look good, and the editorial advisory panel is solid.


Mark English 06.21.13 at 9:35 am

[Subtitle] A Journal of Philosophy, Applied to the Real World.

The expression ‘the real world’ jars on me. (Actually, the real world itself jars on me, but that is another issue.)

No one talks more about ‘the real world’ than trendy clerics. And, in so doing, they are advertising their own rejection of the religious realities which (supposedly) form the basis of whatever status and authority they have.

The case here is not so clearcut, but I can’t help feeling that the expression implies a negative view of the discipline as normally practised. Which seems like bad PR to me.


Neil Levy 06.21.13 at 10:26 am


I have gone on record several times arguing that the preoccupation with technological enhancement generally is a huge distraction from far more important questions, like the social and political determinants of the distribution of cognitive abilities. And I am a member of the Uehiro Centre.


Ingrid Robeyns 06.21.13 at 11:04 am

Matt @#1 is right. A commissioning-only journal is much more likely to lead to articles written by people from the network of the editors and editorial board, and reflect the topics they know better. And it is also likely to lead to implicit bias (a topic widely discussed on some other blogs in recent months/years), which is not good news for women (and other groups who may be at the losing side of implicit bias in academia, which – I speculate- could also include those based outside the US and the UK). Yet there may be explanations for this choice, such as that it is likely much less work to produce a journal based on commissioned work than on open submissions. Not sure wether that suffices as a justification, since if all journal were to do that, we would be in trouble of course…

Let’s hope the editors will read the suggestions and comments in this thread, and take them into account when developing the journal. Clearly some of the worries are risks rather than certainties (like Chris’s worry that it will ignore important fields in practical ethics, or my worry of implicit bias). Given that the journal works with commissioned articles rather than open submissions, it has a much greater responsibility for making sure that the journal lives up to those of us who have high expectations/hopes.


FRauncher 06.22.13 at 11:00 pm

For inspiration, take a look at the “Philosophie” French TV program on the European channel, Arte, every Sunday at 1300 Central european time. Also available on internet replay for a week at, although you may have to use Tor or other work around if you’re not in Europe. It’s really well done.
An added attraction – the MC is Carla Bruni Sarkozy’s ex boyfriend, Raphael Enthoven.


Slocum 06.23.13 at 11:31 am

Matt, Ingrid: None of your concerns will be taken seriously by the editors:

“Authors and reviewers are offered an honorarium.”


Slocum 06.23.13 at 11:41 am

I should clarify that I don’t think there is some intentional set-up for corruption, merely that the incentives are not in place to overcome provoke the kind of action that your issues raise. (For that matter, the invitation-only/honorarium system may be a requirement of the grant-giver.)


Limericky Dicky 06.23.13 at 12:12 pm

The Journal of Practical Ethics: disdainfully non-nomothetic. Cliquey, think-tanky, gimmicky, wanky. (You guessed it – we’re unsympathetic.)

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