On Brian Leiter’s PGR and Graduate Schools in Non-English Speaking Countries.

Posted on August 22, 2014 by

Brian Leiter has been ramping up to the next edition of the Philosophical Gourmet Report (PGR) recently having posted the penultimate draft faculty lists of the departments to be evaluated (see here). There have been various criticism of the PGR throughout the years, sometimes resulting in changes in methodology, and I don’t wish to rehash old arguments, rather I would like to raise an issue with the PGR that I have not seen discussed as of yet: top philosophy PhD programs in non-English speaking countries.

More specifically, I am concerned with programs that do not require prior knowledge of the native language, i.e. programs which are conducted mostly or entirely in English. The PGR currently does not evaluate such programs (although the National University of Singapore is on the most recent list), and given the importance of Leiter’s rankings, it may be that brilliant English speaking philosophers are put at a disadvantage in the US job market because of this.

I realize that it would be impractical to add a large number of schools to the PGR, but I am thinking of about a dozen top programs, mostly in Europe, where some of the top researchers in many areas of philosophy are available to supervise PhD students.

This is particularly relevant for people working in logic, philosophy of mathematics, philosophy of language, cognitive science, formal epistemology, and cognate areas, although there are some great philosophers in other areas as well (the Center for the Study of Mind in Nature at the University of Oslo comes to mind). Some top philosophers, often with PhD’s from top ten schools, are going to work in Scandinavia, the Netherlands, and Germany (for example).
Arguably even more important is that prospective English-speaking students are being discouraged from applying to PhD programs where they would thrive and have the opportunity work with (often a large group of) top people in their, and related areas. All of this is not to mention the opportunity for working and living in some of the greatest cities and best universities in the world.

A couple of other worries that might arise with adding such programs to the list are the language barrier outside of the philosophy department, and differences in funding practices and program requirements. The first of these is only really a worry if the PGR is targeted only at students from English speaking countries, which I don’t think is the case. It is true (in my experience) that at many European schools –I’m not sure about elsewhere –there are fewer funded places, but the same is true of schools in the UK for non-Europeans. A similar comment could be made about program requirements in the UK vs. North America. Actually, many European programs are structured in a similar way to Canadian programs –requiring a masters, but also some coursework.

So, Brian Leiter, if you’re listening, why not add top, English speaking programs in non-English speaking countries to the PGR?

NB: I am more familiar with what’s going on in Europe, so I have concentrated on that, but I do not wish to exclude top departments anywhere in the world.