The MacCarthur Foundation has announced the 2003 winners of what has come to be known as its "genius" grants--5 years worth of money, unrestricted in how it is to be used. My father, who forwarded the NY Times article about the awards, prefaced it with the following:
"The ranks of 'genius' are thinning. Reads more like a balance of social hot buttons and ethnic allocation. Would it be inappropriate to call this award eccentric?"
I think the answer to the last question is: clearly not. Consider which philosophers have been deemed "geniuses" by the MacCarthur Foundation: Richard Rorty, Stanley Cavell, T.M. Scanlon, Patricia Smith Churchland, Gregory Vlastos, Nancy Cartwright. I think any student of philosophy could reasonably say that this is a completely eccentric list--there are some first-rate philosophers on this list (and some not-so-first-rate ones), but are these truly the geniuses of the profession? The MacCarthur Foundation has been bestowing these windfalls for more than two decades. How could it be they never gave the award to David Lewis, Saul Kripke, Kit Fine, Stephen Yablo, Peter Railton, Allan Gibbard, David Malament, and on and on, in other words, to philosophers who may well be philosophical "geniuses"?
The MacCarthur Fellowships are splendid awards, some of which recognize first-rate scholarship and achievement. But it is long past time to stop referring to them as "genius" awards. They aren't.