Philosophy: “Not A Meritocracy”

The latest edition of What Is It Like To Be A Philosopher? is out, with Clifford Sosis (Coastal Carolina) interviewing Sally Haslanger (MIT). 

As usual, there is a lot of interesting material in the interview.

Here’s one bit that stuck out. Haslanger says:

There have been many highs and lows in my career. And a lot of the time has been very mixed. I have considered leaving the field over and over. But somehow I was offered a path that made it worth staying. I know there are many people who deserve more than they get in philosophy, and I’ve been lucky in so many ways. I believe that recognizing the luck in it all is extremely important, and doing what I can to open paths for others is the least I can do. Philosophy is not a meritocracy. Life is not a meritocracy. Yet some are treated much worse than others by life, by chance, by individuals, by structures. I hate that unfairness; I just hate it.

Anyone who has been in the profession for a while recognizes that philosophy is not a meritocracy, but I sometimes find that younger graduate students don’t quite recognize this or take it seriously, believing instead that the quality of their work alone will bring them professional success.

Of course the quality of their work matters, and yes there are certain meritocratic aspects of the profession. But other things make a difference, too. Luck, yes, but not just that. Being able to get a job and do well as a professional philosopher involves professional and social skills. Graduate programs need to be sure their students know this from early on and, to some reasonable extent, take steps to help them cultivate these skills. That won’t make philosophy more of a meritocracy (leaving aside the ethics and epistemology of that), but it may help students better understand what they’re getting into, and how to better get through it.

The whole interview is here.


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