A Detailed Critique of the Philosophical Gourmet Report, care of the Daily Nous

In September of last year, Andrew Nicholson posted a thread on Philosophy’s Western Bias, centered on Christian Coseru’s reflections on the systemic marginalization of non-Western thought in our discipline. One important subtheme of the ensuing discussions was the way that the Philosophical Gourmet Report and its peculiar rankings system feeds into this marginalization. Please see the link below for a Daily Nous summary of the major points in Brian Bruya’s new article in Metaphilosophy, which is a “data-driven critique” of the PGR and its methodology.

While we aren’t keen on the cancerous gossipy side of disciplinary politics on this site, this issue is, imho, centrally important to those of us who work in Indian philosophy for a variety of reasons. There are a number of concerns we have, including how best to serve those who are interested in Indian philosophy and who would like to learn about what’s available. Of course, a prospective student should start here!

But further, there are ways that Leiter’s rankings, intentionally or not, disincentivize philosophy departments from hiring non-Western philosophers. In the robust comments on original discussion initiated by Christian Coseru, my own thoughts were as follows.

I wonder if things like Leiter’s own rankings have unintentionally contributed to this issue in big philosophy departments at research schools. If one can build on one’s existing strengths in say, philosophy of mind, by filling a line with an up-and-coming hotshot in the field, you can move up in the rankings by adding a 5th phil-mind person. If a department wanted to expand the the width of its offerings by including a qualified non-Western specialist, there is no net gain in terms of rankings. There is thus an incentive for departments to stay narrow.

Any thoughts on what we can do to improve the situation, esp. things that are actually realistic?

Link with summary here: http://dailynous.com/2015/12/14/a-detailed-critique-of-the-philosophical-gourmet-report/

Thanks to Jonardon Ganeri for bringing this to my attention.



About Matthew Dasti

Matthew R. Dasti is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Bridgewater State University.

23 Replies to “A Detailed Critique of the Philosophical Gourmet Report, care of the Daily Nous”

  1. Having worked with Western philosophers (I have a BA in Western philosophy and I taught for a few years in a split Philosophy and Religion Dept), I feel I have a pretty good sense of what the problems and issues are.

    Without going into detail, my thought is very simple:

    One must start with undergraduates.

    BA students in philosophy need to be trained to read and think about philosophical issues in a non-Eurocentric manner. This needs to be followed up at the MA and PhD level. Once a generation of BA -> MA -> PhD students are trained as such. and once they have jobs in Phil Departments, particularly at the administrative level (e.g. Dept Chair, program director, etc.) we can hope for some kind of substantive change. We probably can’t hope for much until that time.

    In order to teach Indian Philosophy at the BA level, one needs to define the discipline – the key historical moments, key thinkers, basic categories (e.g. ethics, epistemology, etc. etc.). This is going to require textbooks, readers, etc. that are similar to what one would study for, say, Greek or 20th Century Western philosophy.

  2. To follow up on Jonathan’s point, I think that while there is a lot of good translated material for other scholars or graduate students, accessible translations of many key texts that undergraduates can read without undue fatigue (without unnecessary Sanskrit or technical jargon) are still lacking.

    • I agree with Jonathan that we need to integrate Indian philosophy into the undergraduate curriculum, both in specific Indian/Asian philosophy courses, but also, and perhaps more importantly, in general introduction to philosophy courses where Indian philosophy would be presented, as Elisa likes to say, as part of philosophy.

      That said, my efforts to teach Indian philosophy at the undergraduate level have been somewhat frustrating because of the problem Matthew raises. A big part of the problem is that most Sanskritists produce translations for other Sanskritists, but there are few translations, beyond the Gītā and Early Buddhist texts, for a general audience of the kind that one can assign for Greek and Chinese philosophy. My poor students have to suffer through translations laden with jargon and untranslated Sanskrit terms (like most of those in Sarma’s Classical Indian Philosophy: A Reader).

