Philosophy of race in the Gourmet Report?

The Philosophical Gourmet report does not have a category for philosophy of race. Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman has contacted Brian Leiter, suggesting that one be added. Leiter explained that his editorial board had considered and rejected the idea of adding a philosophy of race category. Sally Haslanger and I agree with Coleman that a philosophy of race category is needed, and we think that many in the philosophical community would concur. In order to demonstrate support for this idea, we’ve compiled a petition. If you agree, please sign it! (And please do list your institutional affiliation, if any.)

The petition is here.

30 thoughts on “Philosophy of race in the Gourmet Report?

  1. I would be more inclined to sign or not sign a petition if I knew what Leiter’s and his editorial board’s reasons were for thinking this was unnecessary.

  2. I agree with the point that the philosophy of race should be given more recognition within the academic community. However, it seems ironic, and ultimately counter-productive, to appeal to the good will of a powerful white man in order to increase that recognition.

    I do not wish to disparage Brian Leiter as an individual, but the position he has come to occupy within the anglophone philosophical community should raise concerns. While the gourmet report does has an editorial board, one may wonder about the demographics of that board and its accountability.

    Perhaps more disturbing is the power of the LeiterReports blog. This is widely read by the community, and expresses strong views on the norms of legitimacy within the community – but the content is strictly controlled by a single individual.

  3. Yeah, I agree with ‘A.’ I do think that philosophy of race is an important subject, but would I sign a petition so that [the Gourmet Report] site gets elevated to a position of importance? Don’t think so. I give no weight to their rankings at all, but I do enjoy the gossip and forth and back on issues that sometimes I do care about.

    {edited for niceness}

  4. “We urge the Gourmet Report to include Philosophy of Race. It is a vibrant and important area of research and deserves full recognition by the report and the professional legitimacy that brings.”

    Of course, Leiter’s editorial board disagrees with this assessment. The PGR realistically expresses the profession’s lack of interest–ranging from indifference to hostility–in philosophy of race. If the profession generally cared about serious racial issues, it wouldn’t look and operate the way it does.

  5. I’d like to ask people to please not make the merits or otherwise of the Gourmet Report a topic of these comments. I think that even those who dislike the report can recognise that it *does* have significant influence, and can therefore support this petition. And, of course, those who like the report might support or oppose this petition.

    And do also observe our “be nice” rules.

  6. What “Jender” wrote above is absolutely right. I have no problem with the Leiter Report specialty ranking other than that the list of “Specialties” may suggest that these and only these specialties are legitimate philosophy (intended or not). Even if you don’t care for the Leiter report, it can only be a good thing if philosophy of race is included.

  7. Having written a zillion petitions, I am a bit concern about this one. I’m really wary of being critical, but these petitions should advoid arguing from weakness and this in effect does. I’d be very concerned that the response will be “the gourmet report is not a legitimacy conferring body. That must be acquired by acquiring stature in the profession which you admit you don’t yet have.”


    Unless you can overwhelm them with power, you need to find a reason that appeals to the desiders values. I would have thought that is easy. I mean, the profession looks racist and that makes it very vulnerable in some ways.

  8. I agree with the spirit of jj’s post. Yet I have come to believe (the hard way) that the profession generally doesn’t care much about how it looks in terms of race.

  9. For what it’s worth, I believe that the version of the PGR prior to the current one included a non-ranked list of schools that were “top programs” or some such designation for studying philosophy of race. (I’m not sure if one can find old version of the PGR on line or not. I haven’t tried.) I think the fairly small number of graduate programs with people specializing in the topic makes it harder to really rank programs, though perhaps not harder than Asian philosophy. As I tend to think the single most valuable aspect of the PGR is as a repository of information for undergraduates applying to grad school (many of whom don’t know much about different programs and their strengths), I’d think that at least listing programs with strength in philosophy of race would be useful, even if they are not ranked.

  10. I can see your worry, JJ. The petition is, I guess, imperfectly phrased. (We actually went back and forth about that bit quote a lot, but apparently still didn’t get it right.) Hopefully this will not keep people from signing it.

  11. It might be useful to remind people that signing such petitions (or any, probably) as “anonymous” is probably worse than not signing at all. (It’s perhaps not as bad as signing under a silly and obvious fake name, as often happens, but still bad. Thankfully, none of the fake name stuff seems to be happening on this one.)

  12. Jenny, I do congratulate you all on such good work. I am sorry to be critical about this one thing. I learned about proposals from people who operate at a higher level than I do,and like so many things cognitive, what one feels to be effective may not be. Still, this effort all has much more going for it than the actual wording.

    For some reason, we academics are very inclined to approach situations like this with “why should they do this” as opposed to “”how am I going to motivate them to do what I want.”. It isn’t that one wants to manipulate them, but one does want to set up win-win situations if at all possible.

    I’d be glad to help another time.

  13. Anon “sr”, you probably are right. That’s why it stays white, I guess. Still, one can hope that in public people will respond as they think they should be seen to, and that provides a bit of access to their motivations

  14. What Udo and A. say, near the beginning of the thread. For these and other reasons, some of us are working on a guide that will identify programs with strength in areas that Leiter doesn’t cover or cover well (like the critical philosophy of race), while deemphasizing ranking and other things that lead some of the PGR’s critics to describe it as a beauty contest. Stay tuned.

  15. Our goal– a tricky one– was to arrive at phrasing neutral enough to be accepted by both supporters and opponents of the PGR. That’s why we rejected the idea of referring to the legitimacy that the reports *seems* or *appears* to bring. Our hope was that the phrasing we chose would be neutral as to whether the report brings actual legitimacy or merely the appearance thereof (since ‘legitimacy’ is often used to refer to the latter). We did not want to include talk of racism or even an appearance of racism since that tends to be inflammatory, and we did not want to start a firestorm.

