NYC looking North from the EMPIRE STATE BUILDING. Photo (proportions altered) by DAVID ILIFF, license HERE.

Early to bed, and early to rise,

Makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise

– Benjamin Franklin.

I don’t see it.

– George Washington

Now both of these are high authorities – very high and respectable authorities – but I am with General Washington first, last, and all the time on this proposition.

Because I don’t see it, either. . . .

Put no trust in the benefits to accrue from early rising, as set forth by the infatuated Franklin – but stake the last cent of your substance on the judgment of old George Washington, the Father of his Country, who said “he couldn’t see it.”

And you hear me endorsing that sentiment.  

Mark Twain, “Early Rising, As Regards Excursions to the Cliff House,” MARK TWAIN IN THE GOLDEN ERA 1863-1866.


What Railton Really Said: The Dewey Lecture on Privilege, Inclusion, and Activism

FullSizeRender-7 copy 2   I have never met Peter Railton, but I feel I know him. I say this after reading his recent Dewey Lecture. We are virtually the same age, born in the same month, one year apart. We went to high school in New Jersey during the 1960’s and had similarly adverse reactions to the experience. We both rebelled against the status quo in HS. We both had our flag incidents. We both supported the Civil Rights movement and fought to end the war in Vietnam. We probably went to many of the same demonstrations. (One example: I was one of the students whom Nixon encountered at the Lincoln Memorial* preceding the demonstration against the 1970 invasion of Cambodia, which Peter mentions. I use his first name here, because that feels right.) I am sure that we engaged in the same sort of conversations about collective action. (Accusation: ‘You are not really a Marxist because you don’t BELIEVE in the revolution.’ Peter will know what I’m talking about.) I saw other young people take all sorts of ethically driven risks, as did Peter. (Another example: a young, untenured history professor who participated in the seizure of the computing center at Stony Brook to protest the Vietnam War, who, when people pleaded with him to leave before the police arrived–because he had a wife and young kids and would likely lose his job–said in response: I need to be here; I need to do this.)  In addition, Peter and I probably hung out with some very similar academic types when we were young.  He mentions the Stuyvesant and Bronx Science students he met at a program at Columbia; when I attended Stony Brook as an undergrad many of the students had come from Stuyvesant and Bronx Science.** And although I don’t suffer from the kind of deep depression that Peter describes, I certainly had bouts with it, especially in my younger years.  I could go on.

But why focus on these similarities? Because I know where Peter is coming from, and because I know this, I am disappointed at the reception of his Dewey Lecture, on the blogs and on social media. Yes, people praised it to the skies, and others were so moved they cried. However, before I read it myself I had the impression that the focus of the lecture was the public acknowledgment and struggle with depression by a member of the profession. This is the emphasis, for example, of the open thread on Daily Nous.*** It seemed that the lecture offered support to those who have lived in fear, terrified that their closeted or ‘damaged’ selves would be exposed, destroying their careers. I thought, Bravo! for Peter, for raising this issue and putting himself out there. The personal is political.

But the issue of depression only appears toward the end of the lecture, the fourth of four life lessons Peter addresses, and it is preceded by the following remark:

I’d like to roll my three life lessons together to make a fourth. (Beware narrative unity!) The stunning reversal of age-old attitudes toward gay marriage came about, not simply because the heterosexual population became “educated” about homosexuality so that they no longer “thought” it a stain on one’s character. It came about, I believe, through experience-based moral learning of the kind Dewey continually emphasized. Enough gay individuals courageously took things into their own hands and came out publicly.  (p. 13)

In the narrative preceding the depression discussion, which only accounts for three or so pages of the fifteen-page lecture, Peter is actually casting his net wider. It’s worth noting the title of his talk here, which is clearly meant to suggest a broader range of concerns: “Innocent Abroad: Rupture, Liberation, and Solidarity.”  Peter is addressing several issues: he wants to emphasize the connections between thinking and doing, the importance of experience or practice, the value of working with others even when it takes time from our own personal projects, and the ways in which privilege, of various kinds, deforms people’s lives. By extracting the depression discussion and focusing on it out of context, we risk missing—or evading—the more general challenges of his address, most notably, how we often let our personal fears, desires, interests, etc., get in the way of doing the right thing, or even trying to do the right thing. If we miss this, we fail to see that doing the right thing, or at least trying to do it, is itself a crucial part of a moral education. I take it that Peter is perfectly well aware of the fact that this last claim will not sit well with people committed to making philosophy ever more specialized and technical, while dismissing alternative approaches as inherently inferior, or at best outdated. For these philosophical technocrats the nature of what they do no more requires them to think about practices than, say, a theoretical mathematician qua mathematician. But Peter is trying to highlight another dimension of the relationship between thought and practice, one that Dewey would find congenial.

