Philosophy is “Flat”


“But one great thing about our profession is how flat and un-hierarchical it is. I still think it’s the best job any one can have.”

That’s Alexander Rosenberg, R. Taylor Cole Professor of Philosophy at Duke University, in an interview at What Is It Like To Be A Philosopher? Interviewer Cliff Sosis (Coastal Carolina), follows up:

What do you mean when you say “philosophy is flat”?

Rosenberg replies:

I never experienced any hierarchy or rank-pulling in philosophy. You had a good argument, or you didn’t. Of course, there are a few (very few) philosophers who attach importance to pedigree and a few who, in the words of another colleague and friend, John Martin Fischer, act like they are “the chosen people,” but by and large you can’t pull rank in philosophy and there are super-smart people everywhere.

I do wonder if the impression that philosophy is “flat” in this way is one that is shared by others in the profession. Comments welcome (but please do refrain from naming those you think “act like they are ‘the chosen people'”).

The whole interview is here.

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James
James
3 years ago

It’s pretty far from my impression.Report

Jason Brennan
Jason Brennan
3 years ago

For the most part it may be, but then remember the Rebecca Tuvel controversy and the authoritarian arguments the bullies made against her? Lots of “You must defer to us; we are authorities; you have no right or epistemic access to the truth here but we do.”Report

sahpa
sahpa
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
3 years ago

That’s a bit like saying that, since every massive body has gravity, spacetime is flat, no?Report

Rebecca
Rebecca
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
3 years ago

If anyone has it [epistemic privilege] then everyone has it [because there are varieties]?

This is as good a place as any to explore what is occluded or left behind when philosophy is separated from the real-world realities of power and experience. The claim above doesn’t hold up logically and certainly not from experience. But it’s a good place to focus the discussion.Report

philosopherofthefuture
philosopherofthefuture
3 years ago

It certainly seems like your chance of getting hired somewhere has a lot to do with your “pedigree” so I have a hard time imagining that people are generally being judged simply on the quality of their arguments.Report

Ehaze
Ehaze
Reply to  philosopherofthefuture
3 years ago

Does your chance of having high quality arguments have anything to do with your pedigree? If so, then you shouldn’t have a hard time imagining people are generally being judged on the quality of their arguments.Report

j
j
Reply to  Ehaze
3 years ago

no, it decidedly does notReport

Ehaze
Ehaze
Reply to  j
3 years ago

I’d love to see some data on that.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  j
3 years ago

Me too. A priori it’s completely implausible: strong PhD programs spend a lot of time trying to select strong applicants and then immerse them in a program that involves a lot of contact with other such applicants; they also spend a lot of time trying to select strong job candidates, who then have lots of contact with graduate students. It’s really difficult to come up with a causal story where this doesn’t lead to some correlation between pedigree and academic ability (that’s entirely compatible with thinking that lots of implicit and explicit biases are also in play).Report

C
C
Reply to  David Wallace
3 years ago

Just a few small points. First, just going by my experience (which is admittedly limited but the experience of someone with tenure who has been on many hiring committees), I think that lots of us on hiring committees would have a hard time making reliable judgments about an author’s alma mater and where it stood in the Leiter rankings. I find that I struggle in this way when I discuss philosophy with people, too. (Our department has been scoring anonymized writing samples and it’s interesting to pair the scores to the CVs after this exercise. In my view, the best hire in any department that I’ve ever been associated with came from a department that doesn’t receive any recognition at all. If we hadn’t anonymized materials and made a point to try to ignore pedigree in the search, the candidate probably wouldn’t have made a long list.)

Second, I think it’s probably important to think about proportionality in these settings. I suspect that the difference in the quality of candidate talent and training at the top four, say, might not differ all that much from the quality at schools just a bit lower down the ladder but the differences in hiring might be significant.

Third, I wonder if those who think there is correlation between pedigree and candidate quality have any thoughts about the comparative quality of, say, the best person from a lesser department and the third or fourth best person from a top department. I’ve seen people from top departments get good jobs and struggle to publish good work and establish any sort of interesting research profile and people from lesser departments build very good research careers. Maybe the best student in each year from the top three or four programs are the best three or four students on the market, but when we’re comparing the fourth or fifth best from these departments, I think these are the candidates who benefit unfairly from a kind of pedigree bias.Report

CK
CK
Reply to  Ehaze
3 years ago

And pedigree is highly correlated with wealth and whitenesss. Would hiring only wealthy white candidates be a more efficient way to hire for quality?Report

Ehaze
Ehaze
Reply to  CK
3 years ago

I wasn’t implying that hiring only pedigreed candidates is an efficient/good/rational way to hire for quality. I was suggesting that you shouldn’t conclude from the fact that disproportionately many pedigreed candidates are hired that they are being judged on their pedigree rather than their academic merits.Report

Mike Ellingsworth
Mike Ellingsworth
Reply to  CK
3 years ago

Yes, of course—if such a correlation does hold. And it does. Yet the important question is not whether hiring based on just those two criteria—wealth and whiteness—is a good heuristic. That’s the trivial question. The actually important question is “How should institutions hire when quality is not equal demographically?” I myself prefer a purely meritocratic hiring system blind toward wealth, sex, and race. Other people, of course, disagree, often vehemently.Report

Thomas Mulligan
Reply to  philosopherofthefuture
3 years ago

It is important not to make the statistical mistake of thinking that because pedigree is correlated with ability it is rational to hire on the basis of pedigree. That does not follow.

Suppose David Wallace is right (and I think he is) that there is “some correlation between pedigree and academic ability”. Perhaps (i) better budding philosophers attend pedigreed PhD programs (almost surely true), and (ii) pedigreed PhD programs provide greater human capital development to their students (more dubious).

You simply cannot conclude from this that committees interested in hiring on the basis of merit should give much weight–indeed ANY weight–to pedigree. Why? Because there are better proxies for merit available (e.g. the publication record). And, setting aside technical complications, rational selectors rely on the closest proxies for merit that are available to them.

Now if (i) or (ii) is true, then we should expect to hire disproportionately from pedigreed institutions. But this is perfectly compatible with pedigree playing no role in candidate assessment.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Thomas Mulligan
3 years ago

Of course I agree that the fact that pedigree correlates with merit doesn’t entail anything about whether it’s rational to consider pedigree in hiring. I’m sympathetic to the larger point, but of course even if X is a better proxy for merit than Y, it doesn’t follow that X is a better proxy than X+Y.

I also think it’s worth noting that if there’s a case for considering pedigree in hiring (on which I’m ambivalent), it’s at most at the longlisting stage. By the time you’re actually looking at writing samples in any detail, it ought to be irrelevant, or maybe even carry negative weight.Report

Precarious M. Adjunct
Precarious M. Adjunct
3 years ago

Perhaps it’d be good to distinguish what happens within a given conversation and what happens in terms of PhD admissions and job hiring. Suppose a high rank/prestige/reputation philosopher gives a talk; certainly “pulling rank” would not get them out of answering objections, counter-arguments, etc.

However, to pretend that admissions and jobs ignore prestige, reputation, etc., is – to my mind – simply delusional. Unless, of course, we think that our discipline is immune to the same biases that sociology and psychology alike tell us are pervasive in all large systems, and the personal experience of many confirms is alive and well across all of academia. If we want to believe philosophers are special and exempt from the systematic problems of academe, sure, why not…Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Precarious M. Adjunct
3 years ago

I think this is correct. There is a huge difference between the standards applied in the course of a seminar or workshop among the people actually present, and the standards used to choose participants for a workshop or edited collection, or the criteria used in a job search. The former is a pretty good (not perfect!) approximation to egalitarianism. The latter makes really extensive use of proxy measures.

But it’s not clear to me that that difference, per se, speaks against flatness. If you want an article for your edited collection on topic X, you’re almost never going to have the time and resources to do a completely open invitation for papers on X, read them all carefully and blindly, and select the best. You’re going to use proxies, most obviously reputation, to decide who to invite. That’s only a violation of flatness if the methods by which people acquire reputation track ability imperfectly.

And of course they do track it imperfectly! It’s halcyonic to suppose that the various heuristics and proxies we use to assess philosophical aptitude don’t contain errors and biases. And so philosophy isn’t flat. But the mere fact that we use those heuristics, and that they correlate with each other, doesn’t itself speak to flatness one way or another, at least as I understand the term.Report

MTC
MTC
3 years ago

Haha, very funny joke.
Philosophy is notoriously plagued by pedigree bias (de Cruz 2014), gender bias (Schwitzgebel & Jennings 2016), and racial bias (Botts et al. 2014). Moreover, 35% of philosophy professors are neither tenured nor tenure-track (AAAS Report 2013), and many of these instructors are living in poverty or very close to it. Philosophy is one of the least diverse disciplines in the Humanities (Schwitzgebel & Jennings 2016). Proposed reasons for the lack of diversity in the profession include naivety, conservativism, pride, and hostility to the interests and insights of underrepresented groups amongst the privileged (Kidd 2017). Dare I say that I detect a hint of epistemic arrogance in the writer’s depiction of philosophy as an egalitarian space…?

Here’s a heap of links that might be edifying to optimists about the profession’s egalitarian ambitions:

http://www.newappsblog.com/2014/04/hiring-academic-pedigree-and-exclusion-is-going-for-pedigree-racist-and-classist-.html http://www.faculty.ucr.edu/~eschwitz/SchwitzPapers/WomenInPhil-160719.pdf http://dailynous.com/2014/10/15/professors-in-poverty/ http://www.faculty.ucr.edu/~eschwitz/SchwitzPapers/WomenInPhil-160719.pdf http://journals.openedition.org/estetica/2071?lang=enReport

jdkbrown
jdkbrown
3 years ago

Maybe philosophy is flat. But I don’t know that the R. Taylor Cole Professor of Philosophy at Duke University’s experiences of the field should be taken too seriously as evidence to that effect.Report

SLACer
SLACer
3 years ago

It would be nice if the true claim that “there are super-smart people everywhere” were better reflected in the colloquium practices at the “top” programs. To look at their typical colloquium schedules, you’d think there were only super-smart people at some 20 schools.Report

Patrick Lin
3 years ago

Putting bias aside (which is a real problem), if it’s true that philosophy is flat, it may be true only for the US. In Europe and other geographies, academia is very hierarchical, such that junior faculty must labor under a full professor’s research program. There isn’t the same kind of autonomy as in the US, for better or worse.