    As I’ve said, I think reasonable concerns have been raised. No phrasing is perfect. But the point of the petition is clear.

  16. In response to PCT, comment #18.

    You say that “some of us are working on a guide that will identify programs with strength in areas that Leiter doesn’t cover or cover well (like the critical philosophy of race), while deemphasizing ranking and other things that lead some of the PGR’s critics to describe it as a beauty contest. Stay tuned”.

    I am on tenterhooks! Your original and exciting idea promises to invigorate the tired, conventional, and crusty profession of philosophy with a new, vital, and relevant resource. I cannot wait to hear more about your proposals!


    Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman

  17. As a member of the PGR editorial board, I’ve urged that this matter be reconsidered (it was last considered in 2004), and I believe that it will be reconsidered before the next edition of the report.

  18. One concern I would imagine Leiter might have with adding philosophy of race as a sub-field on his site is that it doesn’t seem to be an area where there are many jobs available (although Stanford did advertise a position last year). It is also such a broad field that it is hard or impossible for people who work in some areas of philosophy of race to understand, let alone grapple with, people who work in other areas. That’s because people tend to approach the philosophy of race from within some other sub-field. Thus, there seem to be two possible compelling reasons not to choose a graduate program based on a “philosophy of race” specialty ranking. One is that choosing a program based on that area of expertise might not be a good strategy if you aim at getting a job. Another is that if you are interested in, say, “racial cognition,” then it would be a great idea to go to Pitt to work with Machery, but probably not a good idea to go to Harvard to work with Tommie Shelby. If you want to do the kind of thing that Elizabeth Anderson does on racial integration, you ought to be trained in political philosophy and sociology; Quayshawn Spencer, who works on the biology of race, has an M.S in biology and a very high level of training in that science seems like a pre-requisite for doing the kind of work he does. I don’t mean to say that the philosophy of race “isn’t” a real sub-field, just that it might not make sense to include it in the Leiter report because doing so might be misleading to some people who don’t bother to check out the actual work that scholars are doing at the given institution. Of course, this might be a problem with ranking programs by sub-field generally, but philosophy of race seems to be especially diverse, even more than huge sub-fields like ethics or epistemology.

  19. Chris- I think the same thing can be said about subfields that are already ranked, e.g. Chinese philosophy.

  20. I think it would be good to include a list of schools where philosophy of race is taken seriously by at least some subset of the faculty is important for a couple of reasons (this wouldn’t mean, necessarily, to rank them, though clustering “race, gender, class” together (as in the 2004 PGR) seems insufficient. First, there is important work being done on philosophy of race that is relevant to a broad range of issues in philosophy and it is good for anyone applying to grad school to have information about where they can study these issues, whether or not they are going to specialize in the area. Second, I believe that a department’s having faculty are working seriously on philosophy of race MAY be some indication of a more friendly climate for grad students of color there. Of course it may also be that a department is factionalized around this issue, but at least someone looking for a department that is friendly to academics of color, is likely to find SOMEONE in such a department that they can check with to get a sense of things. I am not suggesting that ONLY such departments are friendly to students of color, but given that we have to search for cues wherever we can find them, this may be one useful cue.

  21. There is a significant distinction between departments that have an individual member who works on philosophy of race and departments that are friendly to philosophers of color. It seems reasonable to think that departments friendly to philosophers of color have or make serious attempts to have philosophers of color as members–or, at least, care about inviting them as speakers. (Much as we’d expect for departments friendly to female philosophers.) Of course, by this standard, there appear to be exceedingly few such departments.

    Such a perspective is not incompatible with what Sally H. writes above.

  22. Those who dislike the wording of the petition but nonetheless support its goal might consider signing but noting their disagreements in their comments.

  23. It has been suggested that this petition begins from the presumption that the PGR has ‘legitimacy . . . as a kind of public resource’. This could not be further from the truth. While some of us petitioners do indeed grant that the PGR has such value, others of us do not. We are all, however, united in agreement that, whatever its actual, substantive value or legitimacy, the PGR nevertheless has an *appearance* of legitimacy, both to people within and outside the profession. I cannot quash the appearance of legitimacy in a day . . . but, in time, and in solidarity, we can . . .

    What we can do is force the PGR into a situation where it requires publicly to defend its appearance of legitimacy. If this petition takes hold, there will be a permanent online record of significant members of the profession calling for a rationale for the exclusion of philosophy of race, yet not receiving such a rationale.

    That alone will be sufficient to discredit the PGR in the eyes of people within and outside the profession. Such a vocal call for the board of the PGR to submit the philosophical basis for its veto, met with a wall of silence, will show those on the board of the PGR to be unworthy of the name of ‘philosopher’.

    I suspect the board of the PGR will not want this result, and so will issue, publicly, some kind of rationale. We will then publicly scrutinise this rationale, and – I do not doubt – find it to be philosophically wanting. Either way, the appearance of legitimacy that the PGR enjoys will be torn asunder.

    However, we cannot catch the board of the PGR in this fork, unless we have numbers and seniority in our petition. We need you! I call upon you to support this innovative and promising challenge to the crusty, conservative status quo that has beset our profession. Please help us to make of this profession something we and others wish to enter.


    Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman

  24. Let me put it briefly: although there is no such scientific category as ‘race’, racism continues to thrive; and since racism is one of the very worst features of human life, if only because it is aimed at people’s (perceived) fundamentally unalterable identity rather than at some consciously adopted identity such as a political commitment, political and moral philosophers (perhaps in particular) need to pay it attention. It is at least as significant a “philosophy of” as many other accepted categories. That is why the call to include it is not only justified, but imperative.

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