Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Leiter/PGR Archive Is Now Closed (and, A Note from Your Archivist)

This has been a strange month for academic Philosophy, for professional philosophers and, as a more or less direct consequence, for this blog.  A little less than four weeks ago, on September 24, I began collecting various posts, essays and articles related to what I then anticipated was going to be, at the very least, a semi-significant series of events vis-á-via the controversial behaviors of one of Philosophy's most prominent bloggers, Brian Leiter, and his controversial (but highly-influential) rankings of Philosophy graduate programs in the Anglophone world, better known as the Philosophical Gourmet Report (PGR). In the weeks since I first posted what I called an "Archive of the Meltdown," that Archive has had a number of "hits" that is nearing 2x the number of members in the largest professional organization for Philosophers in the world, the American Philosophical Association (which, if you're doing the math, has a membership of roughly 11,000). A shorter version of the Archive, which I posted as an Interactive Timeline of the Leiter/PGR Controversy, has gotten about half that traffic (which still outnumbers professional Philosophers in the United States).  All that is just to say, my original suspicion that this was going to be a semi-significant series of events for professional Philosophy was more than confirmed.

As the more-or-less-accidentally self-appointed archivist of recent events-- and as a not-at-all-accidental stakeholder in the ensuing debates--  I'll just say that watching this story unfold over the last several weeks has been equal parts troubling and encouraging.  What began (with Haslanger and Velleman's "Statement of Concern") as a debate about civility/collegiality standards for professional Philosophers very quickly expanded (esp. in the September Statement and October Statement) to include a debate about the manner in which those who exercise power/privilege in the profession claim and, in what amounts to the same thing, reinforce and secure their legitimacy as determiners of not only professional norms, but also philosophical "merit."  To wit, it came as no surprise to me, and I suspect the same is true for most, when the focus of the recent controversy shifted from an evaluation of the permissibility/impermissibility of Brian Leiter's particular behaviors (many of which were justified, by Leiter himself, vis-á-vis appeal to what counts as "real" or "meritorious" or "worthy of respect" philosophy and/or philosophers) to a more general evaluation of what counts as "real" or "meritorious" or "worthy of respect/engagement" philosophy and philosophers.  Because the discipline of professional Philosophy in the Anglophone world does not condone the ranking of graduate programs or any other "ranking" of areas (or expertise within areas) of Philosophy-- as is explicitly avowed, it bears repeating, in the American Philosophical Association's "Statement on the Rankings of Departments"--  the emerging debate about both the legitimacy and the value of such rankings (like those provided in the PGR) constitutes, in my view, a genuine professional crisis.

[If someone can provide an example of an event analogous to what has happened/is happening in professional Philosophy over the last month, I'd be very interested to hear it.  That is, I'd like to hear of a public debate in which members of a professional organization advocate (qua representatives of that constituency) the merits of some issue about which the presiding professional organization representing their demographic has already issued a public statement committing itself to the demerits of that same issue.]

Like every philosopher, I suppose, I am constitutionally concerned with distinguishing between the true and the false, the good and the bad, the better and the worse.  As a thinker, a moral agent and (perhaps most importantly to me) a citizen, my views on questions regarding "the better and the worse" are primarily informed by a sensitivity to the way in which systems of power/knowledge/privilege tend to overdetermine in advance the manner in which I am, like everyone else, able to legitimately, ethically and honestly judge such.

Pace the distinguished and careful thinker-- also my fellow NewAPPS blogger-- Neil Sinhababu's recent post ("A rankings vacuum is unsustainable in the Internet era"), I nevertheless worry that there's too much of the naturalistic fallacy going on in arguments by current proponents of Philosophy rankings.  That rankings cannot be avoided in the "Internet era" or otherwise, which I will be the first to stipulate is doubtlessly the case in the "Internet era," constitutes neither the sufficient nor necessary conditions to argue that rankings ought exist-- especially when there is ample evidence to conclude that extant iterations of such rankings are deeply flawed-- even less so that rankings ought be endorsed, advocated or recommended.  For my own part, I'm inclined to agree with the formulation articulated by John Proevi and, derivatively, by the October Statement-- "information>ratings>ranking"--  inasmuch as Protevi's formulation implicitly assumes the inevitability of value-judgements without advocating a non-problematic or non-problematizable norm for determining value-judgments about the information at hand.

Back to the Archive, though: consider this an announcement that I am discontinuing "updates" to the Archive as of today.  The current (and ongoing) debate is now only incidentally related to the "controversies" about which the Archive, in its initial formulation, was meant to document. There will be no more updates of this Archive after today, though it will remain here for posterity (as will the Interactive Timeline of the Leiter/PGR Controversy).

I extend my sincere gratitude to those of you who helped me keep track of relevant posts and articles by recommending or forwarding links to me over the past month.  Perhaps, in time, we'll see hw significant (or insignificant) this whole thing was.

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