November 30, 2014

Poses of Rebellion

I was on the job market in the Fall of 2007, and so was part of a weekly group meant for discussing the writing samples and job talks of the graduate students going on the market. The meetings were led by the placement director, who that year at Harvard was Susanna Siegel. One day, as the job openings were becoming known, a graduate student said near the beginning of the meeting, to no one in particular, "There don't seem to be that many good jobs opening up. A lot of the jobs are at places I am not sure I want to live." Siegel, seemingly half irked by what she felt to be a thoughtless comment and half feeling that she can't just dismiss it, replied, "Comrade, that's not important. No matter where you are, you can publish and look for other jobs." More than what she said, it was the way she said it that stayed with me. She seemed to communicate in her demeanor and her general attitude something like, "Don't be so arrogant as to assume there are the good jobs and the bad jobs. All jobs are jobs, a way to contribute to the good of all, and to fight the power structures. Some people, like some of you, will have to do it at lower tier schools. Some people, like me, will have to do it from the higher tier schools. Who is at what school is mainly a matter of luck and chance. But we are all in it together, fighting the old privileges together."

I was reminded of this when I saw the 2014 PGR philosophy of mind rankings. 3 of the 42 evaluators were members of my dissertation committee: Susanna Siegel, Peter Godfrey-Smith and Sean Kelly (the fourth member of my committee was Richard Moran). When I think of them I think of good philosophers who are good people. In particular, as with most people I met in academia, I think of people who seemed to insist when I was talking with them that we are simply a couple of people discussing philosophy, and that the hierarchical power structures within which our relationship existed were not that important. 

As someone raised in a Indian family context in which teachers were gurus, more important and more revered in fact than parents, when dealing with my professors, such as my committee members, I often found myself looking up to them. Not in the sense of putting myself down, but in the sense of always being mindful of the difference in where we were in the hierarchy. I see now this was implicitly annoying to my professors. For it was central to their self-understanding, as with most academics after the 60s, that they were rebels, comrades, friends, equals, but not the professors on high, sitting at the high table, talking down to the common folk. The Indian sense of being respectful of one's gurus, which I brought with me to my education, seemed to many of my teachers as if I were pegging them into the role of the Ivy League professors who were floating above the rest of the common academic folk, precisely the kind of narrative they were trying to distance themselves from.

In a way I felt it was more straightforward to engage with academics like Warren Goldfarb, Christine Korsgaard and Gisela Striker, who exuded a sense that of course there is a hierarchy in academic philosophy. When I interacted with Goldfarb it was hard not to think of Quine and Dreben, and the sense that I was talking with someone who is an intellectual hier of those seeming giants. It was hard not to think this because Goldfarb himself seemed to think it. Similarly with Korsgaard and Rawls. With these philosophers I had a sense that they were good people and good professionals. But what I never had was the sense that we were equals, not yet anyway, not just in virtue of being a graduate student. If there was an equality to be found, it had to be earned by oneself going up the ladder in due course. I didn't mind it, since it seemed to me perfectly natural that a tenured professor and a graduate student were not institutional equals. 

But with philosophers such as those on my committee, I felt a confusion of how exactly I was supposed to interact with them. They seemed hipper, cooler, as if they had moved beyond all hierarchies and divisions, such as between teachers and students, prestigious and non-prestigious schools, analytic and continental, or Western and Eastern philosophy. As if they were engaging with everyone as complete equals, as nothing more than comrades in a common cause, and that if I seemed to still feel remnants of these hierarchies and divisions in our interactions, then it must be my misunderstanding and my fault; I must still be holding onto these outdated notions and not embracing the revolution enough, not seeing that we are already all in it together.

Seeing the PGR philosophy of mind rankings, the main reaction I have is not whether in fact NYU is the top department, or if Rutgers is better than CUNY. It is mild disbelief that people I knew in academia, such as Susanna, PGS and Sean, think in terms of rankings at all. I imagine them sitting in front of their computer and deciding which philosophers of mind are more significant than other philosophers of mind, and so which departments are better than others, and I wonder to myself, "Are these the same philosophers who exuded the happy, positive sense that academia as a community could move beyond its traditional hierarchies and all that matters is good philosophical dialogue leading to good ideas? What happened to the idea that it doesn't matter what department one is at as long as one just focuses on contributing to philosophy?" Seeing their names in the list of evaluators makes me wonder if perhaps I had misunderstood them, that they are not as radical as they seemed to me to be, that they also see the world in the same hierarchical way everyone else does, that behind the friendly demeanor and the smiles and the sense that we are all equals, that they might have the feeling that they are better than others, that they deserve privileges like being evaluators that most members of the profession don't have, as if it were an objective fact that they are near the top of the philosophy of mind pyramid.

