1/22/2009

history of analytic rankings

Let me say, first of all, that I am not one of the Philosophical Gourmet/ Leiter haters. In my personal opinion, the benefits of Leiter's rankings (both general and special) far outweigh the costs.

That said, I was a bit surprised by "The top 10 faculties in History of Analytic Philosophy," which was just posted. What was more surprising to me than the 10 schools that made the cut was the set of evaluators. The evaluators (or at least the ones whose work I know) are all unquestionably excellent philosophers -- some of them absolutely top-notch. However, many of them were not people that I think of as historians of analytic philosophy. I've decided not to pick on anyone in particular, but if you look at the list of evaluators in the above-linked post, and then look at each evaluator's publication record, you will see what I mean. About half of the evaluators have primary research areas outside history of analytic.

What was most surprising to me was who was left out of the list of evaluators. To give you a general sense: if you look at the list of contributors to the recent Cambridge Companions to Quine, Carnap, and Logical Empiricism (that's about 35 people total), a grand total of one appears on Leiter's list of evaluators (Thomas Ricketts, who I think definitely should be on the list of evaluators). But missing were, among others: Michael Friedman, Richard Creath, Peter Hylton, Alan Richardson, William Demopoulus, Thomas Uebel, and other leading figures who have a large proportion of their research in history of analytic.

Of course, I don't have all the facts about how the list of evaluators came into existence; perhaps Professor Leiter did solicit opinions from the folks just mentioned, and they declined to participate. If so, that's a shame; the rankings could perhaps have been better with their input.

Again, in general I really appreciate the existence of Leiter's rankings; and in particular, I think the Philosophy of Science specialty ranking (the only other area where I feel at all competent to judge) is quite well done. And finally, I actually think there is a pretty serious difference between history of analytic and other subfields like ethics or philosophy of science: whereas a big research university could well have four ethicists, or four philosophers of science, virtually nobody has four historians of the analytic tradition. So the 'department' rankings for history of analytic end up depending mostly on how good the one (or perhaps one and a half) people who do that are -- contrast this with Rutgers' strength in language, or Pittsburgh's strength in science.

4 Comments:

At 22/1/09, Blogger Chris Pincock said...

Greg,

I agree with both your praise for the general value of this sort of ranking for prospective graduate students and your concern with the distribution of the evaluators. I think what is missing is the 'HOPOS wing' of the history of analytic philosophy. What may be overrepresented is the 'phil of language wing'. Maybe this indicates how quickly our field is evolving, and I expect the work making links to math and science to increase its profile soon.

A bigger picture question is whether anyone would really advise a prospective graduate student to choose a program primarily based on its strengths in history of analytic. This, to me, is a very risky move, although unsurprisingly the best history of analytic places also have clear strengths in other areas of history or in contemporary analytic.

 
At 22/1/09, Blogger Richard Zach said...

I was surprised by the rankings too. The number of evaluators is (too?) small for small fields like history of analytic. "Larger" fields usually have 3 or 4 times as many people ranking departments; the smaller fields have around 10, and so the interests of the evaluators have more of an effect. Also, In small fields like history of analytic, having one eminent person in a department can push you to the top, but I wouldn't think of a department as having an overall excellence in history of analytic if, say, they had one top Wittgenstein person. This means in particular in these cases that prospective student need to look closely at the ranked departments. To wit: don't go to a department hoping to work on Frege if the one person that's responsible for the high history of analytic ranking works on later Wittgenstein!

 
At 22/1/09, Blogger Greg said...

Chris and Richard --

I agree with both of you -- I think completely(!).

One remark I can't resist, though, is that (and here I probably am just venting my personal prejudices) I think talking about a 'HOPOS wing' (where the 'S' includes the formal sciences, viz. math and logic) of history of analytic is a bit like talking about the 'philosophical wing of the APA.' That's perhaps not clear, sorry; what I mean is that the historical figures in the analytic tradition were primarily interested in logic, science, and math. To take an extreme example, we have Quine's famous working hypothesis that "Philosophy of science is philosophy enough."
(rant concluded)

 
At 23/1/09, Blogger Chris Pincock said...

Yes, I agree that there shouldn't be a need for a HOPOS wing, but the positive reception of Soames' book by analytic philosophers (and his appearance here among the reviewers) shows that many of our colleagues do not see the need to link the history of analytic philosophy to developments in math or science.

 

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