  3. Thanks for this post Matthew. Like you I have long been under the impression that Brian Leiter’s ranking of Anglophone graduate philosophy programmes, the PGR, with its ad hoc methodology, tacit biases, and explicit exclusions, has functioned as a strong brake on the emergence of Indian philosophy as a recognised subject area in the profession. I think that Brian Bruya has done a great service in providing this detailed empirically-grounded analysis of the mechanisms by which this takes place, and we should all thank him for it. If Anglophone philosophy departments are failing in their duty to educate global citizens—and Bruya makes the case for that very powerfully in another excellent essay (http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11712-015-9441-2)—then this is deleterious to the profession as a whole. The greatest value of Bruya’s work, I think, is that it can be brought to the attention of search committees, the members of which are perhaps not always as sensitive to these processes as those of us who have pursued careers in the field have necessarily become.

  4. Alexus McLeod makes this point over at Daily Nous

    “The extremely active researchers in my area are not always (or even often, really) in the highest PGR ranked departments, even on the Chinese Philosophy list! So the “that’s where the experts are” case doesn’t work particularly well here, at least. And if this is going on in Chinese Philosophy, I suspect the same thing is going on in other areas”

    I recognize that the initial question here is about the PGR, which focuses on *philosophy* departments. But not all work in Indian philosophy occurs within the confines of philosophy departments. If one of the questions is how to serve students with an interest in Indian philosophy, I would think widening the scope of evaluation (not necessarily via the PGR but through some other means) could be helpful. Are there currently resources (outside of the compiled list Matt links to) for students that would help them find and evaluate philosophical work going on within Religious Studies, South Asian Studies, and the like?

    • Good point, Malcolm. It’s roughly akin to the way that some great scholars of ancient Greek thought are in Classics departments, yet in our field, talent is even more diffused with Religious Studies, South Asian Studies, etc.

  5. Thinking about Jonathan and Jonardon’s posts, there are “top-down” and “bottom-up” approaches and both are worthy. In the former, we produce work for other scholars which illustrate the importance of non-Western thought to Philosophy as a discipline and to the philosophical development of their own students. In the latter, we provide quality teaching materials and translations that are accessible for undergraduates and “educated lay readers,” giving them experience of the importance of Indian thought at an earlier stage.

    My own experience attests to more of the “bottom-up” side (and probably Malcom’s, but correct me if I’m wrong), but in some ways a bit of a hybrid as well. While many of my Anglophile professors in graduate school were open minded, they probably wouldn’t have read much of scholarly work on Indian philosophy–people are busy and can hardly keep up on things happening outside of their own research interests– except for the fact that some of their students (like Malcom and me) wanted to write seminar papers bringing Indian philosophy to bear on the largely analytic topics of the seminars. We, the students who are already hooked as it were, are probably the main reason they actually know a bit more about Indian philosophy. But only because there is high-quality work out there were we able to have such abundant resources to bring to the table in such circumstances. It’s also only because there was already a highly qualified philosopher doing work on India in that department, that we could do this sort of hybrid work. (Another top-down consideration)

    What I found centrally important was the willingness of those professors to allow us to being the Indian materials into the discussion. The onus was on us to do so skillfully, and I think that our professors appreciated it and definitely encouraged it.

    I think the “top-down” side is also working, esp. with the work of Jonardon and others who’ve mastered multiple traditions of philosophical development and those like Anand Vaidya who are skilled analytic philosophers with the courage to work carefully on Indian thought despite the fact that it is not their own specialty.

    • The top-down/bottom-up distinction is helpful. Another top-down approach where most of us here on the blog could contribute would be to submit papers on Indian or comparative philosophy to journals for a general philosophical audience, rather than just the usual specialist journals. This type of paper can be difficult to write and even more difficult to publish, but getting more of these type of publications out there would be worthwhile. Even if our colleagues in other areas don’t have the time or the inclination to actually read the papers, just seeing more Indian philosophy in general journals would be great for the visibility of our field.

      • Glad we are of one mind on this, Ethan. Also, regarding accessible translations, if you can wait about a year or so, hopefully we’ll have something helpful on The nyAyasUtras and early commentaries out soon enough. I’ll say more in response to Elisa’s query on the end-of-the-year thread.

