Philosophy Gourmet Report 2009

As the new PGR is out, I’ll take this opportunity to thank Brian Leiter for his service to the community.  In my opinion, the PGR is an extraordinarily useful tool:  primarily for aspiring graduate students, and secondarily for everyone else in philosophy.  Surely it’s not perfect, but it’s a lot better to have it than not.

Leiter and the PGR are periodically attacked.  As far as I can tell, the criticisms’ merit ranges from minor to null.

One of the most serious criticism is that the whole affair is a self-reinforcing exercise biased in favor of major “analytic” departments.  Leiter chooses the departments to rank and then he chooses the evaluators.  The evaluators are mostly a subset of the members or graduates of the departments to be evaluated, excluding virtually everyone else.  Unsurprisingly, the result is a ranking that includes some of the analytic philosophy department and excludes everyone else.  I find this criticism unfair.

Let’s remember that PGR is a ranking of departments in the English speaking world based on reputation.  Now, does anyone seriously doubt that, say, the 10 departments in the English speaking world with the highest reputation are those at the top of the PGR?  The same question can be extended to the rest of the report.  For the ranking to be invalid, there must be departments whose reputation is higher than those listed in the PGR but which are not listed.  What are these neglected departments and what evidence is there that their reputation is higher than those in the PGR?

The way to have a more comprehensive and fair ranking would be to extend the number of departments ranked and the number of evaluators.  This is what critics should do.  Prepare an extended ranking and show that it doesn’t match the PGR.  Given how much work it takes to prepare the PGR, preparing an extended ranking with an extended number of evaluators would be a huge task.  Still, I predict that contrary to the critics, the top of such an extended ranking would match the PGR pretty closely.

The critics seem to underestimate two factors: 

First, there is far more variety of philosophical styles and interests in the PGR-ranked departments than they seem to suppose.  The philosophical style most prominent at Princeton is quite different from that most prominent at Rutgers, and both are quite different from the style most prominent at, say, Pitt.  Nevertheless, there is consensus that those three are some of the most reputable philosophy departments in the world.

Second, although there are many departments that are not ranked and many styles of philosophizing that are not well represented in the PGR, there is little evidence that their reputation is comparable to that of the PGR-ranked departments.

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