Linda Alcoff on The Pluralist’s Guide

The following is excerpted from an email by Linda Martin Alcoff, with her permission.  Please note that, as Alcoff says in her email to me, she is of course in much discussion with co-developers of the Pluralist’s Guide, so the following is not speaking for everyone affiliated with the Guide, and not intended to be the last word or exhaustive of all that they must continue to consider.  (Last, here at FP we are already disposed to moderate discussion of this post very closely, since overstated criticisms of our colleagues are unwelcome and inappropriate; therefore, please forebear from comments not conducive to constructive discussion.)

A few facts for people to know about The Pluralist’s Guide to Philosophy that I have been working on for over four years with Paul Taylor and Bill Wilkerson  :

1) Our guide is entirely independent of every philosophy organization, including SPEP. Paul Taylor is not a member of SPEP nor a continental philosopher. He and I hatched the plan entirely ourselves, then recruited Bill Wilkerson. Many leaders of SPEP, the APA, and other organizations have voiced their encouragement because they are concerned that we need more information about philosophy departments out there, and more than one source of information. But we, and they, want total independence.

2) Our methods were painstaking, but obviously limited as anything of this sort is when it is basically an “expert survey.” We tried to make our expert survey better than the PGR by allowing respondents to do research, making our questions more specific so it was less of a beauty contest, and casting a more pluralist net of advisors. Information on our advisors, our methods, and our questions is all on the site.

3) A commenter [on Leiter Reports] says “some” of our advisors are dead.  John Haugeland is mistakenly up on the continental list of advisors. One person. And he did advise us before he died.

4) Much of the criticism is going to the climate for women report, which reports problems at a few top depts. I knew this would generate heat, but what are we to do when we get very negative reports on these depts? Ignore them? I felt a responsibility to report the information we received when it was numerous enough to warrant concern. We will update at least every other year, so depts have a chance to change their rating. That’s the best we can do. The responses are confidential—I don’t even know who reported what, though I know who I asked and who sent in a response.

5) As viewers of the site may note, there are many departments not listed. We listed departments with positives in two categories: Strongly recommended and recommended. Some departments did not make the cut, and some departments did not have enough of a response to generate any information. It is true that our advisory lists are less than 100% comprehensive in their collective knowledge of the profession. That is inevitable.

The Pluralist’s Guide to Philosophy

There is now a new guide to graduate programmes, The Pluralist’s Guide, and Leiter has been very critical.  I’m not going to weigh in on the debate over whether Leiter’s or the The Pluralist’s views on continental philosophy are right, because I just don’t know enough.  But it does give a very different picture from Leiter’s report on where one should go to study feminist philosophy.  My own view, in this case, is that it’s very much a matter of one’s taste in feminist philosophy: there are great scholars at the programmes listed by both reports. One thing that’s incredibly important about the report is that it, unlike the Gourmet Report, has a category for Philosophy of Race.  This is, to my knowledge, the only place that prospective grad students in this area can get guidance.

Leiter is also very harsh about the discussion of women friendliness. Personally, I’d like to know more about the methodology of the report, especially for this section.  Having run the SWIP women-friendliness awards for several years, I’ve learned how tricky this is to judge.  Every year we have some departments nominated for women-friendliness that fail to get the awards because when we contact all staff and students we get a picture which casts considerable doubt on the original claim of women-friendliness.  And in some instances it’s been a feminist woman making the nomination.  Sadly, such people can be unaware of what goes on in their own departments. So before I’d want to make a judgment on these lists, I’d like to know more about how they were compiled.

Still, I think it’s fantastic to have a report that is trying to offer a different vantage point from Leiter: rankings of departments look very different depending on one’s methodological starting points, and this report helps to make that clear.  There isn’t just *one* canonical ranking, and now we have an alternative to look to and compare: this has to help the bewildered student trying to make choices.  It’s also great to have a report which tries to give some guidance on women-friendliness.   The report is under development, and my hope is that a future development will be similar attention to friendliness to other under-represented groups.


(Revised slightly in light of Elijah’s comments)