Once again, Dewey was right—once we allowed ourselves to think—and act—in our own right, beyond existing boundaries and institutions, seemingly immoveable aspects of the system could be put in jeopardy. But we would have to accept placing ourselves in jeopardy as well. The slogan of the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley had been, “We must throw our bodies on the gears of the machine,” and by laying their bodies on the line, Berkeley students had won the right to hold political meetings and distribute information freely on campus. (p. 6)

Peter also revives another Deweyan concern: myopic assumptions about what constitutes being good at philosophy, which can be damaging to philosophy, as well as to the lives of individual philosophers. (Dewey railed against what he called the “epistemology industry” in his day.) We have limited ourselves by overvaluing one set of skills, restricting philosophy to one kind of game, to the point of dismissing those who have other virtues and aptitudes.

Other philosophers pay one’s work the respect of taking it seriously enough to listen for the arguments … and then attempt to find and apply the most telling stress test. You’re smart if you can meet and beat the challenge. (p. 11)

This can be of tremendous value. But is it really all that’s going on? Is this really entirely about the selfless pursuit of truth? And is this the only way of showing respect for work, or learning from dialogue, or testing our views? How did smartness get to be so central in evaluation in a discipline that is supposed to be seeking knowledge and wisdom? And what is it doing to us as students, teachers, colleagues, and researchers to allow this culture to persist? What are the full costs of this culture, in which we all to some degree participate, even if only passively? (p. 11)

Our ideology of smartness may work against an ideal of inclusiveness. So it’s no longer cute—can we also make it no longer cool? (p.12)

Contrary to the way in which people in the profession often think about philosophy, Peter argues (1) that thought and practice should not be seen as inhabitants of different realms, and (2) that people in the profession shouldn’t overvalue a certain kind of cleverness—one might say a set of skills involved in particular language games—to the detriment of other aptitudes and skills that philosophers may possess. But his critique of academia and philosophy doesn’t begin and end here. He is going after the big enchilada: privilege.

The deep truth, as I saw it, was that the factories and office floors and slippery decks of fishing boats were full of people just as intelligent and curious as the people I’d met at university, but whose abilities were never going to have the chance to develop that was enjoyed by those more privileged. Their lives would be a succession of days filled with work that was necessary just to get by. Thereby they generated the tremendous surplus that kept afloat the privileged classes in the style to which they were accustomed. This aspect of our economy, this relentless pressure for productivity at the bottom and the resulting fundamental inequality of fates across the social hierarchy, has gotten worse, not better, in the years since. (p. 8)

Attachment-1-6 Peter understands that the system, as we fondly once called it, thrives on what Marcuse called the productivity principle. (One doesn’t have to agree with all of Marcuse to catch his drift here.) It’s everywhere. It hasn’t stopped. And it’s seeping deeper and deeper into academia. How many articles is it necessary to have now in order to be competitive for an entry level tenure track position? One or two—or eight, or ten?   Instead of resisting this machine in philosophy–a discipline with a poor stonemason as its exemplary figure, one highly critical of fame and who opposed having his thoughts cast in writing—philosophy is getting sucked further and further into the machine. First, we as a profession have gone along with the commodification of recognition. (We don’t sell our wares, but we do publish them and hope that they get passed around. And when they are widely traded, we bank the recognition in various ways.)  Now we have commodified reputation. (Yes, this criticism is pointed at rankings systems, especially the reputational sorts, which are damaging to philosophy and support the status quo. Rankings are somewhat like the SATs—well-intentioned support for meritocracy gone awry. The SATs predict little but correlate extremely well with parental income, thereby extending and underwriting existing privilege. I don’t know if Peter shares these views, but given his ethics and politics I expect he would.)  Worse, people who succeed can come to believe they deserve their status on the merits, because they have won the productivity game, imagining–as some winners in the capitalism game do–that they have personally earned all of their rewards, conveniently ignoring what the social scientists who have examined professionalism tell us about how affiliation and networks can trump merit.   (See “Systematic inequality and hierarchy in faculty hiring networks.”)

The way some people who have succeeded, or who are on the way up, think about entitlement and privilege poisons our relationships to each other and to our discipline. And while the successful sometimes seem to think that it is politically incorrect to fail to show support for less fortunate colleagues, I am sure that many secretly believe that underemployed philosophers haven’t made it because, well, they don’t have the right kind of smarts. Even if we don’t consciously think this, the system fosters implicit attitudes of this sort.