But generally, sure, a good argument is a good argument is a good argument, no matter who makes it. But isn’t that also true in other disciplines, for whatever their basic units are? You don’t need to have a PhD to write a Great American Novel, or make an important discovery (whether it’s finding a lost manuscript or a shipwreck), or engineer some game-changing thing/app…Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Patrick Lin
3 years ago

This is actually very different from most of the sciences. In the lab sciences, peer review is not anonymous, because most referees feel that they need to know who the researcher is and what university they’re working at in order to be able to fairly judge whether the person could plausibly have done the experiment claimed in the paper. Whereas in philosophy, people take it for granted that you don’t need to know the author to evaluate an argument. (I believe that in math people also don’t need to know the author to evaluate an argument, but review practices are still non-anonymous there for some reason.)Report

MTC
MTC
3 years ago

If I may speak to the Tuvel comment above: I think it’s obvious that one of the reasons Tuvel received so much criticism is that trans theory and critical race theory scholars are marginalized within philosophy, and critics saw Tuvel & Hypatia as contributing to, or representative of, this marginalization. Hypatia is in the anomalous position of being regarded as ‘academically reputable,’ in spite of publishing mainly non-standard philosophy (which many regard with suspicion, if not contempt), and, as such, Hypatia receives a deluge of submissions from the profession’s most marginalized scholars. According to Frantz Fanon, structural inequality creates ‘horizontal pressure,’ which fractures marginalized in-groups. The Tuvel situation was, perhaps, an example of philosophy splitting at the seams under the pressure of inequality.
Of course, if philosophy is egalitarian and non-hierarchical, then forget I said anything.Report

wow
wow
3 years ago

It is astounding how an endowed chair at an elite department could not only think this, but think he has authority on the manner. Almost every part of philosophy is not flat. Whether or not you become a research professor is very closely tied to going to a top department, which is tied to going to an elite under graduate school, which is tied to coming from a family of means. At almost every talk I have been to I have seen bias where not great points by famous people are taken far more seriously than great points by graduate students. We are really fooling ourselves if we think professional philosophy is a space of reason immune to normal human tendencies.Report

Tamler Sommers
Tamler Sommers
3 years ago

The claim would be more plausible if it were restricted to people who have tenured or tenure-track jobs (and/or it were evaluated over the long term, relative to other professions). It’s clearly not true in the short or medium-term for people on the market, and it wouldn’t be in any field. Also, from my personal experience as a grad student, I’d say Duke was exceptional in how little hierarchy mattered and how much respect they had for the students. Alex himself certainly subscribed to that ethic. From what I hear, that isn’t the case as much in other PhD programs.Report

Smith&Jones
Smith&Jones
Reply to  Tamler Sommers
3 years ago

I enjoy reading Rosenberg’s stuff and he seems like a pretty nice nihilist himself. That said, I don’t know if restriction to the long-term tt would make the claim more plausible. Some relevant data would be how likely writing one’ way up in the profession is at that point and whether rank factors beyond publication record increase the odds.Report

BRW
BRW
3 years ago

I see what Rosenberg is getting at. I think he’s right for the most part. As others have pointed out, it doesn’t apply to job seeking and such. But I don’t think that’s what he was talking about anyways.

I think Rosenberg’s point is similar to that of physicist Lawrence Krauss’ when he says (paraphrasing) that the great thing about science is that there are no scientific authorities. Everyone is free (in principle I suppose) to perform the experiments themselves and compare data, etc. Everyone is equal in this sense, and the science that one conducts can be detached from the fame (or non-fame) of one’s name and examined on its own to determine it’s validity.
I think philosophy is ‘flat’ for the most part, if understood in this way. I think the point is fairly innocuousReport

Bitter but bemused
Bitter but bemused
3 years ago

Consider: aristocracy used to be justified because they had ‘better breeding’ and therefore supposedly best prepared to lead. How different is it when ‘better breeding’ means ‘top-10 PhD’?Report

MTC
MTC
3 years ago

Everyone is free in principle, but not in practice, to perform the experiments themselves. That’s a big difference.Report

Andrew Sepielli
Andrew Sepielli
3 years ago
JohnMcCumber
JohnMcCumber
3 years ago

Philosophy may be “flat” in the specific context of proffering and evaluating arguments. But when you look at what those arguments are about–which topics philosophers take up and which they pass by–things are different. Or at least they looked different to Richard Rorty, who said many years ago that whether a philosophical problem is important is a matter of whether philosophers in major departments think it is important (if I recollect correctly, he called this “the institutional tail wagging the philosophical dog”).. If Rorty is right, then major departments direct the development of the discipline in ways that are important, “un-flat,”and largely (it appears) invisible.Report

Urstoff
Urstoff
3 years ago

If philosophy were flat, independent scholars would be published more in philosophy journals.Report

JTD
JTD
3 years ago

If philosophy is flat then why do so many journal referees google the title and abstract of the papers they are reviewing to check on the rank and status of the paper’s author. And why, when they look at papers I intend to submit to journals, do my advisors regularly tell me that I need to cite a ‘bigname’ holding some relevant view I discuss because citing the work of philosophers who are not bignames will not impress referees.Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  JTD
3 years ago

In this regard, philosophy is far flatter than most academic disciplines. There’s a reason that many big publishers have “google the author and title” built in as a button in their refereeing, and it’s because in most disciplines the refereeing is expected *not* to be anonymous. Philosophy really is an outlier in the flat direction here.Report

JTD
JTD
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
3 years ago

Sure, but saying that philosophy is flatter than other disciplines is different from saying that philosophy is flat. Perhaps Rosenberg should have said: “I know that I must have gotten many unfair advantages over my career because of the fact that philosophy is not flat. Nonetheless, I assure myself that philosophy is at least flatter than many other disciplines and on those grounds I don’t feel so guilty about it.”Report

sahpa
sahpa
Reply to  JTD
3 years ago

Everybody knows that “flat” is context sensitive. When you call something flat, you’re always relativizing it to some standard, which may often be a contrast class of other relevantly similar things, such as academic disciplines.Report

JTD
JTD
Reply to  sahpa
3 years ago

Yes, when we use the term we are relativizing to the appropriate standard, but now think carefully about what that standard may be in the present case. Here is an example to help you. Suppose we are walking through a warehouse full of slanted coffee tables and you point to the flattest coffee table in the warehouse and say “look, here’s a flat one”. I might reply “this isn’t a flat coffee table, look, when I put my full mug of coffee down on it some coffee spills over the side”. This is the correct reply. Being a ‘flat’ coffee table is not about being flatter most of the other coffee tables around. Rather, the relevant standard comes from the purpose or function of a coffee table, which is to hold containers of food and drink without any spilling over the side.

I will leave you to ponder what standard of ‘flatness’ might apply to institutions that are supposed to be meritocratic.Report

Matt
Reply to  JTD
3 years ago

And why, when they look at papers I intend to submit to journals, do my advisors regularly tell me that I need to cite a ‘bigname’ holding some relevant view I discuss because citing the work of philosophers who are not bignames will not impress referees.

A plausible reason, I’d think, is that if you are not noting, in some form or other, the “big names”, it’s not unreasonable to think you’re not fully familiar with the literature, even if you argue or show that the “smaller names” have more interesting things to say, and so are worthy of more discussion.Report

JTD
JTD
Reply to  Matt
3 years ago

Matt, you are wrongly assuming that ANY opinion a “bigname” expresses in print on a certain topic is central to the literature on that topic. The kind of example I had in mind is one where there may be only a handful of substantial discussions of a claim in the literature and they all happen to be by “smaller names” but I am told that I need to cite a “bigname” to impress referees even if that “bigname” only briefly mentions the claim in passing in a footnote somewhere and even if that “bigname” is “big” only for their work on other topics and hasn’t written anything notable on the topic that the relevant claim falls under.Report

Matt
Reply to  JTD
3 years ago

Matt, you are wrongly assuming that ANY opinion a “bigname” expresses in print on a certain topic is central to the literature on that topic.

No, I’m not assuming that, and the example you give might well be a good one, though I expect that the advice you’re given in such situations is mistaken for those cases, too. But, when I referee, showing a poor knowledge of the relevant literature is a common problem, so it seems reasonable to at least show that you know what the relevant literature is, even if you don’t want to discuss it. That’s the version of the idea that seems reasonable to me.Report

JTD
JTD
Reply to  Matt
3 years ago

I made an inference from the fact that I get certain advice to the conclusion that many referees are inappropriately influenced by hierarchy and status. You purported to give a reason that undermines my inference but your reason doesn’t undermine my inference unless you make the assumption I mention above. Therefore, you were either making that assumption or giving an invalid argument–your choice.

You now suggest another criticism. I was assuming as an implicit premise that my advisers are giving me good advice but you suggest that maybe they are not. However, I have good grounds for thinking they are. First they are very experienced and shrewd academic philosophers and their advice on these kinds of matters is consistently excellent and spot on. Thus, in this particular case I expect that it is good. Second, my personal experiences following their advice in this case suggest that it is correct. Before I got this advice I used to often get referee comments saying stuff like “I don’t think claim x that this paper attacks or engages with is interesting enough to warrant publication in a journal of this status”. I was baffled by such comments because I would often have cited several philosophers giving substantial discussion of claim x in decent journals. My advisors pointed out that these were “small names” and that the referees may be unfairly disregarding them. So I started adding spurious citations of “bignames” who, in very insignificant ways, and perhaps stretching interpretation a little, could be seen as endorsing claim x and, lo and behold, I no longer got referee comments of the kind I mention above.Report

Matt
Reply to  JTD
3 years ago

Therefore, you were either making that assumption or giving an invalid argument–your choice.

