Everyone makes mistakes and reconsiders.  You’ve mentioned your own former errors and reconsiderations from time to time.  What does a scholar – any scholar -- do about that sort of thing?  Have you ever considered going over your past work and composing a book of second thoughts, like St. Augustine in his Retractationes or Corrections?


The great Western saint wrote a book of second thoughts because his vast outpouring of thought had been important to so many people.  A pipsqueak like me might want to write such a book – after all, even if only the occasional haunter of libraries comes across my mistakes, I don’t want to make him stumble.  But if I did write one, no one would read it.

Perhaps some day a scholar like me will be able to send abroad something like T-cells and macrophages, those useful critters in the immune system that seek out, engulf, and digest cells that aren’t behaving.  A reader opens one of my early books to the beginning of Chapter 3.  The paper begins to shrivel, and a warning voice intones, “Sir or madame.  Please move your hands away from the page.  The author has reconsidered and revised.”  The shriveled page crumbles into dust, and a new one grows into its place, expressing what I would have said then if only I had known what I know now.

I can’t do that, and it probably wouldn’t be a good idea anyway.  What I can do is what you’ve noticed:  When I reconsider an argument I have published previously, I can say so.  When I talk about a previous book, I can mention its faults.  When I discover something faulty in this blog, I can put it in order right away and advise readers of the change.

For my penance, I try to do better, so that perhaps, if all goes well, I will leave behind some little thing worth knowing.