Rescuing Philosophy Dissertations

Josh Dever is concerned that philosophers don’t cite Ph.D. dissertations enough.  To try to counter that, he has created a webpage with links to some philosophy dissertations.  (Link couresy of Brandon Towl.)


  1. Daniel Weiskopf

    Linguistics has always struck me (a relative outsider) as having more of a ‘samizdat culture’. Chomsky’s enormous _Logical Structure of Linguistic Theory_ is the canonical example, but relatively informal things like working papers, obscure conference proceedings, etc., were pretty common during the formative years of the discipline. (Ever try to track down early papers by James McCawley? It’s no picnic, even though some of them have been collected.) For some reason, I always thought of citing dissertations as part of this culture of informal text circulation. That isn’t to say that dissertations like Heim’s or Carlson’s aren’t terrific, of course. But very few dissertations in any field rise to that level.

    In psychology, by contrast, I can’t ever recall seeing anyone’s dissertation cited. Aside from the lit review, the experiments have presumably already been written up in a few articles and are already in submission. So dissertations there presumably contain little value added beyond the published papers.

    As for philosophy, when I was in grad school, I do remember seeing some dissertations cited: Chalmers’, of course, but also some that were cited earlier. Thomas Nagel in particular cites two Princeton Ph.D. theses in _The View from Nowhere_ (E. H. Wefald, 1985, and M. Wachsberg, 1983), and in his ‘Panpsychism’ he cites R. Goldstein’s (1976) and W. Stanton’s (1975). And I did, in a period of what can only be described as Quine mania, read James Higginbotham’s 1973 dissertation. These days I think I’m content to wait for the good bits to make it to journals, or to come out in book form (so they can languish on the shelf with all the other stuff I don’t have time to read anymore).

  2. Anonymous

    Publishing cultures do differ, that it true. I also agree that much of what is good in a dissertation will eventually be published in a peer review journal.

    But… I think there is instrumental value in something like this, beyond content. For example, it might be helpful for grad students about to embark on a dissertation project to see other examples of dissertations in order to get a feel for things like length, tone, breadth & depth, etc. Besides, who doesn’t want to see what is coming out of Princeton these days? 🙂

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