November 27, 2014

2014 PGR Phil Mind Evaluators

For the 2014 PGR philosophy of mind rankings, there are 42 evaluators. Of these, in a colloquial sense, 34 are white men, 5 white women, and 3 minority men. 0 African-Americans. 0 minority women.

Does it matter what the breakdown of the evaluators is? If so, how does it matter? Here are some options.

1) It doesn't matter in any way. The rankings are meant to track which departments are best for philosophy of mind, and all that matters is whether the rankings track the right content. The skin color, race or gender of the evaluators is irrelevant to that.

2) It doesn't matter philosophically, but it matters non-philosophically. The lack of diversity in the evaluators doesn't impugn the rankings, since the rankings only capture what is relevant to philosophical content. But sociologically speaking, it matters that mainly white males are in the position of judging where the best philosophy of mind is happening. To be able to evaluate is a privilege and it would be better if that privilege was more distributed.

3) It matters philosophically. The lack of diversity in the evaluators brings into question the philosophy itself that they are evaluating. It suggests that the conception of philosophy of mind the rankings is tracking is implictly, and unintentionally, reaffirming structures which make it hard for women and minorities to thrive in the philosophy profession. The philosophy of mind content assumed by the evaluators is not independent of problematic institutional structures, and the rankings' implication that it is tracking pure philosophical content independent of issues of race or gender is an illusion which perpetuates the problematic structures.

I believe (3). Understanding what it means and why it might be true requires more careful thought than can be done in one blog post. In order to elaborate on it and think it through more, on this blog I will keep coming back to this theme from time to time.

November 26, 2014

"The Barbarians at the Gates"

In a previous post I considered the idea of institutional gluttony in academic philosophy by reference to Brian Leiter. But in order to see the wider structures of institutional gluttony, we need to look beyond any one individual. We need to see how similar moves take place in different contexts among different philosophers.

Consider, for instance, MM McCabe's talk on the event of her retirement from the philosophy department at King's College London (it begins at 9:00 in the video below). The speech is an impassioned plea for academics to resist the commercialization being "imposed" on them by academic administrators. McCabe exudes moral indignation in every phrase and gesture, as if barely able to contain her righteous anger against those who are seeking to destroy academia, and thereby to destroy civilization itself. It is a powerful performance. Honest. Passionate. Yet, in the end, a bit hollow. For it is a performance of institutional gluttony, which can beget nothing other than more gluttony, both from those she sees as her allies and her opponents.

At the heart of McCabe's argument is a simple idea: Just as Socrates was killed by the Athenians, so too academic administrators who are giving in to market forces are killing academia. McCabe articulates this idea in some choice language:
"[Socrates] confers a public good in allowing the Athenians to understand just how much they don't know. To develop critical reflection of what they think and do, and to make dissent possible and politically functional. The barbarians were at the gates then and for this the historical Socrates was executed by poison in 399 BC. As we defend ourselves from the barbarians now, we might think why Socrates thinks these conversations [i.e. philosophy] matter so much."(At 13:10)  
The key move in this line of thought is one which McCabe hardly highlights. And this is the assumption that contemporary academic philosophers are doing what Socrates did 2,500 years ago. It is this idea of the similarity between Socrates and current philosophy professors that fuels McCabe's indignation. What is at stake is not just her vision of academia, but rather the very history and meaning of philosophy, since what is happening now is a reenactment of what happened with Socrates. Back then the Athenians gave Socrates the hemlock. Now the administrators and the know nothing business suits controlling the finances are giving the hemlock to the philosophy profession. She is putting the question to her colleagues, They killed Socrates then. Are we going to let it happen again?

At first sight, this is a strange argument, for the differences between Socrates and philosophy professors seem all too obvious. After all, it wasn't Socrates' profession to go around questioning Athenians. Nor did he expect people to come to his classes in order to learn from him. Whether or not one takes it at face value, Socrates claimed to not know anything and that he was asking questions so that he could learn; hardly a form of conversation that we see philosophy professors engaging with their students, and even less so when they step out of their classrooms. Moreover, at least as depicted by Plato, when he says to the Athenians that their putting him to death will harm them more than him, he seems to mean this. The wrongness of killing Socrates isn't mainly that it harms Socrates, and so Socrates doesn't speak from moral indignation. And yet, that is the main tone taken by McCabe, as if her and her kind are being oppressed by the barbarians. Would Socrates have given the speech McCabe did? Seems unlikely.

