Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Philosophical Gourmet and Specialty Rankings

Over the past two days, Brian Leiter has previewed some of the rankings (here and here) that will appear in the newest version of the Philosophical Gourmet. This includes the ranking of specialty areas, which can be quite helpful for undergraduates when applying to graduate programs. Looking over the specialty areas I was struck by one ranking in particular. NYU is listed as a top department in 19th Century Continental Philosophy.

It is perfectly clear that NYU has one of the strongest philosophy programs, and the consistency with which it tops Leiter’s general departmental rankings attests to that. However, I can not quite see why it should be considered top in 19th Century Continental Philosophy. If NYU deserves such a ranking, then I admit I must be out of touch with the current state of 19th Century Continental Philosophy in the academy. If it should not be so listed, then I suggest that Leiter take it off the 19th Century list since undergraduates, and certainly some graduates, will inevitably use the specialty rankings when making decisions about where to apply and eventually attend graduate school.

Here are three reasons NYU should not be on the 19th Century list:

1) According to their own graduate course listings, which date back to 1997, there has not been one course that generally counts as a 19th Century Continental course. The only possible course I saw listed that could reasonably fit in this category was in the Spring 2006. This was a course called “Consciousness and Self-Consciousness in Modern Philosophy” and was taught by Dan Garrett, who is well known for his work on Hume and the Moderns, and Beatrice Longuenesse, who has written an important book on Kant and one on Hegel. The course sounds more like a thematic Modern Philosophy course than a 19th Century Continental Course. According to the course description the readings range from Descartes to Hegel, so I imagine some Kant and Hegel were read, and, since one of the guest speakers included Wayne Martin (a Fichte scholar), there is even a chance Fichte was discussed.

2) Based on the listing of current students, there appears to be no current PhD students specializing in 19th Century Continental Philosophy.

3) According to their placement records, no past PhD students dating back to 2003 specialized in 19th Century Continental Philosophy. A 2008 graduate lists “Ethics, Epistemology, Early Modern, Kant” as his AOS.

Here are two reasons NYU should be on the list:

1) BĂ©atrice Longuenesse. Longuenesse is a leading Kant scholar and has published an important book on Hegel. She is currently working on the topic of self-consciousness, an issue that animated German Idealism, and many of the philosophers the Idealist influenced like Sartre, someone Longuenesse has also written about. Since arriving at NYU her teaching has focused on Kant and topics related to self-consciousness.

2) John Richardson. Richardson is well known for his work on Nietzsche and Heidegger. He taught a course on Heidegger in the fall of 2005, but from the course listings, it does not appear he has taught a graduate course on Nietzsche since at least 1996. It is does not look like any of his students wrote on Nietzsche. This judgment is based on only the information on the website. I was not able to find dissertation titles. The placement records do not list them, although they do list AOS.

The Gourmet’s method of ranking programs focuses largely on the quality of faculty. No one can doubt that Longuenesse and Richardson deserve the esteemed reputation they have garnered. Is this enough to consider NYU as a top program with a specialty in 19th Century Continental Philosophy? Without any courses or students working in the field, it does not seem so to me.

I am unclear whether it is only specialists who rank the areas of specialty. It makes sense to have only specialists ranking the specialties of programs. It also makes sense to consider the course offerings and maybe even recent dissertation titles. Some of these points are standard criticisms of Philosophical Gourmet, so I don’t want to rehash them. Based on what I see in the 19th Century Continental category, it appears the specialty rankings could be improved.

Any thoughts?


Anonymous said...

I was under the impression that the 19th century continental philosophy category did not cover most of German idealism. On the last PGR, it calls this category "19th Century Continental Philosophy After Hegel."
So I would imagine that this category should tell us about people doing work on guys like Marx, Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche (and other smaller figures during this time period).

These considerations make it all the more mystifying why NYU is number one. Most of Longuenesse's work is on Kant and Hegel; so really, Richardson is the only one who clearly belongs in this category.

One final thing: one person can make a tremendous difference in these specialty rankings. In 2006, Indiana University was not listed as having a specialty in Kant & German Idealism. Now, Allen Wood is there and Indiana is tied for number one.

Brian Leiter said...

