Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone




From Leiter Reports, the 2016-2017 Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art grad program rankings.

Group 1 (1-5)

City University of New York Graduate Center
New York University
University of British Columbia
University of St Andrews/University of Stirling Joint Program
University of York

Group 2 (6-10)

Brown University
Columbia University (incl. Barnard)
University of Auckland
University of Leeds
University of Maryland, College Park

Group 3 (11-17)

Birkbeck College, University of London
McGill University
Princeton University
Stanford University
University of Manchester
University of Texas, Austin
University of Warwick

(Note:   Michigan was close to Group 3 [I think it was underrated in 2014, and should be at least in Group 2]; also take note of the programs not evaluated in 2014 but that were viewed as worth recommending by the Advisory Board”  Buffalo, Temple, Hull, Oklahoma & Southampton.  Stanford’s presence on the list is due primarily to a part-time visiting appointment of the distinguished philosopher of art, Kendall Walton–students should make sure that appointment is continuing.)

What say you, Readers? Agree? Disagree? Anything useful for curious, aspiring graduate students to know? (Besides that they probably would be unwise to put all their eggs in an aesthetic basket?)

Readers may also be interested in the ASA’s graduate study guide here. It doesn’t contain any ranking information, but does have a nice list of programs and their associated faculty who are interested in aesthetics. (Although I notice it doesn’t include *cough* my own institution…)

Image credit: Korry Benneth, numbers via Flickr


  1. I don’t really know how to rank them, or even whether they should be ranked, but they’ve looked rather strange to me for a while now.

    Just based on the PGR data: McGill’s median and mode are significantly higher than every other program in Group 3, and should put it in Group 2. The only way it can get such a low mean, given such a high median and mode, is if one of the seven evaluators gave it a laughably low score (0 or 1). Warwick too, although the discrepancy is smaller. Columbia’s presence in Group 2 is also a little strange given its low median and mode (although I think it belongs in group 2 at a mimimum, especially with Barnard faculty included!).

    More generally, if all we’re considering are faculty who work directly in aesthetics, then I have to confess that I think that Brown, Princeton, and Stanford are being vastly overrated, as is Michigan in Leiter’s comment. Walton is a force to be reckoned with, to be sure, but a part-time appointment shouldn’t be cutting much graduate mustard, especially when Stanford otherwise has zero representation in the subfield. Michigan has a little more, but IIRC Walton was their only dedicated aesthetics person. My views of Brown and Princeton are affected by similar considerations: their lone aesthetics-oriented faculty member doesn’t primarily work in aesthetics. Buffalo is a much stronger contender than they are. And I’d bump up Manchester and Leeds.


    • Thanks Reluctant. I agree with you. I think it’s very important to recognize that these are *reputational* rankings, and not be-all, end-all guides to where prospective grad students would be happiest, most flourish, be best cared-for, etc., especially if they’re interested in actually working with the aesthetics folks at the institution. Faculty might have current interests far from aesthetics (as you mention, many work primarily in another area) or be so occupied with their own research that they don’t have much time left over to devote to grad students. So, these rankings seem like a useful piece of data, but also a little dangerous.

      That said, I think it is good for students interested in aesthetics to bear in mind the sad fact that they shouldn’t be pursuing solely aesthetics, especially in present job market conditions, so that even if a school is excellent in aesthetics, a decision could be outweighed by other factors like overall quality of graduate education. (This isn’t to say that any of these underrated schools, e.g. Leeds, is very good in aesthetics and not other things – in fact Leeds strikes me as an excellent place all-around.)

      – Alex


  2. I also find the ranking a little wonky. Partly, I think that’s just because a few very different strands of aesthetics/philosophy of art are being papered over (esp. historical vs. contemporary). In that respect, it seems pretty similar to the situation with feminist philosophy. It makes more sense as a ranking if evaluators are also considering representation in cognate subfields, but I was under the impression that wasn’t what they were supposed to do, so…

    But also, the pool of evaluators just seems too small to yield much in the way of a reliable ranking. I’ve never really understood why there are only seven of them, when the ASA alone has what, 400-500 members? It’s a relatively small and low-prestige subfield, but I think quite a lot of people are perfectly qualified to serve as evaluators. Certainly much more than seven. It’s because there are so few evaluators that you get weird outliers like McGill’s mean, and why some other programs are so critically over/undervalued: a single evaluator’s vote, especially when it’s at one extreme of the 5-point scale or the other, makes a huge difference. This is especially true if the evaluator is precluded from ranking a program or two due to conflicts of interest.

    It might be worth asking how reliable the rankings are perceived to be for other subfields with small pools of evaluators, like phil. of math, phil. of action, phil. of race, and Chinese philosophy. I know that Brian has argued that the reason there are so few evaluators in these fields is partly to do with concerns about over-representing them in the general pool of evaluators, but I have to confess that I don’t really understand that rationale. Why can’t the subfield pools be separate?


    • Wow I hadn’t realized the pool was so small… that does seem to be quite important, and as you say to lead to surprising results (as in counterintuitive for those in our subfield)!

      I know the ASA has a graduate guide, and it has a lot of useful information. But there isn’t really any sort of comprehensive reputational ranking. So if such a thing is something that’s useful or important, then maybe the ASA or Leiter or someone should organize one for aesthetics (and these other subfields).

      Furthermore, given the fact that some people working outside aesthetics may use the PGR when considering job candidates; administrators use it to determine how prestigious their own departments are, their strengths and weaknesses; etc., there’s reason to think that the subfield rankings should indeed be handled with more care.


  3. Yeah, it’s kind of crazy. Phil. of Race has only three, which seems like a pretty good reason not to offer a ranking in the first place (although again, it seems to me that it shouldn’t be terribly hard to find a fair few people who are well qualified to generate that ranking).

    Since we have the graduate guide, however, I doubt that the ASA has much interest in offering a ranking. Part of it might just be the difficulty of balancing out the different approaches to aesthetics, and I suspect another part is just worry over breeding acrimony. Plus, having two different rankings would just muddy all the waters.

    One thing we could do, though, is team up with the other small and smallish subfields, and present Brit Brogaard with a case for reforming the subfield evaluation process ( /pools). We’re actually in a really good position to do this precisely because we have a fairly large national-level association (with frequent meetings and good communication channels) with whom the PGR can coordinate to find suitable evaluators. Subsubfields in the phil. of science are in a similar position (thanks to the PSA), but I don’t know about the other wonky subfields.


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