I've published several articles derived from my dissertation/book manuscript, and although there are things that embarrass me a bit about all of them--especially the brash, pugnacious tone I now recognize as peculiar to the graduate student--I still consider them basically solid pieces of work.
However, there's one whose central argument I no longer fully believe in. It's still a plausible argument, I think, and even a profitably provocative one, but I'm not prepared to go to the stake for it.
The problem is, the material from that article accounts for nearly half of the chapter I'm currently revising. And it's the better half.
I think that the way I'm reframing both the chapter and the book will allow me to moderate and rephrase that particular claim while still retaining nearly all my sub-arguments and local readings, but I'm torn between wanting essentially to keep the damn argument--I wouldn't write that tendentiously now, but I kinda enjoy the confidence behind it--and fearing it will weaken the entire chapter. I'm also not sure what my ethical obligations are: if one changes an argument radically between one published work and another, does one need to acknowlege that fact in the text? In a footnote? Anywhere at all?
I'm sure such losses of faith or changes of heart must be relatively common, especially over the course of a long career working on the same or similar texts and topics. If you've ever had a loss of faith in your earlier claims and have contemplated publicly revising them, what have you done?