      • Very interesting subtopic, thanks Ethan, Malcolm and Matthew. I agree (who would not?) with Jonathan and you all that we need accessible texts (both translations and studies), for both undergraduates and graduate students or fellow researchers. I also agree (who would not?) with Ethan about the need to try to publish also on “mainstream” philosophical journals. Let me, however, add a couple of more points:
        1. It is important, I would say crucial, that we work as a team on a number of important issues. I do not agree on everything Jonardon Ganeri and Peter Adamson say in their “Philosophy in India” postcast, but I will do my best to advertise it, since it does an excellent job in creating a scene for Indian philosophy within the history of philosophy in general. I think we are more powerful if we submit to a conference, a publishing house or a journal a group of papers/talks/… on a given topic, so that one does not see Indian philosophy as an exotic extravagance, but as a structured tradition of debate and philosophical engagement (my ideal example is *Knowing from words*, edited by A. Chakrabarti and B.K. Matilal and published in the Synthese Library).
        2. I discussed it again and again with Malcolm, and I still think that proposing panels at mainstream conferences (especially if they are on topics which can be approached from multiple traditions) is a good way to penetrate the fortress of mainstream philosophy.

    • I think my experience at UT was a hybrid, yes. I remember Mark Sainsbury, who does strictly Anglophone philosophy, encouraging me to read Jonardon Ganeri’s work, and he was familiar with “The Word and the World,” at least, if not a few other texts of that nature. Galen Strawson, who came to the department after Matt, I believe, was also someone who knows a bit of Indian philosophy, primarily Buddhist consciousness studies. And yes, almost all of my professors there encouraged me to bring Indian philosophy into the classroom, with a few notable exceptions–so I simply decided not to work with them. I think Stephen’s presence, as well as of course, Kathy Higgins (and the late Bob Solomon), has been important there, coupled with his having students who want to build bridges among traditions.

      On the original topic of the post, the PGR and its criticism, I imagine many readers will be aware by now, but if not, I’ll mention it–there are quite a few blog posts up about the methodological nature of Bruya’s article (which I confess to not having read yet myself–the original article or subsequent criticisms). Daily Nous is my go-to for things of this sort, but you can find links to other blogs there. I haven’t looked at the article myself to see whether the methodological issues are damning–apparently there is pressure for Metaphilosophy to withdraw the article.

      In skimming over blog comments, I see a fair amount of concern that Bruya, who does Chinese Philosophy and is an alum of University of Hawai’i (not ranked on the PGR but yet an excellent place to train and subsequently get a job) has an ax to grind and that his interests bias his work. Myself, I try to read authors charitably, since even if they are personally vested in an issue, that doesn’t preclude them from having good judgment (and sometimes it can help). However, this concern’s being mentioned so much reminds me of the additional responsibility members of any marked class have, unfairly, to ensure they are meeting and exceeding standards for norms like politeness, rationality, and so on.

      That remark about the meta-discourse aside, I personally want to be careful about taking a position on this until I have really looked closely at the article, the responses, and the PGR’s methodology again. And whether Brit Brogaard and others involved in ranking have their interests served by the current rankings should not be the predominant question, imho. The question is what the PGR is trying to evaluate, and whether it’s doing so well. This is distinct from the more normative question of how/if philosophy programs ought to be evaluated (if that includes rankings, and of what sort). Then, of course, there is the question of where Indian philosophy fits in, since it does cross disciplines and exists outside of philosophy departments.

      • It seems an unfair standard that one must be in a ranked department and do “mainstream” philosophy to legitimately criticize the PGR (or other powerful institutions in our discipline). There may be methodological flaws and if so, they should be exposed. But the ad-hominem stuff seems pretty weak to me.

        I agree with your last point, Malcolm. The core issue is really should there be rankings and if so, what kinds serve our discipline(s) best; the status of the PGR is really separate from (and dealt with best, after settling) the other issues.