The category is now "19th-Century Continental Philosophy," and Kant is its own category--so there has been a change in the division since 2006. In addition to Allen Wood, Indiana also has Marcia Baron, who works on Kant's ethics and is quite good. But certainly if someone like Wood moves, it can make a big difference.

With respect to the main subject of the post, above, you must acknowledge that your preferred measures--courses, dissertations--are all backwards-looking ones, and particularly misleading in this case for two reasons. First, Longuenesse only moved to NYU about four years ago, so of course she wasn't offering seminars in the 1990s at NYU on 19th-century topics! Richardson has, of course, been there much longer, but think for a moment about what went on at NYU: they invested very heavily in M&E areas in the 1990s, and so students, unsurprisingly, came to work in those areas. In the last five years, they've made several history of philosophy appointments, and so, looking fowrards not backwards, one would expect there to be more students choosing NYU for that (and, indeed, that's already started to happen). If we were to treat the indicators you utillize as decisive, then no department could ever change its areas of excellence! NYU is unusual in having two well-established senior scholars working on different aspects of 19th-century Continental philosophy. I was not expecting them to rank as highly as they did, but it's certainly a reasonable outcome.

Gabriel Gottlieb said...

Brian Leiter,

Thanks for the comment. Your points about Longuenesse and the past efforts on the part of NYU to beef up on M&E are well taken.

If the rankings are meant to serve as a barometer of where departments are likely heading, then your general point about me having things backwards is right. I take it that the rankings are both backward looking and forward looking. NYU might become a bastion of 19th Century Philosophy, but that is to be seen.

I disagree with your comment, "If we were to treat the indicators you utilize as decisive, then no department could ever change its areas of excellence!" One way they could change their area of excellence, according to my indicators, would be to offer courses in their area of excellence. That would be helpful in ushering such change. Maybe that will happen at NYU. I guess the specialty ranking in the case of NYU is a bit of a prediction. I think it would be a safer bet to give them a few years to develop, before jumping the gun and listing them as one of the top two programs in 19th Century.

Brian Leiter said...

I do understand the PGR to be forward-looking (one reason why we treat faculty status as of the fall following the report as decisive). You're right that one could treat as a measure of strength in an area the fact that lots of courses have been offered, but there is still a bit of a Catch 22--namely, that the courses won't be offered if there aren't students wanting to take them, and there won't be students wanting to take them if the program isn't perceived as one where those students are welcome.

The PGR is predicated, at bottom, on a simple but I think accurate idea: namely, that well-regarded philosophers in an area can train students and get them jobs. Thus, if NYU has two senior schoalrs of distinction in an area, it is a program in the area that students ought to consider. I notice that you have Fred Neuhouser on your Committee, as well you should: he wrote a splendid little book on Fichte years ago, and has done very good work on other figures in German philosophy of the 19th-century since (and now also on Rousseau). My view is that the year he moved to Columbia, and before he offered any courses, Columbia became an attractive destination for someone intersted in Fichte, Hegel etc. The same applies to NYU.

Here's an anecdote: when I first ranked NYU as a top department circa 1996, lots of folks said, "How can you rank them so high, they haven't produced any students yet" etc. etc. This was an absurd objection: the faculty that joined NYU had trained lots of studnets elsewhere, and everyone who isn't self-deceived knows that well-regarded faculty can get their students job. A decade later, NYU has one of the best job placement records in the country, which was totally predictable given the faculty they had put together. The same considerations apply to their strength in 19th-century.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Leiter,

I fully acknowledge and appreciate your affort to provide a guide to philosophy programms. Although your ranking methods seem to be a matter of controversy.
Unfortunatly I do not get the point of ranking NYU high in good faith that this faculty will live up to the reputation you chose to give them before they even acomplished to provide any students of expertise. So your report is just an self fulfilling proficy; meaning: you say in your report this faculty is actually quite good - even the best one in that field of study. So students will consider this ranking and apply at that very same faculty. And because they do so their programm will develope and get better (maybe to that point that it breaks even with its pre-given reputation). Although, their program does not meet that standart that was expected by that generation of students that enrolled at that point as the developemnt has not yet taken place.
In other words: Your report is just useless as its ranking WILL be true in the future; it's just a prognosis and that is quite misleading.

By the by, maybe you should consider to recomment continental facultys for continental philosophy as everyone in europe studying in the analytic tradition wants at least to visit a analytic philosophy department once for a semester.

