My Take on the Pluralist’s Guide…

While I was away getting housing to work at an incipient Ph.D. program with an emphasis in Continental philosophy, but strengths in the history of philosophy, metaphysics, and non-Western philosophies, I find a bit of the controversy last week (about which I’ve barely caught up on) about the Pluralists Guide to graduate programs a bit mystifying.

1. The guide is here. It’s just a beginning and I think it should have some benefit of the doubt (it was first published as test site). Leiter’s reply appears hypocritical. I think he has important things to say about what may be problems with the PG (the category of “needs improvement” for the treatment of women is not too long, but too short–it seems arbitrary just for the reason that it looks like three programs were just picked out of the blue). I remember well that for a very long time in the 90s, Leiter’s report was attacked for having no transparency, having a vague methodology, and choices of rankings that were quizzical to people in the fields covered. And for these reasons, the Philosophical Gourmet Report–the go-to guide for most students looking at graduate studies in philosophy–is eminently more transparent. (Surely Leiter must hopefully be a bit worried about how it’s used, even if it does has many benefits: students looking at a seeming arbitrary scoring difference of .1 between two schools and using that to base a career decision.)

2. The response to the Guide–as far as I’ve seen–have actually been good about the state of the profession, and any time we get a discussion going about what counts as philosophy and how it’s to be done–it’s a good discussion to be had. I think Mark Lance’s post is particularly good, cited here in Jon Cogburn’s extended analysis. In particular, given my own work, this discussion by Dan Levine on African philosophy is particularly important. I was invited to give a paper at a conference in Melbourne a couple of years ago on the Continental/Analytic divide, and my paper was wholly on the mélange of various methods and approaches in African philosophy. From that vantage point, these fights over which kind of Western philosophy offers more profound methodologies seems rather parochial.

3. Finally, Cogburn (see above) takes up Lance’s post and tries to extend the conversation about what philosophy departments should cover. Let me come at it from another angle: this whole conversation is parochial because it’s besides the point for the vast majority of departments.

We can’t just cover history of phil or Continental, but rather most philosophy departments are service departments, and what this means is that even top tier programs–pluralist or not–better prepare their students to teach, especially ethics and applied ethics, given the job atmosphere. Some programs do this–I felt eminently prepared through DePaul–but many still act as if their graduates are going off to a research position.

We can have a discussion about Continental/Analytic divisions or the SPEP programs’ value to the profession, but this discussion takes place when philosophy itself is under attack in the UK and the US, when most departments survive by teaching applied courses and live and die on decisions about whether, for example, the business school can take over the business ethics requirement or not.

But as I often mentioned when people asked me about teaching at USD, where I the only Continental person in a department of sixteen, I was perfectly fine because among the mix of utilitarians, metaphysicians, philosophers of religion, philosophers of mind, analytic feminists, etc., I was just someone else the department didn’t quite understand when writing reviews. And while not happening at USD, fights happen elsewhere about how the environmental philosopher isn’t a philosopher, how philosophy of religion belongs in theology, and so on. Everyone thinks they are doing philosophy and the others are doing something … else. All the while, life goes on since at the end of the day, you’re not teaching metaphysics or environmental philosophy all that often, since of course, all those service courses need to be taught. And at that point, your AOS doesn’t come to bear nearly as much as your ability to reach your students on compelling, if introductory, philosophical topics.


    1. I’m not sure he could disagree that there were similar charges leveled against the Philosophical Gourmet when it first appeared: after all, there wouldn’t have been a need for all the changes in the late 90s/early 2000s to name the reviewers for each area, and other changes for transparency, if this wasn’t an apparent issue. But again, this is all about what was a test site and what we’ll see, I’m sure, are changes that answer to many of the critiques of the Pluralist rankings.

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