After months of continuing mishigas (a.k.a. craziness) over at the Philosophical Gourmet Report, a new and strange defense of the PGR has emerged.  First, a brief recap of what have we learned about the PGR since the spring.

  • On two separate occasions Mr. Leiter reported that Ms. Brogaard offered him the opportunity to continue as co-editor of the PGR (April 8, 2015,* and September 8, 2015).**  (Recall that Ms. Brogaard was appointed as part of an arrangement last fall to end Mr. Leiter’s control of the PGR.)
  • The Advisory Board will be reconstituted, although some of the current members may be invited to contribute to the PGR (September 8, 2015).
  • Mr. Leiter and Ms. Brogaard can’t find someone to serve as co-director of the PGR, but it’s okay.  There is no hurry. “Brit does not want to produce a new PGR until fall 2017” (September 8, 2015).

And by way of refresher, a little background on the way Mr. Leiter thinks about rankings.  Here he is in “How to Rank Law Schools,” including two quotations from Nietzsche Mr. Leiter finds relevant to the subject:

Academic rankings that provide actual information on matters of educational value have a useful role to play for students, quite obviously, but they also have a constructive role to play for faculty.  Professor Korobkin suggests that in ranking schools we want to discourage “status competition.”  I guess my own view is more Nietzschean, and so let me close with a quote I have used before. This is Nietzsche from his early essay on “Homer’s Contest”:

 [Then Mr. Leiter quotes Nietzsche:]

[J]ealousy, hatred, and envy, spurs [sic] men to activity: not to the activity of fights of annihilation but to the activity of fights which are contests.  The Greek is envious, and he does not consider this quality a blemish but the gift of a beneficient [sic] godhead . . . . The greater and more sublime a Greek is, the brighter the flame of ambition that flares out of him, consuming everybody who runs on the same course.

Every talent must unfold itself in fighting: that is the command of Hellenic popular pedagogy, whereas modern educators dread nothing more than the unleashing of so-called ambition . . . . And just as the youths were educated through contests, their educators were also engaged in contests with each other.  [All ellipses in original.]

So, Mr. Leiter favors so-called “status competition” and is suspicious of people who like a more egalitarian approach to education.  Bleeding-heart egalitarians, if you will.

How are we to understand, then, Mr. Leiter’s latest post, “Common sense about the PGR,” in which he appeals to common sense to defend the PGR and to “[a] well-known philosopher elsewhere?”  The anonymous correspondent says this:

It made me both sad and angry about what happened to the PGR.  It’s depressing for me especially because people I am close to are not realizing how elitist and foolish it is to trash the PGR.  The existence of the internet is not a substitute for informed rankings.  (Emphasis added.)

This suggests that opponents of the PGR are not bleeding-heart egalitarians, but instead elitists!  Now I’m really confused, given Mr. Leiter’s own philosophical preferences: “The greater and more sublime a Greek is, the brighter the flame of ambition that flares out of him, consuming everybody who runs on the same course.”  What value Mr. Leiter finds in the words of his correspondent is somewhat mysterious.

But wait!  Don’t get too excited about this ostensibly anti-elitist, possibly egalitarian turn.  Although Mr. Leiter makes an appeal to common sense, he’s still plumping for the exclusivity of a class of people intimate with the good and the beautiful, whose concerns transcend the mundane.  Even as he elevates the (anonymous) hand-wringing of a “well-known” professor about elitism, he, Leiter, quickly re-pivots to his aspirational Nietzscheanism.  Down with the mediocre!:

The internet is not only not a substitute, it makes rankings even more necessary, because it gives a platform for the mediocre to peddle misinformation and self-serving twaddle which just makes the situation of the least informed students worse.

Ah, now that’s the old Mr. Leiter.  All you guys out there opposing the PGR, you are a bunch of self-serving mediocrities and misinformation-peddlers.  The ‘herd’ (and its common sense?) that Nietzsche warned us about.  How do we know that these people are peddling misinformation?  Mr. Leiter says so.  Why is he right?  Because he got there first–first, that is, to the internet philosophy rankings game–and planted his flag, so that any subsequent criticism is by definition ‘polarizing,’ since it comes from another ‘pole’.

But in spite of Mr. Leiter’s bravado, he seems to acknowledge that not all is well in PGR-land.

In the real world, I hear again and again from students and faculty how important the PGR has been . . . Only in cyberspace, where the disgruntled gather and group polarization kicks in, does anyone actually profess to think the PGR make things worse.

Yes, the metaphysical heavy artillery has been unleashed: Mr. Leiter lives in and understands “the real world.”  Only in cyberspace, not in the real world, could anyone think that the PGR makes things worse.  How does Mr. Leiter know this?  He obviously commands both the real and the apparent worlds—a distinction Nietzsche railed against, but presumably one that can be invoked in an endless number of ways to suit one’s current tastes and needs.  That’s some metaphysics!  (The same metaphysics, perhaps, of the philosopher “well-known” “elsewhere”?)

At this point I may be burying the lede in terms of problems in PGR-land, so let’s get to it.

In the real world, I hear again and again from students and faculty how important the PGR has been, which is why Brit has my full support to make sure it can continue.  (Emphasis added.)

There is a question even in the PGR-meister’s mind about whether the PGR can continue.  Of course, with any healthy organization, you would never hear its (former?) CEO declare that the institution has “my full support to make sure it can continue”—stuff like that can cause the company’s stock to tank.  No, no one ever talks like this unless his or her back is against the wall.  See, for example, our current politics and a form of reassurance we might call “The Full Jeb!”


* The September 8 statement is an update of a post from April 8.  It appears that Mr. Leiter removed the April 8 statement from his blog.  (I have a screen shot if anyone is interested in seeing it.)  He does supply a subtitle for the September post, “MOVING TO FRONT FROM LAST LAST SPRING, FOR THOSE WHO MAY HAVE MISSED IT.”

** Just in case you had any questions about Mr. Leiter’s continuing involvement with the PGR, here is what he says himself  (9/08/15): “I should acknowledge that Brit had asked me to consider continuing as co-editor, but I declined. I would not have agreed to step down last fall just because of the irrational cyber-mob incited by miscreants and dissemblers…. I have made a personal commitment to assist Brit with future iterations–for example, by posting draft faculty lists on the blog–but having seen how much work is involved, Brit correctly concluded she needs a co-editor to undertake the necessary work.”   (The words “miscreants” and “dissemblers” are linked to earlier posts by Leiter.  I have removed the links.  If people are interested, they can go to his blog, but I won’t support Mr. Leiter’s targeting of specific individuals.)



I am grateful to a less-well-known philosopher somewhere for suggestions about this post.

Nietzsche photo,  O sentido do nada.


One thought

  1. Not all nuance is mishigoss. Similarly, not all elitists are elite and not all elites are elitists. Problem solved.

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