Ranking Continental Philosophy Programs

I just noticed Brian Leiter’s list of what he deems to be the top continental philosophy programs. Save for a few that obviously belong, the list is bizarre. The ones that seem most to belong here are those with asterisks or pound signs, meaning ones that had to be ad-hoc’d into the list.

Group 1 (1-3) (rounded mean of 4.0) (median, mode)

Georgetown University (4, 4.5)
University of California, Riverside (4, 4)
University of Chicago (4, 5)

Group 2 (4-10)  (rounded mean of 3.5) (median, mode)

Cambridge University (3.75, 3)
Columbia University (4, 4.25)
#University at Stony Brook, State University of New York
*University College Dublin
#University of Essex
University of Notre Dame (4, 4.5)
University of Warwick (3.5, 4)

Group 3 (11-31) (rounded mean of 3.0) (median, mode)

*Boston College
Boston University (3, 3)
Harvard University (3, 3)
*Loyola University, Chicago
*New School University
New York University (3, 3)
Northwestern University (3, 3)
Oxford University (3.5, 3)
#Pennsylvania State University
Stanford University (3, 3)
Syracuse University (3.25, 3)
University College London (3, 3)
University of Auckland (3, 3)
University of California, Berkeley (3, 3)
University of California, Santa Cruz (3, 3.25)
*University of Kentucky
*University of New Mexico
University of South Florida (3, 2)
*University of Sussex
University of Toronto (3, 3)
*Vanderbilt University

* inserted by Board
# based on 2004 results, in some cases with modest adjustments by the Advisory Board to reflect changes in staff in the interim

It’s easy to understand why the list is so strange.  For years I have noted that the problem with Leiter’s methodology is that it is based on reputational rankings from a group of rankers he has self-selected.  Here is the list of rankers for this continental philosophy ranking:

Evaluators: Kenneth Baynes, James Bohman, Taylor Carman, David Dudrick, Gary Gutting, Beatrice Han-Pile, Pierre Keller, Sean Kelly, Michelle Kosch, Brian Leiter, Stephen Mulhall, Brian O’Connor, Peter Poellner, Bernard Reginster, Michael Rosen, Iain Thomson, Georgia Warnke, Robert Wicks, Mark Wrathall, Julian Young.

I have been involved in continental philosophy circles for over many  years, but I only recognize four of these philosophers as in any way qualified to assess continental philosophy overall. Others may be familiar enough with the field to recognize which programs have individuals doing work in continental philosophy (from a certain bent). But it would be a huge stretch to say that as a whole they are deeply familiar with what is going on in the field.

Objectively speaking, the best measures for success in any given area of philosophy are these: getting published in the major journals of the field and by the major publishing houses of that field, getting papers accepted at the major conferences in that field, and excelling at  job placement.  Data on the 3d point is lacking because of lack of will or coordination, but the first two are simple enough to assess.  For continental philosophy just look at the programs of the past years’ meetings of the major societies, e.g. SPEP, which is the second largest philosophical society in the U.S. and identify the leaders of these organizations, whose papers are getting accepted, and which doctoral programs are training emerging scholars. For publications, look to who is getting published in the leading journals in continental philosophy (such as Continental Philosophy Review, Philosophy Today, Constellations, and Philosophy and Social Criticism) and by the academic publishing houses that have lists in the field.

Any student serious about going into continental philosophy would be wise to dismiss this obviously biased ranking. Any reputational ranking has serious limitations, but at the very least a reputational ranking of a field should consult those who know the field well: for continental philosophy this would include the leaders of SPEP and other continental societies; the authors and editors of series published by Columbia, Indiana, SUNY, Routledge, Rowman & Littlefield; and the editors of the main journals in the field.

Otherwise the report just confirms the reporter’s preconceived ideas about what counts as philosophy. And if continental doesn’t count to him, despite the fact that continental philosophy is one of the most vibrant and innovative fields in the humanities today, then the results are bound to be twisted.


For what it’s worth, of U.S. doctoral programs in continental philosophy I’d easily recommend these to my students (in alphabetical order): CUNY grad program, DePaul, Emory, the New School, Penn State, Stonybrook, Vanderbilt, and perhaps Boston College, Boston University, Loyola, Memphis, Northwestern, and Syracuse. No doubt there are other good and emerging programs that I’ve missed, so please post a comment if you notice any such omission.

Edit: I’ve subsequently found that the reason so many continental programs aren’t ranked (at least without an asterisk or pound sign) is that they have opted out of the rankings by not submitting a list of faculty to the PGR. Nonetheless, the basic problem remains (and this may be why so many continental programs have opted out.)