Um, well, okay. I mean, I suppose if this is the sort of charitable reading you give in your papers, then there might be other reasons why referees don’t like them…Report

JTD
JTD
Reply to  JTD
3 years ago

If there was a better argument you offering against my inference that doesn’t have these problems then, by all means, suggest it and I will admit that I wasn’t sufficiently charitable in interpreting your argument. However, don’t try to get out of making a bad argument by throwing around personal insults–learn to be in error with grace.Report

JDRox
JDRox
3 years ago

I think I agree that there’s hardly any “rank pulling” in philosophy (e.g., in the face of an objection), and indeed I think famous philosophers take objections from obscure philosophers more seriously that famous academics in other disciplines take objections from obscure academics in that discipline.

The first claim I’m very confident of, the second one I’d be willing to debate. But it’s something that seems distinctive and good to me about philosophy. Obviously, there are other important ways in which philosophy isn’t “flat”. But in many of those ways I do think it is *more flat* than many other disciplines.Report

Sin Nombre
Sin Nombre
3 years ago

It is a bit strange that a person who has a title named after another person meant to imply prestige is arguing that philosophy is flat. A lot of people have noted the job-seeking hierarchy based on pedigree, but that also affects who gets to be part of what conversations and make more meaningful contributions. Rank matters because those with higher ranks are more likely to be invited as keynote speakers, chapter or journal article authors, reviewers, etc. They can have quite a bit of influence and power in the sort of conversations philosophers have. Also, the very beginning of this argument is just fallacious: “I never experienced any…” can be the first words for any number of ignorant comments about things one is too privileged to have suffered like bigotry, violence, poverty, etc.Report

Jon Light
Jon Light
3 years ago

Idk. I went to an ok undergrad program, ok grad program (neither elite), then just published a jackload of stuff in top places and got a tenure-track job at an R1. I often think people from lower-ranked programs console themselves with allegations of prestige bias as excuses just for not working harder or having better research programs. Philosophy is generally flat (or “flat-ish”) in the sense that you can publish your way out of deficits, which isn’t how other things work. For example, law reviews generally want to see a CV *before* reading your article, so that’s a not-flat discipline. Sciences aren’t flat because they require funding, labs, infrastructure, etc. that philosophy doesn’t. (If you’re at a weak school, you might not be able to do great science, but you can still do great philosophy, approximately.)

And what’s up with these ad hominem arguments? His position is wrong because he’s an endowed chair? Come on.Report

Sin Nombre
Sin Nombre
Reply to  Jon Light
3 years ago

I didn’t say his position is wrong because he has an endowed chair. That’s a pretty purposeful misreading of my claim. His position is wrong because not only is there evidence to suggest senior scholars have more avenues to dominant particular subfields, gain prestige (like an endowed chair), and determine the course of the field, but he begins the argument with pretty fallacious reasoning. Kind of like your fallacy that others just don’t work hard enough to get themselves out of the position they are in.Report

Con Nombre
Con Nombre
Reply to  Sin Nombre
3 years ago

Not sure why you thought post was about you. For example:

1. “It is astounding how an endowed chair at an elite department could not only think this, but think he has authority on the manner. ”

2. “Maybe philosophy is flat. But I don’t know that the R. Taylor Cole Professor of Philosophy at Duke University’s experiences of the field should be taken too seriously as evidence to that effect.”Report

ex-pro philosopher
ex-pro philosopher
Reply to  Jon Light
3 years ago

IDk. I went to an ok undergrad program, ok grad program (neither elite), and published a jackload of stuff in top places and was never so much as offered an interview. I didn’t publish in Mind or Phil Review (who does?), but I published in respectable venues (JCS, Erkenntnis, Phil Studies, AJP, etc.). By the time I quit the adjunct racket, I had published some 20 articles, not including book reviews, and a book. I was told that my letters of reference were glowing. I consistently received highly positive student evaluations. I am well-cited by a cadre of specialists in the philosophy of x. There are hundreds of others just like me. I often think that people from lower-ranked programs who got lucky console themselves by attributing laziness to those who didn’t.Report

Jon
Jon
Reply to  ex-pro philosopher
3 years ago

Well sure, but maybe “philosophy of X” was a bad choice in the first place. If the work was marketable and tied to areas people were hiring in, presumably it would have gone differently with your credentials. Judging from your venues, it’s more likely you do metaphysics than, say, applied ethics, which would capture the phenomenon. There literally are dozens–I wouldn’t say hundreds–of metaphysicians with that sort of profile, most of whom are unhirable because there just aren’t jobs in that area. If you rebooted in applied ethics, you’d probably be fine with that sort of productivity. I’m not trolling: the point is just that you’re only capturing a few of the relevant variables with that analysis.Report

Smith&Jones
Smith&Jones
Reply to  Jon
3 years ago

So you guess that non-elites tend to be lazy and imprudent imstead of elites tend to be prestige biased. That might be true if non-elites like yourself mostly get good positions. But I hope you admit your guess about what happens to people as non-elite, prudent, and published as you are could well be wrong.Report

Gordon Ingram
Gordon Ingram
Reply to  Jon
3 years ago

Is this for real?Report

Gordon Ingram
Gordon Ingram
Reply to  Jon Light
3 years ago

What a stunning lack of self-awareness. You yourself say that you had to publish a “jackload” of stuff to get over the fact that you went to not-elite undergraduate and I programs. The point is that people who went to the elite programs often only had to publish a few things, not a “jackload” of stuff. Don’t you see the difference there?Report

Gordon Ingram
Gordon Ingram
Reply to  Gordon Ingram
3 years ago

“undergraduate and graduate programs”, I meant to say. Can’t find an edit facility in this forum 🙁Report

Juniorish
Juniorish
3 years ago

I disagree in two respects.

(1) There is extraordinary “hierarchy” in philosophy. One’s pedigree and connections are more important determinants of professional success, even individually, than one’s ability to produce high-quality research. There is lots of research supporting this view (some links have already been provided, see also, e.g. http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/1/1/e1400005). It is also my anecdotal impression. And it is borne out by the CVs of recent hires, especially at top institutions.

(2) I have not found people in this profession to be “super-smart”. If anything, I’ve been surprised by just how ordinary the intellects are in philosophy. In a way, this is good; brute genius is overrated. But I have lots of interactions with mathematicians and economists–and sometimes I walk away from those interactions thinking: “Wow, that person is truly brilliant.” I can’t remember the last time I got that impression from a philosopher.Report

Helen
Helen
Reply to  Juniorish
3 years ago

I’ve got a paper coming out specifically looking at prestige in philosophy. tl;dr – we’re not as hierarchical as some disciplines (e.g., English), but still pretty hierarchical. https://www.academia.edu/30045400/Prestige_bias_An_obstacle_to_a_just_academic_philosophyReport

Sikander
Sikander
Reply to  Helen
3 years ago

This seems great, thanks for it.Report

Helen
Helen
3 years ago

While prestigious philosophers won’t pull rank explicitly, prestige does determine whether you’ll be an influencer in your field, and also much more likely to given some slack.
Something a fellow philosopher who will remain nameless said to me recently “I’m editing a volume and there are two big name authors in there. The one big name author sent in an OK paper. The second big name sent in a really terrible paper. Really, we were astonished by how poor the quality was. The referees who were instructed to give constructive comments recommended rejection. We wrote a gentle response to big name philosopher asking him gently to revise the paper in light of the referees’ comments. He responded, ‘sorry but I’m not doing it. Paper fine as it is.’ Now we’re torn. His name will help sell the volume, but my goodness, what an awful paper it is.”Report

DocRPretired
DocRPretired
Reply to  Helen
3 years ago

See my comment below. I am sure this denies “Flatness”. Reputation confers status and also gives those with status the right to ignore, denigrate and ignore others in the field. I could name names but won’t, also. There are many first rate and first rated philosophers who are open minded and will listen to everyone, but there are a large percentage of those philosophers who will, by virtue of their reputation (well-deserved, though it may be) just ignore and dismiss others.Report

Eric
Eric
Reply to  DocRPretired
3 years ago

@DocRP: I don’t quite understand your comment. If Reputation confers status and gives people with status the right to ignore others in the field, how is that not completely at odds with the claim that ‘you have a good argument or you don’t.’ The way you find out if someone has a good argument is you allow it to be criticized. But if status is something that allows you to ignore criticism from people of lower status then status will correlate (CP) with having fewer people being able to subject your arguments to criticism. And that will correlate (CP) with getting away with bad arguments. And that seems to me to be exactly the relevant kind of absence of Flatness.Report

DocRPretired
DocRPretired
Reply to  Eric
3 years ago

Because if you are from a prestigious school or have a rep, your arguments are automatically good ones. To think the judgment on “arguments” is objective just shows naïve. Politics in the APA and journals is a fact.Report

Eric
Eric
Reply to  DocRPretired
3 years ago

@DocRP. Sorry. We completely agree. I somehow hallucinated a negation in your second sentence that now seems to be gone. 2 weeks of internet banishment for me.Report

DocRPretired
DocRPretired
Reply to  Eric
3 years ago

A-OK, I get here, too.Report

d
d
Reply to  Helen
3 years ago

Yea, I have also seen some pretty terrible talks by ‘big name’ philosophers–they just didn’t bother to prepare, the argument made no sense, or wasn’t good. But it just doesn’t matter. They will still keep getting invitations to give keynotes, publish in edited volumes, etc.Report

Anna
Anna
Reply to  Helen
3 years ago

Helen, in spite of being torn, my money is on they publish the paper. And this thing happens all the time. Philosophy is anything but flat.Report

krell_154
krell_154
Reply to  Helen
3 years ago

That’s so depressingReport

DocRPretired
DocRPretired
3 years ago

AS someone who taught at both first tier universities, colleges and community colleges during my career I have to say once other philosophers from those first tier schools heard I taught at a community college they stopped talking to me; I mean this literally. Years ago at a conference in Chicago (Palmer House bar), I spent a good hour talking with folks from those first tier schools and engaged in a lively exchange of ideas on various topics such as political philosophy and metaphysics. At one point I was asked, “where do you teach?” I named my community college…two of the four people at the table just ignored me and actually turned away from then on, and we had had a very deep and serious discussion before then. To note, I graduated with a PhD from one of those first tier universities, but that I was teaching at a community college ruled my comments out for others… Yeah, right, flat…

If you want to go back in m experience as retired and one who started teaching in the 70’s, I remember protests from people like me who taught at cc’s or “non-prestigious” colleges that the APA board members, appointed positions, nominations etc… seemed to be given only to those from the top 10 or so schools. The APA investigated (conducted by the board of people from those schools), and, as I remember, their response was along the lines of, of course we choose from the top 10 colleges/universities because we know they have the quality we desire and can relate to other members already on the board, committee, etc…

FLAT??? No, my experience has always been that the APA and philosophers in general from teaching institutions is elitist, in the negative sense of that term, hierarchical, and well, to throw it in, sexist.Report

grad
grad
3 years ago

What is it like to read a statement like this and not become immediately, ferociously angry?

