Saturday, November 11, 2006

American Philosophy

The 2006-2008 Leiter rankings just came out. Naturally, I was interested to see the rankings of departments strong in American Pragmatism. The rankings are here.

A couple points. First, as I noted earlier, it's odd that the overall history of philosophy rankings don't include American Pragmatism (or even American philosophy more generally), even though it is listed as a specialty.

Second, the rankings made me think about the Leiter rankings in general. For one thing, I think there's a halo effect as far as where departments are ranked.

For example, the top rankings in American Pragmatism (Miami, Sheffield, Toronto) go to departments that are also ranked in the Leiter report. The next tier of departments (Southern Illinois, Vanderbilt, SUNY Buffalo) aren't ranked in the Leiter report at all.

This seems odd, since at least Southern Illinois and Vanderbilt have built their departments around American Philosophy; they may not have the perceived strengths across the board that Miami, Sheffield, and Toronto have, but as far as American Pragmatism goes, the departments in the second tier seem at least as good as the ones in the first. And maybe a graduate student is more likely to get a job coming out of, say, Toronto, than Southern Illinois, but even that I'm not sure of, and I'm not sure it should matter to the rankings.

This also raises a more general question: what makes a department a good place to study American Pragmatism (or any other subdiscipline)? In the case of even some of the top-ranked departments, it's just one or two professors -- who don't focus exclusively on American Pragmatism.

But if that's all it takes, then there are lots of places where one could study American Pragmatism. My own graduate experience is an example: I was fortunate enough to attend a university where there was enough expertise to write a dissertation on American Pragmatism, even though none of my committee members, I suspect, would have listed it as a specialty.

What mattered, and what made it a good place to write a dissertation on American Philosophy, was instead the character and support of my committee members -- which of course is not something the Leiter rankings measure.


Blogger Khadimir said...

Given that you raise the question of whether Southern Illinois University is equal to the higher-ranked schools on the Leiter Report, let me attest to some of SIU's strengths.

SIU has two Dewey scholars: Thomas Alexander and Larry Hickman. Dr. Alexander offers what he calls the "magical" interpretation of Dewey, which reads Dewey first through the lens of his aesthetics. He is also the current president of the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy. Dr. Hickmann offers the instrumental and technological Dewey, which reads Dewey through the lens of his logic and instrumentalism. He was the previous president of SAAP, and is also the long-time director of the Center for Dewey Studies, which resides at SIU along with the bulk of Dewey's archives. (SIU also houses the Carus archives of the Open Court publishing house, which includes The Monist and the Open Court in which much American philosophy was published.) Dr. Alexander also offers resources in comparative work in Eastern and ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, while Dr. Hickmann adds philosophy of science and technology.

SIU has one Pierce scholar, Doug Anderson, who comes recently from Pennsylvania State. (Being new, I have less to say of him other than to watch his stiff-arm on the grid-iron.)

SIU has one specialist in American idealism and process metaphysics, Randy Auxier. He is also the editor of The Personalist Forum, The Pluralist, and The Library of Living Philosophers.

SIU has several "hybrid" faculty members. Kenneth Stikkers covers personalism in the American and Continental traditions as well as a variety of contemporary Continental topics. Stephen Tyman includes American Idealism as well.

SIU offers a number of courses in American philosophy from its beginnings in colonial times (i.e., American Transcendentalism is being offered next semester and is one of a trilogy of early American courses), to its inroads in theology (i.e., American idealism and process metaphyics infusing Boston personalism that informed Dr. M.L. King, etc.), to the well-known Pierce, James, Dewey, etc. If there were additions to be made, SIU would need a James scholar and more course offerings in contemporary American. SIU is predominately a history of philosophy department, hence there are few offerings in contemporary philosophy in any field, particularly in American. As for other offerings, SIU supports studies in phenomenology and various fields in Continental depending upon the professor. (Outside of American and phenomenology, there is little overlap among professors.) Of note, we also support dissertations in Asian philosophy.

10:11 PM  
Blogger Joe said...


I know this is a late entry, but I think Leiter himself confirms your "halo" effect (though he confirms it rather obtusely). See his recent post on Chinese philosophy here:


12:00 AM  

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