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THE PHILOSOPHICAL GOURMET REPORT, JUNE EDITION, 1995-1996   A Ranking of U.S. Graduate Programs in Analytic Philosophy, by Brian Leiter*

Before the PGR arrived on the web, it was circulated in photocopies.  The link above will take you to a PDF of the 1995-1996 edition, which was entirely the product of one person, Brian Leiter.  Much would seem to have changed since this edition: there is now an Advisory Board and evaluators.  But much is the same.  What kind–and how much–influence will Brian Leiter have on the PGR once he’s stepped aside as co-editor?  Odds are his influence will be significant.  I’m going raise some pertinent observations and questions that suggest why this is likely, in part by looking back to the PGR of 1995-1996.

In my reading of the situation, Professor Leiter managed to negotiate a pretty sweet deal for himself this fall with the Advisory Board:  he will remain on the Board–presumably, first among equals as founder and the man with the knowledge of how the PGR operates.  Professor Brogaard will be left with the arduous and time-consuming task of actually gathering and presenting the data for the PGR, while Leiter will continue posting material that is functionally and historically tied to the PGR on his blog, as he now does, maintaining his influence over the PGR and the profession.  N.b., Leiter holds the copyright to the PGR.  Members of the Board, or any co-editors, who try to institute real changes to the PGR might someday face real opposition from Leiter as the PGR’s owner.  What that might look like–well, I will leave this to the reader’s (and his or her lawyer’s) imagination.**

  • The 1995-1996 PGR presents the rankings in a few initial pages and then devotes considerable space to Professor Leiter’s lists of noteworthy faculty moves, retirement age proximity, tenurings, job offers, new PhDs, etc. Notice that in its earlier incarnation–before there was an Advisory Board, or any evaluators, other than Brian himself–the PGR was not independent from Leiter’s VIP tracking activities, which now occur on his blog.   Leiter’s efforts on the blog suggest that he believes that keeping abreast of these items is important for PGR evaluators.  As a matter of fact, there is currently a link on the home page of the  2014-2015 PGR to Leiter’s blog,  “Updates on faculty movements in philosophy.”   There isn’t merely a historical or hypothetical connection between the blog and the PGR: it’s current and explicit.  Presumably the link to the blog will stay on the 2014-2015 PGR site for at least the next two or three years, that is, as long as the 2014-2015 is the latest version of the PGR.  One of the things we don’t know, because these arrangements are closely held by Leiter and his Advisory Board members, as well as his new co-editor, is how, if at all, they decided to handle this relationship between the PGR and the news items on Leiter’s blog.  The continuing presence of the blog link on the 2014-2015 PGR site suggests that this issue either wasn’t addressed in the agreement, or, if it was, that Leiter succeeded in negotiating a continuation of the relationship of the PGR to his blog.  So in addition to his presence on the Advisory Board, he will be the PGR’s blogger, at the very least regarding the movement of faculty if not much more.
  • Professor Leiter had not yet defended his dissertation in philosophy when he produced the 1995-1996 PGR, which was in part based on “conversation” (see p. 4, 1995-1996 PGR). Nevertheless, we find claims about the discipline in the 1995-1996 PGR from which Professor Leiter hasn’t budged in twenty years, for example,  “[a]s it turns out, the best scholarly work on Continental philosophy is generally done at the predominantly analytic departments” (p. 23).  Note that Leiter had been at Princeton as an undergraduate and did his graduate work at Michigan, two of the top analytic programs according to the 1995-1996 PGR, which Leiter called a ranking of analytic graduate programs.  (Socrates to Anytos in the Meno: “Astonishing! Then how could you know anything about this matter, whether there is anything good or bad in it, if you are quite without experience of it?” [Rouse, transl.])  Can we expect any innovations in the PGR’s assumptions about what counts as good philosophy? In the current 2014-2015 PGR, now with a new co-editor, we find the following remarks:

It is also because analytic philosophy remains very much a specialty that it is possible to rank departments: the standards of success and accomplishment are relatively clear, maintained as they are by a large, dedicated scholarly community.

Indeed, it is fair to say that what gets called “analytic” philosophy is the philosophical movement most continuous with the “grand” tradition in philosophy, the tradition of Aristotle and Descartes and Hume and Kant.  Only analytic philosophers aspire to the level of argumentative sophistication and philosophical depth that marks the great philosophers—even as analytic philosophers typically fail to achieve the grand visions, the “ways of seeing” of the great historical figures.