I can see only flashes of memories of harassment, interruptions, calculated contempt and sophistry driven by the urge for prestige and cruel competition over limited material resources … precisely those examples *not* directed at me, but directed at my friends and colleagues who I was, of course, unable to fully shield.

Maybe the ideal of philosophy is that it is “flat,” flattened by reason, that the best argument wins. I’m not convinced of that by any means, as there are plenty of interesting ideas worth considering that don’t necessarily have good arguments attached to them. But I can certainly understand why that’s an appealing ideal.

But there is nothing more destructive to that ideal than to assume it is already realized. It is not. Not by a long shot. And “I’ve-got-mine,” “that’s-never-happened-to-me” complacency will ensure that it never is.Report

harry b
3 years ago

Helen’s paper (linked above, but I’ll link again so you don’t have to scroll back up) is pretty compelling that philosophy is not flat. And to me it seems especially not-flat at the entry-to-grad-school stage. But it sure seems flatter after you’ve spent much time on a divisional committee than it did before. I processed a lot of literature/area studies cases and their attention to prestige may not be worse than ours, but even if so its a hell of a lot less subtle. (The two other disciplines I know well, neither in the humanities, also seem considerably less flat than Philosophy).
Link to Helen’s paper: https://www.academia.edu/30045400/Prestige_bias_An_obstacle_to_a_just_academic_philosophyReport

Alan White
Alan White
3 years ago

Well I just lost an hour’s work trying to post and hitting a wrong key and so I’ll just say this and no doubt a lot less subtly.

DocRPretired and Sin Nombre and others should be heard. I’m a lucky stiff from the University from Who Cares who, despite coming from a lower-class background, has had a very gratifying career. I can count many recognizable people at R1s as friends and good acquaintances. Yet, when it comes to matters of professional communication, I can say that the fact that my email originates from UWC too often means that it does not receive a reply or even simple acknowledgement, and even from people I have met very cordially and socially. There is socioeconomic stratification in philosophy that results in what regard one is held, and how ones professional work even in very good venues is regarded, and the silences from the higher tiers of the hierarchy on these fronts can be deafening. From the APA–where one could be a contributing member and conference participant for decades, and not once had any appointment to any committee despite nominations–to blog comments (positive and negative) that reward notoriety above all else–to search committees that sort dossiers by prestige (in both directions depending on an institution’s self-identification as prestigious or not)–to think that our profession is “flat” in some egalitarian way, including assessment of argument, is wishful thinking or the rosiest-tinted spectacles. I mean no disrespect to Professor Rosenberg, whose work I highly admire. But I also have my own professionally-issued shoes to walk in, and my mileage differs.Report

Roberta Millstein
3 years ago

https://www.wiley.com/en-us/Philosophy+of+Biology%3A+An+Anthology-p-9781405183161

Only two women authors in Rosenberg’s phil bio anthology. Neither of them are philosophers.

I will let people draw whatever conclusions from this that they wish.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Roberta Millstein
3 years ago

What’s the significance of whether they’re philosophers? I’m not in the field but at a glance, it looks like a pretty large fraction of contributors to that volume are scientists, not philosophers. (And isn’t another aspect of flatness not presupposing that academics in other fields have no contributions to make to philosophy?)Report

Roberta Millstein
Reply to  David Wallace
3 years ago

The point is not that biologists are included. That is indeed standard for phil bio anthologies. The point is that very few women were included at all (2 out of 38) and that none of the work of women philosophers was deemed worthy of inclusion.

Again, I let you draw whatever conclusions from that you wish. But just to forestall one possible one, women have definitely published influential work in the areas represented.Report

linus
linus
3 years ago

Try going to the APA and introducing yourself as being from the Three Sisters of Perpetual Motion State College, then see if you think philosophy is flat.Report

Sara L. Uckelman
3 years ago

Of course it’s going to look flat when you’re already at the plateau.

For everyone else still climbing, it’s not going to be flat at all.Report

Michael Byron
Michael Byron
Reply to  Sara L. Uckelman
3 years ago

‘Plateau’ was my thought too. More like a mesa, really: steep walls, limited area at the top.Report

Thinker
Thinker
3 years ago

Reading the comments here and the stories recounted therein, I have to ask: do people go into academia and find themselves *surprised* that there is no shortage of haughty, self-serving [expletive of choice] who are concerned in large part with their own perceived prestige and so, in turn, concern themselves largely with the prestige of others?

Don’t get me wrong, there are some absolutely *wonderful* people in academia and academic philosophy in particular — graceful, generous, enriching, and inspiring are all adjectives I’d use to describe other philosophers I’ve come to know through the academy. But let’s not make the mistake of thinking that the academy isn’t pervaded by smug individuals who are obsessed with thinking of themselves as better/far more intelligent than (most) everyone else. (Certainly philosophy is no exception, and it may even be more-so the case in our discipline)

Perhaps part of the problem is that academics distance themselves from the non-academic public — perhaps, though certainly not always, out of their own sense of themselves as being above the non-academic public — and then come to find out that the academy isn’t filled to the brim with people who exemplify all the highest of virtues. Bummer. Again, I don’t think this should shock anybody.

I also, for what it’s worth, tend to find that the most smug philosophers I encounter are, ironically, not ones whose philosophical contributions I’m generally impressed with.Report

Tim
Tim
3 years ago

“You either have a good argument, or you don’t” assumes all of us are, as it were, sitting in the same room, and each of us gets the chance to stand up and deliver his or her argument, which is then judged on its merits against all the others. But this is a false assumption, since most of the people in the profession are not let in to the room in the first place. Maybe it’s really true that once inside you are treated as an equal– I wouldn’t know– but who gets in seems to be based on lots of considerations besides merit. Can the people inside really be so unaware of this?Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
3 years ago

Another way that philosophy is not flat, at least compared to the world outside of academia, is that we generally insist that students address us by a title, like “Doctor Jones” or “Professor Jones”. Only very hierarchical organizations like the military and church require such formal acknowledgement of differences in rank. The student, themselves an adult, will be called by their first name, but the professor is addressed by a special title. I find it rather astonishing that this goes on, given how much we love to talk about respect, equality and hierarchy.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
3 years ago

That’s not universal. Students in Oxford (undergrad and graduate) always called me “David”.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  David Wallace
3 years ago

Yeah, I don’t require it either. What I actually get is a variety (Doctor, Professor, Mr., Dan). In terms of what I prefer, frankly, it’s whatever they prefer. Makes no difference to me.Report

Urstoff
Urstoff
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
3 years ago

With undergrads, perhaps, but I think that’s as much about undergrads being uncomfortable with calling a person much older than them by their first name than with professors wanting to be called professors. Grad students are usually on a first name basis with the faculty in their department (it would be strange if they weren’t).Report

Alan White
Alan White
Reply to  Urstoff
3 years ago

Right. When it comes to undergrads address depends on two things–the comfort levels of both professor and student. Some professors are more formal with respect to their professional role, and may request in blanket fashion to be addressed as such. This may be in part a function of the prestige and academic traditions of the institution as well, and that might feather off into the themes of this thread. In this case the expectation is that students comply. Others (like me) are far less formal, so here’s what I’ve done all my career “For those of you who don’t already know me, I tend to be a rather informal kind of person, so if you wish you may call me “Al” or “Alan”; if you don’t feel comfortable with that, then I am [rank} Professor of Philosophy, so “Professor White” is appropriate; I hold a PhD from the University of Tennessee, so “Dr. White” is appropriate. Okay?” Even though it reminds me of my Dad, many just slip into “Mr. White” anyway–and I’m okay enough with that even though I really don’t prefer it–students’ comfort levels ought to be respected too. What I want to do initially is to establish some latitude about address while also gently reminding them this is a professional relationship.Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
3 years ago

In my experience, academia is one of the few places where someone who is in a position of authority over another might often expect to be addressed on a first-name basis by those others. It’s surely more common in California (where I spent most of my academic career) than in Texas (where I am now), but this point about titles is one that seems to me to emphasize how (relatively) flat academia actually is compared to most of the rest of the world.Report

Matt
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
3 years ago

I think this at least slightly overstates things. In addition to some examples that might fall into your “very hierarchical organizations” (calling police officers “officer”, judges “judge”, elected officials by their title – but note here how in most of these cases, it’s not exactly people _in_ the organization using the title). And, for example, people very often call _medical_ doctors (and dentists, and eye doctors, and the like” “Dr. so and so”. I do so, for example, and did so even when I have had the same doctor for some time (and so knew his or her first name fairly well, and the doctor knew me.) I don’t really have any settled opinion on the use of titles, and don’t have a general moral to draw here, other than that they extend outside of academia quite a bit.Report

Thomas Mulligan
3 years ago

The problem is not hierarchy per se, but that the extant hierarchy is not a meritocratic one. This is an undercurrent of the comments so far:

(1) Roberta Millstein suggests that women who have “published influential work” go unrecognized. And there is much talk about the possibility of implicit bias which prevents women from being judged on their merits (Steinpreis et al. 1999). These are not worries about hierarchy, but about anti-meritocratic discrimination.

