Aesthetics for Birds

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone



The 2014 Philosophical Gourmet Report is now live (here) along with the results of the Philosophy of Art Specialty Rankings (here).

A few initial observations to get some discussion going:

1. As has always been the case, the rankings are largely based upon the presence of a single senior faculty member working in the field.

2. Here’s a quick breakdown of the seven evaluators for the Philosophy of Art Specialty Ranking:

  • # of women: 0/7
  • # who work primarily in History of Philosophy: 3/7
  • # of junior faculty: 1/7
  • # with degrees from US programs: 4/7
  • # with positions that are currently or have primarily been located outside US: 5/7

3. I’d be interested to see how the rankings square with the data collected here, here, and here.


  1. Thank you for pointing out that no women were included as evaluators. In the past, Leiter has used evaluators who did not themselves teach at doctoral programs. Recent programs for ASA meetings include numerous women with distinguished records of scholarship who could have been invited.

  2. I was a little perplexed as to why they didn't just go ahead and evaluate the “additional programs not evaluated this year but recommended for consideration by the Advisory Board.” It doesn't seem like it would have been all that onerous. Is the new plan that any department not included for consideration as potentially belonging to the top 50 won't be meaningfully included in the specialty rankings either? That seems to make the specialty rankings considerably less useful.

  3. I'd like to know the criteria of evaluation. It seems to be the quality/prestige of scholarship of the senior faculties in these places, but also the places themselves (e.g. move Jenefer Robinson to a higher ranked program, and aesthetics in that program would get a higher score). Here's another way to rank: How many aestheticians does that program graduate, and how many have jobs? I'll start with my advisor extraordinaire, Jerrold Levinson (he can complete the list if anyone's missing): Monique Roelofs, Andrew Kania, Saam Trivedi, Alessandro Giovannelli, and yours truly are all tenured at good institutions.Darren Hudson Hick would be in a permanent position too, if the place where he was hired TT hadn't behaved in a deplorable manner.

  4. Just so you all know, I've confirmed that women were invited to evaluate the Specialty Rankings for Philosophy of Art but for whatever reason declined to do so.

  5. That is good to know. I do wonder how many were invited, though, in comparison to the number of males invited and whether a bit more persistence is called for on an important matter like this.

  6. Thank you for checking with Leiter. I wonder how many he asked compared to men for philosophy of art. Is anyone here willing to go public, viz., women who were invited but declined? Women with distinguished scholarship who were not asked? It is true that there was a partial boycott by potential evaluators overall because of the brou-ha-ha last fall over Leiter's e-mails. It is also true that women and racial or ethnic minorities are often overwhelmed with such requests because there just aren't that many and decline. We don't know the explanation here. But given the intense focus in the profession on these issues of representation, why give up before finding someone?

  7. (warning: anecdata to follow!)
    Having just attended Brown and coming fresh off the job market, I can attest to that (a) it was utterly unranked in aesthetics before Paul Guyer's arrival, and (b) it would be hard-pressed to place anyone in aesthetics, my own situation notwithstanding (since I have an ethics AOS that I rode through the job market).

    But (b) isn't a reflection on Brown; it seems true of everyone. Last year, there were exactly two explicit requests for aesthetics/philosophy of art: one where aesthetics was on a laundry list of value theory AOSs; and one where it shared a disjunctive AOC with philosophy of science, and these alongside an Open AOS.

    So I think that it will be hard to draw general conclusions about rankings and placement especially in our area for a couple of reasons:
    – small numbers (# of evaluators, # of jobs, # of candidates whose primary AOS is aesthetics, # of faculty who affect ranking (e.g., one senior faculty member can swing things wildly), etc.)
    – movement and the length of a graduate career, which would change, at least, how to view my own situation (I only worked with Paul Guyer in the last couple of years I was at Brown, and even then I got roughly one meaningful year out of it, since I was already well into my non-aesthetics dissertation.)

  8. At what point, when you are collecting data for a reputational survey of a field with serious, deep and publicly discussed gender equity problems, do you say, “I can't responsibly release data from a set of evaluators that is exclusively male”? (This is a real question, not a rhetorical one.) It seems to me the fact that you have invited women to participate is either irrelevant or cuts both ways here. The question is important even where the actual evaluators are excellent, of course.

  9. At no point do you do that that since there's no evidence–as in none–that female philosophers of art evaluate the field differently than male philosophers of art. If there are too few respondents, we decided to do what did in the case of, e.g., Chinese philosophy.


  10. I can only assume that the reason there's no evidence that female aestheticians evaluate the field differently from their male counterparts is that women haven't been included in the evaluations. And I can't help but think that the reason that however many women were approached as potential evaluators turned down the offer is because of all of the hoopla over the Gourmet Reports this year. That being said, I could easily produce a laundry list of highly-qualified female aestheticians, from which I am (nearly) certain that 2 or 3 (roughly representing the percentage of women working in the field) would have agreed to participate.

    Now, all of that aside, looking at the other numbers Christy has offered, personally (being non-American myself) I don't care about the where assessors got their degrees, or their current geographical locations. But I am a little disturbed that some 43% of evaluators of the philosophy of art category work primarily in the History of Philosophy–and, specifically in the German tradition. Does this matter? I don't know. Part of the issue here, I think, is how *few* evaluators were used in our field (a few other fields had even fewer–the afore-mentioned area of Chinese philosophy had only four, and Philosophy of Race only three). I get that aesthetics is a relatively small subfield of philosophy, but does that justify such a low number of evaluators? Surely there are hundreds of qualified potential evaluators out there.

