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March 20, 2011


Markku Roinila

Before my dissertation, I decided not to read anything after Leibniz - now I have tried a little Wolff, Hume and Kant. But is not at all likely that I will ever publish anything past Kant. And I have no problem with that.

But I do read contemporary philosophy sometimes to relax...

Nathan Smith

This is quite interesting. Thank you.

Two questions arise, for me. First, it does seem like there remains --- and perhaps you are here working through --- the question of "philosophy proper." In other words, it is not obvious that any given period of time or set of philosophers has ownership over the discipline of philosophy. Moreover, the very act of pursuing the question, "what is philosophy?" is itself a philosophical enterprise. So, surely, your acontemporary, historical philosophy is a candidate, among others, for an answer to this question. We cannot decide in advance whether or not such a project will be philosophical. One of the first criteria for doing genuine philosophy is not to decide such things in advance. So, I am encouraged by and admire your (and others') resistance against the contemporization of philosophy, i.e., the attempt to define what is philosophical as a range of questions and topics addressed by contemporary philosophers.

However, and second, I worry (specifically, as an untenured professor at a Community College with aspirations for the tenure track; and, more generally, as any rising academic) about the professional prospects of taking seriously your wish that historians of philosophy "explicitly reject the demand made by many of their non-historian colleagues that they demonstrate the relevance of their research to current philosophical debates." My question, specifically, is in which journals does one publish work with such an anti-contemporary aim? Personally, I consider the research I have done for my dissertation to be important historical research with potentially important implications for reading the early Descartes. In particular, I have done some documentary work that I think sheds important light on historical texts. But it is very difficult to get this stuff published in the top-name journals in history of philosophy. They want short (less than 10,000 words in most cases--including footnotes and bibliography), argumentative papers that raise an issue of relevance to a wide readership. Some historical topics have specialized journals that may welcome serious, textually significant, historical work. But from what I can tell the big one's aren't interested.

I appreciate your position, Justin. But pragmatic concerns force me to turn away.


Nathan: I'm definitely following Rorty's advice on this one: get tenure first, and then start saying whatever you want.

(Of course, even then it's a risk, if not a financial one. One doesn't want to just say stuff for the sake of it; one wants to be heard.)

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