In a recent blog post, Les Green draws a distinction between research and scholarship. The former he characterizes as “[finding] out something [you] didn’t know, but which was there to be known”; the latter involves keeping up with the literature and making novel arguments. He distinguishes both of those from another thing philosophers do which he calls curating. He characterizes it this way:
A curator attempts to care for knowledge and culture we already have. Not by freezing it or ensuring no others can touch it, but by conserving it while placing it in a new context, or displaying it from a new angle, or in the company of new ideas, so as to make it intelligible and perhaps useful to those who follow us.
This captures an important feature of philosophy which is absent from (e.g) physics.1
I have students read primary texts. It wouldn’t do to substitute a secondary source which recounts what the primary text says, because I don’t expect students to come away with the same interpretation. Instead, I assign texts which I think are worth engaging with. I often have some specific point in mind when I include a text on the syllabus, but I think that there are indefinitely many take-aways which would make the reading worth students’ time. My task is to help students find some meaning in this text and learn how to find meanings in texts like it.
The analogy with curating is apt, but I wish there were a better word. “Curating” lacks gravitas. It already has a use in internet culture which, near as I can tell, just means linking to things you like.