Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Inferior Scholarship & Intellectual Honesty

I just read Harold Tarrant's review of Charles Brittain's Philo of Larissa: The Last of the Academic Sceptics (OUP, 2001), published in Ancient Philosophy 22 (2002): 485-492. In fact, I had already read it back in 2003. But I had forgotten that, at the end of the review, Tarrant says the following:

"Since it derives from an Oxford DPhil. thesis I choose not to blame Brittain for the inaccurate representation of my own work about which I have protested. Another book stemming from a 1996 DPhil. thesis is G. Bechtle, The Anonymous Commentary on Plato's "Parmenides" (Bern 1999). Since his unpopular views on the extent of metaphysical interpretation of the Parmenides in Neopythagorean times have their clearest modern antecedent in my own Thrasyllan Platonism (Ithaca 1993), 148-177, of which he makes no mention, I assume the problem lies in Oxford: where the inferior scholarship and preposterous theses of lesser parts of the world are treated with the contempt that they so richly deserve--as Anytus treated the sophists (Meno 92b)."

This reminded me of a related complaint repeatedly made by an Italian colleague who criticizes Anglophone scholars working on skepticism for not citing works in other languages. One reason for this is no doubt the one referred to by Tarrant. Another reason is that Anglophone scholars don't usually read (and much less speak) other languages. In fact, the latter reason may be a consequence of the former, since it's not that they don't need to learn other languages (e.g., for practical purposes, in many parts of the US they should at least try to learn Spanish), but that they just don't care. Now, in relation to Tarrant's complaint, I recently noticed that junior scholars from the US and the UK who have just started working on skepticism usually cite those authors from "lesser parts of the world" who have been working in this area for the past eight to ten years, whereas senior scholars tend to ignore the works of the latter even though they defend, sometimes using strikingly similar terms, ideas or interpretations first defended or fully developed in some of those works. I have nothing against someone who, for whatever reasons, decides not to read the work of certain people, but if he/she does read it and thinks that their work is not good enough and hence not worth citing, maybe he/she should refrain from making use of their ideas.

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