Brian Leiter said...

I find the preceding comment a bit confusing, but I will try to respond.

First: I am not giving NYU this ranking, a panel of evaluators is doing so. Here are the evaluators who scored faculties in the area of 19th-century Continental philosophy: : Kenneth Baynes, Frederick Beiser, Taylor Carman, Thomas Carson, Andrew Chitty, David Dudrick, Ken Gemes, Beatrice Han-Pile, Stephen Houlgate, Christopher Janaway, Peter Kail, Paul Katsafanas, Pierre Keller, Michelle Kosch, Brian Leiter, Stephen Mulhall, Brian O’Connor, Peter Poellner, Paul Redding, Bernard Reginster, Mathias Risse, Michael Rosen, Robert Stern, Iain Thomson, Robert Wicks, Jonathan Wolff, Mark Wrathall, Julian Young. Perhpas their collective judgment is mistaken, and yours correct, but this is a rather strong group, and I am inclined to have more confidence in their aggregated assessment.

Second: the faculty is not being rated highly "on faith" that they will live up to the reputation. That is silly. They are rated highly because Longeuenesse and Richardson are very good and well-established scholars in the area, and both (esp. Longuenesse) have worked successfully with many graduate students. This is true in the present, not in the future. The only future effect the favorable ranking may have is make it possible for Longuenesse and Richradson to offer more graduate seminars if there is a larger pool of students interested in the area.

I do not understand your last paragraph.

Gabriel Gottlieb said...

Thanks for posting the list of evaluators. This is certainly a solid group of philosophers.

I wonder to what extent NYU ranks as high as it does also because it is just a good place to do philosophy, and potential students working on Hegel or Nietzsche will be surrounded by strong minds inside and outside their own area of research.

I do still think the lack of courses in the last 4-5 years is reason for students seriously interested in 19th Century Continental Philosophy to think about NYU with some caution. I imagine it would be wise for any students thinking about going to NYU for 19th century to find out if there will indeed be courses offered in that area in the next few years or so.

Brian Leiter said...

I certainly agree with that advice, and, in fact, said almost the same thing when writing about places to study 19th-century German philosophy on my blog many months back.

Anonymous said...

It’s not only about individual faculty but also about broader training within the tradition. If these rankings represent some truth, then a graduate student will receive better training in Kant, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard etc. etc. at NYU rather than at the New School, Stony Brook, Penn State, Duquesne, DePaul… How believable can that be? Why NYU? Couldn’t it at least be Columbia or Boston?

Brian Leiter said...

It was obviously believable to the evaluators, and, indeed, I would think it believable to any competent scholar familiar with the work of Longuenesse and Richardson on the one hand, and the work of some of the people at the schools you mention. There are, to be sure, some able people at some of these schools, and several of them are ranked in 19th-century Continental philosophy. Neither I, nor it appears most of the evaluators, thought as highly of these places as of Longuenesse and Richardson at NYU. Since one can also get a good general philosophical education at NYU, I am hopeful that some excellent students working on 19th-century German philosophy especially will be coming out of there in the coming years.

Anonymous said...

I don’t mean to be stubborn, but I still find it difficult to follow this logic. Let’s accept that NYU offers “good general philosophical education” (you obviously mean education in the analytic tradition). Still, that place has no continental bent, cultivates no continental interests or mindset, offers no serious continental discussions inside or outside the classroom, no continental panels, no continental colloquia, and the list goes on. It does not even offer graduate courses on the subject. Besides two faculty members, the only continental thing they have there is probably a continental breakfast in their cafeteria. :))))

Now, let’s hypothesize that graduate student N. decides work on Hegel with Longuenesse in an “independent study” regime while taking courses mostly on Russell, Carnap, Ryle, Kripke, and the like. Wow! I got scared even by writing this. This kind of hybrids have been appearing in recent years from a number of analytic schools. Some of them may be gifted indeed, but they are all inevitably exoteric, formal, and hermeneutically insensitive. True, their reputable pedigrees secure them good teaching positions in the US. But I am not sure at all about their genuine strengths and credentials, unless by 19th century “continental” philosophy one means fragmentary “analytic” engagement with select 19th century continental themes. Isn’t that American, all too American? –N. G. L.

Anonymous said...