November 23, 2014

Email from Leiter

A few days ago I got the following email from Brian Leiter. He was emailing me regarding this post. Though I have written a fair amount about him and PGR on this blog, I have never met him nor had any correspondence with him prior to this exchange.

I responded to his email as follows.

The following back and forth ensued.

November 17, 2014

The Magical Water

It is a Friday night in the spring of my sophomore year in college, a few months after my struggles with writing the essay on "On What There Is." There is a bustling energy through the campus which signifies it is time for a break from studying, and for new friendships and experiences to be discovered. As I walk through Collegetown, I am aware of my usual voyueristic curiosity about the students who are dressed up for the night, who move in groups with a laughing rebelliousness and who seem set to penerate that night into some mystery at the heart of being social creatures. I circle through the streets, seeing if there might be a space where I can park myself, and eventually leave Collegetown. A part of me wishes that I could just go to my room and sleep, but I live in an attic room in a house near the center of Collegetown, and it feels too painful to accept being alone for the night; going to my room so soon, when others are just heading out into the world, evokes in me a feeling of failure which I would like to keep at arm’s length for a little longer.

Sensing the youthful energy receding into the distance behind me, I start to walk back towards Uris, the undergraduate library which is my second home and which is near the main academic quad. I usually spend my free time there watching two or three movies at a stretch, a form of binging on American culture. But this night I don’t feel like watching a movie, as if even that reenforces for me my disconnect from the people around me. So I walk past Uris and turn towards one of the gorges which surround the campus and give it a pristine, natural beauty. I walk on a nature trial under the moon light. What am I thinking about? Nothing in particular: perhaps the scene at Collegetown, or the argument about moral objectivity we discussed in class, or what I am doing here in Ithaca and what it means. There are no particular thoughts I hold to. It is more the feeling of being I am having which captivates my attention; the feeling of walking in the wilderness seperated from all people, all life and all civilization; the feeling of being draw into the essence of the world and finding myself there alone and forlorn.

As I walk I come to a suspension bridge and walk across it lost within my own feeling of myself. There is no one else around, and I position myself at the center of the bridge and stare out at the nature around me. I look down to see the moving water, so serene and peaceful, so fluid and sure of itself. The water – what is its relation to Collegetown or to discussions of moral objectivity? What is its relation even to Ithaca and to the very land it flows over? It flows on the land, but it appears to me magical, as if it were really flying over the land, unhindered by the obstacles of the rocks here or the crevices there. And still it moves on. Still it continues. Endlessly, without hesistation and without pause.

Slowly, and as if there was starting to be a magnetic field enveloping me at one end and the water at the other end, my attention begins to be drawn to the water as it is flowing underneath me, and I start to sense that the water is not in a different world from me but that it and I are connected: I am standing a few hundred feet above it. What does it mean that I am in the same physical space as it? That I am just a little above it? As I stare more and more the flowing water seems more and more beautiful, more and more alluring, and that in fact it is not at all a distant, selfish water. It is an open, giving, welcoming water which is happy to share its peace and joy with anyone who comes to it humbly as a friend. The water offers solace to any soul, no matter how much of a failure they might feel like, no matter how much they might seem lost in the human world. I stand entranced: the magnetic field between me and the water seems to be gaining power as it merges with the gravitational field between me and it, and the water seems to me to become grander than anything I have seen in my life before. Within the water I see the course of human history and the struggles of people of all backgrounds, and that even all of that pain is borne by the water with an ease which is mezmerizing and awe-inspiring. “Really Water, have you been here since the beginning of time? Can you accept all that pain and still move on with the same fluidity and grace? Can that be possible?”

November 15, 2014

Institutional Gluttony

There is a skill which I value tremendously, which I wish I possessed more and which I think is essential for the world becoming a better place. I will call this skill critical institutional self-awareness.

