From the main thread,
My biggest surprise, though, is the relative silence of some of the more vocal opponents of the Leiter Report. The Pluralist's Guide actually and overtly manifests all of the methodological flaws that critics of the PGR typically (though mistakenly) claim undermine the PGR and render it pernicious. So anyone who (misguidedly) objects to the PGR on methodological grounds has especially strong reason to object to the Pluralist's Guide-- the Pluralist's Guide really is what Leiter's ignorant critics say the PGR is
Someone care to explain?Now, my criticisms of the PGR have always been twofold. First, 250 or so (depending on the year) people cannot speak for more than 10,000 + philosophers in the United States. That's pretty simple, and the methods simply reify attitudes of institutional pedigree that seem to result in silliness. Consider the following quote from Leiter,
The quality of philosophy and scholarship at the recommended SPEP Guide programs in continental philosophy is generally inferior to that at programs either ignored or not recommended that have offerings in the same areas. This is a judgment on the merits of work, a judgment based on considerations like argumentative and dialectical sophistication and perspicuousnes, historical and cultural erudition, and knowledge of the history of philosophy.We're putting our faith in those that have faith in pedigree before substance, even to the point where we exclude others that are clearly doing excellent work. Let me point you to an example. Would I want Sean Kelly to supervise my dissertation if I wanted to work on Husserl, or Memphis with Thomas Nenon? I think the choice of the latter over the former an obvious one for supervisory reasons alone.
I think Memphis has a top-notch PhD program. Leiter has used it as an example of what he called Party-Line Continentalism some time ago.
The good news here is that Party Line Continentalism is, ironically enough, increasingly just an Anglophone phenomenon, confined to a handful of departments in the U.S. (e.g., Penn State, Stony Brook, DePaul, Memphis, Vanderbilt, the New School, Dusquesne), the U.K. (e.g., Middlesex and Dundee), and Australia (e.g., New South Wales). (Even these Party Line Continentalist departments are increasingly diverse, which is a welcome development!) On the European Continent itself, Party Line Continentalism is in retreat almost everywhere, as rigorous historical scholarship, that transcends national boundaries, and Anglophone-style philosophical work is increasingly dominant.So, we have two examples of Leiter thinking such a program as lesser than a PGR ranked school. Why not, however, see Memphis as a place that just does things differently? Certainly, it is impossible for a single man to render judgment on all these programs and their collective work given that nobody could sample all their work, yet he does. The philosophical reason to call Leiter out on his attitude comes from the tremendous power exercised on behalf of his blog and position in the profession. I think having such a polemical attitude towards other philosophers is dangerous, and downright wrong.
Those that agree with him have a self-interest in the perception of their program being maintained. These are the very same people enacting the surveys, though it should be clear that a surveyor cannot render judgment about their own department. Even more to the point, these same people have now had the favor of Leiter's rankings to the point that undergraduate students of placed PhDs are sending those undergraduates back to the same resource they consulted. Thus, the reification of pedigree continues.
In my eyes, such reification is bad because it divides up the professional community in ways that do not benefit the whole of the community. With that said, Leiter is at least exemplary when any department of philosophy comes under attack. His blogging during the Middlesex fiasco supported philosophy, even though they were Party-Line Continentals.
The same reification would happen eventually to the Pluralist Guide. That's just the danger of ranking. It shores up our biases.
This isn't to say that Leiter is wrong about everything. His concerns about how exactly the women section was reported has some merit.
In conclusion, the criticism of PGR is that it reifies institutional pedigree over and above what actually might be prudent for a student to choose. I've used the example of Nenon vs. Kelly. If your interests were to use phenomenological method in conjunction with analytic discourses in the philosophy of mind, you'd go to Harvard (but then again, Memphis just got Shaun Gallagher whose work is very comparable). Again, we are only talking about supervisory reasons and the quality of work scholars produce that motivate those reasons for applicants. Therefore, the applicant should decide where they would receive the best supervision from the quality of work actually done. The point is that there will be times where a highly ranked program cannot supervise what an applicant wants to work on, and the reification prevents a solid evaluation of someone's work simply because they work at an under-valued department.
I don't know if any ranking could prevent this reification. As such, it might be better to have more than just Leiter's rankings out there, but the danger of reification would rear its ugly head conceivably in that way. As such, I firmly accept that the APA's statement on rankings. Then again, that's just me.