12 November 2006

A Pointless Waste of Time

The latest "Philosophical Gourmet" report has appeared. I should say that I find the "ancient philosophy ranking" useless and will not use it for advising students. Why?

1. Any student who wished to consult such a list, in order to decide where or with whom to study, should probably not pursue graduate studies in philosophy. His taking such lists seriously would show that he lacks a good philosophical mind. I would advise him to choose a career in law, accounting, or something similar instead.

2. Any student who did not already have an idea of the scholars, or kind of scholar, he would wish to study with, should probably also not pursue graduate studies in philosophy. His undergraduate studies have clearly not advanced to a sufficient level of maturity. But if he did have such an idea, then that would suffice to help discover where he might suitably apply.

3. It's a bit misleading to say, as the Report does, that "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." The placement rankings can and should stand on their own. But do you know anyone who has consulted the Leiter rankings in hiring a candidate? If we wouldn't be so foolish, why would we recommend that students heed these rankings in choosing a program as regards something much more important than a job, viz. their education?

4. The ranking omits to say what one especially needs to know, which is whether a university offers a coherent program in ancient philosophy. Only a few institutions on the list do. And, as regards programs, a few testimonials from recent graduates would be far more valuable than any quantitative scoring.

5. For all but those 3 or 4 institutions that have a flourishing program in ancient, the ranking can be little more than a ranking of the one senior or dominant ancient philosopher who is on the faculty. Now, with only a couple of exceptions (in my view), every institution on the list, no matter where situated in the ranking, has an ancient philosopher as regards which it would be true to say that a talented student, if well-matched with that scholar, could receive as good an education studying with him as anywhere else. Also, in some excellent graduate programs not on the list there are ancient philosophers who excel, in some respects at least, over anyone included on the list. E.g. I would not hesitate for a heartbeat to send a student to study Aristotle's ethics at UCLA, which isn't on the list at all. Or would it really be the 15th best outcome, to study Aristotle's Metaphysics at McGill?

6. Last but not least, I wonder if the esteemed evaluators who produced this ranking would be willing to publish their criteria? --since if their judgments are rational, then they must have applied criteria in arriving at them; and one might wonder if the judgments alone, without the reasons for those judgments, should have any weight for a reasonable person.

I offer this blog as a space in which their criteria and reasons may be published.


Anonymous said...

Are you serious? 

Posted by Errol

Michael Pakaluk said...

Keith DeRose has replied to my first two points on Certain Doubts, here . I thank DeRose for his criticisms and acknowledge his good faith in presenting them.

His concern is that the apparent harshness of my 1. in particular might discourage talented undergrads-- esp. I suppose those who want to look at the PGR rankings--from applying to graduate school.

I should confess that my first thought was that my students tend to be a little more resilient than that, which might even have tempted me to add, as if that wouldn't be heaping coals upon coals, that "any student who would be discouraged from applying to graduate school because of the post on my blog probably shouldn't have gone there anyway."

(You see, I suppose I belong to the discourage  undergrads from graduate school camp: and if they go on nonetheless, then they probably should.)

Quite independently a friend wrote, however, with the following, which does oblige me to accept that, despite my intentions, my remarks might reasonably have been interpreted in the way that concerned DeRose:

"Is it wise to criticize sweepingly undergraduates (and discourage them) when really you mean to criticize the training (or lack thereof) offered by their undergraduate professors. It is the profs who should be offering them the sort of advising you offered N. last month, and which most undergrads are not able to obtain, since profs seem unwilling to make judgments about each other and so are happy to cede the job to the seemingly disinterested (i.e. seemingly objective) Leiter. Really that is the tragedy here, not the poor undergraduates lacking a philosophical mind."

Well, there are various tragedies, and that is perhaps one of them. 

Posted by Michael Pakaluk

PGR Critique said...

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