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William Vanderburgh

The felt requirement to make one's work consistent across years is based on the false assumption that anyone is reading all of one's work. Or that they care. Hardly anyone in philosophy is famous enough for it to matter.

Alt take: It is okay to have inconsistencies, since then others who spot them will engage your work in print.

New dept chair

I generally agree with Marcus's responses. Context - I'm tenured at a regional university where I don't need a robust research program. I average about an article every 1-2 years. I'm working on a co-authored piece right now that is in some tension with one of my more-cited previous articles (previously I argued that X was a confused approach and we should prefer answer Y, in the new paper arguing that if/when we accept X there are certain parameters that should be included. I still prefer Y, but it's a controversial view). In this case, my attitude was that even if someone didn't wholly buy my previous argument, I still have additional ideas that I want to contribute to the scholarly conversation. I don't believe doing so will undermine the argument of either paper.

Assistant Professor

I admittedly don't fully understand the query because I don't see how we should be hamstrung by our previous claims - especially if we now find them faulty, incomplete, or inconsistent.

It seems potentially interesting to say I argue X relevant to Y but with respect to Z I don't think X holds up and here is why. It might lead to a revision of the argument X, or simply showing why Y and Z are different in kind and therefore these arguments are not inconsistent. This could help develop a coherent research program rather than detract from one, in my view.

As an early career person my challenge is not that my papers potentially disagree with each other but that I am interested in a variety of things and end up writing on some very different topics (within my broad specialization) that can make it difficult to see my research as a "coherent" "program" of research. I sometimes wish there were easier ways to put my current work in conversation with my other work.


You should let the editor of your collected papers worry about how consistent you have been. Until then, do what you need to do to get tenure. Once you have that do your best to get out interesting arguments that the rest of us can ponder.


Consistency is overrated. I'll never forget the moment when Luc Bovens wrote a reply to Luc Bovens.


Consistency assumes that our views are very compelling to begin with. Most people’s aren’t. Even Kant’s ideas aren’t very consistent. In fact, some people were more Kantian than him in some areas. Focus more on asking good questions and providing fruitful answers to them.


I'm familiar with OP's issue. But in my case, the worries are normally more detailed in nature. (Is the claims in this paper in a footnote consistent with the specific way I tried to side-step some issue in a previous one?) The worries are not normally big-picture ideas.

My solution so far has been: ignore it. What's the worse that could happen? A motivated graduated student publishes a paper that carefully dissects my work? That doesn't sound too bad. In fact, it sounds quite useful both professional and personally!


I think if the OP is really interested in how their different ideas fit together in a coherent, overarching view, they should think about working on a larger book project. But the other commenters are right that it's not as important for all your papers to be mutually coherent - while it's nice to have a cumulative research program, it's okay to think of paper-writing as a non-monotonic endeavor.


An author mentioned two of my papers in a publication, and in a footnote they suggested that I seemed to have changed my view about a key issue between T1 and T2. I found this interesting, and I'm not sure they're right, but I haven't thought much about it since.

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