(2) Men on the job market object to the fact that, owing to strong favoritism toward women, they must have much stronger CVs than their female counterparts to be competitive for the very same job (Ceci and Williams 2015; Dicey Jennings et al. 2015; Williams and Ceci 2015). The objection is to the violation of meritocratic hiring standards.

(3) Helen De Cruz and others have pointed out that pedigree plays a decisive role in determining the course of one’s academic career. This is troubling because pedigree is a poor proxy for merit (Burris 2004; Jacobs 1999 and 2004; McGinnis and Long 1994), and, in particular, because there are better proxies for available, such as the publication record.

(4) And then of course there are the myriad worries about nepotism in academia which have been raised–and nepotism is the archetypical enemy of meritocracy.

In my experience, arguments “against hierarchy” are really arguments against arbitrary hierarchies, which is to say hierarchies that are not populated on the basis of merit (but rather gender, pedigree, race, and other irrelevant traits). And this is not surprising given the empirical research: Human beings are not egalitarians deep down. We are meritocrats.

For anyone interested in these matters, I discuss them at length in my recent book, Justice and the Meritocratic State (https://www.routledge.com/Justice-and-the-Meritocratic-State/Mulligan/p/book/9781138283800).Report

Sikander
Sikander
3 years ago

I think this is basically right, if we’re talking about the practice of philosophy. Of course there are institutional hierarchies in academic philosophy.

This is also one of the things that I love about philosophy: it is sincere and truth-aiming, and the deference to the truth can substitute deference to certain ‘worldly’ authorities, which creates the relative egalitarianism Rosenberg talks about.Report

Jon Light
Jon Light
3 years ago

I wouldn’t conflate pedigree with hierarchy. For one, people coming out of elite programs at least plausibly, on average, tend to be better than people coming out of crappy programs. (Sure, call that “prestige bias” if you want, but come on.) For another, an anti-hierarchical point is that anyone, regardless of pedigree, could offer a counterexample to some received view and “win”. The institution that person went to isn’t evidentiary of the force of the counterexample (i.e., prestige doesn’t matter, and hierarchy is permeable). Sciences could work differently, where, e.g., lab funding is very relevant to your “counterexample”; there prestige and hierarchy would be more intertwined than in philosophy. I generally take the better reading of Rosenberg’s argument is that he’s arguing against the hierarchy phenomenon, not against the prestige one.Report

ex-pro philosopher
ex-pro philosopher
Reply to  Jon Light
3 years ago

“I wouldn’t conflate pedigree with hierarchy. For one, people coming out of elite programs at least plausibly, on average, tend to be better than people coming out of crappy programs.”

Well, I don’t think anyone’s denying this. The problem is that, even when there’s good evidence that philosopher x from “crappy” program y is a better candidate for the position (given his or her publications, teaching experience, etc.), selection committees will still hire a graduate from an elite program even if that candidate hasn’t published or taught anything. Indeed, it’s safe to assume that some departments, as a matter of (implicit) policy, will not hire candidates from non-elite programs. To my mind, that’s like having a policy against hiring people of color (say), but so it goes.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  ex-pro philosopher
3 years ago

“Safe to say” is pretty strong. I’d be interested in the evidence, assuming that it’s intended literally. (I’m also not sure what “implicit” policy means).Report

Patrick Lin
Reply to  David Wallace
3 years ago

David, you really need evidence for that? Bias against non-elite schools is the worst kept secret in the profession (and academia at large). But ok, here’s some evidence:

Since it’s difficult to demonstrate what people will or will not do — which requires accessing their minds as well as the future — a good proxy is what in fact they do or don’t do. Let’s take your school’s faculty, which I presume is USC: guess how many of your 28 faculty (who went to an English-speaking school) did NOT get their PhDs from a school on the list of elite programs below?

Answer: none. I see a lot of Princetons, MITs, Oxfords, Cornells, etc., but no Bowling Greens, SUNYs, or other unranked (but respectable) schools. And you can find a similar profile for faculty in other elite programs. Why do you think that is?

Philosophical Gourmet Report: http://www.philosophicalgourmet.com/overall.aspReport

Jamie Dreier
Jamie Dreier
Reply to  Patrick Lin
3 years ago

I wonder if there is some kind of ‘talking past each other’ problem here.

Just to be clear: Patrick Lin, you are saying that the list of faculty in USC philosophy is evidence that there is a policy against hiring people from non-elite programs?Report

Patrick Lin
Reply to  Jamie Dreier
3 years ago

Yes, Jamie, it is one of many data points. As suggested four posts above, an organization that has not hired or promoted people of color — despite the many qualified candidates who’ve applied for the job or promotion — strongly seems to suffer from bias. A parallel seems to exist with academia’s lack of diversity when it comes to pedigree and other measures.

Of course there may be prior structural bias that winnows the list of candidates, e.g., those who can afford to study at a university in the first place, and therefore would even be considered at all; but that doesn’t excuse subsequent hiring/promotion practices that use blunt heuristics (e.g., ethnicity, gender), which are lazy at best and racist at worst. It’s just statistically highly improbable that an organization cannot find a diverse range of qualified people, if not for negligence, malice, or other such reasons.

There is (or used to be) a business saying that “No one ever got fired for buying an IBM”, meaning that investing in a well-known, reputable brand always looks sensible, esp. to supervisors who may be non-experts. This also happens in academia with respect to using pedigree as a critical heuristic, esp. when your dean or provost (who ultimately approves a hire) is not a philosopher and is unaware of the strengths of particular programs (e.g., Univ. of Pittsburgh, Rutgers, etc.).

I don’t know why it’d surprise anyone to think that philosophers, like all humans, suffer from cognitive and institutional biases, and we might even have worse failings relative to the general population. But denying that philosophy (and academia at large) has a pedigree problem is like denying that America has a racism problem.

Step 1 is to recognize the problem. Step 2 is to fix it.Report

Ken
Ken
Reply to  Jamie Dreier
3 years ago

This sort of incredulous stare comment is a bit silly. “Policy” may be too strong, but it’s clear that these programs don’t hire from non-elite schools. So even if it’s not an official policy, it’s the outcome of a very-likely biased system. A lot of that is likely implicit bias, but some of it may be more explicit bias in the structure: for example, if applications were ranked in part based on who they worked with or where they received their PhDs.Report

Jamie Dreier
Jamie Dreier
Reply to  Jamie Dreier
3 years ago

Patrick (sorry, nested to deep for ‘Reply’ to you):

I can think of two members of USC’s department who have no PhD from a ranked program, so maybe your example is not the best one. I guess it’s possible that USC does have a policy against this but made a couple of exceptions. But it is hard for me to see how anyone could take it to be *evidence* for such a policy.

Obviously, there are far more professors of philosophy currently teaching in graduate programs from ranked departments than from unranked ones. I think one of the thrusts of David Wallace’s comments is that there is an alternative explanation for this fact than there being a *policy*, namely, that candidates from ranked programs are in fact more qualified. This may be wrong but I’m sure the faculty list at USC isn’t evidence that it’s wrong.

If what you mean is, all human beings are subject to prestige bias, so presumably philosophers are too, then that does seem likely. But that’s not what you said.

(And to Ken: would you please identify the comment you think is a silly ‘incredulous stare’?)Report

Ken
Ken
Reply to  Jamie Dreier
3 years ago

Jamie: People often use the “just to be clear, you’re arguing for *this*” as a way of signaling that they can’t believe that someone would claim such a thing, i.e. a sort of written incredulous stare. If that’s not how you intended it, I apologize. As someone on the losing end of all these discussions of prestige bias I tend to get a bit testy, and dialogue over the internet is always hard to interpret.

I take Patrick’s point to be something like the following: it’s not USC’s faculty list that is evidence that there is a bias (again, we should be talking about biases rather than policies as I note above) against low-prestige graduates. Rather it’s that basically every. single. school. is like this.

USC’s faculty list on its own may not be sufficient evidence (you claim it’s not evidence – I’m not sure whether that is meant to be that it’s not evidence at all or that it’s very weak, I feel it’s the latter at best for your point), but certainly the phenomena is so widespread that there is a very large evidence pool.

Of course: this may just all show that candidates from high-ranked programs are in fact better qualified. Then again, the lack of many women and people of color amongst philosophy faculty at large may just be because white men are in fact better qualified. Almost certainly not the case, but I will agree that that’s not ruled out by the evidence given.Report

Patrick Lin
Reply to  Jamie Dreier
3 years ago

Jamie, which two USC faculty member (who went to an English-speaking program) did not go to a PhD program that appeared on the PGR list I had linked to? I thought I looked through all the current faculty…

Here’s the USC philosophy faculty list: http://dornsife.usc.edu/cf/phil/phil_faculty_roster.cfm

Besides Ken’s reply just above this, as I mentioned, USC’s faculty profile is just one data point, and there are many others that add up to a troubling pattern. Not sure what you’re counting as “evidence”; of course there wouldn’t be a secret memo to dismiss candidates from unranked programs, just as there’s no secret (and illegal) policy at a company to not hire candidates of a certain gender or ethnicity. In the latter case, what would you accept as evidence of discrimination in corporate hiring?

As I suggested, looking at who a company hires or doesn’t hire seems to be a pretty good proxy in this case. If MSFT or GOOG had only white men working for them, you wouldn’t demand to see a policy memo (or whatever you’re understanding as evidence) before you’d think there’s cause for concern, right?Report

Patrick Lin
Reply to  Jamie Dreier
3 years ago

Let’s take another elite program at random, Jamie; here’s one for your school, Brown: https://www.brown.edu/academics/philosophy/people/faculty

How many do you think went to an unranked PhD program? (Spoiler alert: nada.) See a pattern yet?Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Jamie Dreier
3 years ago

Okay, I think Jamie Dreier is right that people are talking past each other, but for the record: no, USC does not have a policy of not hiring from non-elite programs (nor does Oxford, which is the only other program I have first-hand experience of). In the hiring processes I’ve been part of, longlisting is on some mixture of publication record (contextualized to career stage), a quick look at the writing sample, and letters of reference; shortlisting is mostly on the basis of a more careful look at the writing sample, with publication playing some role; final selection is a fairly variable mixture of writing sample and in-person assessment.

