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Should you write articles on marginal or moribund topics?

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Should early career philosophers devote time and energy to writing journal articles on figures, topics, or debates that are moribund, marginal, or otherwise unlikely to gain interest among other philosophers? Obviously, this turns on complicated metaphilosophical and professional issues too large for a blog post, so let me offer an autobiographical perspective, following Thi Nguyen’s approach in an earlier post in this series. I did my doctorate at Durham University, starting in September 2006, submitting exactly four years later. My topic was the neglected later writings of the still-controversial philosopher of science and self-styled ‘epistemological anarchist’, Paul Feyerabend (1924-1994), author of Against Method. In terms of publishing articles on his later work, the prospects were mixed. On the one hand, Feyerabend was considered old hat. Genuinely important in his day, sure, but relative to ‘old-school’ concerns, no longer on the agenda of philosophy of science. On the other hand, the later Feyerabend offered possibilities for publication. First, the paucity of interest meant there was a scholarly space to fill – an attractive prospect for an early career scholar. Second, there was material in his later writings useful to contemporary, ‘hot topic’ debates in the philosophy of science – pluralism, say, or the epistemic authority of science in democratic societies. Given this situation, a professionally smart thing to do would’ve been to write articles on Feyerabend’s arguments for pluralism in science, keying into work emerging from North American philosophy of science. Such articles could (a) draw on my doctoral work and (b) resonate with active and emerging debates in philosophy of science, including (c) the ‘live issues’ that the ‘top’ philosophy of science journals would likely find attractive. I did not do these smart things. Instead, my first two published articles on Feyerabend treated themes so esoteric I doubt even the specialist Feyerabend scholars. . .

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News source: The Philosophers' Cocoon

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