FAQ Page

1.      Will I be satisfied with what you say here? Of course not: you’re (probably) a philosopher, whether credentialed, credentialing, or fellow-traveling layperson. But give us a chance anyway.

2.      Is this a) a beauty contest, or b) an objective report on the quality of the programs under consideration? It is c) none of the above. We’re not foolhardy enough to try to rely on controversial constraints like objectivity. For one thing, we’d never satisfy everyone that we were using the right notion of objectivity (see question #1). For another, the best way to pursue objectivity would probably require looking at information that isn’t consistently reported and that we don’t have ready access to – like graduation rates, time to completion, placement data, and faculty citation reports. For still another thing, there’s no guarantee that even these factors will track whatever it is we claim to be tracking – or that they can all be put together in a coherent or satisfying way (see the recent dust-up over the NRC report).

3.      So what the heck is this? Think of this as a dressed up, moderately systematized version of what happens when you ask experts in a field about the best places to study in that field. We have put this question to our experts in various ways, and we have tried to organize their responses into a provisional, partial picture of the fields in question. So we aim to provide a summary opinion survey, meant to report the considered judgment of experts in a few fields on how one might fare when attempting to study these fields in various departments of philosophy.

4.      How do you pick your experts, and what exactly do they do for you? We pick them the way we’d pick people to review tenure files, or to consult about applying to graduate programs: we relied on our professional sense of the movers and shakers in the relevant fields. (Don’t pretend you don’t know how this works.) We have invited these folks to join our advisory board, which means that they answer our questions annually. We will also consult with them on how to improve the surveys, the reports that result, and the constitution of the advisory boards. They are not constrained in any way in answering our questions. They can go to websites to remind themselves of who’s in a department, they can talk to other people – they can, in short, do whatever they need to do to produce what they regard as a responsible assessment.

5.      Why are you doing this? Our sense was that some of our main areas of philosophical concern had no systematic way of gathering and distributing the information that aspiring scholars most need in deciding where to study. In talking to our peers and colleagues – both informally and in more formal settings in, among other places, SPEP and the APA – we found that a great many people shared this view. So we are trying to correct this situation.

6.      Yeah, yeah. Do you hate Brian Leiter? We don’t hate Brian Leiter. In fact, we think it uncontroversial that his Philosophical Gourmet Report has performed a vital service for Anglophone professional philosophy. There is considerable controversy about just what this service is, and how valuable it is. But if nothing else, he has provided and encouraged the provision of a great deal of information about who does what and where they do it in philosophy. He has, in addition, inspired and participated in important conversations and debates about what counts as good philosophy, and about how one packages judgments about good philosophy for the purposes of professional advancement, professional development, and the cultivation of new scholars. From this perspective, we hope to cover the areas of study and approaches to philosophy that Professor Leiter’s report doesn’t cover or doesn’t cover as well.

7.      Why are you focusing on these areas? What about [my favorite underappreciated area of philosophical study]? The short answer is that one has to start, and end, somewhere. The longer answer is that one has to start and end somewhere, and these are the areas that we know best. We make no claims to universal coverage, and we have no desire to occupy the entire field. So if you think another area needs the sort of treatment we try to offer here, then start your own survey – or to talk to us about partnering with us to expand this one.

8.      Where are the numbers? What’s with this ‘strongly recommended’ and ‘recommended’ business? We have numbers, but quantification is an artifact of the attempt to systematize what are essentially qualitative assessments. So the numbers are less important than the trends that the numbers reveal. Put differently, focusing closely on the numbers will, in our view, exaggerate tiny and somewhat arbitrary differences – between a department that scores a 4.57 and one that achieves a 4.61 – at the expense of larger scale patterns – like the gap between departments that average in the 4’s from those that average in the 2’s. For this reason, we have used the numbers to arrive at broad distinctions between places that seem more and less likely to provide the kind of high-level support that is conducive to good work in a field.

9.      What’s with these categories? If there’s no such thing as race (‘race’), and if notions like ‘race’ and ‘gender’ and ‘America’ are artifacts of highly contingent and problematic sociohistorical dynamics, how can fields of study be organized around them? The fields of study we have in mind are devoted in part to exploring and answering questions like these. We are working not from a Platonic conception of the ideal division of the fields of philosophical inquiry, but from an entirely pedestrian sense of the actual lay of the land in our profession. It is in fact the case that people study these things, and that they do so with some regularity under the rubrics that we’ve used, sometimes with the aid of dedicated professional associations, journals, and the rest. All we want to do is use the categories and identifications already at work on the ground and give people some resources to navigate the terrain a little more knowledgeably.

10.  I’ll grant that the fields of study exist. Unfortunately, you’ve set up my survey in a way that doesn’t track what’s interesting about the field. That is: you call it a survey of [X], when the field is really about [Y]. This question will take different forms for different surveys, but is motivated in each case by the sense that we should take a substantive stand on some issue in the fields we hope to cover. Our hope is to rise above, or sidestep, these sectarian debates, and point prospective students (and interested others) to the departments where they can consider issues like these responsibly, and with high-level support. This hope has led us in each case to choose the most capacious label, so as not to exclude any parties to the debates that define the fields. For example: You might be wondering why we refer to ‘American Philosophy’ and not just to ‘pragmatism.’ The answer is that the question of pragmatism’s centrality to the tradition that we know as ‘American philosophy’ is a question people ask in that field. We don’t propose to settle it here. And the question makes sense only against the backdrop of a professional practice that in at least some of its forms invites us to study people – like Santayana, Anna Julia Cooper, and Emerson – who might chafe under the pragmatist label. (This will be our answer, mutatis mutandis, for similar questions about, say, ‘feminist theory’ vs. ‘gender studies,’ or ‘race and ethnicity’ vs. ‘critical race theory.’)

11.  Where are the climate surveys for race, ethnicity, and LGBTQ? These surveys generated too few responses for us to share the results with much confidence. The climate for women survey may differ in this regard in part because Feminist philosophers began systematically and cooperatively inquiring about the climate for women in philosophy rather sooner than people in these fields (the pioneering efforts of a few determined but lonely souls notwithstanding).

12. Why are there no graduate students on these Advisory Boards? Graduate students are an excellent and important source of information about many issues regarding departments, but they are less likely to know about other departments besides their own. Therefore, we would need a graduate student from every department surveyed, and how would we choose which one? We urge students who are considering departments to consult with current graduate students, and to reach beyond the names provided by Graduate Directors.

13.  Who is behind this guide? Who do I contact with thoughts or suggestions? This site is independent of any philosophical organizations. Its authors are three philosophers interested in helping prospective graduate students get better information about programs that would suit their interests. These three philosophers are:

Linda Martín Alcoff, Hunter College, CUNY Graduate Center
Paul Taylor, Pennsylvania State University
William Wilkerson, University of Alabama in Huntsville

We had design and site-building help from Diane Bowser, Adjunct at Clarion University of Pennsylvania

You can contact us at: pluralistguidetophil@gmail.com