There are a number of places in which inappropriate pedigree bias could creep in there (probably over-credulous use of references is the most obvious one) but that’s a far cry from an actual *policy*.

Jamie Dreier is also right about “one of the thrusts of my comments”: yes, I would expect a very disproportionate representation of former students from PGR-ranked programs in top departments, even in the absence of any hiring bias. How disproportionate, I’ve no idea: it’s very difficult to see how to model it. I should say that I don’t think this is just a selection effect: I am much more inclined than some commentators to think that being a grad student at a strong department tends to make you a better philosopher at the end of it.Report

Patrick Lin
Reply to  Jamie Dreier
3 years ago

Let’s say these claims are true on average or in general: “candidates from high-ranked programs are in fact better qualified” (Jamie) and “being a grad student at a strong department tends to make you a better philosopher at the end of it” (David).

These are not unreasonable claims; I could agree with them. But unless you assume that the /overwhelming/ majority of PhDs from ranked programs are better qualified, and that qualified PhDs from unranked schools are just /rare/ outliers, then statistically we should still see some unranked PhDs on your faculty lists, if pedigree is not a factor, right? Further, that assumption would be an extraordinary claim that requires extraordinary evidence.

I know firsthand many professors from highly ranked programs that I thought weren’t as good (however that’s measured) than some PhDs from unranked programs. I’m sure other folks here do as well; and, despite the pithy saying, the plural of anecdote IS data (or can be data). A policy also needn’t be stated or made explicit to be a (de facto) policy.

Look, I’m not saying that pedigree is an illegitimate factor and doesn’t track anything; I’m just saying that it seems obvious and even “safe to say” that /some/ and even many departments have a strong pedigree bias. I’ll leave it at that, and thank you for discussion.Report

Patrick Lin
Reply to  Jamie Dreier
3 years ago

* for the discussion

(Need editing feature here.)Report

Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Reply to  Jamie Dreier
3 years ago

There is some relevant work from sociology on this issue, such as Rivera (2011): “I find that educational credentials were the most common criteria employers used to solicit and screen resumes. However, it was not the content of education that elite employers valued but rather its prestige. Contrary to common sociological measures of institutional prestige, employers privileged candidates who possessed a super-elite (e.g., top four) rather than selective university affiliation. They restricted competition to students with elite affiliations and attributed superior abilities to candidates who had been admitted to super-elite institutions, regardless of their actual performance once there.”

While Rivera’s work is about nonacademic employment, this prestige bias may well be shared by those in academia. At least, academia appears to have a strong prestige bias: “Across disciplines, we find steep prestige hierarchies, in which only 9 to 14% of faculty are placed at institutions more prestigious than their doctorate (ρ = 0.86 to 0.91). Furthermore, the extracted hierarchies are 19 to 33% stronger than expected from the observed inequality in faculty production rates alone” (http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/1/1/e1400005.full). Of course, even when performance (e.g. production rate) does correlate with prestige it may be that this is due to 1) an underlying factor used to screen applicants to a prestigious program in the first place, such as writing skill, 2) an underlying factor created by the prestigious program, such as a strong professional network, or 3) the prestige itself conferring advantages regardless of underlying factors and abilities.

See also this quote from Rivera (2011): “…I argue that the trend towards the super-elite is not reducible to notions of evaluative efficiency or effectiveness alone…Instead, employers issue a blanket certification to university admissions committees and spend millions of dollars per year wooing and, in some cases, even interviewing entire classes at super-elite schools regardless of individual performance measures.”Report

Jamie Dreier
Jamie Dreier
Reply to  Jamie Dreier
3 years ago

Ken,

“People often use the “just to be clear, you’re arguing for *this*” as a way of signaling that they can’t believe that someone would claim such a thing, i.e. a sort of written incredulous stare.”

I wanted it to be clear what the list was supposed to be evidence for, because I *suspected* that DW and PL were talking past one another. (That is, in fact, what I said!) But Patrick confirmed that it is supposed to be evidence for a policy of not hiring graduates from non-elite programs.

The analogy with a lack of people of color is inapt. There is, I hope we can agree, no reason at all to think that people of color are generally worse at philosophy, or worse at whatever the job requirements are in Patrick’s fictional examples. But you (I think) and Patrick (I know) are happy to admit that graduates of top programs are generally better qualified for jobs teaching in graduate departments than are people who did not graduate from top programs. So the two cases are very different in a very important respect.Report

Jamie Dreier
Jamie Dreier
Reply to  Jamie Dreier
3 years ago

Patrick,

The two are Steve Finlay and Antonio Damasio. They are listed on the page you linked; I was aware of their pedigree already.

I don’t know why you’re suggesting that I have asked to see a “secret memo”. What I’m saying is that the list of USC faculty is not evidence of any policy against hiring graduates from non-elite programs. I think I have explained pretty clearly why it isn’t.

As I explained to Ken, I don’t think the comparison with sex and race discrimination in corporate hiring is on point, and I explained why.Report

Patrick Lin
Reply to  Jamie Dreier
3 years ago

Steve Finlay’s school of Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, is indeed on that PGR list (see bottom); and Antonio Damasio went to Univ. of Lisbon, which wouldn’t be included in the ranking of English-speaking schools (and it’s notable that he holds an MD as well). So, I think it’s still true USC does not have any PhDs from non-elite, English-speaking programs, even if one is “barely elite.”

(USC aside, what about your school?)

I used “secret memo” as just an example of something I thought you’d take as “evidence”, in the absence of knowing what you’re looking for. So what would count as evidence for you of pedigree bias? Or are you offering an unfalsifiable hypothesis?

Not sure the gender/ethnicity vs. PhD program distinction is relevant here; but ok, let’s say Google had hired 10,000 workers, all from Ivy League schools. That’s more relevant, right? Would you still say there’s no reason to be concerned about pedigree bias?

Or if some philosophy department had 100 faculty PhDs, and all came from elite/ranked programs, do you really think that’s no evidence of possible bias? Maybe the issue turns on population/sample size for you?

No, I don’t think you’ve explained clearly or pretty clearly at all. At best, you seem to offering a statistically improbable (even if plausible) hypothesis without evidence…Report

Patrick Lin
Reply to  Jamie Dreier
3 years ago

P.S. Jamie, I didn’t “admit that graduates of top programs are generally better qualified for jobs teaching in graduate departments than are people who did not graduate from top programs.” I only said that it was a plausible hypothesis that I could envision agreeing with.

But how would you even measure that? If you’re looking at teaching ability, I wouldn’t be inclined to believe a correlation with “elite programs” at all, since those programs seem to focus much more on scholarship than on the art of teaching; as a grad student TA, you’d likely just be thrown in the pool (from what I’ve seen). And some of the best philosophy teachers I’ve seen were at community colleges, and some of the worst were at R1s or ranked philosophy programs. I wouldn’t even say that /on average/ R1s or ranked programs have better teachers. Would be happy to see any evidence you got for that.

Maybe you mean quality with respect to scholarship, so let’s look at that: what exactly is the causal mechanism you’re imaging that makes a ranked program produce quality scholars, that other programs generally don’t have? If it’s the strength/quality of faculty, how do you measure that? I assume you’re not simply deferring to PGR, which relies on a highly controversial methodology, or other reputational surveys and simplistic metrics. So how are you identifying quality programs or faculty–have you personally investigated them, and what exactly do they have that lesser programs and faculty don’t have?

So, to complete my position: I think that there’s obvious pedigree bias in /some/ or even many philosophy departments, and that “pedigree” is a flawed measure.Report

Jamie Dreier
Jamie Dreier
Reply to  Patrick Lin
3 years ago

Patrick,

Illinois is listed, but it is listed in the category ‘unranked’! [You said you saw no “unranked (but respectable) schools”; I think Illinois qualifies.]

I did miss your proviso ‘English-speaking’ before – but unless you are including Lisbon as one of the elite PhD programs, I don’t see why it’s relevant what language they speak.

I agree that if the last 10,000 people hired by Google all had Ivy League degrees, that would be prima facie evidence of prestige bias. But not if out of the last 50 people they hired, 46 were from one of the top 60 engineering programs in the world. Do you agree, or do you think the latter would also be evidence of prestige bias?

“So what would count as evidence for you of pedigree bias? Or are you offering an unfalsifiable hypothesis?”

I didn’t offer any hypothesis! You are offering the hypothesis that USC has a policy of never hiring candidates from non-elite programs, and I am saying the list by itself is not evidence for that hypothesis. (I think it would be possible in principle to get publicly presentable evidence, but it would be very difficult.)

On ‘more qualified’: I agree, it’s hard to see how to come up with a measure that everyone could agree on. Each hiring department uses different criteria, no doubt, with substantial but not complete overlap.

To finish(?) on a note similar to the one on which I began: despite my efforts, I still feel like there is at least some element of talking past one another here. For instance, I am certainly not denying that there is such a thing as prestige bias; it is pretty well attested in general and I would be surprised if it had no effects in academic philosophy. But I think you have sometimes taken me to be saying there are no such effects.Report

Patrick Lin
Reply to  Jamie Dreier
3 years ago

Sorry if I’ve mischaracterized your position, Jamie. Reviewing the thread, I suppose you hadn’t offered a position, but I took your comments as skepticism about pedigree bias, e.g.: “But it is hard for me to see how anyone could take it [USC’s faculty list] to be *evidence* for such a policy [of pedigree bias].” Maybe you were just making an epistemological point about evidence and confirmation (which I would agree are real philosophical problems)?

