March 6, 2007
Against the Philosophical Gourmet
Though Brian Leiter‘s ranking of PhD programs in philosophy is a useful tool, it would be nice to have other sorts of “relatively objective” methods for determining the credentials of various faculty of philosophy. The Leiter report is based on a survey of about 250 faculty who are largely from the “top” Universities. As I understand it, the survey asks these scholars to rate various departments on the basis of the qualifications of the faculty there. So there is clearly a question of the tool itself being self-reinforced by an unrepresentative sample. Nonetheless, as one very respected scholar once told me, “It’s the only game in town.”
Given the nature of the twentieth century distinction between what was termed “analytic philosophy” and everything else (which by default came to be called “continental philosophy,” in contradistinction to what was being done at Oxford and Cambridge, though admittedly there was an important strand of analytic philosophy in Vienna and Germany), I think one ought to be careful when appealing to samples of faculty members–there is good reason to suspect prevalent biases in any selective population. There must be better methods available to rank PhD faculty. And since I think it would be panglossian in the extreme to dream of a world without college rankings. Shouldn’t we employ these?
For instance, I just googled DePaul University–a well-respected school specializing in the History of Philosophy and Continental philosophy. The second option, after the university’s main page, is the philosophy department. I wonder how many other schools are known for their philosophy departments, at least as far as the set of google users extends (which is probably a pretty large sampling)? Another possible candidate for survey would be the selectivity of admissions. And I have always wondered if there could be some automated ranking of the number of times a scholar is cited in a selected sample of contemporary publications as a function of contemporary scholars.