We need to examine what we do to find ways to make education more affordable and inclusive, and to take, as well as resist, initiatives. This is today’s challenge for activism. Such activism won’t be either comfortable or glamourous, and it will mean a lot more meetings. In particular, those of us who are beneficiaries of the extraordinary privileges of senior academic life have to take up the cause of helping to make it the case that those at the beginning of academic careers have real prospects of secure and productive professional lives. If the philosophical profession can show solidarity with our most vulnerable members, even as they show solidarity with the many communities they aspire to serve, then Dewey will look down upon the philosophical world and smile. (p. 10)

The challenge here is clear: “those of us who are beneficiaries of the extraordinary privileges of senior academic life have to take up the cause of helping to make it the case that those at the beginning of academic careers have real prospects of secure and productive professional lives.”

Peter’s talk indeed raised the question of a humane and decent response to the issue of depression in the profession. Our neglect here is only one instance of the many ways we fail to do the right thing in philosophy. And doing the right thing involves more than thinking—or talking—about the right things. There lies the challenge of Peter’s Dewey lecture.

 Can we, like good Deweyians, combine theory and practice to create the open and diverse community of inquirers that was the ideal represented in the best spirit of the 1960s and 1970s—even if, in truth, we very often fell short. The thing is, we are still falling short. And we’re running out of excuses. (p.12)


*See,  “I Am Not a Kook: Richard Nixon’s Bizarre Visit to the Lincoln Memorial,” The Atlantic.   I arrived after Nixon had been there for a while.  The Atlantic article captures the bizarreness of the event, to a degree.  At some point I may write a more detailed account of what I saw; I can say here that it was  genuinely scary.  Nixon appeared drugged and out of it.  His voice would rise and fall in odd ways.  He was not well.  (In response to a question about Bobby Seale, the Black Panther, he responded in muffled tones, “how would you like to have an ice pick in your stomach?”)  And he was the guy with the finger on the nuclear button.

** Stony Brook was being billed as the new Berkeley or the Berkeley of the East by no less than Governor Rockefeller. It was flush with funds—we had heard that C. N. Yang, the noble laureate in physics, was making $100K a year—in the early 1970s, a huge sum at the time.

*** A noteworthy exception is here, in a post by Eric Schliesser (the title consciously or unconsciously echoes this post by Bharath Vallabha).  Schliesser responds to Railton’s call to action with gratitude for Railton’s contribution to “re-igniting the conversation” about the relation between theory and practice. In that capacious re-framing, Schliesser asserts the “right” of everyone to “exit from activism:”

To be clear: everybody has the right to exit from activism, even ones that are merely symbolic or small gestures. The world needs thinkers as much as it needs activists. As Hobbes notes humanity’s actions proceed from opinions, and the activity that shapes the content of these opinions is a philosophical task.

Schliesser casts the re-ignited conversation in terms of “professional norms” that weigh in the balance with “personal morality or individual conscience.” In the scary chasm between moral activism and institutional slavery, he locates an exciting opportunity to reconsider the “prudential decisions” that “all of us make” in light of the demands of the “public role(s) of philosophy.” Not, perhaps, what Railton had in mind here, but surely well-intentioned.


The inferiority cartoon in the post is from here.

Philosophical Gourmet Report Advisory Board: If Not Now, When?

Three weeks ago I posted “An Open Letter to the Advisory Board of the Philosophical Gourmet Report.”  I provided detailed information about the continuing ties between Leiter and the PGR, including legal ones.  No one on the Board has publicly answered any of the questions raised in the letter.

Leiter’s blog continues to derive legitimacy from its connection to the PGR.  And he continues to behave badly in relation to other members of the profession.  Yesterday afternoon he posted an anonymous comment on one of his “Open Threads” about Professor Leigh Johnson, an untenured member of the profession.  When questioned as to why he allowed a comment against an individual, since he was moderating the thread, he brushed the question off:  Well, I suppose I shouldn’t have, but I did, so it stays.  Leiter claimed that nothing defamatory had been posted, after referring to Professor Johnson as a “rather noxious presence in philosophy cyberspace.”  Leiter’s excuse–that what is being said is not technically, legally, defamatory–is not the bar for reasonable behavior in our profession.  Even his supporters on this thread are balking at the anonymous attack on Professor Johnson.

