Longtime reader Michael Bramley, who studied philosophy as an undergraduate, writes:
Dear Prof Leiter,
Please allow me to express my support over the recent rankings nonsense by venting my frustration at the campaign to remove you from the PGR and the campaign to stop all rankings in philosophy. A move which, it is obvious, is for the benefit of those who do not score highly and not for the benefit of students.
Talk about the perfect being the enemy of the good. Plato could not have done a better job of convincing everyone that everything is worthless and shit until and unless we can all apprehend the Form of the Good Ranking System.
The PGR is largely an informed-opinion poll: what do the philosophy professionals think of certain philosophy departments? This is interesting and good to know. If those for whom the PGR is intended are unable to understand what an opinion poll is, then they should demand a refund from their undergraduate education for having failed to teach them basic critical thinking. And if the professors who oppose it do so because they think opinion polls/reputational surveys do not capture adequately the real picture, then they are free to construct ways to capture this ‘real picture’ that they are so worried about missing with the PGR.
There seems an underlying assumption that no one over at New Apps has come out and said which is this: ‘Everyone apart from philosophy professors is too stupid to be entrusted with a ranking system – and here only the subset that reject the idea of ranking at all.’ This, despite there being multiple ranking systems already around, but usually imposed and rated from without.
And of course the laziest philosophical trick since the rise of the importance of data: poisoning the well by inventing hypothetical morons who will think that there is only one tool on Earth worth using – the PGR – and only one number in the PGR – the department ranking; has such a moronic philosophy graduate ever existed?
All this hand wringing over general, broad points that may or may not apply: how some things are hard to rank, some things are irrelevant that are ranked, some things that are relevant are not ranked, some things are hard to compare, the difference in ordinal ranks might masks difference in quality etc. And of course the old favourite, ‘Well how do you put something so coarse and grotesque as a NUMBER on something so artful and subtle as the work WE do?’