      • Malcolm, regarding “the additional responsibility members of any marked class have, unfairly, to ensure they are meeting and exceeding standards for norms like politeness, rationality, and so on” you are so right! It is hard to avoid expecting members of a marked class (although it can include millions of people) to be more than impartial, whereas the same is not required in the case of people of the “mainstream”.

      • So working in non-Western philosophy gives you a bias against a report that privileges Western philosophy, but apparently working in Western philosophy gives you no bias whatsoever in favour of a report that privileges Western philosophy.

  6. I think to be successful we’ll need the topdown and bottomup approaches working together at the same time.

    I think Elisa’s idea of publishing in mainstream philosophy journals is excellent, and part of the topdown approach. For what it is worth, I’m a reviewer for the new Journal of the American Philosophical Association for Indian related material. Submit!

    Also, part of the topdown is to form groups as professional societies. Some of us looking to start a Hindu Philosophy Group at the American Academy of Religion (Buddhist Philosophy already exists, so Indian Philosophy would be an unnecessary and unwanted overlap). If successful, please submit!

    • The Hindu Philosophy group at the AAR is an excellent idea and I hope it is successful! I, for one, would certainly submit. In addition to the new Journal of the APA, Sophia is another place which publishes non-Western philosophy, as does Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.

    • Thank you, Jonathan (and Malcolm), for the good suggestions. I will certainly consider submitting something and encourage my younger colleagues to do it. I hope that a continuous flow of good materials regarding Indian philosophy will make it an obvious addition rather than an exotic curiosity.

      On a different vein, I have already written on this blog that AS FAR AS PHILOSOPHY IN SOUTH ASIA IS CONCERNED (the situation may be completely different in the case of China, etc.) I am slightly suspicious of the separation between a Buddhist and a Hindu philosophy, since I do not think one can understand, say, Dharmakirti without Kumarila or Uddyotakara without Dignaga.
      (I understand that Jonathan is right in pointing out the specific situation in the AAR’s groups. My comments apply only ideally.)

      I understand that, e.g., many subcategories in the Abhidharmakosa or in the thought of Sthiramati can be understood as an inner-Buddhist development and that the same can apply to, e.g., the hierarchy of Isvara, Isa, Mahesvara, Mantresvaras and so on in Saivasiddhanta. But: What is obtained if one separates further precincts of philosophy, creating even smaller sets?
      1. I do not want “Indian philosophy” to exist as such (I would prefer to discuss Santideva within ethics and Gangesa within logics and so on) and I want even less to have to separate “Hindu” and Buddhist authors who worked at the same time and on the same issues.
      2. Specific “Hindu” and specific “Buddhist” issues run the risk of being (as in the examples pointed out above) more religiously or theologically relevant than philosophically so. Is not this going to drive mainstream scholars even further away?

      What do you think?

      • IMHO, we sometimes have to use imperfect categories for the time being, knowing that our work will facilitate the long-term softening or destruction of the categories themselves. Like it or not, “Hindu” is on the map right now, and one can use it, with all the appropriate footnotes and caveats, if it helps.

      • The terms and categories “Hindu”, “Buddhist,” and “Jain” for that matter existed long before any of us existed (at least existed as we exist now).

        In the context of the AAR it would impossible for us to ask the Buddhists to change the titles of their many groups; the term Hinduism is already used in different contexts outside of philosophy as well, and I don’t think they will change. The AAR defines the study of religion in so many ways in the USA, and beyond. The terms are probably a necessary “evil” that aren’t going to go away because the history of their use goes so far back.

        My 2 cents, as we say in America.

        • Jonathan, I really meant it when I said that I understand the reasons for using “Hindu” in the AAR. Mine was just a more general remark about what we want to convey when we speak of “Hindu” philosophy. Do you mean to say that it is useless to speak generally about such issues?

    • The overlap might be unwanted, but something like it seems necessary. Even leaving aside all the usual criticisms of the concept of Hinduism: if it’s Hindu Philosophy, where does Jain thought go?

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