A person who has this skill possesses an awareness of how the very institutions one belongs to are perpetuating conflict and violence in the world, even as one is aware that this is a feature of all institutions and that one always lives within some institutional structures or the other. A person with critical institutional self-awareness is someone who sees that the way to change the world is to start from the institutions one is a part of and to thereby enable the ripple effects that would have in the broader society. Such a person develops a healthy detachment from the institutions one is a part of, so that they are able to see the contingencies of oneself being in this or that institutional structures, and is able to view all institutional structures with an equally critical gaze.

Someone who lacks critical institutional self-awareness is an institutional glutton. For this person the institution one belongs to and with which one identifies is the light of the world, the best of the best, the hope of humankind, the only pearl in the midst of general decay and backwardness. The institutional glutton transposes right and wrong onto existing institutional structures, and identifies the institution one belongs to as the beacon of the right and "opposing" institutions as the army of the wicked. He thereby treats institutional fights as the necessary and inevitable way for the right to defeat the wrong. He identifies himself, his well being, the well being of those close to him, and in fact the well being of the world as a whole with the well being of the particular institutional structures he belongs to. For the institutional glutton there is no divide between where he ends and the institution begins, so deeply as he merged his own will with that of the institution, assuming that thereby he is morphing his individual identity into that of something greater and steadfast and eternal. Of course, all that is needed for  the world to remain perpetually at war is for there to be institutional gluttons identifying with different institutions set against each other.

Institutional gluttony is all around us, and everyone partakes of it in some fashion or the other. But some people are so gluttonous that they stand out as examples of what we should avoid. And some kind of institutional gluttony is particularly ironic, as when one is a glutton regarding institutions which trumpet precisely the virtues of overcoming institutional gluttony. A church inquisitor, such as Bernado Gui as depicted in The Name of the Rose, is an example of this. Gui sees the world divided into the Church he is protecting and the heathens he is trying to conquer, and yet at the root of the Church is a figure, Christ, who never belonged to any institutions and who in fact argued that institutional gluttony is the primary vice which keeps us locked in battle against each other. In this sense, one can naturally say that Bernado Gui is not really a Christian. For all the things he upholds of Christianity, in an important way he has misunderstood the core value of the institution he is fighting for.

Brian Leiter is the Bernado Gui of the philosophy profession, and a prominent institutional glutton of academia in general. If philosophy is a way of cultivating critical institutional self-awareness and so a way of fighting one's own tendencies towards institutional gluttony, then Leiter is not a philosopher. There is no big paradox in what I mean by this: Leiter is not a philosopher just in the way that someone like Gui is not a Christian. This isn't to deny that Leiter is a philosopher of law or a Nietzsche scholar, anymore than one can deny that Gui was a Christian in that he was a Bishop and a member of the Church. But it is to say that aside from the job or the social identity Leiter has as a philosopher, he is not a philosopher in the more colloquial sense of someone who aims to rid oneself of institutional gluttony. To the contrary, Leiter doubles down on the gluttony, almost as if he is proud of it and as if to try to be a philosopher in the more colloquial sense, other than the merely professional sense, is a delusion of the masses. The way that Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor says that the stuff about Christ is all well and good for the masses, but when the rubber hits the road, what really matters is keeping the Church going.

November 14, 2014


It occurred to me yesterday I have been thinking of this PGR issue in too limited a way. I have been thinking, as has much of the recent online discussion, about whether evaluators should fill out the PGR surveys. Some evaluators have said they are not going to. And some have said they will. As usual, Leiter is up to his transparent rhetoric: after listing a bunch of well known people in the profession who filled out the survey, he continues, "If you were nominated as an evaluator, please try to make time between now and Friday to join this distinguished group of philosophers in contributing to the 2014-15 PGR."

In the midst of debate about the 2014 PGR, it can feel as if it will make a big difference if it is one way or another. That the profession is choosing its future, and what it decides to do will determine that future. But how much of the future of the profession is actually in the profession's hands? Much less than one might think. Or at least not in the way one thinks.

Imagine if PGR was now stopped and it no longer existed. What would happen? Would the philosophy profession no longer be hierarchical, or no longer be narrow in its focus? Would it suddenly become all-inclusive and become pluralistic in a way it isn't now? Not quite.

What PGR fundamentally tracks is money -- which departments have it more and which have it less. Why is NYU ranked #1? Because its philosophy department got a bunch of money which it could use to lure lots of big shots, and so lure the prestige of those thinkers to NYU. How did Rutgers get to be ranked #2? Because, even though it is a state school, it got a bunch of money for philosophy, and so it was able to make great financial offers to its faculty.

