Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Wow! 9 Volume Ethics Encyclopedia finally out!

You can't but help think 'wow' when you actually hold the 9 beautiful volumes comprising the Wiley-Blackwell International Encyclopedia of Ethics in your hands. It simply is an amazing feat accomplished by an experienced hand at producing top-quality edited works, Hugh LaFollette. So, to get the disclaimers out of the way, I have three entries in this encyclopedia. I also edit journals for this publisher and I am contracted to produce a couple of books for Wiley-Blackwell.

Conflict of interest or no, you can't help but feel in awe of this reference work. The list of authors truly reads like a list of the Who is Who in academic ethics, ranging from David Archard, Marcia Baron, Roger Crisp, Norman Daniels over Dale Jamieson, Margaret Moore and Rosalind Hoursthouse to the likes of Philip Pettit, C. L. Ten, Rosemarie Tong and Michael Tooley and hundreds of others. It is not the case, by the way, that authors could just send their stuff in and after a cursory review they'd be accepted. I truly battled it out over one entry with Hugh and kind of lost, at last any consequentialist would see it that way. When I refused to add particular content that Hugh wanted referenced and that I genuinely thought wasn't worth citing, we found a way out of this impasse (classic stand-off between editor and author, I've been there on both sides more often than I care to remember).  A co-author was added, said co-author added the content Hugh was keen on, and everyone moved on with their lives. As I said, consequentialists would rightly note that I 'lost' this one.

As you would expect of such a work, it provides a comprehensive index both organized in alphabetical order as well as broader subject areas, as well as further readings following each entry. There is even a limited number of entries on 'Non-Western Ethics', the emphasis here being on limited. I was a bit surprised that no dedicated entries were to be found on secular approaches to ethics and their relationship to religious approaches to ethics. I should not pretend, of course, that I read all or even most of the entries, but at least the available indices didn't point me to anything dedicated to this complicated issue. There are a few entries on religion, but nothing on atheism, secularism or indeed humanism. To be fair, many entirely secular approaches to ethics (eg utilitarianism) are featuring prominently in the encyclopedia, so perhaps this isn't such a big deal after all. In any case, it's all too easy, with a work of this scope, to squibble over 'missing' content, or individual authors' take on a particular issue. Only small-minded reviewers would ponder for too long on such omissions or individual authors' takes on particular subject matters.

Researchers and students in my own field of specialization, Bioethics, will find as contributors the names of many leading academics as well as those of many junior scholars. Hugh LaFollette and his team deserve the highest praise for this astounding product. I have no doubt that this encyclopedia will serve as the reference work both for established researchers as well as for students trying to get a quick overview of particular subjects for many years to come.

Of course, this is the 21st century, so the first hint that this project had come to fruition and that my entries were 'around' came with a google scholar alert telling me that something with my name on it had been published. The link embedded in said alert sent me straight to Wiley's website where an on-line version of the entry was available for download. That's a wonderful thing, of course, and something other encyclopedias offer, too. Wiley plans to up-date the individual on-line entries more frequently than it plans to publish future editions of the print copy. I must say that I am a tad bit puzzled about this. To me this seems to suggest that there could (well, that there will) be distinctly different entries on the same subject matter in the same encyclopedia, except that one will be in the print version, and another in the on-line version. In some ways this won't matter, because you can still choose which one to cite for your purposes. On the other hand, once the first set of revisions is filtering thru into the on-line version, there will be different products out there, under the same name. I'm not too keen on this, but I cannot see how this can be avoided. On the bright sight, as authors we will be able to boycott revisions of our on-line content if the publisher behaves sufficiently badly as to draw the wrath of the academic community on itself (just ask Elsevier). I, for instance, have not updated various entries in two Elsevier owned encyclopedias since the academic boycott of Elsevier got off the ground. It goes without saying that at that point in time things would get even more confusing as the print edition would have an entry from one author, while the on-line edition could well have an entry on the same topic from someone different. It'll be fun to watch how Wiley and its team of editors will deal with such an eventuality.

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