Ranking Philosophers – Follow up

A few days ago I posted on a question posed to Philos – L, to rank our favourite philosophers. I encouraged you to mentione some women! [that encouragements still stands!].

The organiser has now reported back with some voluntary information on this [after a debate started about whether question 3, about rising stars, was a good question): “Incidentally, more respondents have named female philosophers in their answers to Q3 than to either Q1 or Q2, though the proportion was still only a little over 25 percent.”

Hm. On the upside, really pleased this shows awareness!!!! At least someone noticed!

In the discussion on Q3, the comment below by Steven Methven was particularly good, and I don’t want to withold it [last paragraph particulalry good]:

” My point is not that someone might be upset by being left off of the list. My point is that what you are asking people to do is to think about young philosophers as though they were mere objects to be ranked and compared. There are several reasons why this strikes me as offensive.

1. There is an asymmetry of power which makes such objectification problematic. The desire seems to be that individuals who may be in secure positions, at least relative to the mostly very insecure positions of those being judged, should contemplate them in a manner which is dehumanising. And hard-luck if people don’t want to be thought about in that way, perhaps by their colleagues or mentors, since it’s all good fun.

2. Young academics (but not only young academics) are already ranked and compared, both as graduate students and in the job market. Many people who are on short-term contracts – increasingly the norm – will have to endure this on an annual basis. It is often a trial and a torment, but at least, or so one can reassure oneself, it serves some purpose. If the end is a job, one might choose voluntarily to subject oneself to the process. But here, there is no end, other than someone’s fun, and no voluntary aspect.  

3. We do, of course, sometimes think of each other and ourselves in this kind of way. But the existence of a practice is no argument for its being a good one. As it happens, I think that the practice is potentially harmful, and probably harmful when it becomes institutionalised in the way which seems to be increasingly common across our discipline. Encouraging people to participate in it on their downtime and for fun only serves to normalise a practice which there may be good reasons to regard with suspicion.

I’m going to stop there, though there are things to be said about how such one-dimensional thinking serves to mask genuine inequalities in our discipline by pretending that the playing field is even. I end by, once again, urging you to remove the question.”