  11. Thanks for the reply, Brian. I assume your answer applies to all specialties and to the overall rankings, too. Suppose the PGR received responses only from men overall. I know it would be worrying, cause the PGR to ask more women, to follow up with those it had already contacted, etc. Still, assume the PGR had done everything it reasonably could, but still got only men. Since there's no difference in evaluation between genders, would there be no relevant difference for the PGR? I'm just curious whether you really mean “at no point.”

  12. Professor Hick: your assumption is factually false. Next time, investigate before opining. I based my claim about the lack of gender difference on the evidence from past surveys. Philosophy of art is a small field, and the number of evaluators who participated is consistent with other small fields, like philosophy of math.

    Professor Neufeld: your assumption is also false, though my point about the gender-insensitivity of the results applies to a large number of specialties, including philosophy of art.

    Those with suggestions should contact Prof. Brogaard.


  13. Thanks for the clarification, Brian. That being said, regarding the number of evaluators in aesthetics (and other areas with comparable numbers), *why* is the number so low? Yes, I grant (indeed, myself noted) that aesthetics is a relatively small subfield of philosophy (if nothing else, observing the number of jobs advertised in the area in any given year should confirm this), but I can't see how this suggests that a smaller number of evaluators are needed to produce useful information about the field. Given that there are undoubtedly scores of qualified potential evaluators, I can't see a good argument for such a small pool being used.

  14. Why should philosophers of art have a disproportionately large presence in the evaluator pool? I really do not know if there are “scores of qualified potential evaluators,” I do not know enough about the field. You should address your suggestions to Prof. Brogaard for future iterations.


  15. Darren, I take it that evaluators for Specialty Rankings are chosen for being in some sense outstanding in their field or having established an international reputation for work in the relevant area. So while there may be hundreds(?) of Aestheticians, there would not be hundreds of Aestheticians qualified (in the above respect) to evaluate programs in terms of the reputation of their Aesthetics faculty. While I do have some minor quibbles with the Specialty Rankings of programs in our field, the program list itself (at least stateside) looks almost identical to the one I drew up two years ago for a UH MA student who wanted to pursue Aesthetics at the PhD level. Given the paucity of jobs in our field, perhaps that's the best way to see it: just as a list of PhD. programs within which at least one senior faculty member doing Aesthetics can be found.

    I say this also because everyone knows that University of Houston is bar none the best place in the world to kick out the Aesthetics jams. Go Cougs!

  16. Also perhaps of interest: 13/22 programs evaluated are in the US, 6 in the UK, 2 in Canada, and 1 in New Zealand. Following up on Darren Hick's initial comment, it would be interesting to see exactly how these programs break down by (aesthetic) tradition, although I guess that would be pretty difficult to judge, since a lot of that seems to hinge on what *other* (i.e. non-aesthetics) faculty in each of those programs are doing.

    On a different note: there are a couple weird outliers (McGill, Stanford, and Warwick) in group 3, and Columbia in group 2. Given the small pool of evaluators, I guess that means someone gave a couple of them abysmally low scores (like, 0 or 1), and a couple uncommonly high scores (compared to the other evaluators). I remember that being true of McGill in the last report, and I found one other similar instance in phil. of math last time (UCR, I think?). Having a gander at those now, there are similar oddities there. Dunno that it means much, but I thought I'd point it out.

    I suppose it also bears mentioning that, unlike many other subfields, the ASA does actually publish an unranked guide to aesthetics (in the US and Canada).

  17. Why is philosophy of art the field being evaluated and not aesthetics? There are many issues that arguably fall under aesthetics but aren't restricted to art: beauty, creativity, imagination, pretense, metaphor, style, narrative… This may skew the results significantly because there are many philosophers who work on these issues but who don't contribute to special debates in philosophy of art. Maybe this is an editorial error, but Rutgers isn't even listed in the rankings–not even under “recommended for consideration”–even though they have a first-rate aesthetician (Liz Camp) and people who would probably be awesome to work with if you wanted to work on some of those issues (e.g. Andy Egan).

  18. Given the terrible job market for aesthetics, I would suggest a different metric, Anna–see how many aesthetics graduates from a given program have published prominently in aesthetics. If they're going to look at scholarly achievements of faculty members at graduate programs, they should also look at the scholarly achievements of graduates. In this job market climate, there will be many promising graduates who simply cannot find employment, but that doesn't necessarily reflect badly–or at all–on any given program.

  19. did brian leiter really just ask whether and why people with specializations in the philosophy of art and aesthetics be the evaluators of that very field? (“Why should philosophers of art have a disproportionately large presence in the evaluator pool?”) …. if that doesn't demonstrate the the poverty of these rankings, then i don't know what does. usually when my car is broken, i take it to a car mechanic, because she is an expert; i wouldn't take it to someone who has a subscription to “car and driver”, though i might accept his recommendation for a mechanic since, in virtue of his research, he has some knowledge of the field; in any case, i certainly wouldn't take it to a the maytag repairman, nor would i seek his advice, because his field expertise is wholly different. it seems like the evaluation committee for aesthetics is made up of several ornithologists. more broadly, it does seem that, in several areas, the survey has several non-experts in a particular field making expert judgments about said field. one wonders if Mr. Leiter has mastered the socratic craft analogy (but one certainly wouldn't wonder that “aloud” lest Mr. Leiter send one of his special legal threats).

  20. Felonius, I believe Brian was saying merely that philosophy of art had comparatively fewer evaluators assigned to its specialty ranking because philosophy of art is comparatively a much smaller (less populated) specialty. He was not saying that the evaluator pool for the Philosophy of Art specialty ranking should comprise to any degree those other than philosophers of art/aestheticians.



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