This must stop.  I once again call on the Advisory Board to address this issue.  Break the ties between the PGR and Leiter’s blog.  If you are unwilling or unable to do so, then you should resign.  Please don’t say, we can’t stop Leiter’s bad behavior, because you certainly can help to delegitimize it, which will go a long way to solving the problem. Leiter should not be given the cover that you provide him.  It is simply wrong to lend your names to this.

Here is the exchange from yesterday, February 16, 2015.


As of 3:00 PM on February 17, Leiter added three comments to the thread.   (What are now comments #8 and #9 were actually posted before #7.   He then added #7–earlier time stamp but posted later–in which he said that the discussion is now closed on comment #2.)


UPDATE, 4:15 PM, February 17th.  The comment below and Leiter’s response were added to the thread after I posted at around 3:00 PM.   The Board truly needs to act.

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A Graphic Illustration of the Philosophical Gourmet Report’s Staffing Crisis

A picture is worth a thousand words.  But a picture with words is priceless.

The Philosophical Gourmet Report’s specialty rankings do not do justice to many evaluated areas.  Here is one example.  I gathered the information for the word cloud below from the wiki on graduate programs in American Philosophy on PhilWiki.   This wiki contains the specializations of faculty who list an area in American Philosophy as a specialization.  The larger the word in the cloud, the more occurrences of the word, relative to the other words.  (I limited the word cloud to 100 words.  You can read more about the American Philosophy word cloud here.)

Am cloud warmer 100

The word cloud below was generated from the specializations listed by the evaluators in American Philosophy for the Philosophical Gourmet Report.

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A bit thin.

But, you say, that the PGR only had three evaluators in American and there are more than seventy-five philosophers in the wiki.  Exactly–that’s part of the problem, isn’t it?   There aren’t any legitimate methodological standards that can support the ranking of graduate programs by evaluators who cover such a small amount of the territory of an area, in this case, both within American and in the fields associated with American.

I say to anyone thinking of using the PGR: Caveat Emptor.  American Philosophy certainly isn’t the only area to have too few evaluators and evaluators whose backgrounds don’t do justice to a field.  (And of course the PGR has many other issues.  See, here and here, for more information.)

[ I welcome comments and corrections.]

The Word Cloud Wiki Challenge

Am cloud warmer 100

PhilWiki is a new site that provides detailed information on philosophy departments based on specializations, as well as a (growing) list of 170 graduate programs.  Currently, there are eight areas of specialization on the site with more on the way.  One of the most recent features is a prototype of a word cloud created for departments.  It gives readers a quick visual representation of the areas of specialization of a faculty and a sense of the relative emphasis given to specific areas in a department.

I thought it would be interesting to create word clouds for areas of specialization in philosophy as well as for departments, so I experimented.  Using the information on the American Philosophy area wiki, I created the word cloud at the top of this post.*  I set the generator for 100 words in order not to crowd the visual field with words that occur infrequently.

Why might word clouds be interesting?  There are many myths and misunderstandings about areas of specialization in philosophy.  People often assume that interests in some areas tend (in practice) to rule out interests in others.  Sometimes they are right.  But sometimes they aren’t.  And people often mistakenly associate certain figures with certain specializations.  For example, many folks outside of American Philosophy assume that a continental figure like Heidegger would be important in American Philosophy, but he’s barely present in the word cloud.  (He’s near the center and hard to see.)  Davidson is clearly a more significant presence.  (The location of the words is meaningless.  The generator reshuffles them.  Size, on the other hand, does matter.)

In addition, people working in specializations sometimes develop assumptions about their areas.  Americanists often argue that American Philosophy is genuinely pluralistic, that is, faculty who specialize in American tend to have a wide variety of specializations.  Does the word cloud bear this out?  Yes, it seems to.  There is a large range of specializations represented.  Traditional areas are represented and in a relatively balanced way: epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, logic, history of philosophy, and political, but other areas also have a presence: feminism, Japanese,  Native (-American), race, etc., and there is almost as much interest in aesthetics as there is in science. (Science is represented by “science” and “sciences.”)  Is the balance all we would hope for?  Obviously there will be different views.  For example, there is some non-Western, but not as much as we might wish.

Although we wouldn’t want to overstress their value, word clouds can provide information that begins to challenge assumptions people have about others who work in various specializations.  They also provide information to prospective graduate students about the kinds of specializations that occur most frequently in a department, on the way to more detailed research into programs.

So here is the challenge.  Create a wiki for your area of specialization.  There is a template with instructions on the PhilWiki site.  (Thanks to Shawn Miller of the University California at Davis, who has done yeoman’s work in setting up the site.)  Generate a word cloud from the specializations of all of the faculty listed in the wiki.  You can do that here.   And then see if your assumptions about the area are borne out by the word cloud.


