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Huh. Good question. I'm not sure what is to be gained by bringing it up. You don't normally talk about your letter writers. I would do nothing. The letter's strength shouldn't be diminished by this.

Instructor Gadget

Thanks Marcus and AnonPhilo,

I thought one reason to bring it up would be to explain the discrepancy between the way the deceased's letter is delivered and the way the other letters are delivered. And with other writers, I just have their email addresses listed on my CV. With the deceased, I now have a dossier service email address listed. I thought that might look odd and might be worth explaining.


At one point you should get a new letter writer. It looks desperate if someone is relying on a letter from a dead person after a while. It looks like they have no other supports. I have lost a few of my letter writers. So you have my sympathy.


Yes at *some point* it makes sense to get a new letter writer, but I don't see a reason to do this until a few years after they have passed. This is especially so if the writer is very well-known or a dissertation supervisor. Presumably their testimony is no different simply because they are no longer with us, and depending on who the testimony is from, it could be quite valuable. As to the original question, on your CV where you list email addresses I would put an asterisk and write, "recently deceased". That would explain the difference to the search committee members. I might also put a line at the end of my cover letter along the lines of, "Since this might potentially cause confusion, I want to mention that "X" is recently deceased. I have included their letter of recommendation nonetheless, because they were influential in my grad student career.

Instructor Gadget

Thanks to both Tenured and Amanda.

If I can ask a follow up question: Consider three CVs.

CV1: has four letter writers and one deceased.

CV2: has three living letter writers.

CV3: has three letter writers one deceased.

Is your thought that CV2 is better than CV1? Or is it just that CV2 is better than CV3? In other words, after a few years have passed, if one has three living letter writers, would it be strange to continue to use the deceased's letter?


Hi Gadget,
After ONE year, I think the CV2 option is the way to go. Very quickly the rest of the world moves on, and past giants are set aside. And as I noted in my first message, inevitably someone on the search committee will say something like "What is wrong this guy? He cannot even get letters from a live philosopher." People truly say the oddest things.
Perhaps a way - crass way - to think of it is in terms of cultural capital. You need to show you still have some even after your advisor, or whoever, died.


Instructor Gadget I think this depends on who the deceased letter writer happens to be. Was it your supervisor? If it was your supervisor I think there is a case for including it for quite some time. If not, then I would drop the letter after 3-4 years unless there is some other special significance.

Instructor Gadget

Thanks Tenured and Amanda! Very helpful. It wasn't my dissertation advisor.

Marcus Arvan

Instructor Gadget: I have no idea what other people would think. Maybe Tenured is right and there are people out there who would think there is something wrong with you for using the letter for more than one year. The job market is weird like that. All I know is that I wouldn’t care. If Jerry Fodor or whomever thought you were awesome and wrote a letter saying so before they died, I’d still value their perspective. Kant is dead too, you know, and I still care what he wrote.

Curious Individual

At some point the letter should be retired because what is says will no longer be accurate/representative. For example, comparative claims like "A is the best philosopher of x in their generation" will no longer be as meaningful as the contrast class that you're a member of changes. But, until then, I think it depends on the prominence of the letter writer and how in-the-loop the institution receiving the letter is. If there is good reason to think it is common ground that they are deceased, don't mention it. If there is good reason to think that the knowledge is not common, do mention it. And, when you do, do so subtly. For example, mention in your cover letter that your references are A, B, and the late C.


Well, I guess I have no way of knowing what hypothetical search committees would think. But if they do think what tenured says I think that is a quite irrational reaction. If the letter speaks to your philosophical ability in a meaningful way, what difference does it make whether they are living or dead? Of course, after enough time it is unlikely the letter writer could meaningfully speak of your ability, but until then I find it odd that anyone would have a problem with it. Admittedly, philosophers can be odd lol.

Instructor Gadget

Thanks to all!

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