On your Google scenario, yes, I would say there’d be reason to worry that bias exists, which is all I meant by “evidence”, i.e., not necessarily a smoking gun. I think even Google would recognize it as bias! As it turns out, they don’t care about pedigree; I know many Googlers who’ve confirmed this, and this has been well covered in the news, since it bucks “commonsense.” One interesting bit is that Google sees an inverse relationship between pedigree and “intellectual humility”: https://qz.com/180247/why-google-doesnt-care-about-hiring-top-college-graduates/

Have a nice day.Report

Smith&Jones
Smith&Jones
Reply to  Jon Light
3 years ago

As for Jon’s second point, it’s true that anyone could “win” if arguments were assessed by ideally rational observers. But when it comes to humans, at least with regard to published criticisms, the prestige of the writer likely affects how seriously people take the criticism, whether it gets a written response, or even read to begin with.Report

Bill
Bill
Reply to  Jon Light
3 years ago

Well maybe, it doesn’t matter where the counter example comes from. But if we’re asking the question ‘shall I cite this paper/engage with this person’s work/write a response/spend time reading this person’s work?’ I suspect it matters quite a lot. I’ve certainly had referee’s reports that have said things like ‘no point in engaging with X’s views at length – no-one’s heard of X’ where in fact plenty of people in the relevant subtitled had heard of X, but X was not at a prestigious institution.Report

Martin Cooke
3 years ago

You had a good argument, or you didn’t.

It is of course a matter of opinion which are the good arguments, so that an argument can (and often it) called “good” because of its pedigree, or even just what (or who’s positions) it is arguing for. Wittgenstein springs to mind. Some people think that those are good arguments, some do not (I think in particular of the recent review of Maddy 2017 in NDPR). Just saying.Report

JTD
JTD
Reply to  Martin Cooke
3 years ago

I recall once being at the talk of a senior philosopher visiting our department and seeing a graduate student offer what looked like a compelling objection against a crucial step in the speaker’s argument. The speaker fumbled around for a few minutes trying to think of a good reply and eventually said of his fumbling “that doesn’t sound very convincing does it, do you think this answers your objection?”, inviting the graduate student to reiterate her objection and show how it still hadn’t been answered. At this point the moderator of the session (who was another senior philosopher and was good friends with the speaker) interjected “It’s ok, I don’t think you need to be worried about this objection” and then called for the next question. This same moderator would regularly allow senior audience members to ruthlessly pursue their objections with more junior speakers until the speaker had either capitulated or given a satisfactory reply.

Now, I agree that many philosophers do not show this kind of double standard when they are moderating their department seminar. But I have seen it often enough that I can say it is not that uncommon either.Report

SD
SD
Reply to  JTD
3 years ago

JTD, No doubt it’s common. In fact, I’m sure that we could all add examples. I’ve got another somewhat less egregious one. I remember that in one of our department talks one of the metaphysicians was giving the talk and another senior guy who works in ethics threw out what seemed to be an utterly devastating objection and the metaphysician laughed it off as though it were just childish and condescendingly tried to explain what simple point he thought the ethicist had missed. The ethicist’s response was not to rephrase what he said or develop it further but instead to say “Well [Big Name Metaphysician] made a similar claim in a paper he gave at the last APA and I made the same objection and *he* thought it was really serious.” And instantly the metaphysician decided that as a matter of fact the ethicist had a great and troubling point that really deserved a lot more thought.Report

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  JTD
3 years ago

I have *never* seen anything like this, except as an act of mercy. Just my own little data point. And as for SD’s point: I dunno, I think there’s an innocuous explanation–maybe the metaphysician was just confused, but cagey enough to defer to Big Name Metaphysician. I mean, we can sometimes not see the gist or the seriousness of an objection. I might think an objection was wrongheaded, but if I learned that Scanlon or Williamson or whoever thought it was really serious I’d probably reconsider my initial verdict.Report

JTD
JTD
Reply to  JDRox
3 years ago

Thanks for the data point. You sound like a conscientious person so I suspect that this doesn’t apply to you. However, it is worth saying that I have also noticed the phenomenon of people who are privileged under the current system being willfully blind to this kind of bad behavior. For example, shortly after the incident I described above, which occurred when I was a graduate student, a bunch of grads were discussing it disapprovingly when another graduate student joined the conversation who happened to be the pet student of the senior philosopher who had been moderating. He insisted that he didn’t see what our complaint was and said that the intervention of his supervisor, as he recalled it, was done to move the conversation along so that the speaker could get the most out of question time.

On the few occasions when I have mentioned these kinds of incidents to senior people in the profession who were present at them I have often been surprised to find that they not only didn’t notice the incident, but also that their immediate response to hearing about it was to suggest rationalizations that explained away or excused the apparent bad behavior.Report

Hugh Jass
Hugh Jass
3 years ago

Was it different in the past? I was surprised he could toss this out there so confidently, since he seems like a perceptive person overall– but I want to be charitable. I am assuming that it’s a bit of wishful thinking based on coming up in philosophy during an easier time economically (for people with certain identities).

Many work cultures have changed in similar ways since the 1960s.

I’ve probably observed four philosophical generations-as a student and then as a professor -the generation just before the boomers, the boomers, gen x and y, and now millennials. I’ve noticed that, after the boomers, there is a very definite shift toward high professionalization, entrepreneurial approaches (for lack of a better word), and much less in the way of guild-model anti-hierarchical measures with each subsequent crop of new philosophers. We’re looking for little ribbons all the time to pin on ourselves–and our universities insist we do this. There are a lot of factors driving this, but an increase in hierarchy is pervasive throughout our whole culture. There’s the whole ‘first class/business/tourist plus/cattle car’ phenomenon. You see work environments everywhere become more anxious and regulated, and inviduals more powerless with the loss of job security overall.

Simply having tenure now puts one in a privileged class, since half of all professors are adjuncts. The reasons someone might get tenure is likely due to something worthwhile they did as an individual but the reason we have a starker class system in philosophy is historically arbitrary. This creates pressure to justify one’s luck to oneself, and maybe encourages a closing of ranks.

Another shift is that there are starkly different resource pools in different levels in the higher ed hierarchy itself if you compare the current time to the post-war period when boomers were getting degrees and jobs. No non-flagship university could create a department like Wayne State’s used to be, etc.

Yes, the problem is the hierarchy. The way all this works is slightly to grotesquely dehumanizing. It creates artificial barriers between people. It creates bad habits of mind where we look to status to determine how much weight we must give someone’s ideas–since we may need the imprimatur of that person in order to increase our own status. This corrupts a person’s priorities. Anxiety about ‘survival’ (for lack of a better word) just enhances this, since it makes it feel like one *has* to let oneself be corrupted, lest the competitor’s corruption cause them to win the scarce resource on arbitrary grounds.

It’s all caused by forces outside our control. We can’t stop those forces but I’ve noticed a lot of philosophers take adaptive measures to push back against these trends in various ways. This heartens me. Maybe if we were more explicit about some of the ways we’re being pushed by shifts in higher education and society at large, we’d be better at resisting the negative effects of these changes on each other.Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
3 years ago

Lotsa comments here. I will just say this: if you have to teach 3-5 classes every semester, you don’t have the ability to put together good arguments in any sort of detail, so the philosophy world is pretty hilly from that perspective! It must be nice to be able to focus on research.Report

Sam Duncan
Sam Duncan
Reply to  Arthur Greeves
3 years ago

Arthur,
I have a 5/5 load and I don’t agree, and I actually worry that what you’re saying perpetuates some stereotypes of those at teaching focused schools. I also think it perpetuates ideas that justify the ridiculous privilege some lucky few have since it forwards the (to my mind silly) idea that it would be inhuman to expect faculty at R1s to teach more than about an average of a class and a half every semester since there’s no way they could do that an publish. I’ve managed to publish since taking my community college job and I’ve a few papers under review. Moreover, I know people who’ve racked up really impressive publication records with 4/4 or even 5/5 loads. Yes, it is harder to do that than if you have the typical R1 teaching load and for R1 types to point out the fact they publish more as proof they’re better philosophers without taking that into effect is ridiculous. And we should definitely factor in teaching commitments when judging the adjunct who manages to publish a couple of papers a year to the guy with the cushy postdoc who does the same thing. So yes I do think people should take teaching load into account in judging research output, and the field would be much better off if we did. But I just don’t think it’s true that doing research requires that you have like no teaching load. After all, Kant wrote the first Critique while basically adjuncting.Report

horse with no name
horse with no name
Reply to  Sam Duncan
3 years ago

It seems like you are suggesting that we have some kind of reason to level down, or that we should have to justify giving faculty light teaching loads. Shouldn’t we be aiming to level up instead?Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
Reply to  Sam Duncan
3 years ago

I am utterly perplexed by this comment. Maybe I overspoke. But I have a full time teaching job, a family, departmental obligations, volunteer commitments and the like, and I assure you that the amount of time that can go to research is minimal. I could surely just have my whole life swallowed up by philosophy, and still publish, but I don’t want that sort of life (and no one should have to have that sort of life). If anyone wants to claim philosophy is flat, they need to be able to claim that a person like myself can have their ideas engaged with in a meaningful way. But that’s not the case.Report

Sam Duncan
Sam Duncan
Reply to  Arthur Greeves
3 years ago

Arthur,
Sorry if my comment was uncharitable but I do think your initial comment was hyperbolic. Though I wouldn’t claim for a second that philosophy is flat, I think a good many people can and do find time not just to string an argument together but to actually publish with teaching obligations. I suppose being able to do this depends on service obligations at ones college, which I do realize vary a lot. I’m lucky enough that I don’t have to sit in many meetings though I do have to do a lot of grading (which I’d vastly prefer to sitting in meetings).