*For the sake of consistency, all words, except for proper names and nationalities, are lower case.   A couple of other points: the word “classical” is often used with Classical American Philosophy, and “history” is used in an assortment of ways, e.g., history of philosophy, history of analytic philosophy, history of logic, and history of African-American political thought.  Note: The generator allows you to reconfigure the placement of the words.  However, it’s possible that in several reconfigurings, you may see a word or two drop out, or change to a color in which they can’t be noticed well.

I did the research for the debut of the American wiki.  I included all of the specializations of people who listed an area in American Philosophy (in PhD and masters programs), drawing on  faculty members’ web pages or CVs.  I did NOT include areas of competence.



An Open Letter to the Advisory Board of the Philosophical Gourmet Report

P0000141999S0001T2   About fifteen years ago the New Yorker published a cartoon depicting a late night talk show host at his desk interviewing a bowling ball seated in the cushioned guest’s chair.  The bowling ball speaks, and the caption reads “But I’m not here to talk about bowling.”

I’d like to say that I am not here to talk about Brian Leiter.   But as the new year has unfolded, in the aftermath of the big news of 2014 in the philosophy world—“Controversial Philosopher Will Step Down as Editor of Influential Rankings” (1)—his relationship to the Philosophical Gourmet Report, along with that of his blog, Leiter Reports, is more problematic than ever.  Last fall, the philosophical community was left with the impression that Leiter wouldn’t be involved with the PGR after 2014, with the exception of a seat on the Advisory Board.  This was a reasonable inference not only from the agreement he made with the Advisory Board, along with press coverage of the event, but also from Leiter’s remarks on his blog.  Here he is on the subject on November 17, 2014:

As I’ve written in the past (see the last paragraph), the PGR has always brought noxious behavior out of the woodwork from alleged “professionals,” and I have to confess to being glad not to have to deal with the PGR after 2014 for this reason in particular.

And in Leiter’s explanation of his decision to step down, he says the following:

But if someone feels editing the PGR means forfeiting certain expressive rights, then I accept that they have a reason not to participate while I remain as one of the editors.  And since I value my expressive rights (including my right to express myself in ways some others may find offensive), that gives me an additional reason to dissociate from the PGR so that those philosophers will, I hope, participate in the future (emphasis added).

So, from these and other statements, including those made by Advisory Board members during the controversy (2), it was reasonable to conclude–and many people assume in fact–that he would no longer be involved with the PGR outside his position on the Advisory Board.

But there are more questions than answers about the post-2014 PGR, and Leiter has done nothing to dispel doubt about the situation.  According to the Advisory Board’s agreement with Leiter, he was to step down as an editor of the PGR after the finishing the 2014-2015 Report. (3)  However, Leiter continues in 2015 to be the public voice of the PGR on Leiter Reports.  The PGR site nowhere indicates that Professor Brogaard will edit the next edition of the PGR.  At this writing I have been unable to discover any public statement by Professor Brogaard herself, since she agreed to the position, about the PGR, her editorship, or the transition she is supposed to head.  On January 25th, 2015 Leiter posted this on the blog:  “I also had a chance to have a long talk with my co-editor, Brit Brogaard, about the future of the PGR, and we should have some announcements before too long about plans going forward.”  He didn’t say he had a talk with the new editor of the PGR: he still refers to himself as a co-editor.

The ties between Brian Leiter and the PGR are deep and multifarious, and they have a long history.  The earliest PGRs included information on the movement of faculty, hires, appointments, tenure, offers, etc.  This information was important inside the PGR because it kept readers apprised of the appointments of those scholars whose location and position, in Leiter’s opinion, would have an impact on the rankings.   Leiter eventually moved this part of the PGR to his blog, Leiter Reports, and he continues in 2015 to track this information on the blog.  The home page of the 2014-2015 Philosophical Gourmet Report itself includes this link: Updates on faculty movements in philosophy, which takes to the reader to Leiter Reports.   This tie between the PGR and the blog continues into 2015, maintaining a long-standing feature of the PGR-Leiter Reports symbiosis, namely, that the blog collects and broadcasts information that was a hallmark of the original PGR.