So, not only do non-analytic philosophers fail to aspire to the “argumentative sophistication and philosophical depth that marks the great philosophers,” it would seem that it is the set of standards peculiar to analytic philosophy that makes rankings possible.  This does not bode well for the PGR’s treatment of other approaches or traditions, including all of non-Western philosophy.  (This, notwithstanding the hand-waving in posts like this one.)

  • Leiter’s descriptions of the differences among the top thirty schools in the 1995-1996 PGR do little to distinguish them.  (I say “thirty” because of the way that Leiter divided the 1995-1996 rankings.  See the “Report” linked above.)  Further, the players among the top thirty schools haven’t changed much in almost twenty years.  Specifically, 25 of the 30 schools in the top 30 in 1995 are still in the top 30 in 2014, and two of the other five are tied at 31.  Perhaps this is because Leiter picked the majority of the top 30 in 1995-1996 correctly.  Or perhaps it is because the PGR’s deep methodological flaws and Leiter’s faulty, or at least debatable, assumptions about philosophy have sustained a convergence of results from one edition to the next.  Or perhaps the PGR has gotten it mostly right by chance.  We don’t know, and that’s the point.  But I haven’t heard any commitment from the Advisory Board–or the new co-editor–to engage a team of independent survey experts to address these questions once and for all.  Without this, I don’t see how there will be any change in grounds for confidence in Leiter’s methodology.
  • The document is explicit about what it thinks the core areas in philosophy are: “‘Core’=Metaphysics, Epistemology, Philosophy of Language & Mind (p. 2).”  (Sorry Socrates, Ethics isn’t a Core area in philosophy.)  These areas are still given pride of place in the PGR’s rankings (notwithstanding the later addition of Ethics and other areas further down), and a large proportion of the evaluators rank in these areas.  (Professor Brogaard, the new co-editor of the PGR, lists the following areas as specializations on her CV: Mind, Language, Epistemology, Philosophical Psychology, Cognitive Neuroscience.)

IMPORTANT: this focus on observations about analytic philosophy and the PGR is in no way intended to pigeonhole or belittle the analytic tradition itself.  What is objectionable here is the use of a certain conception of the analytic tradition to parochialize philosophy as a whole.  Every tradition in philosophy has what we might call its ideologues.  I see no philosophically acceptable reason to encourage ideologies to dominate our profession.  Regarding the last point about the core areas, I am not at all suggesting that these aren’t important areas in philosophy.  It’s the balance I worry about.  In 2014-2015 PGR there were 140 evaluations of departments in these areas.  There were three in American Pragmatism, three in the Philosophy of Race, four in Chinese Philosophy–no other non-Western and no Latin American–and thirteen in all of 20th Century Continental.   And the Report didn’t have enough evaluators to do a separate ranking of Feminist Philosophy this year. (In the 2011 PGR, before any of the recent issues surfaced, there were only eleven evaluators in this area.)

Check out the 1995-1996 PGR.   Enjoy the ride down memory lane.  Or if you are too young to remember, enjoy a virtual blast from the past.  Also, you might do a thought experiment: try to imagine how one can move from the current PGR to something non-trivially different, given Professor Leiter’s past and future influence.

_____________

*The “Report” can be found in full at the link, and is shared under the terms of the copyright declaration from the bottom of p. 28:  “”The Philosophical Gourmet Report” Copyright 1995 by Brian Leiter.  The Report may be copied and distributed without written permission only if distribution is free of charge and the content of this Report, including its name and authorship, is in no way altered, omitted or deleted.”  The light markings on p. 23 are incidental to and in no way alter the content of the “Report.”

**From Leiter Reports c. 12/29/14: “UPDATE:  ON THE CULTURE GAP BETWEEN PHILOSOPHY PROFESSORS AND LAWYERS:      ( . . . ) I have realized how my many years as a philosopher in a law school have left me out of touch with the sensibilities of those making careers in philosophy departments.  In my world, lawyers are not scary, talk of defamation is not scary, talk of lawsuits is not scary:  all this is just part of the civilized infrascture [sic] of modern societies in which possible wrongdoing can be subjected to formal procedures for adjudicating the merits.” [Recursive link in original.]

One thought

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