I offer the following ruminations for consideration and comment.
Some of you may be familiar with my essay entitled "The Future of Socialism," which I have posted on box.net. I had intended to deliver it at a conference in Seattle in January, hosted by the A. A. Berle Center at the Seattle University Law School, and indeed I submitted the paper with some additional concluding remarks, but I fell ill and was unable to attend. The law school's journal is now preparing a special issue of the papers from the conference, and one of the editors of the journal, who is, of course, a law student, has sent me a long series of requests, very deferentially phrased, for footnote references to various things I say in the essay. This has created once again for me a problem with which I have struggled throughout my career. To put it as simply as I can, I do not like footnotes, I do not write footnotes, and I resist to the death efforts to get me to supply footnotes for what I have written. My old friend and colleague Bob Ackermann, now sadly departed, used to complain bitterly of this peculiar quirk of mine. He and I did most of the book publishing in the UMass Philosophy Department over many years, and each time he published a book, he would moan and groan about the time-consuming business of searching among his papers and notes for the references he needed to complete the footnotes to what he had written. Meanwhile, I would publish entire books almost completely devoid of footnotes. I would say blithely that I did not know how to use the footnote facility in my word processing program and so had decided to do without them. The truth is that I am, as I have so often said, not really a scholar. I think of myself as a philosopher and in some sense as an artist. When I have succeeded in expressing the idea in my mind as clearly and simply as I can, I consider my work done. Nothing is gained by loading up the bottom of the page with footnotes.
Now, as some of you may be aware, law journals view footnotes in the way that devout Protestants view good works -- as evidences of election. A typical law journal article will have hundreds of footnotes, strewn across the bottom of the page like inkblots. Everything is footnoted. If an author mentions that Barack Obama is the President of the United States, the journal will demand a footnote to that claim, as though it were a potential source of controversy that needed buttressing by reliable authority. At one point in my essay, I allude to the fact that the great Russian-American economist Wassily Leontief won the Nobel Prize in Economics. The editors requested a footnote reference.
The truth is, of course, that if required to produce footnoted authoritative confirmation for all the statements I make in my essay, I might well die of old age before managing to comply [not entirely a hyperbolic statement, at my age.]
The editors are being excessively polite and accommodating about all of this, and I feel terribly guilty for making their lives difficult, but I just cannot do it. I would rather not publish than have to go through what I consider to be an exhausting and entirely unnecessary exercise. I don't actually know the history of footnoting. Something analogous to it has existed at least since the Middle Ages, when the Scholastics made elaborate citations of the works of Aristotle and their other predecessors in the course of their writings. But there was so little to refer to in those days that this practice was hardly a burden. My natural tendency is to blame this, like so much else, on the Germans. Perhaps somone reading this rant actually knows how the modern practice of scholarly footnoting got its start, and will tell the rest of us.