Some other ties between the blog and the PGR, and the issues surrounding them:

  • On every page of the PGR (except the privacy page) there is a box with a link to the blog:  “Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog” (emphasis in original).   Did the Advisory Board agree to continue advertising Leiter’s blog on the PGR site?  Is the Board comfortable with the notion that readers of the PGR will see on every page this link between the PGR and the blog?
  • Who owns the PGR?  As far as I know, Leiter holds the copyright to the PGR, which gives him significant leverage regarding future decisions about the PGR.  This is not a trivial matter.  The current version indicates that the copyright lies with Brian Leiter, while a line of text indicates that the 2014-2015 content of the Report was “drafted” by the two editors, Leiter and Brogaard.  New content would belong to the editor(s), unless they executed an agreement otherwise with the owner of the original creation.  As creator of the PGR, Leiter would retain ownership of the brand (the name, the arrangement of the information and any creative content predating 2014), unless he executed any licensing or transfer agreements with Brogaard or the Advisory Board altering his rights in the PGR. (4)  If Leiter retains ownership of the PGR brand, his role as a Board member will be unique, to say the least.
  • In the October 1, 2014 email from the Advisory Board to Leiter, members acknowledge that the PGR is under Leiter’s control.  “It is clear that the majority of the board thinks that the only solution is for you to step down.  Of course we recognize that the PGR as it stands is under your control and the decision is yours.  But we do urge that you follow the request of the board” (emphasis added).  Clearly the Board was aware of the fact that it did n0t have the power to force Leiter to resign.  But did members of the Board try to find out whether at all, and if so how, things might change if Leiter agreed to step down as the editor?  Did anyone consult an attorney?  (They were–and are–dealing with a person who regularly trumpets the fact that he is himself a lawyer, and that some of his best friends are lawyers.)  Did anyone do any research to discover what Leiter’s rights would be if he agreed to the Board’s request?  Did anyone discuss with Leiter what the relationship between his blog and the PGR would be going forward?
  • In an “update” to a Leiter Reports post in late December 2014 (since removed) (5), Leiter asserted that with respect to the litigation he is contemplating against Jonathan Ichikawa and Carrie Jenkins, “damages in the six figures” “is quite probable” and that in the two-year statute of limitations period (running well into 2016), Leiter expects to see “more” “evidence” emerge of Ichikawa and Jenkins’ “bad on-line behavior.”   We can only speculate at this point, but what harm might these six-figure damages be based on?  Leiter’s lawyer’s letter to Ichikawa and Jenkins asserts that the two “published, or caused to be published” “a direct attack on [his] client [Leiter] and his publication, the Philosophical Gourmet Report (“PGR”),” and that that this action, along with others, “was part of a strategic effort to embarrass Professor Leiter and discredit him and the PGR” (emphasis added).  What portion of these six-figure damages does Leiter assign to harm to the PGR (as distinct from his own reputational damage)? (6)

The questions I’ve raised make it especially important that members of the Advisory Board think about the relationship between Brian Leiter and Leiter Reports, on the one hand, and the PGR, on the other.  On his blog Leiter continues to exercise his expressive rights in unfortunate ways.  In response to criticism, whether academic or professional, Leiter regularly engages in ad hominem attacks, of several varieties, often quite personal and at times callous.  Here are Leiter’s own words on how he approaches his critics:

As I’ve noted before, it’s important not to be misled by the volume and persistence of the critics–pay attention to who they are, where they teach, where they earned their PhD, this will usually tell you more about what’s really going on.  Not all of them have self-serving motives*, to be sure–some just have no judgment (vide Velleman).  [Asterisk in original, see note (7)]

He tries to undermine his critics not only by targeting where they attended school, but their affiliations with certain philosophical organizations.  (Are you now or have you ever been a member of SPEP?) (8)  He regularly makes arguments that we teach students in Logic 101 to avoid as fallacies.  He’s of course free to make these arguments, and to say the other things he does.  However, when Leiter uses his blog to attack members of the profession he is speaking through a huge megaphone. People who recognize Leiter’s first amendment speech rights need not, as Advisory Board members and PGR evaluators do, lend their names to Leiter’s exercise of those rights.  When Board members, evaluators, and ranked programs stand by silently while he does these things, they ignore the effects of this enormous concentration of rhetorical power on the profession and its members.

Consider what someone attacked by Leiter is up against.   He claims for the blog a circulation of more than 10,000 visitors per day (see his figures for 2014, here).  How does a member of the profession who has been attacked by Leiter gain traction to refute his claims when he, Leiter, can keep posting whatever he likes for so many readers?  Fear is also an issue.  Should people consider challenging him in ways that he regards as defamatory or otherwise legally problematic, he has told them two things in advance: one, that he may threaten to sue them for defamation or other wrongs, and two, that unless they have a lot of money, they can forget about prevailing because he has friends.   Leiter says on the blog:

This is how the law works:  if you say false things intended to damage someone’s reputation, you have acted illegally.  U.S. law gives more cover for defamers than elsewhere, but even here there are limits.