I remember once a Rutgers faculty member giving a talk at Harvard, and at the dinner afterwards mentioning a particularly high offer Rutgers had just made to a philosopher. Some of the people at the table gasped. One Harvard faculty member said in disbelief, "Even we don't make that much." It was a telling scene. The same philosophers who bemoan the commercialization of academia are nonetheless perfectly happy, when thinking of their positions as jobs, to benefit from that commercialization.

But for most academics money is not an end in itself. What money buys is research time and intellectual autonomy. The more financially well off a department is, the more it can get out of the way of its faculty. The less the faculty then have to teach. Less they need to feel as if they have to fight day in and day out to create spaces for themselves to pursue their interests. The dream of academics is to be given some money and then asked to go think. The richer one's department, the more this dream can feel like a reality.

Hence the power of prestige: it brings together a sense of material and intellectual flourishing into a halo of overall well being. Of course, Jerry Fodor isn't as materially well off as Bill Gates or even a high end doctor or lawyer. But as far as philosophers go, I imagine he is up there. Just like Parfit or Dreyfus or McDowell. They have prestige, which means that not only do they have material well being, but they also have the luxury of seeming as if that the material well being is incidental to the intellectual well being. Prestige enables material well being, but then also brackets it, sets it off to the side, as if it were something irrelevant or uncouth to mention. Even as it is obvious that it is those very material benefits which provide one with the time and the resources to focus on one's intellectual interests.

November 11, 2014

1979 and 2014

In a previous post I suggested that discussion of the PGR is best seen in the context of changes in the profession from the 70s which lead to the current institutional structures for job placement. Prior to the 70s, for the most part job placement happened through personal connections one's advisors had. This started to be replaced in the 70s by a "neutral" system of applying for jobs.

A positive of this new system was that presumably anyone could apply for any jobs and so the profession became more open. A downside of this new system was that the departments which controlled the institutional structure which oversaw the job placement process - namely, the American Philosophical Association (APA) - had a built in advantage when it came to placing their graduate students. If the APA positions and meetings were dominated by philosophers at Princeton, Pittsburgh and Berkeley, then it would suggest, or reinforce the idea, that those were the best departments in the country, and that their graduate students were the best candidates on the job market. Naturally, departments which were not well represented at the APA would see their lack of inclusion as cause of concern, and worry that their mode of philosophy and their graduate students were being marginalized under the very rubric of "neutrality" which was being used by other departments to position themselves as the best.

It is amazing how similar this is to the current issues regarding plurality and the PGR. The main thing that has changed in the past 35 years is that whereas in 1979 the locus of the "neutral" evaluation of the profession was a physical organization (the APA), now in 2014 it is an online organization (the PGR). But the concerns regarding insularism and lack of plurality in the self-representation of the profession, especially as concerns the institutional structures most closely connected to the job market, are strikingly the same. 

In this light, Chapter 8 of Neil Gross's Richard Rorty: The Making of an American Philosopher (published in 2008) is very interesting. Gross describes how in 1979, when Rorty was president of the Eastern APA, tensions regarding power dynamics in the APA came to a head at the eastern division meeting. Here are some snippets from that chapter:
"Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature was a successful and controversial book almost as soon as it was published. In 1979, however, the year of its release, the main controversy to occupy Rorty’s attention involved not the book but the APA. The year before, Rorty had been elected president of the prestigious Eastern Division of the Association, a testament to his standing in the profession. No sooner did he take the helm than he found himself embroiled in a major challenge to the APA’s leadership: the so-called pluralist revolt. The pluralist revolt centered around the demand of nonanalytic philosophers that analysts relinquish their control of the APA and allow philosophers associated with other intellectual orientations and traditions the chance to serve in leadership capacities and present papers at the organization’s annual meetings. These demands were not without justification." 
"Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, graduate departments where analysts predominated ranked highest on reputational surveys, journals devoted to analytic work were the most well regarded, and nonanalysts felt looked down upon by their analytic colleagues. Analysts parlayed their intellectual influence into control over the APA. Between 1960 and 1979, nearly all the presidents of the Eastern Division were analytic philosophers. Because analysts held top positions in the APA, they could appropriate for themselves one of the organization’s key resources—slots for papers at the annual meetings. In a report drafted in 1979, Rorty observed that 'many ‘non-analytic’ people feel that the chances of their papers getting on the program are so small that they don’t bother to submit them. . . . Some such feelings may be exaggerated. But I don’t think all such feelings are. . . . [Analytic philosophers], who make up most of the membership of the Program Committees, tend to have . . . suspicions about Whiteheadians, Deweyans, or phenomenologists, not to mention bright young admirers of Deleuze or Gadamer.'"

