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Associate Prof

Great points and I agree. In my experience, one exception to the pattern of books having less exposition of competing views is when they use a "process of elimination" format to reach their own view.

For example, Tom Regan's "The Case for Animal Rights" gives significant attention to competing views, but in a way that wraps these discussions into his central argument.


I am currently turning my thesis into a book. I found this book of William Germano very useful to understand better the difference between books and PhD theses, and on how one best proceeds:

Trevor Hedberg

I actually just finished writing a book loosely based on my dissertation, but my remarks would be way too lengthy for a short comment. Instead, I'll plan to write up a post on the subject in January after the holidays have concluded. For now, I'll just say that I think the two points Marcus mentions in this post are accurate.

Marcus Arvan

Sounds great, Trevor—I really look forward to the post!

Recent Grad

Regarding the second point: "Specifically, dissertations typically contain a great deal of background exposition and literature review--things designed to show a PhD committee that the PhD candidate 'knows their stuff.'"

I've heard people say things like this before about other disciplines, but I've always felt it's less true for philosophy. From personal experience, my dissertation didn't contain something like a literature review, nor did I feel any pressure to show a committee anything about "knowing my stuff". I didn't get the impression I was doing anything unusual in this in my (American) PhD program.

It's also the case that plenty of books get published which do provide a wide range of background knowledge. For example, I was just reading Adriaenssen's "Representation and Scepticism from Aquinas to Descartes", winner of the 2018 JHP book prize. (It's also explicitly a revision of a dissertation, which might count against my first point, but it's also a European dissertation, and I've always felt that European dissertations were expected to put more emphasis on organizing that sort of background material.)


My dissertation didn't have lit review, and I think it's a bit odd to require that one does. Of course, you should use good citation practices like you would for any article or book. But I think of a dissertation to be a work showing that you can do professional philosophy, not something like a grad seminar paper. In most cases you do not need a lit review in professional philosophy. There are expectations, of course. So I don't think it is always bad to have a lit review, But I find it very strange that this should be a standard, and I am skeptical that it is a standard. Either you are writing good, professional level philosophy or your aren't. Most of the time writing that kind of philosophy does require knowing the literature, even if you don't do the review.

Matthew Duncombe

Begin by (re)writing the abstract: state the thesis, say where it is new, state your argument for it.

Second, start mapping every section of the dissertation. Write one sentence summary for each section.

Third, compare the two. Using your abstract as a guide, see what you need to add to prove your thesis. Include all and only sections you need to prove your thesis.

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