AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone

The Status of Aesthetics in The Leiter Top 50

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What follows is an assessment of the professional status of Aesthetics/Philosophy of Art  in terms of the number of philosophy faculty at U.S. programs within the Leiter Top 50. At the end, I’ll make a few observations, but for the most part the numbers pretty much speak for themselves. My aim here is neither to offer some sort of de facto guide to graduate Aesthetics nor in any way to impugn the quality or availability of any program’s graduate instruction therein. Rather, my goal is simply to draw attention to the current state of Aesthetics with respect to faculty research at Leiter Top 50 U.S. Philosophy Programs. 
Note that I use the term Aesthetics to include both Philosophical Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art (as well as any major sub-fields thereof). Also, I count only full-time (assistant, associate, or full) faculty and so exclude all visiting and emeritus faculty. Finally, faculty were counted according to two conditions which I’ve explained below (AOS, Primary)—in cases where I found myself less than confident, I just assumed the relevant condition to be in fact satisfied. The full program/faculty list for each condition can be found at the links provided. Anyone finding error with what I’ve reported, please contact me so that I may correct my mistake.
The AOS Condition:
  • Faculty must have (at least as indicated on department website or CV) an AOS in Aesthetics.
The Primary Condition:
  • Faculty must have an AOS in Aesthetics.
  • Faculty must work primarily within Aesthetics (i.e., have a primary research program in/commitment to Aesthetics or to have one’s body of work reasonably suggest as much).  
Aesthetics at Leiter Top 50 (U.S.) Programs
# of AOS Faculty: 45
# of Primary Faculty: 14
# of Programs with at least one AOS Faculty: 28
# of Programs with at least one Primary Faculty: 13
# of Programs with at least two AOS Faculty: 11
# of Programs with at least two Primary Faculty: 1
# of Programs with at least three AOS Faculty: 4
# of Programs with at least three Primary Faculty: 0
# of Programs with at least one Junior AOS Faculty: 2
# of Programs with at least one Junior Primary Faculty: 1
A Few Observations
The Professional Picture painted as the AOS level looks if not altogether rosy then at least perhaps suggestive that not all is the gloom ‘n’ doom many of us had thought.
  • Faculty with Aesthetics as an AOS can be found in over half of the Leiter Top 50 U.S. Programs.

  • More than a fifth of Leiter Top 50 programs have more than one faculty with an AOS in Aesthetics. 

Of course, what truly matters for the health and future of the field is not that faculty have at some point in their careers developed an interest in Aesthetics but rather that their current research primarily engages that interest—i.e., the Primary Faculty. It is the Primary faculty that we expect to be leading Graduate Seminars in Aesthetics and advising dissertations in Aesthetics and thereby the Primary faculty we expect to be best able to cultivate graduate interest in Aesthetics and provide philosophical training and guidance to graduate students so interested.
Presumably then, the fewer Primary faculty there are currently in the Leiter Top 50, then (all else being equal) the fewer we can expect there to be in the future, a future that looks dimmer and dimmer when you consider that at least half of the Primary Aesthetics Faculty in the Leiter Top 50 can reasonably be expected to retire within the next 5-10 years along with the following:
•  Less than one fourth of programs in The Leiter Top 50 have any Primary faculty in Aesthetics, and only one of those programs boasts more than one.
•  There is currently exactly one program in the Leiter Top 50 that has a junior Primary faculty in Aesthetics.
What these numbers suggest is that the very best philosophy PhD programs in the United States currently have little to no research interest in Aesthetics and as such, also that quite likely neither shall their future graduates.
Of course, there have been recent signs of hope: NYU has an outstanding offer to Rob Hopkins and Rutgers has hired Elisabeth Camp, both of whom are unquestioably top notch philosophers with truly stellar bodies work in Aesthetics (primarily on depiction and metaphor respectively). Perhaps other U.S. programs will take notice of this commitment to Aesthetics and at least consider following suit.
My assessment of Aesthetics in Leiter Ranked UK Programs can be found here.
  

11 thoughts on “The Status of Aesthetics in The Leiter Top 50

  1. Ronald Moore at UW-Seattle publishes in environmental aesthetics and plays roles in the ASA. And it's his primary area now. I think he should be considered active and primary, according to your criteria.

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  2. Agreed. I apologize for the oversight. I have adjusted the results and associated documents to reflect the addition of Moore at the Active and Primary level.

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  3. Alva Noe at Berkeley has done a considerable amount of work on aesthetics, including a 2000 paper, his recent book Varieties of Presence, and a current manuscript. Also, all his graduate seminars since 2008 have been on aesthetics.

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  4. why anglo-american aesthetics only, or why focus on the a.s.a.?

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  5. Why nothing about Canadian or other programs? Here at UBC we've got Dom Lopes and Chris Mole, both of whom list Aesthetics as one of their AOSs.

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  6. It would be interesting to see how the ranked programs from other countries fare in comparison. My impression is that Canada and Australasia are probably roughly similar to the US, and might perhaps fare a bit better percentage-wise since they have so few ranked programs in comparison. The UK, however, looks like it would fare massively better. If that's the case, then I'd be curious to know what you and everyone else thinks accounts for the difference.

