Scholarly give-and-take

March 28, 2001

Mary Ann Travis

Gerald Gaus, professor of philosophy, recalls a lecture decades ago where a cocky young scholar raised his hand to challenge the eminent political philosopher John Rawls.

He said, "Although, Professor Rawls, I have never read your book, let me tell you what's wrong with it from the book reviews I've seen."

After criticizing work he'd never read, the busy academic did not wait for Rawls' answer. Glancing at his watch, he said, "I wish I had time to hear your reply, but I have to leave." Mercifully, there was no such posturing at the Politics, Philosophy and Economics Conference sponsored by Tulane's Murphy Institute of Political Economy on March 9 and 10.

The two dozen conference-goers, says Gaus, not only had read the six papers presented by a select cadre of academic luminaries, but thoroughly dissected each paper with an ultimate goal in mind: publication of polished, well-honed articles in the Murphy Institute's new academic journal Politics, Philosophy & Economics, whose inaugural issue is slated for February 2002.

Journal authors will tackle issues of social justice and the crossover between economic theories and the understanding of politics and morality, says Gaus. For example, Belgian Philippe Van Parijs of Universite Catholique de Louvain is a proponent of linguistic justice.

He argues that in a bilingual society, such as Belgium, people whose mother tongue is not the language of the majority population but who learn the second language anyway to ease commerce and societal functioning should be compensated for their effort. Gaus says that Van Parijs' views generated lively discussion at the conference as the mainly English nativespeaking scholars felt slightly guilty for not paying Van Parijs more for writing and presenting his paper in English, which is not his mother tongue.

Gaus and his co-editor, associate professor Jonathan Riley, who moves from Tulane's political science department to philosophy next fall, expect the kind of scholarly give-and-take that occurred at the conference to set the tone for the new journal.

"Philosophers, economists and political scientists will be talking back and forth to each other about whether their methods enlighten the other one's fields or not," Gaus says.

As core faculty members of the Murphy Institute, Gaus and Riley teach courses required for the interdisciplinary political economy major. Riley also is president and Gaus former president of the International Economics and Philosophy Society. Co-sponsored by the Murphy Institute and Sage Publications of London, England, and Beverly Hills, Calif., Politics, Philosophy & Economics will be published three times a year, with a print run of 500 hard copies and an online version for subscription by libraries.

In addition to the conference papers, the journal is receiving submissions from all around the world. Richard Teichgraeber, Murphy Institute director and professor of history, says the new periodical is one of only a handful of peer-reviewed academic journals at Tulane today.

Tulane Studies in philosophy, English, political science and zoology; the Tulane Drama Review; and the Mississippi Valley Historical Review (now the Journal of American History) are previous Tulane-sponsored journals that have died or moved elsewhere. There are many benefits for a university hosting journals, says Teichgraeber.

"The university should be, if nothing else, an arena of ideas. And journals like Politics, Philosophy & Economics are precisely the sorts of things that a university of Tulane's stature should be supporting."

Teichgraeber also views academic journals as "an important expression of the university's commitment to graduate education." The Murphy Institute will now have a stronger tie to graduate education in moral and political philosophy, says Teichgraeber.

The new journal and a new Center for Ethics and Public Affairs, which the institute also will sponsor and that will be housed in the A. B. Freeman School of Business' expansion building, are "ways of strengthening that tie and making it more visible internally and externally," he says.

The heart of the new center will be visiting faculty and graduate student fellowships. The Philosophical Gourmet Report 2000/2001 ranked Tulane's Department of Philosophy in the top 10 in the sub-field of political philosophy. The report's author, Brian Leiter, a professor at the University of Texas, notes that the rankings reflect the "reputation and influence of work done by the faculty."

With reputation counting so much in academic circles, Teichgraeber says a new journal and research center will provide opportunities to broaden the mission of the Murphy Institute. "We want to draw more attention to outstanding faculty here working in the area of moral and political philosophy and thereby help to draw a bigger and stronger pool of graduate applicants."

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000