And this from September 19th 2014:

Fortunately, I have the best lawyer in the United States (truly!), a friend I went to law school with years ago.  It’s not just that he’s really smart and a person of extraordinary integrity, it’s that he has impeccable and shrewd judgment, and knows how to handle people–a huge part of successful lawyering is understanding how to get people to do what the law requires without actually having to bring suit (though bringing suit is, of course, the final recourse for certain wrongs).  Over the years, my lawyer has recovered bonuses and security deposits wrongfully withheld, secured revisions to factually inaccurate statements in a book put out by a major publishing house, and assisted me in dealing effectively with sundry cyber-crazies.  In none of these cases was a lawsuit ever filed (though in one, as I recall, a draft of the complaint did motivate the miscreant to do the right thing).

In November, I retained one of the leading defamation lawyers in Canada to explore my legal remedies for the misstatements of fact in the boycott statement from September.

Leiter in effect puts a cover charge on discussion of his public activities in the profession, both financial and professional: afford a lawyer and brace for incoming ad hominem, or keep quiet.  Some members of the Advisory Board, wishing to continue with the PGR without having to worry about controversy over Leiter’s activities, might consider severing the explicit link between the PGR and Leiter Reports in order to address this issue.  But this may not be as simple as it seems.  Consider, for a moment, the following hypothetical scenario: suppose that the Advisory Board decides, by a vote of 30-14, to cut the links between the PGR and Leiter’s blog.  The editor at the time initially remains neutral on the question.  Leiter opposes the move as a Board member, but when the vote goes against him, he asserts ownership of the PGR and refuses to remove the links to the blog.  The editor, facing a revolt by a majority of the Board, decides to remove the links anyway, thinking s/he has “ultimate decision-making control.”  Leiter, pointing to the loss of ad revenue on the blog from the reduction in traffic coming from the PGR site, sues the Board and the editor over control of the PGR.

Leiter’s influence on the profession is propped up in large part by the personal and institutional prestige that people and departments in philosophy give him and his enterprises.  Members of the profession and their institutions who crow about their standing in the PGR, sit on its Advisory Board, and participate in its production are inextricably tangled with Leiter’s expressive opus.  This is a professional embarrassment.  By their agreement with Leiter that he step down as an editor, members of the Advisory Board of the Philosophical Gourmet Report persuaded their colleagues in the profession and the academic world generally–and perhaps themselves–that future editions of the PGR will be independent of the control of Brian Leiter.  With her agreement to serve as editor of future editions, Berit Brogaard has contributed to this perception.  The Advisory Board and Brogaard owe us all a public statement clarifying the ownership status of the PGR and the relationship between future editions of the PGR, Brian Leiter, and Leiter Reports.  Members of the Advisory Board who are themselves uncertain about these issues should seek independent advice on these questions.


As always, I ask readers who find errors in this post to contact me with corrections.  I am grateful to a number of colleagues who kindly consulted and advised on several issues, especially the legal points, raised in this post.


(1)  The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 10, 2014.  First lines of the CHE piece: “Brian Leiter, the philosopher who has come under intense criticism in recent weeks for his caustic rhetoric, will step down as editor of The Philosophical Gourmet Report, an influential ranking of philosophy departments.”   On the same day, the Daily Nous reported the following story:  “Leiter to Step Down from PGR / The New Consensus.”

(2) These remarks, along with language in the Advisory Board’s proposals in the weeks running up to the announcement of the agreement of October 10, conveyed the impression, possibly shared by some or all of the Board’s members, that the PGR would in future be controlled by Brogaard and perhaps others to be named later.  The Board’s proposals contained language (not adopted) to the effect that the PGR would be “turn[ed] over to new management” [email 10/25] and that “the board rather than any individual should retain ultimate control of the PGR” [email 10/01].  With the announcement of the agreement and Brogaard’s (co-)editorship, many people, including some members of the Advisory Board, appeared to believe that the PGR would in future be independent of Brian Leiter, except in his capacity as a member of the Board.

(3) From the agreement, as reported by Leiter: “At the conclusion of the 2014-15 PGR, Brian will step down as an editor of the PGR and join the Advisory Board.  Berit will take over as editor until such time as a co-editor can be appointed to assist with future iterations of the report.  After 2014, Berit will have ultimate decision-making authority over the PGR.  Upon completion of the 2014-15 PGR, Berit will appoint a small advisory transition committee that she will consult on possible improvement, both substantive and operational, in the PGR going forward” (emphasis added).