Let’s talk content. I know first hand from my eight years at the New School (and I am fairly confident that similar intellectual atmosphere dominates Stony Brook, Penn State, Duquesne, and other similar departments): literally every semester, we had course offerings directly devoted to 19th century figures and themes. More often than not, these were also parts of other courses (say, a course named “History and Forgiveness” could easily include readings from Schelling and/or Kierkegaard and/or Marx etc, etc). The huge majority of regular and visiting faculty (no less reputable than Longuenesse and Richardson) from both the US and Germany were at least competent in 19th century. No less important were the countless colloquia, talks, panel discussions, and conferences devoted directly to this area or involving relevant themes. There was a Ph.D. candidacy exam on 19th century continental philosophy and a graduate level German language exam mandatory for students specializing in that area. In sum, the names of Kant and Fichte, Schelling and Hegel, Marx, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, were inside and outside almost every classroom and every discussion, a part of our everyday lives. I am far from idealizing the New School -- I know first hand their numerous weaknesses as well. But on the whole, THAT is the kind of systematic exposure and friction that can potentially produce serious training in 19th century. I strongly suspect that nothing of this sort takes place at New York University. There is no relevant intellectual atmosphere, no exposure, and not even a single graduate course offering! It is thus tremendously difficult to accept the argument that Longuenesse and Richardson, with all their merits and reputation, can compare to what’s happening at places such as the New School, and can make NYU the number one spot for 19th century continental philosophy in the country. Wow! Wow! --NGL

Brian Leiter said...

What do you mean by the "analytic tradition"? How would you characterize that tradition? I honestly suspect you really have no idea what you're talking about in this regard. Your characterization of the course offerings at NYU rather gives that away.

A good general philosophical education would include exposure to moral and political philosophy, philosophy of language and mind, philosophy of the sciences, and the history of philosophy, including ancient, early modern, Kant, and 19th- and 20th-century philosophy. NYU really has extraordinary offerings across all these areas, from first-rate people to boot.

It is not the case that most of the faculty at the schools you mention are as reputable or as competent as Longuenesse and Richardson. That is what the qualitative evaluation brings out.

NYU was not #1 in 19th-century Continental; Chicago actually ranked slightly higher.

I think we better call it a day on this, since we are now talking at cross-purposes. Good luck in your studies.

Anonymous said...

Alright, let’s call it a day, but save the ad hominem attacks for yourself. For I could also argue that you have no idea what you are talking about; or that you are not honest when asking what analytic tradition means; Good luck with your studies, too.

Anonymous said...

Call it a day? For philosophy there is no day anymore. Once at dawn it's now at dusk. Asking "what is analytic tradition" means you are not even aware of the fact that there might be a break between analytic and continental philosophy traditions?! I am sorry, but i honestly suppose you do know what is going on by calling some faculties - in fact the majority - "analytic". Quite argueable there is no concensus about what "analytic philosophy" is supposed to mean. (There was an essay called "could anything be wrong with analytic philosophy" by Glock some years ago devoted to that question.) Noone knows what that calling or judgement should mean labeling someone in that anlytic tradition, but let's suppose at least some people want to be distinct from so called "continental philosophy" as that tradition is dead wrong by thinking that philosophy is only some language game and we should talk content and not style and logic for understanding an argument or point in philosophy.
As this is an blog on Self and World and German Idealism, we should remember the recently published book from Lee Braver "A thing of this world" which sets its goal upon bringing these two tradtions of philosophy together.

To deny that there is an anlytic tradtion or style of doing philosophy is to be quite outdated. The real bad news would be that no update is really necessary as there is no opposition to analytic philosophy no more.

Gabriel Gottlieb said...

I want to redirect comments back to the main subject of the post and debate. The issue was never about what analytic philosophy or continental philosophy is or might be. I don't find that a very interesting question myself. The issue of the original post and the subsequent exchange between Leiter and myself was devoted to whether or not NYU should be considered a top program in 19th Century Continental Philosophy. NYU is a very strong program for epistemology, metaphysics, and philosophy of mind. That is widely known and accepted. It is a surprise to many to see it listed as top in 19th century. This is not because it is a "typical" analytic program. That was never my point. If some so-called continental program did not offer courses in 19th century, had courses primarily in 20th Cent. French, and had two leading scholars in 19th Cent. then the point I made about NYU would, I think, hold for that school as well.

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