Monday, July 27, 2009

Reheated Cabbage


Several years ago, when I started systematically reading papers in the fields of ancient philosophy and epistemology, I got the impression that some top scholars used a few ideas to write two, three, or four papers. Moreover, I got used to reading in the first or last note of a paper that its author had drawn on parts of previous papers, some of which were reproduced with minor changes. The result was that subsequent papers looked like reheated cabbage, so that the reader could perfectly well do without them. Sometimes, there were one or two new arguments, but nothing which, in my view, justified the writing of a new paper. Last year, while I was a visiting researcher in Fribourg, I briefly brought this up with two North American epistemologists who were attending a conference, and they didn't agree with me. They thought that, if one had a new argument in response to an objection raised against a view defended in a previous paper, one could write another one including the argument. I partially agree with this. I mean, if one wants to reply to an objection by writing a short note, ok, but does this justify to publishing a whole paper in which just a few paragraphs are really new or original while the rest has undergone merely cosmetic changes? To my mind, one should publish a paper dealing with an issue already addressed in a previous publication only when one has several new arguments to put forward or when one has a different approach to the issue in question. (Comments from readers are of course welcome.)

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