November 9, 2014

PGR's Supposed Altruism

The main defense of the Philosophical Gourmet Report (PGR) is that it helps students. But which students does it help? And how does it help them?

Does PGR help all students of philosophy? There are at least three groups of students PGR does not help.

1. Given that PGR has limitations in the forms of philosophy that it evaluates, PGR does not help students who want to pursue graduate studies in those forms of philosophy. For example, if you want to study Latin American philosophy, PGR would not be much help to you.

2. Even assuming that a prospective student is interested in the kinds of philosophy evaluated in PGR, it is not much help to students who do not get into the ranked programs for graduate school. If you are a graduate student at an unranked program, you might benefit from PGR in knowing who some people think are the best philosophers in this or that sub-field. But there is no way to have this benefit without the implication that you, in virtue at being at an unranked programs, are not getting educated by the best philosophers. Hence, in order for a student at an unranked program to benefit from PGR, they have to disassociate from the department they are actually at, and be always mindful of where they are in the hierarchy. A student at an unranked department has to always have their heads tilted up to where the supreme scholars in the profession reside. No doubt for some students this kind of head titling doesn't feel bad, and can seem like nothing other than having standards, with the hope that one day they could be part of the elite group. But given that the majority of the students at the unranked programs can never be part of the limited positions in ranked programs, "standards" have the practical effect of making one feel second rate, and having to fight through that feeling in order to  thrive as a philosopher.

3. Even for students who are at ranked programs, PGR doesn't help them if they do not identify with PGR. Perhaps a student doesn't think philosophy can be neatly divided into sub-fields. Or perhaps they are ambivalent about whether philosophy departments can be ranked. Or they have worries about the ways that PGR might reinforce implicit biases. Here it is paternalistic to say that in spite of these students' own concerns, PGR is nonetheless of benefit to them.

It cannot be denied that PGR is of benefit to some students. People testify to this. But this cannot be taken as a blanket statement of how PGR helps, or can help, all students. In effect, PGR helps the students who want to do philosophy in the way that the editors, Board and evaluators of PGR think of philosophy. The phrase "PGR helps students" really means:  if you want to be like us, and like that we use these rankings a way to understand the profession, then this will be helpful to you

In a way, this is perfectly understandable. Some philosophers want to pass on how they conceive of the discipline to some students who are inclined to see the discipline that way. That is, PGR is the way that some philosophers pass on their image of philosophy to younger versions of themselves.

However, this is no defense at all against objections to PGR. Imagine someone defending racism by saying it is beneficial to some people and that those people deeply identify with, and are able to succeed within, it. Of course this would be true: young people who identify with racist structures will find racism is beneficial to them and they would be affronted with the idea of dismantling racist structures. But what does this tell us about whether one ought to support the structures themselves? Not much. Pointing to the younger generation is just a way of saying, When I was young I found it helpful, and, by Golly, I am a good person and I turned out well and I didn't do anything wrong, so the structures must be fine! It is a way of refusing to hear the objections to the structures by just saying, I was a good person when I was younger and liked these structures, I am still a good person, so they didn't corrupt me in any way, and so the structures must be good!

November 7, 2014

Placement Data

In order to better understand the departments ranked in the Philosophical Gourmet Report (PGR) and how they are connected to non-ranked departments, in the past few weeks I went to the placement webpages of PGR ranked departments and tabulated the information on those websites.

I broke down the placements into five categories: 
  • Tenure track positions at PGR departments ranked in the top 25 (including US, UK, Canada and Australia).
  • Tenure track positions at the other PGR ranked departments (25-75).
  • Tenure track positions at non-ranked departments (including research universities, liberal arts colleges, community colleges, departments in other countries and so on).
  • Non-tenure track positions (including visiting assistant professors, adjunts, lecturers, post-docs and so on).
  • Positions outside of academic philosophy.

A few notes:

1) I am not as familiar with how positions are categorized in other countries, and so I focused only on the placements of the fifty ranked programs in the US.

2) For a given student as listed on a placement webpage, I only counted the "highest" position they had. So if a person first had an adjunct position and then two years later had a tenure-track position, for that person I only counted the tenure-track position. If the person went from a non-ranked tenure track position to a ranked tenure-track position, I only counted the latter. And so on.