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  7. I just did a quick count for Canada and Australasia (I don't doubt I've erred!), and this (below) is how it looks like it breaks down. (Note: the “contemporary Anglo-American” requirement for “active” status seems to account for a chunk of the dropoff between “AOS” and “active AOS”.)

    Canada

    AOS

    Toronto (5) – Mark Kingwell, Amy Mullin, Diana Raffman, Sonia Sedivy, Lambert Zuidervaart
    McGill (2) – David Davies, Eric Lewis
    UBC (2) – Dom Lopes, Christopher Mole
    Western (0) –
    Queen's (1) – Deborah Knight
    Alberta (2) – Amy Schmitter, Alexander Rueger

    # of Faculty with AOS Aesthetics: 12
    # of Programs with at least one faculty with AOS Aesthetics: 5
    # of Programs with at least two faculty with AOS Aesthetics: 4
    # of Programs with at least three faculty with AOS Aesthetics: 1
    # of Programs with at least one Junior Faculty with AOS Aesthetics: 0

    Active

    Toronto (4) – Amy Mullin, Diana Raffman, Sonia Sedivy,
    McGill (1) – David Davies
    UBC (2) – Dom Lopes, Christopher Mole
    Queen's (1) – Deborah Knight

    # of Faculty with Active AOS Aesthetics: 8
    # of Programs with at least one faculty with Active AOS Aesthetics: 4
    # of Programs with at least two faculty with Active AOS Aesthetics: 2
    # of Programs with at least three faculty with Active AOS Aesthetics: 1
    # of Programs with at least one Junior Faculty with Active AOS Aesthetics: 0

    Pimary

    Toronto (2) – Amy Mullin, Diana Raffman
    McGill (1) – David Davies
    UBC (2) – Dom Lopes
    Queen's (1) – Deborah Knight

    # of Faculty with Primary Active AOS Aesthetics: 6
    # of Programs with at least one faculty with Primary Active AOS Aesthetics: 4
    # of Programs with at least two faculty with Primary Active AOS Aesthetics: 2
    # of Programs with at least three faculty with Primary Active AOS Aesthetics: 0
    # of Programs with at least one Junior Faculty with Primary Active AOS Aesthetics: 0

    ——

    Australasia

    AOS

    ANU (0) –
    Sydney (0) –
    Auckland (2) – Stephen Davies, Robert Wicks
    Monash (2) – Andrew Benjamin, Alison Ross,
    Melbourne (0) –
    Victoria, Wellington (1) – Sondra Bacharach

    # of Faculty with AOS Aesthetics: 5
    # of Programs with at least one faculty with AOS Aesthetics: 3
    # of Programs with at least two faculty with AOS Aesthetics: 2
    # of Programs with at least three faculty with AOS Aesthetics: 0
    # of Programs with at least one Junior Faculty with AOS Aesthetics: 0

    Active

    Auckland (1) – Stephen Davies
    Victoria, Wellington (1) – Sondra Bacharach

    # of Faculty with AOS Aesthetics: 5
    # of Programs with at least one faculty with AOS Aesthetics: 3
    # of Programs with at least two faculty with AOS Aesthetics: 2
    # of Programs with at least three faculty with AOS Aesthetics: 0
    # of Programs with at least one Junior Faculty with Active AOS Aesthetics: 0

    Primary

    Auckland (1) – Stephen Davies
    Victoria, Wellington (1) – Sondra Bacharach

    # of Faculty with AOS Aesthetics: 5
    # of Programs with at least one faculty with AOS Aesthetics: 3
    # of Programs with at least two faculty with AOS Aesthetics: 2
    # of Programs with at least three faculty with AOS Aesthetics: 0
    # of Programs with at least one Junior Faculty with Primary Active AOS Aesthetics: 0

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  8. This is not my field, but I'm wondering what the difference is between “philosophy of art” and “philosophical aesthetics”. I've used the terms as synonymous in the past.

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  9. Not everybody makes hay out of the distinction, and if you press someone for a term regrouping the two, “aesthetics” will do as well as any other. Nevertheless, “aesthetics” is mostly concerned with issues having to do with aesthetic experiences, which are not necessarily (or even primarily) concerned with art-objects (beauty, for example, is a dominant concern in the historical tradition, but not art). The philosophy of art, by contrast, is squarely concerned with artworks (their ontology, definition, etc.), and these days it tends to be pretty skeptical of the existence of “aesthetic” experiences in the first place.

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  10. Is there a reason Robert Pippin and Martha Nussbaum are not included in Chicago's AOS list? Both have done work on aesthetics and Philosophy of/and Literature (although I'm not sure if Nussbaum has done anything in that in awhile).

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  11. I've now included Pippin in the list of AOS faculty and adjusted the numbers accordingly. Nussbaum, however, does not list aesthetics or philosophy of art (or any of its subfields) as an AOS or area of interest.

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