In the near future, I hope to be able to post some thoughts on how I think the the PGR can best be used by prospective graduate students. For now I just have a few words about a recently blogged argument that the PGR is a “Pointless Waste of Time”….
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.
Prof. Pakaluk goes on to give four further reasons for his conclusion, for a total of six. I should note that he is especially targeting the rankings in his own area of specialization, ancient philosophy, though, given the nature of the reasons he gives, one cannot help but think he thinks the whole PGR is worthless.
The PGR has been attacked before, and I won’t go into that whole story again. Brian Leiter, the editor of the PGR, has responded to many of the main criticisms here.
But I do want to quickly address Pakaluk’s first two considerations, above. My concern is potential graduate students for whom graduate school in philosophy might be a wise choice, but who might fall into the categories of students that Pakaluk deems unsuited for graduate studies.
As for (1), I take it Pakaluk isn’t speaking only of those who would use only the PGR in deciding which programs to apply to, perhaps by applying to the top 10 or so programs in the PGR rankings, and then going to the highest ranked program that takes them, without consulting any other sources of information. The PGR itself advises against such a silly procedure. So I think we really must read Pakaluk as writing of all students who would be so dumb as to even use the PGR as one source of information among others in deciding on graduate programs when he absurdly declares: “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.” One wonders, then, about the philosophers who advise students to use the PGR — taken with the appropriate “grains of salt” that the PGR itself counsels — in their search for a suitable graduate program. Does this show that these philosophers also lack “good philosophical minds” and belong in some other profession? (It seems to me that many of us would make terrible accountants!) I’m tempted to take this personally, because I’d be among those outed by Prof. Pakaluk as unsuitably philosophical for the profession. But whatever one thinks of me, apparently there are a lot of philosophers who would be targeted. Presumably this would include the philosophers on the PGR’s Advisory Board (listed on the PGR’s opening page) and the others who spent the considerable amount of time it takes to fill out the surveys (see the long list here, scrolling down just a bit to get to the list). I take it Prof. Pakaluk thinks that he himself has a “good philosophical mind” — or at least good enough that he belongs in the profession. I wonder whether he would look at the lists I just linked to and conclude that the philosophers listed there don’t measure up the way he does? Or is it somehow just the prospective students who would think just as these philosophers do about the matter in question who are shown to be unsuitable?
(Please note that I’m not saying or hinting in any way that Prof. Pakaluk doesn’t have a “good philosophical mind” and doesn’t belong in the profession.)
Now, Pakaluk’s (2). As I’ve admitted in this letter that I wrote to the then Executive Director of the APA in defense of rankings, when I was applying to graduate schools, I was among those prospective students who needed rankings because I didn’t know enough about the state of the profession. So, again, I find myself among Pakaluk’s targets. But this time it’s a bit easier to take: Here he’s not declaring that I’m among those who don’t have a suitably philosophical mind to belong in the profession, but just that when I was a prospective student, I wasn’t ready for graduate school. And maybe he has a point there. My own relative ignorance of the then-current state of philosophy was due to my having gone to a college where I was taught philosophy mainly through studying the works of long-dead philosophers. And I did feel a bit disadvantaged by that at times during my first year of graduate school at UCLA. But, then again, I did have an extremely successful first year, anyway. I’m very glad there was nobody like Prof. Pakaluk around at the time telling me I didn’t belong in graduate school. When I made my letter public as part of a defense of the PGR, several philosophers took the opportunity to e-mail me and tell me that they, too, were in a similar state of relative ignorance when they were choosing graduate programs. Some of these are philosophers I very much respect and admire. I’m very glad there was nobody like Pakaluk around telling them they “should probably not pursue graduate studies in philosophy.” (I don’t feel at liberty to name names, so I guess I’m asking readers to just believe me here that there are some extremely good philosophers didn’t belong in graduate school by Prof. Pakaluk’s criterion.)
I just thought it was worth to telling prospective students whom Prof. Pakaluk deems unsuited for graduate school that they have plenty of company.
Update, 11/15: Prof. Pakaluk has now responded to this post here. A quick response:
— As for this:
There is an interesting conflation in DeRose’s argument. In his reaction against my phrase, “a good philosophical mind”, it becomes clear that he regards “belonging in the profession” and “having a good philosophical mind” as equivalent, or nearly so. Now I do not.
I of course don’t think those two phrases are anything close to equivalent. I did read Pakaluk as using his (extremely strong) claim that any student who would consult something like the PGR would thereby be shown to lack a good philosophical mind to support his (also extremely strong) claim that any such student “should probably not pursue graduate studies in philosophy,” and as committing himself to both of these (distinct) strong claims. The reader can look again at Pakaluk’s reason #1 above to determine whether this was a fair reading.
–As for this:
And then he [DeRose] also has to personalize my comment, turning it into an attack on himself and everyone else on the PGR Advisory Board. Believe me: I cannot understand his or their support of the project, but I certainly do prescind from making any judgments about them.
I realize Pakaluk doesn’t explicitly state any judgments about me or the philosophers I cite. What he does do is make a couple of overly strong general claims about “Any student who…”: First, that any student who would think a certain way about the PGR would thereby show herself to lack a good philosophical mind and should probably not pursue graduate studies in philosophy (look up above, I’m really not making this up!). Second that any student who doesn’t already know enough to decide where to apply w/o such rankings “should probably also not pursue graduate studies in philosophy.” I thought it was relevant and worth pointing out that many excellent philosophers apparently think about the PGR in the same way that Pakaluk thinks (in reason #1) would show a student to be unfit, and that many, when they were students, would have fallen in a class of those that Pakaluk (#2) again deems ill-suited.
–Finally, I don’t find it at all “absurd” that a student whose background in current philosophy is shaky enough that they may have a pressing need for guidance of the type the PGR gives (though I think even very well-trained and well-advised undergraduates would benefit from using the PGR along with their other sources of information) might be discouraged from pursuing graduate studies if they heard apparently very knowledgeable professors of philosophy making pronouncements like Prof. Pakaluk’s. (On this, see my comment #4, below.) But if Prof. Pakaluk is right here, then my whole reason for responding to his original post vanishes.
As for the rest of Pakaluk’s response, I’ll just leave it to interested readers to reach a judgement for themselves.