3) The information provided on departments' placement webpages differ greatly in terms of how many years back they go. Some go just 5-10 years back, and others go 30 years back. So what is tabulated are not all of the placements made by these departments, but rather just what they have listed on their placement webpage.

4) My sense is that departments are often adding or otherwise changing information to the placement pages. So what follows is based just on the data on departments' webpages in October 2014.

The main fact that jumps out from the data is that only 13% of the graduates from US PGR ranked programs obtained tenure track positions in PGR ranked programs. Meaning that in order to place their graduate students in jobs, the ranked departments are undeniably dependent on the unranked programs. Not just a little dependent, but mostly dependent.

Overall on the US ranked departments' placement websites there were 3,573 placements listed. 217 got TT positions in the top 25. 256 got TT positions in the other ranked programs. 1,772 got TT positions in unranked programs. 936 got non-TT positions. And 392 pursed non-academic philosophy positions.

In terms of percentages, it is as follows.

November 3, 2014

Structures of Prestige

Imagine that in 2005 the Princeton philosophy department made an offer to Brian Leiter as a full professor and Leiter accepted. Could he then have continued to be the editor of the Philosophical Gourmet Report (PGR)? It is hard to imagine he could have. If such an offer was made, I would think it would be conditional on Leiter no longer being editor of the PGR. Then there would have been a magnanimous "I have carried this torch a long while and it is time to pass it on" post on Leiter's blog, he would have hand-picked his successor, himself remained on the board and moved on to the higher calling of being one of the uber-eminent senior scholars in the profession.

This simple thought experiment illustrates a fundamental fact: It is intrinsic to the highest regions of prestige in a democratic society that the people occupying those regions appear publicly to be uninterested in the prestige they have. That they are so focused on the essential tasks at hand that they seem almost unaware of, or at the very least to downplay, the prestige they are accorded. I say here "in a democratic society" because one can easily imagine a dictator reveling in the adulation and prestige given to him, in fact to demand it. It is easy enough to think of Kim Jong-un, like a narcissistic emperor, having someone constantly walk around with a mirror for him, so that he can bask in, as he sees it, his just glory. But it is hard to think of Obama this way, for any energy he spends publicly on basking in his own glory will seem like energy diverted from his true task of serving the people's needs.

It is sometimes said that the American Philosophical Association should not take over the PGR. This seems right, since the APA's commitment to the entire profession would be at odds with putting a handful of departments on the pedestal.

For the same kind of reason it is hard to imagine Derek Parfit or Jerry Fodor as the editor of the PGR. For even though Parfit in no explicit institutional sense speaks for the whole profession, the perceived quality of the work is as being so exceptionally high that it seems as if any philosopher from any tradition should at least recognize Parfit's work as brilliant (even if one disagrees with it). Implicit in this evaluation of brilliance is a kind of public responsibility. That if someone is as brilliant as Parfit is claimed to be, if, that is, his talent is so enormous as to dwarf that of mere mortals, then that talent is seen as a public good and so not something that Parfit can take personal pride in. Parfit might be well aware personally of the enormous prestige he has in the profession, but precisely because the prestige is so over the top in his case, it would seem uncouth for him to claim it as something he deserves.

In this way, as unfair as it would be for the APA to endorse particular rankings, it would be equally unfair if Parfit or Tim Scanlon or Judith Jarvis Thompson were to endorse particular rankings. Everyone knows that the APA is an administrative structure; that is nothing to look down upon and it is essential to the profession. But still, for philosophers what evokes awe is great philosophy and that is what binds them together. If the contemporary great philosophers were themselves to highlight publicly that they, and the departments they reside in, are the best, that would be akin to them walking around with a mirror so that they can constantly appreciate their own brilliant glow. This seems more than just uncouth. It feels like a betrayal. For though Reasons and Persons was written in Oxford, that too in the most privileged setting even within Oxford (with Parfit being at All Souls College, which requires no teaching), and though no doubt Parfit has the copyright to his book and he has the right to, the very brilliance of the book suggests that in an important sense it belongs to neither Parfit nor Oxford, but to everyone interested in philosophy. It would be to undercut that important sense if Parfit were to be obsessed with where Oxford ranks in PGR. For what is best in Parfit as a philosopher speaks to philosophy in a much broader sense than just which departments have the most money and so are able to accumulate the most high priced stars.