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I agree with Marcus that one should cite or give credit to every original source one is drawing from in one's work -- and that's we all teach or students, right? I think that people generally do that: back in the days of philosophy blogs, there were sometimes citations of blog posts. And you can often even see footnotes that say something like "this point was suggested to me in conversation by X". So if my work draws from a dissertation I saw on someone's website, I would certainly want to cite it (as an online source, perhaps).

I suspect that the notion that dissertations are not "official" publications may have another reason: perhaps the idea is that the author of a dissertation has a right to control whether it is being read or cited. Dissertations would then fall into the same category as conference talks or manuscripts circulated for the purposes of receiving feedback -- and in those cases, citing them would require permission by the author. I think that most dissertations are developed enough that their authors would be happy for them to be cited, but it may be a good idea to ask, especially if they do not make their dissertation available publicly. (Citing publicly available sources is, of course, preferable for other reasons as well, but sometimes those may simply not exist. But as the OP points out, most dissertations these days are publicly available...)


I agree: if it's relevant and you know about it, you should cite it.

Whether one should take the time to read dissertations is perhaps another matter, however. I like to have a look when I'm working on something totally new to me, since I find them to be good, comprehensive introductions to the subject; and if one looks relevant to a particular issue I'm dealing with, then I'll have a skim of the relevant section(s).

FWIW, according to PhilPapers my most downloaded item, out of a fair few publications, is actually my dissertation (~180 times); next is a published chapter of the diss (~145). So... clearly some people *do* read (some of) them!

Douglas W. Portmore

I think that there are two separate issues here: (1) should dissertations on a given topic be read by those who are doing research on that topic and (2) should dissertations be cited. Of course, whether something should be cited can depend on whether it should be read. So these two issues are not unrelated. But unless there's a duty to read something, there won't be any duty to cite it unless one has in fact read it and borrows from it. Now, I don't think that there is a general pro tanto duty for those doing research on a given topic to read all dissertations on that topic in the way that there is a general pro tanto duty for those doing research on a given topic to read all significant publications on that topic. There are a few reasons for this. First, most dissertations are not adequately peer-reviewed. The review is not blind and the review is for the most part done by those who have a vested interest in the author's success. Second, dissertations are often not of publishable quality. This is often simply because they are written by relatively inexperienced authors who are very new to the profession. Third, one can reasonably expect that the ideas from a dissertation that are publishable will soon be published, and so the dissertation will be obsolete. Given these three reasons, I think that few professional philosophers make a habit of researching dissertations when they're working on a given research project. And consequently they're unlikely to have any need to cite them. Of course, if one does happen to hear about an interesting dissertation and reads it, then one needs to cite it insofar as it has any influence on one's thinking or presents ideas that are relevant to one's research project. But I don't think that authors of dissertations can legitimately complain that their non-peer-reviewed and unpublished dissertations are not being read and, consequently, not being cited.

Douglas W. Portmore

Also, those advocating the view that dissertations are of the same status vis-a-vis the need to cite them as published work that been vetted by some prestigious venue simply because it equally public should consider whether they feel the same about MA theses, undergraduate journal articles, personal blog posts, etc. Should we really expect researchers to read everything that's publicly available regardless of who has vetted it, how it was vetted, and whether it was vetted at all?

me again

It is me again. The one posted responding to the question about credit. I am the one who drew the connection between credit and citation. I did not mean to equate the two, as some seem to suggest. But it is quite naive to think there is some form of credit one gets - what does it look like - when one completes a PhD above and beyond the PhD. In fact, my dissertation has been cited 4 times. But the papers from it have been cited 182, 25, 3 and 2 times. Before anyone gets too excited, the one cited 182 times is massively revised. My point in connecting citations to credit was that citations are a concrete way in which one might get something from a PhD above and beyond the degree.

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