Horse with no name,
I do think we ought to have to justify giving faculty light teaching loads especially at state universities. Faculty there get subsidized by both the tuition of students and support from taxpayers both of whom expect said faculty to actually teach in exchange for that money. If faculty aren’t doing that, or if they’re doing very little of it that does call for an explanation as to why it benefits the people who pay their salaries. Now in some cases they might be able to give such an explanation, but I don’t know why anyone would think it’s silly to ask for one or that it’s a moral imperative on our part to agitate for even less teaching for people who don’t do much of it already. For my part I doubt that the academy as we know it would end if more faculty had 3/3 loads.Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
3 years ago

I’ll second the claim that philosophy is flatter in some countries (e.g. U.S.) than others (e.g. some European countries), which is compatible with the claim that it’s not flat enough within, or across, some philosophy Anglophone circles, which is also compatible with the claim that philosophy is overall flatter than many areas of life. But I’m surprised that anyone should be surprised that philosophy involves hiearchies when so much in life does. Did we think philosophy was somehow insulated from the contingencies of human behavior?

My experience in the US has been that of a somewhat flatter landscape than I’d experienced before, which I appreciate. But I wouldn’t take this as evidence of flatness per se.Report

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  Nicolas Delon
3 years ago

Maybe a lot of the disagreement is about whether ‘flat’ was supposed to be an objective or relative term. Compared to many/most other things, I think philosophy is flat: that’s part of what drew me to it. Obviously it isn’t *perfectly* flat, but then Rosenberg grants *that*. And of course if we’re talking about hiring/grad admissions, it will be obviously hilly. But I didn’t take that to contradict Rosenberg’s claim.Report

Charels Pigden
Charels Pigden
3 years ago

In response to David Wallace: Is philosophical talent (however you want define it) correlated with pedigree? Almost certainly yes, for the reasons David states. Should pedigree be used as proxy for talent when doing job searches? No a) because it reinforces the Matthew effect (‘To him who hath shall be given etc’) and b) because we have a better proxy namely the candidate’s publications divided by the time out from their PhD (or multiplied by the time anticipated *until* they achieve their PhD.) [What about the person who has just graduated? We treat zero as one.] If one of the things you are selecting for is research ability as measured by ones ability to write publishable papers, then my measure is hardly even a proxy since it shows that the candidate has done the thing that we want them to be disposed to do. Of course there is a Matthew effect here too (since the on-the-whole superior education that you get from going to a superior school is likely to enhance your abilities when it comes to writing publishable papers) but it is a lot less pronounced since papers are blind-refereed. And at least people don’t get rewarded twice, once for having an enhanced chance to become a good philosopher and then again for the use that they have managed to make of those enhanced chances (let alone for having an enhanced chance and *not* having done anything with it). If such a pedigree-blind system were used in arriving at short-lists would the graduates of top schools do better (on average) than the graduates of down-list schools? Almost certainly ‘yes’ but not as much better as they do now, and with less of an unfair advantage than they enjoy a present. Does my proposal incentivize over-production on the part of young philosophers. Sure. But the incentive is already pretty strong and I think that it is a price worth paying for not perpetuating privilege (or at least for a diminished role for privilege) when it comes to philosophical appointments.

On formality. In New Zealand undergraduates often address their teachers by their first names. I am getting a few more ‘professors’ nowadays not because I demand it (I don’t and am happy to be on first name terms with my students) but probably because of my visibly advancing years. Students’ feel a bit inhibited about addressing people (just about) old enough to be their grandfathers by their first names. One thing I notice is that my American students are far more likely than my Australasian student to address me as ‘professor’. I attribute this to the fact that America is an unusually hierarchical society. (My former graduate students who have studied in the States are often surprised at the hierarchical ethos that prevails in American as opposed to Australasian academia.) I guess my point it that ‘flatness’ varies from place to place and perhaps time to time.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Charels Pigden
3 years ago

I don’t find the Matthew effect, per se, problematic. A job search isn’t an abstract exercise in justice, it’s a search for the candidate who will perform the job best. If A is better than B partly because of the experience they’ve had and the training they’ve received, they’re still better than B.

Of course, you could make a reasonable case that at the junior-hire level, whatever advantage is accrued from a candidate’s graduate institution is not lasting, and that over a long hire you’ll get a less good candidate if you overweight that factor. But that’s no longer a matter of justice, just of institutional hiring goals.

I should reiterate that my previous post doesn’t advocate treating pedigree as a proxy; it just points out that even if pedigree is not used as a proxy, pedigree effects will show up in hiring decisions. I have less confidence than you and others that I can predict what effect that would be and compare it to actual effects. And I’m ambivalent, myself, as to whether (and to what extent) pedigree *ought* to be used as a proxy. I agree that publication record is probably a better proxy, but (a) as I say above, that X is a better proxy than Y is compatible with X+Y being a better proxy than either, and (b) there are fairly identifiable problems with publication rate too, such as the need to weight journal quality against quantity, the caprice of the refereeing process, and the extent to which your employment type post-PhD – and your maternity status – affect productivity.

As for titles, I’ve noticed the same thing about US students since moving here. But (a) I started teaching here when I was a lot older than in Oxford; (b) I’m teaching much larger groups. So I’m not sure how much it means in this case.Report

Charles Pigden
Charles Pigden
Reply to  David Wallace
3 years ago

I did not say (since I was arguing a case which I have argued many times before and was also in a bit of a hurry) that in my opinion a candidate’s papers should be ‘weighted’, by the prestige of their venues with papers in Mind counting for rather more than papers in the Journal for Philosophical Research. The obvious way to do this would be to multiply them by some fraction representing prestige, with papers in Mind being multiplied by 1 and papers in the Journal of Philosophical Research by (perhaps) by 0.35. As for the maternity issue, a PhD’s [weighted] papers should be divided by his or her academic age, on the understanding the ageing process can be ‘paused’ if somebody takes time out to have a baby (or whatever).

RE Oxford as opposed to the US. It’s very long time (thirty-nine years) since I was an undergraduate at Cambridge, but if recollection serves we were on very free and easy terms with our teachers, including big cheeses such as Bernard Williams or Tim Smiley. This does not show that philosophy as a discipline is ‘flat ‘ but it does suggest that it is punctuated by islands or perhaps of plateaux of *relative* flatness. It may be that Rosenberg has spent his life on such islands or plateaux, which might explain an opinion that is at odds with other people’s. Rosenberg does not come from a particularly privileged background except , perhaps culturally. As his interview makes clear, he was born a stateless refugee and worked his way though college, though his parents were clearly intellectuals. It may very well be therefore that he experienced philosophy as flat when he was young (which it genuinely was for him) and that he has lived the rest of his life of his life on the plateaux. Perhaps this makes him a little socially unperceptive, but it certainly does not justify the sheer nastiness of some of the comments above.Report

Student from a different tradition
Student from a different tradition
3 years ago

This might be true of some fields, but consider Chinese philosophy in some asian countries where things are extremely partisan and many disputes are settled on seniority. Flatness seems to be a luxury.Report

someone
someone

Is there any particular reason why you are picking out Chinese philosophy? Is it a problem with those engaged in this field? In these places you refer to, are disputes in other fields settled elsewhere?Report

Tim O'Keefe
3 years ago

A few thoughts on the issue of grad school pedigree/prestige and academic ability/merit:

I’ve been on both sides of the grad school admission process–both advising lots of our MA students applying out to PhD programs, and evaluating prospective students for our MA program. And what’s impressed me is how noisy and imperfect the process is.

I’ve seen lots of our MA students get admitted off of the waitlists at prestigious schools on April 14th or 15th, and if things had broken slightly differently, they would have gone to far less prestigious places–and conversely, students who ended up going to less prestigious places, who were on the WL to much higher-prestige programs and were told they stood a decent chance of getting an offer but ended up not getting one. So chance plays a large role in whether a person going out on the market has spiffy prestige, pretty good prestige, or meh prestige.

On the other side, we take our graduate admissions very seriously here–obviously, we want to have a great incoming cohort. But our judgements of applicant quality, at best, correlate only very roughly with how students end up doing once they get here. Some of our best students were the last ones pulled from the waitlist, and other people at the top of the list… well, let’s just say that some of them significantly underperformed expectations. And I don’t think that this is a reflection of our faculty in particular being screwups or poor evaluators of quality–it’s just a reflection of the process, which involves judgement calls on lots of different factors and how to weigh them against one another.

Finally, program prestige reflects the judgements of grad school search committees from at least 5 years ago–usually a fair amount more than that–often based upon a person’s undergraduate program prestige, and how they looked after 3 years or so of major coursework.Report

Joe Campbell
Joe Campbell
3 years ago

It pains me when so many philosophers openly illustrate how clueless we are as a profession. And the real fact is philosophy is becoming flatter. Generally speaking most of the jobs are going to people getting PhDs from a handful of schools. For crying out loud, the responsible ones among us tell our students that if you don’t get into a top 20 program, you might rethink getting a PhD because your chances of getting a job are very low. If half of what the folks are saying above were true, we’d be telling them that as long as they have good arguments, they’ll be fine. And of course the pedigree of the undergraduate program — and the pedigree of the letter writers — has a lot to do with whether or not one can get into those top 20 programs.

Here would be an interesting test. Track the view about whether or not philosophy is flat with ones pedigree and institutional affiliation. And yes philosophy has its benefits compared to other disciplines, as Kenny has noted above. I don’t deny that. But it has its share of prejudice and bias as any of the many women and blacks who have decided not to join the profession will tell you.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Joe Campbell
3 years ago

“the responsible ones among us tell our students that if you don’t get into a top 20 program, you might rethink getting a PhD because your chances of getting a job are very low.”

That would follow if there was a strong correlation between admission criteria for grad programs and for jobs, and/or if stronger programs were better at improving students’ philosophical ability and productivity, even in the absence of hiring bias.Report

ash
ash
3 years ago

I’m at an R1. And as soon as I got the job I noticed that even people who hadn’t heard of me–they would look at me more appreciatively, once they saw the name of my institution on my little name tag at conferences. It was obvious.
So maybe a good measure of our flatness would be: at how many conferences and workshops and so on does institution *not* get listed on one’s name tag?Report

Nicholas Denyer
Nicholas Denyer
3 years ago

One kind of flatness is illustrated by the story of the mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan. Is there any such story about a philosopher?Report