Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Philosophical Gourmet Report

So you want to go on to grad school and study philosophy?

Check out this site:

It's Blackwell's Philosophical Gourmet Report, which ranks Anglo- American graduate programs using various criteria. Here's a slice:

What the Rankings Mean

The rankings are primarily measures of faculty quality and reputation. Faculty quality and reputation correlates quite well with job placement, but students are well-advised to make inquiries with individual departments for complete information on this score. (Keep in mind, of course, that recent job placement tells you more about past faculty quality, not current.) Due to the time-consuming nature of this Report, it is published only every other year.
The Update Service will continue to provide timely updates about important faculty moves.

The conventional demarcation of "analytic" versus "Continental" philosophy has become less and less meaningful. With the demise of analytic philosophy as a substantive research program since the 1960s (see Section II-B below), "analytic" simply demarcates a style of scholarship, writing and thinking: clarity, precision and argumentative rigor are paramount. Thus, "analytic" philosophy is now largely coextensional with good philosophy and scholarship, regardless of topic or figure. (Of course, there is still a good deal more formal work that goes on under the heading of "analytic" philosophy which has no analogue in other traditions.) It is no surprise, then, that the best work on so-called "Continental" figures is done largely by philosophers with so-called "analytic" training.

So, too, "Continental" is an increasingly meaningless label: much of what philosophers do on the European Continent these days is "analytic" philosophy or historical scholarship. While a small minority of philosophers in the U.S. still use the label "Continental philosophy" to demarcate whatever someone suitably obscure has done in Paris recently, the label is best-reserved as a characterization for a group of important historical figures largely in Germany and France in the 19th and 20th centuries; in that respect, the label is much like the labels "medieval philosophy" or "early modern." And as with these other historical groupings, there are some overlapping thematic affinities among the figures so designated, but there are also discontinuities and in some cases profound differences (e.g., Husserl has more in common with Frege than with Nietzsche, and Habermas more in common with Rawls than Marx).

The collapse of a useful analytic/Continental divide led several years ago to dropping the misleading "analytic" from the subtitle of the Report. There is one discipline, philosophy, which includes many topics and figures, and which admits of good and bad work. Certainly there remain differences in styles of philosophical work, but those differences are no longer illuminated by the analytic/Continental divide. This Report tries to capture existing professional sentiment about quality at different programs and in different fields in the English-speaking world. (Lack of reliable information leads me to exclude the non-English-speaking world, though there are thriving philosophical communities in, e.g., the Scandanavian countries, Israel, Germany, etc., but they are beyond the scope of this Report.) Obviously, there will be groups and departments on the margins of the profession-or which used to be at the top of the profession, and whose decline has been charted--who will resent such an evaluation effort, but qualitative assessment remains of great importance to prospective students.
Yet there remain some important differences in how departments approach philosophy. One important difference concerns the priority different departments give to the history of philosophy. You can get a good idea of which programs are most committed to history of philosophy by reviewing the Specialty Rankings, below. Some excellent departments--like Rutgers and MIT--are ranked in hardly any historical areas, while others--like Princeton, Pittsburgh, Berkeley, Oxford, Stanford, and UC Irvine-are ranked in multiple historical areas. Conversely, some programs give less priority to "contemporary," substantive areas (like philosophy of mind or metaphysics) in favor of a strong historical orientation: for example, Chicago, Penn, Boston University, and Emory.

Another significant divide in professional philosophy is marked by those philosophers who are naturalists and those who are not. The naturalists are skeptical that philosophers have any distinctive methods or techniques that allow them to solve problems without the assistance of empirical science; philosophy for the naturalists is just an abstract branch of empirical science, examining and clarifying empircal claims, but not adding any substantive body of knowledge to the task of philosophy. Naturalists differ in their commitment to this approach, but all share the idea of philosophy as a discipline which is simply continuous with empirical science. The non-naturalists, by contrast, do not view empirical science as a relevant constraint upon, or necessary element in, philosophical work. Philosophy remains an essentially a priori discipline, in which intuitions, thought experiments, and conceptual analyses do most of the work.

Some departments have significant naturalist contingents: for example, NYU, Rutgers, Michigan, Arizona, Cornell, UC Davis, CUNY, Maryland, Duke, Connecticut. Others have large non-naturalist (or even anti-naturalist) contingents, like Pittsburgh (Philosophy proper, not HPS), Harvard, Notre Dame, Berkeley, Chicago, Yale, Penn, Colorado, and Johns Hopkins. Most have some mix of the various positions, and even the departments just noted don't speak univocally. Most UK departments tend to be squarely in the non-naturalist camp, many Australasian departments in the naturalist camp..

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