In light of the previous post, we might ask, are there too many philosophy PhDs? Some people think so, and take that as a reason to think that some departments should stop offering PhDs. Let’s talk about this.
First, a general point: though the number of PhD studentships is not the result of an open market, there are still good Hayekian reasons for caution about making claims about the right number of them.
That said, we can ask why we might think there are too many philosophy PhDs. There seem to be two kinds of complaints:
(A) Quantity: there are more people with philosophy PhDs than there are (the right kind of) jobs for them.
(B) Quality: the quality of the average philosophy PhD is too low.
We can, of course, ask:
(1) Is A a sound complaint?
(2) Is B a sound complaint?
If they are, regarding A, we can ask:
(3) Will reducing the number of PhD studentships in fact address the quantity complaint (A)?
If the answer to 1 is yes, we can ask:
(4) Is reducing the number of PhD studentships a good way to address the quantity complaint (A)?
Regarding B, we can ask:
(5) Will reducing the number of PhD students in fact address the quality complaint (B)?
If the answer to 3 is yes, we can ask:
(6) Is reducing the number of PhD studentships a good way to address the quality complaint (B)?
To help answer 4 and 6, we can ask:
(7) By what other means, besides reducing the number of PhD studentships, could we address (A) and (B)?
(8) What are the costs of reducing the number of PhD studentships, and who bears those costs?
Our answers to many of the above questions will depend on our answer to another question:
(9) By what means is the reduction in PhD studentships to be accomplished? Is it by (9a) some PhD programs shutting down? or (9b) keeping most or all programs open but having them offer fewer PhD studentships? or (9c) keeping most or all programs open but having them raise admissions standards so that fewer students meet them? or (9d) discouraging students from seeking PhDs in philosophy? or (9e) some other option?
Of course, about each of these options we can ask a question about practicality:
(10) How, if at all, can the means by which the reduction in PhD studentships is to be accomplished be implemented?
And, we should note, that our answers about the feasibility and costs of implementation may feed back into our answers to questions 4, 6, 8, and 9.
Are there too many philosophy PhDs? And if so, what should we do about it? Let’s not pretend these are easy questions to answer.
UPDATE: A post from last year on the role that terminal MA programs could play in addressing employment issues in philosophy may be of interest.