(4) Accessible overviews of the issues (and complications) here can be found at the Digital Media Law Project, which addresses copyright, what it covers (and doesn’t), rights granted under copyright, which rights can be transferred or licensed, and the difference between transfers and licenses and the various types.  Without any transfer or licensing agreements, Leiter owns the brand and can assert his rights as the property holder of the PGR, should he think that his property is harmed or threatened in some way.



(6) If ownership of the PGR forms any part of Leiter’s claim against Ichikawa and Jenkins, this litigation, should he follow through, will shed some light on the question of the ownership of the PGR.  Editors and Advisory Board members will want to know going forward what implications this case may have for the PGR.

Other questions about the ties between Leiter and the PGR and about ownership of the PGR include: What is current status of the Advisory Board?  Who now controls its membership?  What process governs its business and its internal dispute resolution? With whom (or what) does Wiley-Blackwell maintain its agreement to “distribute” the PGR?

(7) Leiter’s asterisk takes you to the following:  “Some are also pathologically dishonest, and are getting increasingly desperate now that the PGR is out.”

(8)   I was recently the target of one of Leiter’s posts: “Mitchell Aboulafia: Caveat Emptor”  It’s really extraordinary to be on the receiving end of one of these, knowing that everything that Leiter, from his perch as arbiter of the profession, is telling thousands of people a day is either factually incorrect or crassly ad hominem.  Leiter told his readers that “many of his [Aboulafia’s] postings contain factual errors, indeed, easily correctable ones if he were at all intereseted (sic) in accuracy.  But he is not.  And, as I’ve noted before, it’s not worth the time to engage with the lies, falsehoods, and silliness.”  Leiter’s claims about me are false.  I have made it clear in my blog posts on the PGR and elsewhere that I welcome corrections in the event that I have made any errors.  Especially in the posts analyzing the methodology and results of the PGR, I expected to hear from a few people, given the volume of data I’ve relied on.  To date I have not received any requests for corrections from anyone: I never heard from Leiter, or from Brogaard, or from anyone associated with the PGR that I had made factual errors about the PGR.  The links he supplies as evidence for his claims about me take readers only to his own past posts, that contain more vague, non-substantive, non-pertinent, often, again, ad hominem complaint.

To this misrepresentation of me he adds what he believes, or wishes his readers to believe, is a fatal set of facts:  he points out that I was a member of SPEP (a “continental” organization) and its Advocacy Committee, that I taught at Penn State (a “continental” school), and that I received my PhD at Boston College (a “continental” department).  Note first the ludicrous ad hominem–presumably my arguments and the evidence for my claims about the PGR are what counts, not my pedigree.  Second, Leiter’s relentless philosophical myopia (or wish-fulfillment) not only misrepresents programs and departments–Boston College in the 1970s was primarily a history of philosophy program–it drops out the fact that I work on classical American pragmatism, in particular, George Herbert Mead, 19th and 20th century European philosophy, social and political philosophy, ethics, and philosophical psychology, and that I haven’t been a member of SPEP for a decade.  I remain a member of the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy.


*UPDATE January 30, 2015:  Since this “Open Letter” was posted I have received no requests for corrections and I am unaware of any discussion or any challenges to its claims, with, possibly, one exception.  On January 29, 2015, Leiter made the following announcement on his blog.  “As a number of readers have noted, the 2014-15 PGR is not yet finished; my co-editor Brit, and her RA, are at work on the remaining content, including the summary of each department’s specialty rankings.  Thanks for your patience.”   Of course this doesn’t address the most important questions raised in my post: when Leiter finally yields the title as co-editor, how much involvement with, and control of, the PGR will he have?  I reiterate my call for the Advisory Board to issue a public clarification of these issues for members of the profession.


A Note on “A User’s Guide To Philosophy Without Rankings”

owlofminerva   Readers of UP@NIGHT may be interested in a site I created to address the rankings controversy in philosophy, specifically the Philosophical Gourmet Report, and to offer resources to prospective graduate students that do not depend on rankings:  “A User’s Guide To Philosophy Without Rankings.”   There is a good deal of information and data available.  And as always, regarding my own posts, I ask readers to alert me to any errors, factual or inferential.  My goal at UP@NIGHT  and with the “User’s Guide” is to provide the most reliable information available.  I invite corrections and comments.

I know that people feel passionately about the role of rankings in philosophy.   I ask that comments on this site or at the “User’s Guide” be directed  to content and avoid personal attacks and ad hominems.