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Thank you for this post series and for this post, Anonymous! Very helpful!
I hope additional people will expand the series and write about additional AOSs.

C all

On the one hand it is interesting to reflect on what we would have liked to have known, things that we now believe would have made our lives easier then (and now). But there is a risk here. I am sure I could kick ass in a grade 3 class now, with all I know NOW. But life is not like that. Some of the troubles we experience in graduate school are, if not necessary, at least a normal part of the development of a young scholar. Getting to know the relevant literature is learned. And similar remarks could be made about many of the hard earn knowledge and skills we now have.


C all,

I understand your concern. My post wasn't literally intended for my younger self. Rather, it was intended to help grad students currently working in history of philosophy. In that sense, it helps them now (assuming the advice is good).


Marcus Arvan

If I recall correctly, Wittgenstein once wrote something to the effect of, when doing philosophy, you have to climb a metaphorical ladder only to then kick it away. I took the OP as meaning something like this. Sure, it’s important to know what others have said in the secondary literature, but there are real dangers to getting so engrosssd in secondary sources that it can corrupt or limit your own thinking. This is, I believe, a very importantly lesson to learn—one best learned fairly early on (as one is still learning to climb the proverbial ladder). For habits have a way of reinforcing themselves, and some people never learn how to kick the ladder away.

Noah F.

I think this is a great idea for a series, and this first post is quite good. As someone else who works in a history of philosophy AOS, a lot of these resonate with me. In particular, points (3) and (5).

When I started, it felt like there was an overwhelming mountain of reading to do, and that there was no way I would ever even catch up with other grad students in my area (much less the state of the literature!). But, like the OP says, we should not overestimate how much everyone else seems to know - everyone has gaps, and that is ok. We should work hard to fill the gaps in our own knowledge that bear on our projects, but even then, only with the caveat that we will almost certainly never feel like we have read enough.

I also think the advice to not read too much secondary literature too early is good - it really does structure the way you might read the primary texts, and could blind you to other ways of reading them (or putting them in conversation with their contemporaries, or ... etc.).

So, thanks for this!

The Wittgenstein bit you're looking for, Marcus, is Tractatus 6.54: ``My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them -- as steps -- to climb beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)''

Marcus Arvan

Thanks Noah - it's been a bit since I've read the Tractatus. I'm bit embarrassed I forgot that's where it is! ;)

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