Kind of a random post, this. Sort of a methodological reflection on the intellectual life.
On his blog, Fr. Hogg (of whom I learned via Dr. Carson’s post on “essence and energies”), mentioned that he, as a 51-year-old, is interested only in reading primary sources, since he has no desire to waste his remaining time on secondary reading.
It got me thinking: Just what is the line, or difference, between a primary and secondary literature?
At what point does a secondary material, like say Hegel’s or Husserl’s systematic replies to Kant, become primary in the field? I should say that Étienne Gilson’s work (esp. Methodical Realism, Thomist Realism and the Critique of Knowledge, Being and Some Philosophers, and The Unity of Philosophical Experience) exemplifies this dynamic in a magisterial way. By his own confession, s a historian of philosophy above all, Gilson was merely discussing in retrospect the primary writings of his predecessors. Yet, in doing so, his works have themselves become primary sources, in a way, for anyone serious about the history of philosophy and, I would venture, philosophy itself.
For that matter, how can primary sources themselves not be construed as a secondary material, since every author, presumably, is responding to someone earlier? After all, much of Aristotle’s works are “secondary” readings of Plato as a primary source, and, moreover, Plato himself is just a secondary “Nacherzählung” of the primum principium par excellence, Socrates in the flesh. Yet, unquestionably, these authors are primary sources.
I am, therefore, simply casting my bread upon the waters of this blog in the hopes of hearing a more rigorous delineation of the primary-secondary divider in academia. This is not merely a passing fancy, since I believe the question ties into to profound metaphysical issues as old and as central as the problem of Theseus’ ship (i.e., when do the planks of secondary scholarship get replaced with the planks of such insight and originality that they become a primary resource), the concreteness of Hegelian dialectic (primäre These, sekundäre Antithese, entgültige Synthese), Tradition and Canon, among others.