In one of the comments threads, Brian Leiter gives voice to a view he has been promulgating for a while about the philosophical community in the United States. As he writes:
“there is "agreement over methodology and approach" within particular sub-communities of English-speaking philosophers (e.g., the Princeton-MIT-Rutgers-Arizona-ANU nexus, or the Berkeley-Chicago-Pittsburgh-Harvard nexus, etc.).”
“I have it on rather good authority that when members of the Rutgers Department voted several years ago on the philosopher who had had the worst influence on the field, every member of the faculty but one voted for Wittgenstein (one voted for Kant, for rather oddball reasons). Obviously the vote would have been different at Pittsburgh or Berkeley. This might suggest that precisely what there is NOT is "agreement on methodology and approach" among English-speaking philosophers.”
I take it Brian is claiming that there are divisions between kinds of philosophy emerging in the United States. I used to think that Brian’s claim was right, and even moderated a discussion about it last time I blogged here. There is, after all, some evidence for Brian’s claim. In areas outside of ethics, the universities that Rutgers competes for graduate students with are Princeton, NYU, MIT, and occasionally Michigan. We don’t compete with Berkeley, Chicago, Pittsburgh (except in phil science), or Harvard (or at least we certainly don’t lose prospective students to them). At an APA last year, I talked with a Harvard-related person who denounced “Rutgers-NYU mainstream metaphysics and epistemology” as shallow for hours. Late at night at APA parties, Pittsburgh graduates will tell MIT graduates that they’re not really deep, and ugly besides.
However, in past year, I have changed my mind (essentially coming around to the view that Alva Noe was urging last year). There is a lot of evidence against Brian’s claim. Try as you might, you’re not going to find any differences whatsoever in the kind of work done by Pittsburgh graduates in M&E such as John MacFarlane, Doug Patterson, and Ram Neta, Harvard graduates such as Michael Glanzberg and Stephen Gross, MIT graduates such as Delia Graff, myself, or Zoltan Szabo, and Chicago graduates such as Robin Jeshion. Harvard graduates such as Alva Noe and Chicago graduates such as Jesse Prinz are as naturalistic as Rutgers graduates. MIT graduates such as Richard Heck are as distinguished contributors to the literature on history of analytic philosophy as Ian Proops, the best and most successful of the Harvard history of analytic students. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find even Harvard professors maintaining that the most prominent Rutgers graduates, such as Michael Strevens, are shallow. There is a difference in the kind of personal connections we have to older senior figures, but that’s about it.
[Update: I've been convinced by the comments I've received that my speculations about the source of complaints of the shallowness of "mainstream" M&E were too speculative. So I've replaced them with the following paragraph, since the central purpose of my post was actually supposed to be that I don't see the big difference between two "nexuses" of philosophy among my peers in other departments.]
So what is the source of the so-called "splinter" idea? Well, I suspect it is because Berkeley and Harvard have suffered serious declines after losing so many distinguished faculty to retirement and death. That fact alone is bound to cause some ill-will towards departments that now occupy the status they once did. After all, once upon a time, "mainstream" meant Berkeley and Harvard, and now it doesn't.
Whatever grumbling there is about the evils of mainstream
philosophy among certain faculty at those institutions, Berkeley and Harvard’s
younger faculty are uniformly excellent mainstream philosophers, who are friends
and regular interlocutors with their peers at the leading departments. The most
likely scenario is therefore that the two departments will slowly recover past glory, and all this talk about different
kinds of philosophy will be forgotten.
The comment thread on this post should be fun...